1995 - Sleeping off the hangover
Shattered after our steep midnight trek to the top of Mount Sinai and short, chilly sleep on the crowded summit so we could watch the sunrise over the Sinai desert before joining the exodus back down the mountain. Grateful to find a freshly cooked pot of hot porridge waiting for us at the truck for breakfast.
Another outpouring of dissent and exasperation within the truck crew over lack of planning and communication. The "mountaineers" were keen to head to Dahab for a shower, those who hadn't done the overnight trek wanted to visit Saint Catherine's Monastery, and others didn't seem to care either way. Meanwhile, the truck leaders informed us we might be short on food kitty funds, only two weeks into our eight-week expedition!
Dahab was like an old friend. Not necessarily one you'd want to spend all your time with, but someone with whom you feel familiar and comfortable. We had recommended Muhammad Ali to the truck leaders, but they chose another campground with space for tents (next to a septic tank!) and a few six-person share rooms. Negotiating with the manager over the price for a pleasant two-person bamboo bungalow when I was guzumped by another couple from the truck.
On top of the communication problems and penny-pinching among the truck crew, having the room snatched from us was the straw that broke this camel's back. Feeling disgruntled with the whole truck expedition, C. and I set off to find somewhere else to stay. Unfortunately, no vacancies at Muhammad Ali campground (declined their offer of a filthy mattress on the ground!), so we had to settle for another hotel, back from the beach. There were holes in the roof, but the room was clean-ish and had a central sweep-fan.
Skipped lunch back at the truck and ate at the Fighting Kangaroo restaurant (thankfully, there weren't monkeys in a cage, unlike my 1991 visit!). A strong northeast wind was whipping up whitecaps across the bay. Relieved we had a room for the night and weren't sleeping in a tent.
Made peace back at the truck campground. Chatted about communication problems and seeming lack of a "grand plan". Truck leaders made promises — hopefully, they'll keep them. Surprised (and more than a little concerned!) when they said the expedition brochure contained "lies" about our route, especially on Ethiopian sights, which they claimed had been "flattened by war"!
Chilled out with the rest of the truck crew at Shark Club restaurant. It was great to lounge about on cushions again, watching and listening to the waves. Went for a dip to wash off two days of sweat and dried myself with my new sarong, bought earlier for 10EP, "no haggle". K. happily bragged she had got hers for 8EP, and then M. chipped in he had haggled his down to 7EP — may explain the smile on my sarong seller's face!
Some of the crew pitched in and bought pot from a dealer who delivered it in a backgammon box. Size of the deal stunned me when they opened the box, especially as they only have two days to smoke it before we board the ship to Sudan in Suez. I don't expect to see much diving over the next couple of days.
All had dinner back at the truck. Everyone was jolly, some with the aid of a puff or two. Headed to Napolean Restaurant for drinks and dessert. Like other restaurants built on the beach since 1991, it juts out into the sea, so it felt like being aboard a ship, albeit a stable one — just as well for all the "smoking" that took place. E. lead the way with the munchies, ordering a pancake topped with fruit salad AND cornflakes.
The laughter died down as our eyelids grew heavy after the big day from the top of Mount Sinai to the Red Sea (and a big smoke). I soon felt ready to follow G.'s lead and collapse on a rug on the restaurant floor. With his bald head wedged at right angles into a corner of the wall, he looked impossibly comfortable.
Back in our room, C. was fast asleep, too. The wind kept the mozzies away and carried the sound of the waves, and we both slept well until early morning when a stream of briny water fell onto the bed. Couldn't find the source, but thankfully it stopped. However, our now sodden mattress stank to high heaven!
More "What are we going to do?" grumblings at breakfast at the truck campground, though only from the middle-aged members of the crew. The younger majority were happy to let the day flow. C. and I had a simple plan: hire goggles and snorkels from the shop we had used on our last visit and plonk ourselves in our favourite cafe on "lighthouse point" to go diving, write diaries and letters, read a book and drink çay.
