Last of Egypt

The drive to Dakla was long and boring the next morning. First we drove with the partially deflated tires through the rest of the white desert for over an hour to get to a highway on the other side. It was a pretty cool experience to see. Then we traveled on pavement a few kilometers before hitting a town to repair a flat and fill the running tires. We went through so many police checkpoints in the middle of nowhere in that desert that it made my head spin. How these guys posted there survive in such abject isolation and loneliness is incomprehensible to me. Some posts were nicely made up with tiny little (but well maintained) gardens out front of the building. Most all had solar panel / battery systems for power generation, and a couple were so remote that they even had SBX radio antennas for communication. We did see a few cell phone towers in the middle of nowhere with solar power systems as well. These had microwave dishes to rebroadcast the transmissions.

An hour or two before Dakla was a huge modern ghost town that looked very much like very small single family condos. Row upon row of them in orderly loneliness stood there without any vehicles visible, curtains over windows or clothes hanging outside to dry. Barely one kilometer away was another modern ghost town of ten to fifteen story apartment buildings. This was a little further from the highway, but still appeared to be rather empty. The guide books described these places as modern built towns where people just didn’t want to come to. There was also a rail line and a phosphorous mine close by, so we suspected it might have been planned employee housing. Either way it just looked weird! My personal theory is that it was some sort of military installation. Possibly an existing secret research base of some sort.
Or, more likely, a large permanent barracks base in case war breaks out with Lybia. The roads in all this Western area of Egypt were in spectacular shape as well. That I also would attribute to war readiness to help ensure the quick deployment and mobility of the defense forces should the need ever arise.

We had plans to take the public bus from Dakla to Luxor, and then on to Hurgatta where we planned to catch a Ferry to Sharm in the Sinai area. I had been calling the ferry to make arrangements several times over the last few days and as we arrived in Dakla someone finally answered. He told me that the Ferry was down for two weeks of service, and the only way across was private Faluka or small motorboat charters. The Red Sea has a reputation for being quite volatile regularly and typically only has fifty “calm” days per year. Some days the huge fast Ferry won’t even go across due to rough seas. These facts made us less than enthusiastic about attempting the journey in a much smaller boat. We then agreed to phone Egypt Airlines and made arrangements to fly from Luxor to Sharm. This was for only about double the money than a bus and ferry ride combined, but we would have needed to stay in other hotels along the way more which wouldn’t have been near as nice as staying at the rsortish towns along the Red Sea. We arranged a van to pick us up at the airport and went directly to Dahab, thus skipping out on Sharm. Ron & Jenine had told us that they were basically the same in terms of snorkeling, but that Sharm was more packed and with smaller sections of “Beach”. The term beach here at the Red Sea really only refers to water access though, since there is minimal amounts of sand in the classic sense that the word is typically used.

I had strongly made up my mind that I would never willingly return to Egypt again before coming to Dahab. The hassle from all vendors, a frustrating and unnecessarily long negotiation for every little thing, and the dual pricing system ((Aran people pay 1% to 10% of the prices considered acceptable for tourists) on almost everything was driving me to the brink of insanity. Dahab was a pocket of tranquility and genuineness in a country seemingly hell bent on screwing the tourist out of every little drop of money possible. The hotel we managed to select from one of the tourist books was fairly nice and entirely reasonable at about $32/night per double room. It had a nice couple of swimming pools with a waterslide and was raised a little over one meter from the waterfront promenade sidewalk to give a tiny bit more privacy from everyone walking by. On the other side of the main waterfront sidewalk from all of the hotels were the restaurant sitting areas. These varied from having ceilings glassed in protection from the wind with nice tables and slate floors, to cushions on blankets, on the sand around a short legged table. The latter inspired many hippies (and occasionally me) to order a beer and just lie around enjoying the sun and gentle sounds of the smaller surf lapping at the shore. some of these shore front lounging places even had free WIFI internet access for patrons.

Everyone I spoke to spoke of the wonderful reefs accessible to shore and of the lovely fish they encountered. I never seemed to get around to snorkeling myself though. The two days in the middle of our stay when I really felt like it, the water was pretty rough. In the end I reassure myself that as beautiful and accessible as it might be, it surely couldn’t compare to The Great Barrier Reef or snorkeling around the Galapagos Islands. I priced out intro and advanced scuba lessons again though. It was still about $550 to to both in about five to six days. This was pretty much the price as Phuket in Thailand, and only a tiny bit less than in Australia. The Aussie ones were larger classes though, and only on specific days when they had enough people. Here they would take one person and run you through it. Plus they all seemed quite reputable though in offering top notch gear and advertising enhanced air mix ect. I had heard of some hokey places in Indonesia that just used standard atmosphere air which included germs fed straight to ones lungs. Never good. All of the dive shops here and in Thailand seemed to be run or owned by Westerners though. Be it North Americans, Europeans or Aussies, they all had a caucasian face when it came time to crunch the numbers.

We continued to enjoy the company of the McBride Family in Dahab. After a week we would be parting ways, and so we made the most of relaxing and doing not much together. Every day we would try different restaurants along the waterfront to eat at. Swimming, lounging, chatting and many a game of cribbage all filled our time there. We seemed to all go through a day or so of queasy stomach syndrome in the last two weeks as well. I found a cool souvenir t-shirt that struck me, and bought it almost without negotiations. We also grabbed a nice sunset beach sand scene in a bottle with “Dahab” on one side and “James’” on the other. Luke and I watched the make it and he was incredibly quick as well as very talented. Camels and horses were banned from the area our hotel was at so walking amidst mounds of poop wasn’t an issue as it was in other sections in the area that we had heard about. After a week or two of early mornings, extensive tours and a brain completely full of Egyptian history this week of visiting and relaxing was just what all of us needed. We all got along really great, and it was very nice having a bit of a break from just the four of us. Luke even met and played with some other boys his age while Alex and Alana conspired together and Connor burned through a few books poolside. As a very meager parting gift of thanks for their company, I felt compelled to introduce the McBride’s to a new deck of cards in the hopes that their old grungy worn pack would find it’s way quickly and unceremoniously to the trash! Hopefully the front desk guy passed it on to them since we left at 6:00 AM and they stayed sleeping to await the arrival of Janice’s brother and wife to spend a few more days there. We’re hoping to possibly meet up again in Nice, France since our visits there coincide by a few days. We also pick up our rental car in Nice, (since I was too slow in booking to get it in Italy.

While lounging around at the New Sphinx hotel in Dahab we also met up and chatted with a young engaged couple. She was from Mexico and he was British, and they lived in London. They were both VERY well traveled for being barely a quarter century old and were a hoot to swap stories with. George & Monica crazily invited us to stay in their tiny flat in London when we were talking about how expensive England and especially London are reputed to be. I let that comment sit for a day and then approached them with the option to take back offering a family of four with occasionally scrapping adolescent kids to intrude on their serenity and occupy their living room day and night for our last few days in Europe. In between chuckles at my mock serious warning, they once again extended the offer to sleep on their living room floor for a few days. Bonus! Never mind the fact that we very much enjoyed visiting with them, Monica also works at the most exclusivest, awesomest chocolaterie & retail store in all of Europe! George says that there’s an abundance of free samples that normally cost a few Euros ($3-$4!!!) per truffle! Gadzooks, we can’t wait! We have bought our trans-Atlantic flight tickets already too. We’re flying to Marc & Wendy’s on May 14! It’s all coming to an end so fast…

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