in Indian Ocean, MediterraneanComments Off on Egypt

Dolphin Reef is in Egyptian territorial waters, although we are tolerated there without permit or clearance, landing on the mainland (like inadvertant border crossing!) is not allowed by the ever present military!
We had 5 days of strong northwesterlies at Dolphin Reef, but although the wind was whistling, we felt very secure behind the reef and could have stayed longer,if need be and as many do!
When the wind dropped and a lull for 2 days was forecast however we took it and enjoyed a day sail to Sham Luli, arriving just on dusk, -we wouldn’t want to have been any later!
The anchorage there is in a small marsa with a narrow reefy entrance, but once inside it was completely sheltered from wind and wave.

The following morning was a quiet and stillness we are now unused to, -a reminder of the calm anchorages back in the sounds of New Zealand, we could hear the same crackling in the water…
Nice as it would have been to stay and enjoy it and although the place was deserted as the sun rose, we knew it wouldn’t be long before the military arrived to investigate us, want to look at our papers and who knows what else!!!

We motored on out and up the coast, keeping close inshore as we had good visibility in the shallows. As the land was still comparatively dust-free, the clarity and colours of the mountain backdrop were beautiful.
Along the foreshore was a series of large, modern resorts and several more under construction, many with large dive boats moored outside. We were clearly getting into the area of the Red Sea dive resorts and it explained where those luxurious dive boats at Dolphin Reef were based.
It was a long day, we motored most of it negotiating our way between reefs and sailed a little, arriving in Port Ghalib just at dusk.


This was our Egyptian Port of clearance, we pulled alongside the dock and within a few hours all the formalities were completed, surprisingly easily and simply.
We were then sent to berth in the marina which surprised us, as it was by then near midnight
totally dark and that concerned us as we did not know the marina and it would be our first attempt at real ‘Med Mooring’! However, with a little guidance and the lack of wind we had no trouble and were soon tied securely.

Port Ghalib is a new marina, opened only in the last year or so and still being deveoped.It is part of a large residential/resort complex (as so many are in this part of the world) and is on a grand scale, although still has a very long way to go.
There are several large, many starred hotels and great numbers of shops, but as yet, not a lot of custom!
The Marsa Alam airport nearby brings European charter flights for diving holidays and there are wealthy Egyptians who come down from Cairo, but not nearly enough yet to fill the capacity.
All around there are great diving locations, but otherwise the place is in the desert with no town or anything around for a long way, no big city attractions of infrastructure, it depends on its own power supply and totally on water by desalination.
However, everyone is enthusiastic and friendly, we couldn’t really fault our treatment.
We enjoyed 9 days there waiting for the next weather opportunity, walking in the desert (!) buying things at the small shop and eating in the restaurant in the worker’s village, -preferring the flat bread, tahini and falafel there to the mediocre and overpriced western food of the resort complex!
The next sailing leg was a comparatively long one requiring an overnight trip. A quiet spellof wind came and we motored all the way,more than a hundred miles, to Abu Tig Marina in El Ghouna,just north of Hurghada. We had a pre-arranged booking there for one month.


Like Port Ghalib, it is a large resort/residential/marina complex  but much more established, clearly doing well and currently being greatly expanded.

Also like Port Ghalib,

it is ‘motor boat city’, diving holidays are a speciality, no-one much sails, -it is too windy!!! However, as one of the consistently windy places in the Red Sea, it is also a centre for kiteboarding and windsurfing.

But not only, there are plenty of beaches under Sheraton and Movenpick or other names to lie about on, a large golf course,

not withstanding the many compounds and islands of residential housing,

ranging from small apartments to glorious mansions.

Although the building standards might not meet the quality we would expect and after 20 years that is beginning to show, -unless there’s a dust-storm, -the colours, uniformity and clean lines of design, make the whole, very attractive.

There’s a complete town in El Ghouna, restaurants, pharmacies, fruit and vegetables, supermarkets and almost anything you might need…even alcohol and all at very reasonable prices. It has a small hospital, small airport (for private jets!) and services such as recycling, electrical and desalination plants.