Snorkelling was not as rewarding as it was last time. The strong wind and swell meant waves broke on the reef, creating cloudy conditions beneath the surface. And increased risk of being battered against the coral. However, we still enjoyed the colour and variety of the fish, and the surges seemed to force the bigger fish from their hiding spots in the reef. C. reckoned she saw a barracuda, which I thought unlikely until we later learnt young Red Sea barracuda keep to shallow bays like Dahab's.
I bought a platted cotton cord for my sunglasses from a young girl. C. bought hers from an older girl who had a professional sales patter — and scoffed at the quality of my cord. Oh well, the younger girl had charmed me with her smile.
Fewer tourists than during the Israeli holiday period a fortnight ago, and it seemed to have affected the service as well as we had long waits for çay and food. Also didn't recognise any of the staff at the restaurant. Perhaps staff turnover was as high as the comings and goings of the tourists?
Wind and lower temperatures gave us the "shivering shakes" after each dive, and we would have to leave the shade of the cafe to lay in the sun and warm up. Occasionally, saw others from the truck. A couple joined us for a chat and çay in the cafe. According to them, there were no plans for dinner, just an informal agreement to meet at Blue Hole restaurant, which we had recommended to the truck crew at breakfast.
Like the "lighthouse" point cafe, we didn't recognise any of the staff at Blue Hole. And like the cafe, service was slow, with couples finishing meals before other meals appeared. There was no point waiting for everyone's to arrive before starting because the first dishes would be cold. My wait for a banana milkshake for dessert became a "long-running" joke!
Others from the truck arrived and joined in the joke, our humour amplified by a shared smoke. We learnt the biggest potheads, C., G. and M., had spent the whole day in one cafe, stoned to buggery. And G. had reportedly spent 40EP feeding his munchies — no doubt the cafe loved him.
I lost track of time waiting for my milkshake and mellowing out with the truck crew. Surprised to find C. still awake when I got back to our hotel. She was testy, partly over truck issues and the pot-smoking. The hotel staff were having a noisy party outside our room, and their music got louder when we switched off the light. Out of character, C. stood on the bed and shouted through the window, "TURN DOWN THE MUSIC!"
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The showers had no pressure (again!), and it meant another hand basin splash wash. When I complained to the manager (again!) and requested a discount, he told me it was "our problem", he'd informed the owner, and there was nothing he, the manager, could do about it. There was an angry exchange between us when I refused to pay the full cost, and as we left, the manager swore he would never again have Australians in his hotel. "Good," I retorted, "then I've done my fellow Aussies a favour!"
Not much conversation over breakfast at the truck campground. Most were either hung-over from booze and pot indulgences or peed-off with the truck leaders over the usual lack of communication. I helped load the tents and backpacks onto the truck and then escaped the tension for a last look at the beach on my own.
Hardly any tourists or locals about — it was like Dahab was sleeping off a hangover after another late night of partying, drinking and smoking. I enjoyed the few moments of serenity, looking out across the bay, listening to the waves, and reflecting on my three visits. Dahab is a beautiful place, and I won't forget it. But when I turned away and left the beach, I knew I wouldn't be returning for a fourth visit.
© 2018 Robert Fairhead
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert Fairhead is an editor and writer at Tall And True, and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com.
His favourite pastimes include reading and writing, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son. He is also a part-time dog trainer and runs classes at his local dog training club and through Robert's Responsible Dog Training.
Robert has worked as an electrician, a computer programmer, and a sales and marketing consultant, and he is the principal copywriter at Rocher Communications.
His book reviews and writing on dogs have appeared in newspapers and online. And in 2020, he published a collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story.
Robert has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.
In transcribing these journal entries, I noticed how little interaction I had with locals in 1995 compared to 1991, other than to order food and drink, organise excursions, or to complain! I guess part of that was because I was on my own in 1991. Also, there was a shared concern about Iraq on my earlier visit, and it seemed to help tourists and locals alike to talk about it. And perhaps, most of all, in the almost five years between my first and last visits, Dahab had changed ... as had I!