22 – 26 March 2013
A long overnight bus ride later I stop on the Sinai peninsula in Dahab, where you can look across the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia. Dahab before the tourism explosion, was a string of sandy beaches with straw beach huts and shacks. It still maintains its relaxed vibe and is a small tourist haven devoid of the prevailing sexual harassment in comparison to the rest of Egypt. Even the touts seem half hearted and barely try to pedal their wares. The main activities revolve around the Red Sea and exploring the coral reef though a trek up Mt Sinai is also at the top of many tourists list. I decide to make this my priority and join an sunrise trek up to the top of the mountain knowing I will never be able to sum up the energy to do it by bicycle or trek alone.
To ensure all the individual groups make it to the top before sunrise we have to leave Dahab at 11pm and arrive at the base car park at 1am. The trek is then negotiated by torchlight shuffling up behind the countless other sleepy tourists. Occasionally a camel driver will materialise out of the dark trying to break the weaker spirits in-between the strategically placed cafes selling overpriced tea and coffee. The view from the top looking across the many rocky peaks making up the Sinai area is spectacular whether you have any spiritual connection to this area or not.
After anothers days rest in Dahab I cycle on for Nuweiba another town with tourist facilities to the north on the Red Sea. The road though does not follow the coast but rather heads inland leaving behind any cooling breeze in the 35+ degree heat. Its a slow steady climb up and twice I decline rides offered to me. After a lunch break I run out of water and face an uncertain ride til the next checkpoint where I can refill my bottles. Thirst begins to dominate my every thought and I actually say ‘You beauty!’ out loud when I see a sign for a rest house on the road ahead.
Making a bee line for the fridges stocking juice and water my happiness is soon quelled by the young male shop keeper who starts to closely pepper me with questions. There is no one else in the shop and I move to look at the food to escape his invasive presence though in doing so he manages to brush his hand against my bum following me around the shop. My jubilation in being able to drink multiple cold drinks in the shade has evaporated. I had wistfully dreamed that in the two final days of cycling in Egypt I might be able to avoid any further sexual harassment. The bubble that existed in Dahab though has popped and my desire to get out of Egypt has never been stronger. I fast track it from the rest house thoroughly disappointed but at least with enough water to last the rest of the day.
The climbing continues and at one particularly slow point a man pulls alongside me in a car very insistent that he will give me a ride and that there is still a very long hard cycle to Nuweiba. I stick to my guns though and a few kilometres later am rewarded with an epic descent back down to the coast. Only someone up to no good would deny a cyclist there downhill for the day. Nuweiba is a village past its peak and the majority of the beach front accommodation, mostly Thai style huts is empty and has seen better days. There is nothing much to do there other than to sit and relax at the sea front so I only spend one night sleeping in one of the many available huts.
The next day is long slog up and down along the coast under the hot sun to the Taba border crossing with Israel. I arrive at 3pm and once through the Egyptian side am forced to take Frankie through the foot passenger area rather than the car access. At first this is fine as I wheel along behind some Israelis returning from a day trip. A stone cold Israeli border security officer asks me what the purpose of my visit is, I laugh and point at Frankie. She looks at me like I am piece of shit she just got stuck to her shoe. Well I didn’t expect the red carpet rolled out but still they must suck some serious lemons in training for this job.
She waves me on and I eventually make it to the x ray machine. Assuming they will want to x ray my bags I take them off and put them on the conveyor belt. The border security officer though then wants me to put Frankie through the machine though there is no way this will fit. She asks if Frankie will fold. I say no. She seems very annoyed and asks ‘Why not?’. ‘Um its not a folding bike’ I reply. Awkward. I offer to take off the wheels to appease her anger and she agrees. I am pulled aside to another x ray machine where I have to grab my bags and find my tools to take off the wheels. Another border security officer puts Frankie through the machine and then begins to ask me about my plans and tells me the name of a bike shop in Eilat I could visit. I feel like I am getting the good cop bad cop treatment, its very disconcerting.
I finally get everything back together again and on the bike and am able to make it to the passport check. When I arrive at the counter the young woman behind the desk sees I am tired and stressed and sympathises to my cause. She asks a minimum of basic questions and then turns to asking me about my bicycle journey saying she would like to do the same whilst printing out a three month visa for me. I exit the border and am ejected into another world. I experience reverse culture shock with the sight of so much flesh, loud music, alcohol and general revelry along the beach and town of Eilat. Its like a slap in the face after travelling through Turkey and Egypt the past three months.
I cant say I have missed this part of western culture though the proliferation of western goods and opportunity to find some new tyres is appealing and the reason why I am here. There is a direct ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba, Jordan which I could have taken to have avoided coming through the tip of Israel but decided against knowing there would probably be no chance of new tyres until Amman a number of days ride away. I make it to the centre of town and spot a YHA where I find out the reason for the endless stream of people on holiday mode, it is Passover a national holiday in Israel. As a result a bed in a dorm room is a ridiculous price but I am tired and see no other option at the end of the day so take it.
Local Bedouin looking across the Aqaba Gulf to Saudi Arabia.
Watching the sunrise from Mt Sinai.
Visual proof my sneakers made the night ascent.
To the north.
On the way back down the 3000 steps of penance.
Breakfast of champions.
Heading inland from Dahab.
Shade is your friend.
Sign at the camel racing track, how many mistakes can you find…
Nuweiba dunes, struggling through sand to get to the beach front shacks.
Thai style beach huts in Nuweiba.
The good life…