Wow, what a weekend!
Thursday night, we left on the overnight bus for Dahab. I woke up on my 19th birthday in a massive tourist bus, driving across the Sinai. There were 28 of us traveling together, so we practically took up the entire thing. We arrived in Dahab in the morning and got checked into our hostel. Six of us shared a room with three bunk beds. The bathroom was questionable, but since we were paying only 20 pounds/person (three dollars) per night, it was okay! We went to the beach, enjoying the nice weather. In the afternoon, we went snorkeling in the Blue Hole, a place famous in the Red Sea for great diving. It was beautiful! It was my first time snorkeling, and I loved swimming through the schools of fish.
We returned to the hostel and slept until evening. We then before got in a van and rode two hours to the base of Mount Sinai. We had an overnight hike up the mountain that took three hours. Yes, I will repeat that, we hiked for three hours up this mountain. The moon was bright, so it wasn’t hard to see the path, and the stars were all around us. All was pretty okay until we got to the 750 rocky steps that led to the top. Our muscles hurt the next day! Once we got to the top, the sun was rising, and we had a beautiful view. There was a church at the top, and we decided that it would be crazy to make that climb every Sunday! We sat at the top for a while, feeling accomplished and exhausted, before climbing all of the way back down. We’re still not sure the view was totally worth the long climb, but it was a fun night!
On the way home, we got stopped for an hour and half because the driver did not have the right permit to be driving from 9 to 10:30 AM. This was one of many, many “welcome to Egypt” moments we’ve had since we got here. There are so many little, stupid rules here that the police can enforce whenever they get the feeling. Unfortunately, there were two Americans riding along with us who decided to fight this rule. Yes, the rule was stupid, but there was nothing to be gained by arguing with the officers. The police are a big reason that the revolution happened in the first place. They are corrupt and not compassionate to the people at all. If you challenge them, they will only take a harder line. Instead of backing down to us, the officers started questioning our Egyptian friend Ibrahim (the only Egyptian there with us). They realized that we did not have a licensed tour guide with us (which, apparently is required for any group of “tourists” traveling around Egypt). For this, they could either charge Ibrahim for impersonating a tour guide, or charge all of us for not having one. To get this threat waved, we convinced the two Americans to go apologize to the officers. We left at 10:30 with no more problems, but I took this experience in as a lesson in inefficient governance.
After climbing down, we drove back to Dahab. We spent the rest of the day sleeping on the beach. I loved everything about Dahab. Unlike Sharm el-Sheihk (which is like the Cancun of Egypt), Dahab has a very hippie, relaxed vibe. There were some tourists, but no one was high-strung. Lots of people were there to dive or snorkel. All of the restaurants had decks out on the edge of the water, so we lay out there under the umbrellas to sleep. If we got hot, we could just get up and walk down the steps, straight into the water! This took the sand (which I hate about going to the beach) right out of the equation! The water was clear, clear blue and cool. As long as we ordered drinks every once in awhile (15 pounds for strawberry juice!), we could stay as long as we liked.
Saturday night, we went to sit on the roof of one of the hotels by the water. We watched the waves under the stars and talked all evening. As ever with AIESEC people, I had some really interesting conversations. There was one point where Victor and I were talking to a Colombian guy about living in Maadi. We were discussing the fact that since we’d lived in other parts of Cairo (Victor in Giza and I in Nasr City), we don’t feel that the people in Maadi represent the rest of Cairo. The Colombian guy disagreed heavily; saying that he felt Maadi represents all walks of Egyptian life (a point that I still completely disagree with). At one point in the conversation, due to the late hour and his slightly imperfect English, the Colombian guy was unable to express his argument in English. He was frustrated, but Victor just waved his hand and said, “Just say it in Spanish.” Thus, the conversation switched from English to Spanish, the guy describing differences in socioeconomic levels and us responding in Spanish. This was awesome to me, because I a) realized that it was freaking awesome to be able to communicate in another language and b) realized what an interesting group of people I am surrounded with in AIESEC.
After weeks in Cairo, Dahab was like paradise; we were spending all day in our bikinis by the beach, enjoying the sun and relaxing.
Sunday night, we were supposed to be going home. However, we got to a checkpoint and were told that the road was not safe to drive, so we were sent back to Dahab (oh darn, another night at the beach). While we were stopped at the police check-point though, we were in the parking lot of a nice beach club. It took awhile, but Victor eventually looked up and realized that it was the club his family used to visit on the weekends whenever they lived in Cairo. Sherin, Victor, Shubhi, Shubum, and I walked into the back gate like we owned the place, and Victor showed us around, taking us back to his childhood. It was such a nice place: a real resort on the beach. I would have loved to know how much it costs to stay there for a night. My guess is that it’s a lot more reasonable than the equivalent in the states. I would love to go back!
Back in Dahab, we went to Yalla Bar (a beachfront restaurant where we spent almost everyday this weekend) to sit on the lounges next to the water for the evening. We watched the soccer match and eventually fell asleep next to the water, listening to the waves.
Monday, we woke at ten and were on the road by 12. We drove ten hours back to Cairo, listing to music, eating junk food (lots and lots of Todo, a cheap Egyptian brand that produces the equivalent of Hostess snacks), and picking on each other like siblings. We arrived at Aarane’s apartment and ordered shwarma for dinner. Finally, we made it home to shower, thankful to remove the beach grime from the weekend.
Today, I went with Alvira, Sherin, and Victor to Tahrir Square to visit the government office and renew our visas. It went surprisingly well! We’ve heard so much about long waits for visas, but we were in and out in about an hour or so. I had to get a photo taken for the visa, and it was entertaining to walk around the building to see how their government offices look. It was sort of amazing how run-down it all looks there. Anyways, we have to go back tomorrow morning and finalize the renewal, but it shouldn’t take too long.
After that, we walked around downtown and decided to get lunch. I had my seventh strawberry juice in five days (I don’t know what I’m going to do without it when I get home!), and, then, we headed over to the Egyptian Museum. We ended up spending all afternoon there, visiting all the room in the building. It took us about an hour and a half to see each of the two floors. The displays were so interesting, even though it wasn’t all labeled well (still, much better than any other museum I’ve seen in Egypt!). I remember at one time Max telling me that before he went to Egypt, he couldn’t understand why the major museums in London, New York, etc. don’t return their Egyptian artifacts to Egypt. Then, after visiting Egypt, he decided that Egypt didn’t deserve all of the artifacts, because they don’t take care of the things that they have. Honestly, after seeing the museums here, I totally agree. They don’t properly label anything, and the way that the museums are organized is sort of pitiful. The great Egyptian museum almost felt like a storeroom at some points. They do not highlight the major attractions, and there are so many little things sitting out that you don’t know what to look at.
The nice thing about going today was that no one in the museum! We basically had the place to ourselves. I’ve read in guidebooks about how it takes all day to see everything, how it’s crowded and hot, and how you should try and go early to get ahead of things. Thanks to a combination of summer being the low tourism season and everyone being afraid of the revolution, we had a perfect visit. We wandered around, taking in everything at once. We probably saw a total of four or five tourists, and the rest of the people were Egyptians.