A Survey of Egypt, Part X: El-Arish to Dahab, the Sinai
On the second day of our Survey of Egypt in the Sinai, October 4th, we were heading into familiar territory for me, and even a meeting with old friends. As would happen just about every day of this leg, we set out early in the morning for the long drive down the center of the Sinai to Nekhl, where we would finally turn east toward the Egyptian resorts on the peninsula's east coast, specifically with Taba as our first real stop. From there we would move on to Nuweiba, which was actually where we planned to spend this night, but as it turned out, we would go a bit further and stay in Dahab.
Here, as we head south out of El Arish, slowly the extended beach of sand gives way to more rugged terrain, as mountains slowly emerge from the landscape and grow in the distance. There is actually much to see here, as we move though wadis and other landscapes that look more alien than earthly, but there is a lot of it and many miles to our first stop, so perhaps this might be a good time to bring up safety once more.
Along this route, we pass through checkpoint after checkpoint. There are sniffer dogs, and the guards are both active and alert. Each time, though they know we are coming through radio communications, they want to know our purpose for traveling south toward the resorts.
Rock structures in the Wadi el-Arish
As an American knowing my country and this one very well, the real issue is not whether I feel safe in Egypt, but rather where I feel most safe. At home in Texas, I live close to a porous border that some estimates say as many as one million people pass over from the south each year illegally. Tons of drugs also pass over the border, and it would be naive of me, or any other American to think that terrorists or bombs could not just as easily navigate these borders. Indeed, criminals and drug lords apparently often do so. And of course, then there is simply good old American born crime, that heeds not the sanctuary of streets, schools, or convenience stores.
First view of the Gulf of Aquaba from the mountain road
Egypt's borders are not porous, they are highly controlled, but the effort doesn't stop there. One cannot enter any Egyptian town of any size that I know of, much less a resort community, without passing through a checkpoint, and each and every one of them is a serious checkpoint where IDs are checked, double checked and questions are asked. This is how it was in the Sinai, even along the mostly desolate road. There were more police checkpoints than much of anything else, in fact.
A first view of Geziret Faraum, the fortress island
I don't know if it has always been this way in this part of the Sinai. However, what I have witnessed over time is that, with each attack that has occurred over the years, the Egyptian government has gotten smarter, more alert, and poured more resources into protecting tourists. Today they are very proactive in the Sinai, and apparently it is paying off.
So to answer my own question, I really do feel safer in Egypt than at home in Texas. Security here is real, purposeful and not just some political hype, and there is virtually no violent crimes ever perpetrated against tourists. Its hard for me to feel the same about back home, with the borders the way they are now.
Soon, we began to make our way through mountain passes and wind our way towards Taba. From this direction, heading out of the interior, Gulf of Aquaba suddenly appears, radiant in shades of blue, green and turquoise. As one passes though yet another checkpoint, the road from the the interior gives way to the beach road that runs from Taba to Sharm, and then up along the western side of the Sinai. Here, we turned north towards Taba, which was immediately visible, marked by the newly rebuilt Hilton. Here, there are some spectacular views leading into the city itself, really more of a community. Taba is not large.
We have to stop a number of times as I see breathtaking scenes that must be photographed. Climbing up a small bluff, one looks down upon resorts, and perhaps more of a landmark than the city itself, Geziret Faraum, the Crusader fortress originally built by Baldwin I. Even as we move on towards Taba, clearly in view now and only a few kilometers away, I find place after place where I must stop and revisit this fairytale monument.
Really, Taba is spread out to the south, with smaller resorts dotting the coastline all the way to Taba Heights, the more recent effort at building a structured resort community, similar to El-Gouna north of Hurgahada. In fact, much of the east coast of the Sinai consists of small resorts, sometimes little more than camps.
In Taba itself, there is not a lot to see. The two main hotels in the city itself seem to consist of the Hilton and the Movenpick. It seems all to be made up of gardens, beaches and these two hotels. The Hilton is familiar to us, and we decide to visit the Movenpick, a sprawling complex of white buildings and greenery.
