Sinai on a bike

Secretive bay, Sinai

Tamar, a girl we met in a desert oasis in Israel has influenced our plans. “Jordan is just like Israel twenty years ago, go to Sinai and see something entirely magical". I remember the gleam in her eyes and lips telling of the truth. A few days have passed until we managed to reach Egypt on our bicycles. On both sides of the road there is a desert landscape. High mountains around make every steep ascent even more exhausting. Short-lasting downhill parts provide a bit of relief. The afternoon sun casts a long, warm and mysterious shadows on the rocky coast of Saudi Arabia across the narrow Gulf of Aqaba.

As the evening comes, we are looking for a place to pitch a tent. We get to know an Egyptian guy Hazar Toni. He is a caretaker of a new hotel construction site. The construction, however, has been suspended, just like all other investments due to the closure of banks and halted financing, following recent political turmoil.

We pitch a tent outside, but soon after Hazar comes out of his house and invites us inside. Five minutes later we sit together, drink tea with milk and smoke hookahs. Bedouin Mr. Salem visits Hazar to bring firewood. I note that the wood will be used instead of charcoal to fire the water pipe.

We all sleep in an separate room. All night long something seems to be biting me, I do not know if these are fleas, mosquitoes, or maybe just my imagination, because it is an extremely hot night.

Hazar shows us around the area, we get to know his workplace, the construction site he oversees every several hours. We visit a Mr. Salem, his wife and ten-year old daughter Hadiga. They live in a tiny hut made of planks on the other side of the road. They have neither electricity nor running water. Mr. Salem takes care of goats and sheep. He is feeding them with old pita bread and pieces of paper containing cellulose. In a desert climate it is hard to get anything more than that.

As prepares tea on the hearth, Hadiga puts off chickens approaching the fire by throwing small stones. The family has lived here for five years, together with a blind grandmother. When the riots would cease and construction sites resume, all the surrounding buildings will be removed and native residents will have to move away. Luckily the Bedouins are accustomed to a wandering lifestyle.

We say goodbye to Hazar and head 40 km south towards the town of Nuweiba. A Muslim woman covered with a scarf invites us to breakfast. For around 10 Egyptian pounds (the equivalent of €1.5) all of us have truly hearty meal. Surprised by hospitality, we also come back for dinner. In the afternoon the woman invites Kate to her house, shows her around and eventually takes off her scarf showing the face. Me and Mieszko unfortunately can not expect such an intimacy level.

Hazar smokes his shesha all day long

Camels walk on a street. There is a beer shop and just nearby a full of character bar run by Zolo, who arrived here from South Sudan. Zolo offers us a special shisha. The time passes unnoticed and when it is already dark the question comes: where shall we spend the night?

Zolo is able to arrange everything. His friend arrives in an old, rusty Fiat 125. We follow the car in the dark a few miles out of the town and find ourselves in an abandoned campsite with thatched cottages. Each of this simple constructions has all what one may need. There is a wall, a roof, two mats spread on the ground and a warm light bulb hanging loose from the ceiling on a makeshift wire. The cost is about $2 per night for three of us.

In the morning we start from a 15 km long ascent from the sea level to a height of about 1000 meters. Since we move away from the water, it is getting warmer. There is only desert and ever higher elevation around. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, I see an Arab guy wearing a turban, having no baggage, walking on his feet. He greets us step by step walks away. I have no idea what is going on. It is the middle of desert!

The following hour we have another special desert case. There are some abandoned buildings, dilapidated restaurant and other Arab who calls for help. His jeep has a deflated tire. I take out a bicycle pump and inflate it. It looks ridiculous, but the operation is successful. Thanks to his hospitality, we load our bikes onto the jeep and drive to Dahab.

There we find Bishibish Camp, a place that I would like to recommend in all possible way. Great atmosphere, reasonable prices, the staff with which you can smoke hookahs and talk in the evening, as well as the proximity of the town center.

On one of the street stalls we order pita bread with fried lamb and fresh vegetables. It comes out to be our mistake. The next 33 hours we spend in our hotel room without moving, only walking between a bed and a toilet.

I happened to eat using my hands out of a common bowl with natives in the Congo, I had random dishes in India and ate raw meat in Ethiopia, but never had any of such consequences as those right now in Egypt.

We postpone our snorkeling trip for the following day.

On our way out, we decide to cover the return leg of the peninsula by bus and resume on bikes once the route would not be double tracked. A 55-year-old Arab arrives in a Japanese made bus. I jump onto the roof and mount our bikes with a thick white rope.

The driver is a fatigued man, a bit tired of life and probably also because of the sun. During the conversation it turns out that he has two children and got divorced only two years ago. We pass an identical bus, but overloaded with luggage. To tell the truth, the luggage has a height of two and a half meters above the roof! It must be a true champion and a specialist in overland freight.

On the way back we visit Hazar at whom we slept a few days ago. He quickly befriends the driver. There is another detailed border control and we are back in Israel.

April 2011

sinai