For the millionth time I cursed my choice of overnight transportation (will I ever ever ever learn??) as I drearily looked out of the window of the mini-van I’d agreed to ride to the Sinai Peninsula on the Red Sea. Fortunately, the sun was rising up behind a stunning mountain range and my discomfort was quickly pacified by the beauty of the Northen African countryside.
Dahab, in almost every sense aside from the harrowing heat, could not have been more different than Cairo. Opposed to the disquieting chaos of Egypt’s capital, I stepped off the mini van to find nothing but a dusty, deserted street. I wandered seaward to a lazy path that ran parallel to the water, across from which you could see the shimmering lights of Saudi Arabia– when I did find people, they seemed to be eternally relaxed and living in a utopia. It was then that I realized where I was–the Arcadia of Scuba Diving. I learned quickly that Dahab, as well as many other places on this peninsula, were world renowned for their exquisite and easily accessible dive sites, relaxed and international. There were open-air restaurants that served exotic (and edible!) foods lining the beach, well groomed stray cats you actually WANTED to pet hanging around all day, and a handful of wonderful, likeminded travelers that all seemed to be addicted to this place, staying indefinitely. Because of the recent conflicts in Egypt, Dahab had been struggling with tourism, so aside from being almost completely empty, there seemed to be a serious price cut in food, lodging, and activities. You could essentially choose your price of everything– dinner? Yeah, I’ll pay $2 for that. How about $4 for a night to stay in a private, air conditioned room? Cool. It was then that I abandoned all other potential travel plans around Egypt, booked a week at the first decent looking hotel, sat down and pet a cat that had simultaneously curled up in my lap.
I decided, after 2 days of book-reading, cat-petting, fish-eating, and sun-burning, i was ready to get back in the big blue sea I had last visited in Portugal. In hopes of getting more confident underwater, I sidestepped my overwhelming oceanic fear and signed up to get certified as an Advanced Diver, which is a 2 day crash course in things like deep diving and night diving– activities that sounded terrifying to me. The next day, geared up and ready to go, I was introduced to my instructor, Roland, a chain-smoking German man whose face was almost entirely hidden behind the most prodigious and massive mustache i have ever seen (and I live in Portland, so that is saying a lot). And the diving went GREAT. The sites we visited were bustling with fish and landscape I had never seen, and whenever I felt a glimmer of anxiety, Roland need only look back towards me, and the hilarity of his mustache framed against his regulator and mask would ease me back into comfort and remind me of the fun i was supposed to be having. By the end of the week, I felt like I could take on the world. Though I imagine I could have stayed for another lifetime, my exit back to Cairo was bittersweet–the next day I was to get on the plane to meet a handful of my very best friends in Thailand- Friendship Club Asia was about to commence.