Dahab, Snorkeling the Blue Hole, Climbing Mt. Sinai

Our time in Dahab has nearly come to an end, and with it our time in Egypt as well. The month we have been here has just flown by, and although we have often been frustrated and exhausted, we have had an amazing time, both seeing and experiencing Egypt as well as meeting many genuinely nice and friendly people. We are going to return to Egypt at some point, mostly to see our friends in the Dakkhla Oasis, though Dahab has been a lot of fun (and would be great to scuba dive in once we work up the courage!), and we still want to ride a felucca up the Nile River at some point in our lives!
We have been in Dahab for four days, and between travel exhaustion, very upset stomachs, and unseasonably windy seas, we have relaxed more than we have engaged in recreational activities, but there’s nothing wrong with that and we have still had two simply amazing experiences. We are also in an annoying and unnecessary financial bind, since all the ATMs in this town are owned by the same bank, and for whatever reason our ATM card isn’t being recognized. So we have to use the last of our traveler’s checks tomorrow in order to afford the bus fares back to Cairo, but we have consequently felt the pinch a bit in our recreational spending. No big deal, just one of the minor frustrations that can occur while traveling!
The first cool thing we did hear was to snorkel in the Red Sea at The Blue Hole, a reef site about 6 km away from Dahab City where we are staying, due north up the coast. The Blue Hole is a notorious dive site, and many divers have died in its practically unimaginable depths (120+ meters straight down, but only about 20-30 meters across!). However, the top is merely a beautiful coral-laden reef, with numerous incredible species of fish! We saw at least 100 species during two tours through the water (the cold water temperature coupled with the windy conditions limited the amount of time we could be swimming before the shivers took over), including several lion fish, translucent glass fish, and numerous barracudas. Both times we dove in, in was into a school of little bright-blue fish, that weren’t too intimidated by our arrival. A little weird, being completely surrounded by fish, but very tranquil at the same time. The Blue Hole is a little bit build up, so there’s a row of makeshift restaurants to relax at (that also rent out the snorkeling equipment), so that was nice that we had places to lay out in the sun or lounge in the shade whenever we so desired.
We did the snorkeling on Sunday, then, of this week, relaxed on Monday, wandering about the town, eating amazing (and cheap food), and such, and did more of the same on Tuesday during the day, saving our energy for Tuesday evening, when we climbed Mt. Sinai. The mountain is about 2 hours away, and due to the heat of the day, the best time to climb is at night, in order to also then catch the spectacular sunrise. That means then, that we left our hotel (which we technically had checked out of for the night) at 11 p.m., and rode to Sinai until 1 a.m. Guides are mandatory, though completely unneeded since the paths are painfully obvious, so we were grudgingly guided up the mountain, which really meant that we stopped more frequently than necessary, allowing sweat to gather and freeze us more than the cold temperature actually was! It was never really all that cold, even at the top of the mountain, which we reached about 4 a.m., the temperature was only 45 degrees or so. We were bundled up in all the layers we have, and actually using our long underwear as scarves, so we didn’t need the blankets they were renting at the top (we’d brought our sleeping bag liners), though we did get one mat to lay on since the ground itself was pretty frigid (as we discovered sitting on rocks at various coffee shops along the way waiting for our guide to warm up).
Sleep came sparingly during the 90 minutes we had to wait until sunrise, and we awoke to eager sun-waiters before our 5:30 a.m. alarm went off, which meant we were fully awake to watch the entire rising from our excellent vantage point. We then began the descent around 6:20 or so, and were down to the bottom (via a different route, we went up by the “camel trail” and down by the “3000 Steps of Penance”) by around 8 a.m. Both trails meet before the summit, and thus 750 additional stairs are mandatory regardless of which route you take. The camel trail is easier, particularly at night, and thousands of stairs were rough on the knees going down, so we’re sure going up wouldn’t have been all that enjoyable. There was a full moon, so flashlights were rather unnecessary going up, which was pretty awesome.
We had to waste an hour then, from 8 until 9, which was easy given our exhaustion from both the climb and the lack of sleep, though St. Catherine’s monastery, located at the foot of the mountain (and whose opening we were waiting for) wasn’t exactly the most riveting. It’s to not only a well-preserved ancient Christian church, but also the descendant of the “Burning Bush” from the Bible, as well as a well Moses supposedly drank out of, but it’s all rather packed and dull, full of overly-enthused elderly tourists staring at a large prickly bush and a closed off ancient well. The church itself is nice enough, accept that it is so packed with icons and such that it looks quite tacky, kind of like a bizarre religious bazaar. Incense burners hang from the ceiling just about everywhere, and the church is so tiny and cramped it is hard to even see everything, plus Russian Orthodox ministers seemed to be holding a service of some sort as well. But, whatever, cathedrals and mosques and churches and stuff aren’t really our style much anyways, but when you’re there you’re there, so we’re still glad we saw it, though the Sinai sunrise and climb is what we will really remember.
We’ve also managed to obtain some incredible traditional Egyptian music, through some music shop owners here in Dahab that we befriended, and subsequently swapped mp3s with, though much of it is unlabeled we do have all the artist and album names, so hopefully we can piece things together eventually, but at least the amazing music is easy to listen to!
That’s about it for now, anything we’ve forgotten about Dahab will have to come later. Our upcoming itinerary is: Thursday night – overnight bus to Cairo; Friday day – chill at airport, avoid aggravation of Cairo; Friday afternoon – fly to Doha, Qatar (and enjoy a 6-hour layover); Saturday afternoon – arrive in Trivandrum, India (in the far south); Saturday evening – sleep. Now it’s getting way to late for these typing fingers, so peace and good night!

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