sinai desert and red sea

crossing the border from israel to egypt
taking with us group of people from usa and europe
the border crossing looks like a scene
from the movie ‘the day after’
no passengers
only bored israeli and egyptian soldiers
inside windowless terminal building
reminder of the car bomb that exploded nearby week earlier
heading south to meet with salman and hasan
two local nomad bedouins
who bring their jeeps with them
loaded with supply of food, water, mattresses, cookware,
fabrics for protections from wind storms
we’re getting ready for our journey
to explore the inland desert mountains and canyons
and the shores of the red sea
driving into narrow tall and pink canyon
up to point where it becomes so narrow
that the jeeps can’t continue
leaving the jeeps behind
carrying mattresses and supplies with us
walking deeper into the canyon
salman and hasan begin preparing dinner
setting up fire
cutting veggies without any cutting board
tiny chopped pieces of tomato and cucumber
drop down from between their fingers and the knives
directly into the salad bowl
thin pita bread freshly prepared each meal
on the fire
along with variety of other regional dishes
such as baba ganoush, tahini, and sabikh
stew of the day
for salman and hasan dinner is the first meal of the day
it’s the month of ramadan
during ramadan they wake up to eat at 3 am
then until sunset no eating and no drinking
for the rest of us we’re making sure each person
drinks at least two big water bottles per day
the desert is very hot and drying
juicy fruits such as desert watermelons
full with tasty gigantic black seeds
blood red pomegranates and sweet guavas
help rehydrate us and ensure good quantity
of raw foods
after dinner it’s hookah time
hot coal from the fire is placed
on top of apple flavored tobacco
the sound of the water pipe echos
against the walls of the canyon
placing candles inside wind proof candle holders
that are made from the empty water bottles
recycling is key in the desert
after drumming class
we each find spot to set up for the night sleep
under moon rays
and sky that keeps filling up with more and more stars
being caressed by pleasant desert breeze
waking up in the morning to find out that many of us
experienced dreams having to do with sexuality
could sleeping inside narrow pink canyon
have anything to do with this?
after morning yoga class and good breakfast
heading with the jeeps towards the red sea
on dirt roads and sand dunes
salman and hasan inventing the roads
cris crossing the paths of the jeeps
feels like skiing
setting up on the shore of the red sea
the mountains of jordan and saudi arabia
standing tall on the opposite shore
the colorful sinai mountains
are right behind us
exhibiting red, brown, yellow, blue, and gray rocks
mixing and blending into each other
reminders of the different streams of lava
that shaped and painted these mountains
our friend ilya is ex navy seal
he’s guiding us on snorkeling
and how to maneuver inside the red sea
not to touch or step on anything inside the water
certain corals and fish are poisonous
as well as very delicate
one careless step could destroy
what took thousands of years to grow
red sea is one of the planet’s most exotic and fascinating
natural seascape environments
from the outside it’s hard to imagine
all the abundant life inside it
flat body of light and dark blue water
surrounded by desert mountains
swimming towards the reefs
where the bottom drops suddenly from 5 feet
to 300 feet and in some spots to over 2000 feet
all full with colorful fish in all shapes and sizes
corals reaching up and out
white, purple, yellow
even the most creative and insane landscape designer
couldn’t have come up with such wild creation
ilya diving down with only mask and snorkel
no scuba diving gear
like fish in the water
reaching 60 feet deep
along his dive meeting with group of scuba divers
swimming towards the group’s instructor
asking her in divers sign language what’s the depth
she’s totally taken by surprise
meeting a human fish without scuba gear that deep
ilya calmly continues with his underwater stroll
we’re going night snorkeling
with underwater flashlights
crossing one reef after the other
salman stays on the shore to hold flashlight for us
so we know which direction to swim back to
fish that sleep during the day coming out at night
including very big ones and gigantic manta rays
the corals reflecting shiny colors
coming across the abu nafkha fish
ilya tickles its belly from underneath
making this funny fish inflate itself into gigantic ball
by swallowing lots of water
this is the abu nafkha’s way of making itself look scary
hence its name that translates into ‘inflating daddy’
continuing our journey into the mountains
all is dry
very few trees
these trees can live up to 10 years without rain
by growing roots that go deeper than 300 feet into the earth
we stop next to short stem of dead tree
hasan taking out hammer he built from steel
and two big steel nails
inserting one nail into crack in the wood
hammering on it
then inserting the second nail below the first one
hammering again until he can release the first nail
only to insert it now below the second nail
this process produces small one foot piece of wood
respecting nature and taking only the minimum we need
for the modest small nightly fire
required for the tea, food, and hookah
few tiny bushes grow inside canyons
some grow small fruits that the bedouins use for pickling
dry bushes used to starting the fire
several bushes have strong medicinal powers
the jaada plant relieves stomach pain and diarrhea
the samwa plant lowers blood sugar
bringing miraculous results for diabetics
each canyon has its own colors, shape, charm
taking two hours hike up one canyon
like an accordion
walls close on us
then opening up again
until we reach wide open valley
with water well and palm trees
goats and camels
life
the egyptian authorities prohibit sleeping outdoors
they established special tourists police
and allow traveling only in designated tourist vehicles
salman and hasan are experts in driving on hidden paths
to bypass egyptian check points
except for two major check points
that can’t be avoided
in order to cross these check points
we arrange for authorized taxi to meet us at night
a little bit before the check point
in order to be able to cross it
we come across tens of egyptian soldiers
white uniforms, khaki uniforms, black uniforms
one soldier to lift up the gate
one soldier to remove the blocking cone
one soldier to look at us
one soldier to ask us questions
one soldier to report the results to his superior
one more soldier to give us another look
and many other soldiers just in case
one soldier giving our taxi safty inspection
verifying all the lights are working properly
even checking to see if the wipers are functioning
wipers must be key safty concern
in a place with less than five days of rain per year
we’re passing the wipers test
driving with the taxi half an hour past the check point
then move back into our jeeps
taking a short swim at the ras abu galom beach
beautiful lagoon with white sand that continues into the water
at very steep 75 degrees angle
after the swim walking on a camels trail
along the sea all the way from ras abu galom
to the famous blue hole reef
that attracts scuba divers from all over the world
the camels trail is very narrow
on the edge of cliff overlooking the blue water
tens of camels passing us
carrying people and supplies to places
that can be accessed only by foot or camels
driving further south towards sharm el sheikh
spending our last two nights on two diverse beaches
where the sea is full with mangrove forests
these mangrove trees adopted to salt water
and grow roots out of the bottom
into the sea for sucking air from the water
then discharging the salt through the leafs
the mangrove islands attract many birds and other animals
in between snorkeling, drumming sessions, yoga,
driving, eating, setting up and taking down camp
we all feel how our small international group of people
is melting into the silence of the desert
opening our hearts to each other
sharing in circle how one week could be so powerful
and life changing
we drive the europeans to the sharm el sheikh airport
where they have direct flights to europe
the rest of us driving north towards israel
crossing the border into the israeli city eilat
where we run into two friends from pacha mama
the costa rican village that we’re going to in december
beautiful sneak preview for our next adventure
right before we board the bus to tel aviv
in tel aviv getting on a taxi
driver asking us where we’re coming from
we answer that we took a group for retreat in sinai
driver happily telling us that in the 1960s
his military service was in sinai
when it was still part of israel
then he says “so you get to travel in sinai
and get paid for it”
we reply “just like you
you get to travel in tel aviv
and get paid for it”
© 2004. All Rights Reserved.
Zemach Zohar Wilson, Sinai Desert, Egypt, October 2004

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