On the way south again to Nuweiba
Here, we also faced extremely tight security. It is once again clear that lessons have been learned. The hotel itself is set back a considerable way from the fence, and a crash proof barrier protects the entrance. At the entrance, the guard, who seems very professional, is not apparently impressed that I am an American. He still wants to know why I wish to visit the hotel if I am not going to be a guest, and prior to finally admitting me he must seek approval. Only then, mirrors are run under our car, the rear is opened and our bags are checked before we can be admitted. They leave little to chance here
It is a very nice and modern hotel, but as I say, there is little to really see in Taba so we soon move on back south towards our next destination, Nuweiba, which is one of my favorite places in the Sinai. We pass rustic, sometimes primitive beach camps along the way. This is a true beach road for most of the way, and the mountains, pouring off the peninsula into the sea are spectacular.
At Nuweiba, my first task is to meet up with Gasser Riad, who runs Nature Travel. Because he operates our Nuweiba and Taba news blogs, we consider him part of our Tour Egypt family, though some instructions and talk are in order so that the site is updated more frequently and with a little better news. Though we have chatted many times over IM and worked through email, I had never met Gasser, but I must say I am impressed.
It takes more than a tour operator to impress me. Many tour operators I meet are serious about their businesses and singular in their efforts to promote their organizations. But here in Nuweiba, there seems to be a somewhat different view. Nuweiba, over the years, has been hit hard, first by troubles between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and then more directly by a series of nearby bombs a few years back. I think that the Egyptian government is working very hard to make sure that does not reoccur, but still they have a tough time attracting tourists.
A fisherman does a little dance for us off the coast of Nuweiba
Here, there seems to be an unflinching community spirit. Gasser did not attempt to self promote his tour business. Rather, he seemed more interested in finding ways to promote his community. He seemed more like a one man chamber of commerce than a tour operator, genuinely concerned with the whole rather than his little corner. Everyone here knows him, and it appears that the man has a big heart. I spent only a few minutes at his office, meeting Julia, his lovely (Romanian? I forget) assistant and a young Egyptian named Mohammed that must have spent some time in the States, given how well he spoke our particular variety of English, though I didn't ask. We talked a bit about blogging, and did some instructing, and then it was time for lunch.
Lunch this day would be a real treat, because Gasser and my team headed over to the Hibiba camp, a place I had been to before. This is a lovely little resort, and one that has grown slightly since my last visit. It is usually a popular place for younger European kids, though like elsewhere it is not very busy these days. Here, once again, I sat on the shade covered rug laid on the sandy beach, waiting for fish as fresh as can be served to arrive. We were entertained by the Bedouin boys and their camels, whose antics included using these beasts of the desert as diving platforms along the nearby shore. We were also fortunate enough to be on the beach as the new high speed ferry arrived in Nuweiba from Jordan. Though we only saw it from a distance, it looked pretty slick.
Soon Maged, the owner of the Habiba, joined us, and once again I was surpried about his concerns. It was not about his lodge, but rather the Bedouin boys. When visited before, I was told about their camel riding school, but I was not aware of its significance. In reality, the school is meant to provide an income to these young boys and a future. It has been set up as a non-profit organization, where the boys are also supposed to learn languages and how to deal with the tourists. Maged was more interested in this effort, than promoting his own property. I agreed to help. I will be forming a non-profit corporation in the US in order to facilitate donations to the program, and I will be assisting in other ways to help this cause. In fact, Tour Egypt will very soon have a section on other charitable causes in Egypt.
After relaxing for a while on the beach, and exploring the new additions at the Hibiba as we were leaving, we headed downtown for a few more photos. As it turns out, we did not get into Dahab and to the hotel where we were staying until after sundown. We had a long day ahead of us the next day, as we went back into the Sinai interior, so we called it a night.
Last Updated: June 9th, 2011