Although in reality nothing in El Gouna is very far away, small buses imported from Karachi with a ‘love-em or hate-em’ sort of design run regular routes and there are always swarms of pesky tuk-tuks if you still need help to get around…

Egypt is not an expensive place to live provided you can avoid the rip-offs and the scams, but that is not always easy!
El Gouna with its security is a sheltered environment in that respect, as we discovered when we took the bus to Hurghada city 20 km down the road. We wanted to visit friends in the marina there and were no sooner set down off the bus than we were whisked off by a helpful man to show us the way on to the marina, -but of course we were going instead to back alleys of carpet shops and seedy tourist outlets…

-fine,if that’s what you are after and interested/tolerant enough to put up with the hassling, but if not, a time to be firm to, or beyond the point of rudeness, in order to escape!
We escaped of course and got to the marina by taxi, but only after settling a on fare about a quarter the asking price…

The marina there is new and large, but without the facilities of Abu Tig and although there is security,-once out the gates you are into the free for all hassling and haggling of being a western person in an Egyptian tourist town!
We thought we had made the right choice of location to stay for a few weeks.


Leaving Quo Vadis in our Abu Tig base we went for some land travel.
Our first trip was a short overnight one to the Sinai Peninsula to follow in the footsteps of Moses… a time when the Old Testament is as useful as the Lonely Planet!
It is a 3 hour ferry ride from Hurghada to Sharm el Sheikh, we took one leaving at the uncivilised time of 4am!
On the other side we were met by a pre-arranged driver and obligatory guide to be taken up to St Katherine’s and Mt Sinai.
After some initial disagreement with our guide over the form our ‘tour’ was to take and about which he proved totally unhelpful and inflexible, resulting in some rather ugly argument to reach a compromise, we were underway,-in silence!
Bypassing Sharm el Sheikh we had about 2 1/2 hour drive up into the mountains.

The scenery of the Sinai peninsula is just incredible! After the predominantly flat shore-lines of the Red Sea we had seen to date, this was dramatically desolate, steeply hilly and geologically fascinating with it’s coloured rocks and eroded formations…

…totally arid.

Nothing much lives there, we passed very few signs of habitation or of any life off the road, other than occasional nomad tents and camels.

St Katherines is now quite a major town, built up around the ancient St Katherines monastery and totally dependent on tourism there and nearby Mt Sinai.

The Monastery is one of the first, -ever, -dating back to early Christian history.
A chapel was built first in 330 AD by the Roman Empress Helena on what was thought to be the site of the ‘burning bush’ from which God spoke to Moses.
In the 6th century as accommodation and security was needed for the many pilgrims, Emperor Justinian ordered a fortress and monastery to be built there.
It has been enlarged and developed over the years but has been continuously functioning ever since and now the chapel is one of the longest surviving Christian churches, the monastery likewise.
St Katherine of Alexandria was an early Christian Martyr, said to have been tortured, beheaded, then transported by angels to the summit of St Katherines peak, the highest peak in Egypt and immediately nearby. 
The Monastery is now a very busy place, many busloads of people visiting every day, usually quite early in the morning, fortunately by being a little later we avoided the real crush.

It is the great religious significance of the site and adjacent Mt Sinai that draws the people as there really is very little of the monastery open to the public

the small ‘Chapel of Skulls’ and a little of the courtyard only. 

 The main chapel is also open, but strictly not to photography sadly. Dating from the 6th century, it is a place with dim lighting great atmosphere, marble columns, chandeliers and icons are plenty.

In the courtyard is what is said to be a transplanted descendent of the original burning bush. 

It’s a very hardy, thorny, blackberry-like bit of scrub and although there was once some debate as to whether this really was the site God spoke to Moses, or whether it was several valleys to the north, this bush has survived and people have believed it to be so now for so many hundreds of years there must be some truth in it!
It happens to be immediately adjacent to a well, one of the few water supplies in the area. The monastery was put in an area of natural water collection from the meagre rain that falls, and although undoubtedly now supplemented by imported water, the wells have been enough to keep its inhabitants and few surrounding cypress trees and olive groves alive through the ages.  

The equally significant Mt Sinai from where Moses descended with 10 Commandments towers above the Monastery.

