Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ras Shetan and Sharm Al Sheik

As the continental plates comprising africa and the middle east tore in two over the last few millions years, a little piece of land remained in the middle. The jagged landscapes of the Sinai peninsula looks the part, and the rippled mountains seem to churn as you pass. For the most part it is uninhabited desert until you reach the Red Sea, where you can almost touch the mountains on the coast of Jordan. It's a beautiful, alien, unspoiled place.

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Our destination ultimately was a small stretch of beach called Ras Shetan. Named for a rock formation that juts out and over the sea - in Arabic, 'The Devil's Head.'

This is what we came for: miles and miles from civilization with Spartan accommodations a few meters from the water. Strong, sweet tea and thick smoke. Days and nights spent staring off into the horizon. The easy rhythm of Arabic spoken between old friends. The thick carpets and worn hammocks of our Bedouin hosts. The beat of drums or wail of pipes lasting well into the night. The sunset shining through the clouds and turning the mountains a deep red, giving the sea its name.

I spent much of my time walking or reading or sleeping by the water. The few days drifted easily by.

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The nights, however were a different matter. Our accommodations included a roof and a bed and little else. I had no pillow, sheets, towels, nothing like that. No big deal, easily improvised. Not so easy was our lack of mosquito netting. Egyptian mosquitoes are tiny and vicious and seemed to laugh at our pathetic bug spray. Any exposed skin would be instantly covered with bites, ten or twenty in an hour. It was brutal, and by the last few nights I was using every piece of clothing I had to cover myself and must have looked like some kind of fashionable mummy.

Though it was a perfect break - incredible scenery and the relaxed company of new friends, I was feeling ready to move on after a few days. Despite where I call home, I've never developed a taste for the ascetic beach life. The frenetic energy of cities is in my blood - and I'm so pale that a few minutes in the hot sun will leave my skin red and tender.

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I decided that I would return to Sharm Al Sheik and sample the tourist vibe before heading back to Cairo. With some comical difficulty I located a cheap hotel far outside of town that had just opened and had beautiful rooms for a very good price. I spent the day on the terrace writing, catching up on this journal and laying the groundwork for some projects that may yet give this trip some greater purpose.

At night I went into town and blew my budget for the day on dinner and water-pipe and a local, very elaborate club called Pascha. The line-up that night had featured an impressive female DJ, which is a welcome rarity, and the club seemed to attract an astounding number of Eastern-Europeans who were some of the worst, most serious dancers I've ever seen. High point: the FIA-GT race from Silverstone on TV at the outside bar, easily won by a Maserati. The low point: attempting to navigate the maze (literally, a maze) the club had setup to buy cheap-ish drinks. As I was leaving, I was slurredly asked by the male part of a British couple if I felt that he had what it took to be an airline pilot - I told him yes, but he should wait until tomorrow.

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The next day, thinking I could be clever and save the cost of an evening's hotel, I took the night bus back to Cairo. Well intentioned, but foolish. The 11pm bus was supposed to take 7-9 hours, but the driver went so fast that it took about 5 1/2. As he went over bumps with the throttle pinned to the floor you could feel the front tires of the bus loosing contact with the road. I slept little, and was let out on the side of the road in downtown Cairo well before dawn.

I paid for a room in the first hostel I saw and got some sleep.

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2 comments:

  1. Hey, I´ve recently found your blog through lonely planet.Tough luck with the bugs. Beautiful Mountain scenery, I really liked the second to last picture. Ras Shetan looks like real retreat.

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  2. wow - your blog was/is on the lonely planet? that is so cool.

    but, this post, i felt like you were just giving us the introduction and forgot to write the rest .... boooooo

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