Monday, September 5. Dahab, Egypt. From Wadi Rum, Rob, Barney, and I caught a mini-bus south to the port city of Aqaba where we planned to catch a high-speed ferry to Nuweiba, Egypt. A few weeks before, terrorists fired three rockets at an American navy ship docked in Aqaba. The rockets missed the ship, but hit dockside and killed a Jordanian. According to the Jordanian press, the alleged terrorists were caught by Jordanian authorities. The knowledge of a terrorist attack did not deter us from passing through Aqaba. From Aqaba, we could see Eilat, Israel, and Taba, Egypt. The one-hour ferry to Nuweiba cost $40. It was full of mostly Egyptians and Jordanians. After clearing immigration, we caught another mini-bus to Dahab and found accommodations at the Khattab Hotel (80 Egyptian pounds/single with a/c ~$14).
Tuesday, September 6. Dahab, Egypt. Lonely Planet describes Assalah, a former Bedouin village just north of Dahab city, as a backpacker's heaven. An apt description, I would say. Looking across the deep blue gulf of Aqaba (part of the Red Sea), you can clearly see Saudi Arabia. Hanging out is the most popular activity in Dahab, followed by diving and windsurfing. The shoreline pedestrian promenade here is similar to Bodrum, Turkey, less the loud music. However, there are very few tourists here. I asked one of the restaurant managers why and he said that several terrorist bombings in late July in Sharm el-Sheikh (85 km south of Dahab), which killed over 88 people (mostly Egyptians, but some foreigners), have scared tourists away. Whatever the reason, there appear to be more locals than tourists. It is really sad to see all these merchants and restaurants with very little business. But it's fantastic for the tourists who are here. The accommodations, food, and drink are all excellent and cheap by western standards. Indeed, with the US dollar appreciating over 25 percent against the Egyptian pound in the last few years, Egypt is a very cheap destination for Americans. Although it is desert warm, there is a constant onshore breeze which the windsurfers take full advantage of. While walking the promenade, I am stopped repeatedly by restaurant and shop owners who ask me to look at their menu or items for sale. The constant hassle is annoying, but I simply smile and say "La Shukran" (No thank you) and continue my walk. They are simply trying to make a living in a very competitive environment with few tourists. I selected one of the many restaurants on the beach side and ordered a Stella, the local Egyptian beer. Today was my day to hang out and catch up on my travel journal. Rob and Barney dropped by a little later, and Barney and I made plans to do a dive tomorrow. Barney is a certified Dive Master while I am certified as an Advanced Open Water diver.
For dinner, we dined at Al Capone's, a popular shorefront restaurant near our hotel. From our table, we could see the lights of Saudi Arabia across the Gulf of Aqaba. We selected a large white fish. It was excellent. Including drinks, our bill was 77 E.P. each ($13). Something similar in the US would have run about $40 each.
Wednesday, September 7. Dahab, Egypt. Barney and I arranged two dives, the Canyon and the Blue Hole, through Orca Dive Center (350 E.P. or $60). Both were shore dives a short drive north of Dahab. Our dive master, Penny from England, took us first to the Canyon dive. After gearing up, we entered through a small lagoon. This first dive was a check dive for me as my last dive was in Boracay, Philippines, late last year. The water was a brilliant aqua color near shore and a dark blue offshore. Visibility underwater was excellent (20 meters) as we slowly descended along the outer reef to our maximum depth of 30 meters. Fish, coral, and marine life of innumerable shapes, sizes, and colors greeted us. We entered the Canyon, a small fissure leading to a large coral cave, and sat down on the sandy bottom to view the marine life above and around us. Our timing was fortunate for, as we were heading back, we passed over a dozen divers who were just starting their dive. From the Canyon dive site, we drove a little further north to a Bedouin camp fronting the Blue Hole, a large hole in the reef (80 meters deep), just a few meters offshore. We lunched at one of the Bedouin restaurants before donning our scuba gear. For this dive, we would enter from Bells, a hundred meters north of the Blue Hole, descend to 27 meters and follow the reef south to the Blue Hole. Here the reef extended only a few meters offshore before dropping off into the depths of the Red Sea. Again, visibility was excellent as we made our way along the reef to the Blue Hole observing the plethora of marine life before us. I saw lion fish, parrot fish, angel fish, and many others. Fantastic. Alas, there were, however, no turtles, sharks, manta rays, or similar creatures. The diving conditions and marine life certainly live up the Red Sea's reputation as one of the best places to dive in the world.
Thursday, September 8. Assalah/Dahab, Egypt. Lazed about. I can't seem to leave this place: Friendly locals, very few tourists, great weather, cheap accommodations, cheap and delicious food (Mains ~ 15-50 E.P./$3-$9), cheap beer ($1.75 large bottle), cheap internet ($1/hour), great diving—Life is good.