The summit is at 2285 metres, about 700 metres climb from the monastery, up a very well-used track.
Despite that it is now neccessary to have a bedouin guide, we aquired a nice young man from the guide ‘pool’ at the monastery and left our rather petulant ‘Nile Egyptian’ man behind. We were very happy with the service our new guide gave us, although we had been unaware of the need for him, he added a great deal of value to the walk!

It is steady, not hard, but hot and many people opt for the camel over the first part.
Hundreds, sometimes a thousand people make the climb every day! Most of them go in the evening or very early morning to wait there for the dawn.
Fortunately we bucked the trend, as although it was hot, leaving the monastery at about midday,meant we had the track to ourselves, we were on our own all the way up!

There are staging posts along the way where drinks and food are available then beyond the 3/4 way mark it becomes steeper, there are too many steps for a camel

it’s for the donkeys and us, everyone must go on foot to the summit.

We waited for the camel with its load to catch up,

had coffee

and all resumed the climb,

past Elijah’s Basin Plateau, the spot where Elijah was said to have heard the voice of God

and up many steps to the small chapel on the summit where they say Moses received his stone tablets.

There we found a few others left over from walks earlier in the day, clearly in no hurry, enjoying the cool mountain sunshine and the significance of the location…with the peak of Mt St Katherines in the background.

It’s hard to comprehend that we were standing in the place where events of that importance might have happened so long ago,-although like the true location of the burning bush was questioned, for some time Moses’ mountain climb was thought to be further up the Sinai Peninsula, -but in the same way, people have believed this is the spot for so long now that it is good enough for me -and many others!

It was a somewhat hazy view around the surrounding mountains, rarely is it clear, but the rock formations

and the views down the sheer mountain sides into the valley were dramatically different from any mountain I’d climbed before!

On the way down from the summit, beyond all the steps, our guide lead us by a route into the valley around the back of the mountain, so we would circumambulate it,

and descending to a small oasis

with stunted olive trees hundreds of years old and beyond it, nestled beside a small, sometimes wet, but mostly dry stream bed, a bedouin home in a garden of vegetables and under almond trees…
It was a delightfully cool and refreshing spot, although hardly any distance from the hot rocks on the sunny, other side of the valley.

We were met by the man of the family, invited in to join him and several women under the tent shelter, then given cold water to drink from a claypot amphora (very effective cooling by evaporation).
Our host then offered us tea.
He talked with us in some English, the women remaining silent in the periphery and as he played and sang a welcome song with a 4 stringed instrument they still didn’t speak…  

…sadly, portrait photos of the women were not in order…
Tea came and went, but, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’, the women were producing articles of beadwork for our interest and hopefully, us to buy.
All were well done, some quite beautiful, it wasn’t hard to purchase a few items for a very small price.
On the way out we were shown his garden, his camel and his cage of ‘pets’…

…Hyrax, cuddly, like large guinea pigs, but probably despite their pet appeal, destined eventually for the pot…
some of us would probably prefer to eat lentils!

We took our leave from the bedouins and followed our leader on down the valley, past more groves of olives

back to St Katherines, arriving as the sun was getting well down and in time for a very late lunch!

We returned that night to Sheikh el Sharm to our hotel.
We had no expectations of enjoying Sheikh el Sharm and were not disappointed!

It is called the ‘Riviera of the Red Sea’ for good reason.
The town has only developed recently, rapidly and over just a few years, as a result of the tourist boom meeting the demand for cheap winter holiday spots in nice places for Europeans.
Between the main road and foreshore of Na’ama Bay is now a continuous string of similar, middle grade resorts with beach frontage, sun umbrellas and jetties.

The water off the beach is unbelievably beautiful, clear, deep blue and with masses and varieties of big fish even just off the docks.
The area around the town is all national park, fishing protected, with great coral reefs so it makes an ideal location for diving and snorkelling holidays.
Most of the patronage we found to be Eastern European or Russian however, their interests were three fold, food, sun and drink…maybe four, with some of the other, but coral and fish didn’t really enter into it!
Across the road from the resort hotels are restaurants serving poor western food at unreasonably high prices and cheap markets of tourist stalls with free for all haggling, -it’s not the place to go for bit of relaxing window shopping.
All in all we were pleased not to be staying ‘Sharm’ any longer, happy to get back to our sheltered enclave at Abu Tig!!!

Comments are closed.