Tuesday, November 27, 2001

How's the weather there in Aberdeen? A little grey? Excellent. Here, in Dahab in Sinai, Egypt, we're being treated to a pure blue sky and glorious sunshine. With the additional bonus that you can sit back with a beer and taunt the dry nation of Saudi Arabia, which is clearly visible across the sea.

So yes, out of Israel and into Egypt, into the pleasant but entirely artificial backpacker resort that is Dahab. We got here on Sunday. After fleeing Jerusalem, getting a bus to Tel Aviv and then to Eilat on the southern most tip of Israel. We arrived there only a little before 1am but while this would usually be considered craziness, because Sandwich-Girl Allie and Birthday-Sharer John met us the bus station and took us to the rather crappy but cheap hostel (the ones we'd selected prior had all been closed or obnoxious it seems). We were rather tired, having been up since 3am, with only two hours sleep after a fairly heavy night drinking. Plus it had been quite a big day, so a good night's sleep would have been pleasant but unfortunately the retards that shared the dorm with us insisted on all waking at 6.30am and talking very very loudly in Hebrew. I made a concerted effort not to be friendly when I finally rose from bed at 8am.

Our stay in Eilat was for business however, not pleasure, purely as a stopover to get our Egyptian visa and this we did. We went to the Egyptian consulate there, filled in forms, paid some money, and a few hours later got our visa. I was rather jammy here actually. You were supposed to bring one passport photo with you and I'm sure I had some in reserve but I couldn't find them. So thank God for my egotistic vanity. In Montenegro I got all my photos developed and... my Lord, if a load of my photos weren't just close up pictures of me. However did that happen? And so very enterprisingly (and very lucky that the guy accepted it) I took one of the photos and cut out my face and voila - a visa.

We didn't piss around then, and the four of us took a local bus to the Israeli-Egyptian border at Taba and after paying yet more money and enduring the prolonged efforts of the Egyptian security people to find guns on us (they became convinced for a while that John was carrying a single bullet) we found ourselves in Sinai, Egypt. Along with a German guy and a Swissard girl, we took a taxi to Dahab, our bags rather scarily strapped to the roof.

Ivo had recommended the Bishbishi camp in Dahab to us, so that's where we found ourselves, greeted by the very friendly and helpful Mohammed who looked spookily like Will Smith, as he himself told us. For just over a pound each per night, we got a pleasant little hut for two. My bed even had a lizard on it to begin with, though after it scurried off I never saw it again. But the facilities were clean and good, and even hot water in the showers.

Simon was feeling rough (the pansy) so pussied off to bed as the night got on, but myself, John and Allie found a bar made to look like a big ship and introduced ourselves to the delight of Egyptian "Stella". Stella by name, but not by nature. It's the biggest beer in Egypt, but don't imagine that's any indication of quality. In fact, quality was dictated entirely by random as each batch differs, according to John who's been to Egypt twice before. If you don't like your Stella in one bar, go elsewhere and you get an entirely different drink.

Our Stella tasted alright though and we ploughed our way through a now regrettable amount. Suddenly it was 3am and we reckoned we should be heading back.

It was my birthday the next day and let's not pretend I woke up bright and happy. Egyptian Stella can do things to a man that you don't want beer to do, so I lay in bed with wave upon wave of nausea spashing at me, until I finally found the strength to get up. Although I felt alright by this point, I discovered soon after that my body was rebelling against Stella and as vengeance for the punishing quantities I'd inflicted upon it, it was immediately converting all food intake into a liquid mess in the toilet.

Still, not to matter. I enjoyed a milkshake with Simon, Allie and fellow birthday boy John, plus endured a pasta that appeared to be 40% sand. Then translated this into the toilet, and just lazed around the whole day. Doesn't sound terribly exciting but it's been the first birthday of my life I've ever had in warm weather. Lazing around outside on my birthday has always been an alien concept previously.

Later on Mohammed very kindly cooked us all a meal of chicken and rice which we ate at precisely 4.50pm, just as the sun set and the daytime fast for Ramadan ended and all Muslims prompty cram their faces with food. It was a good meal, spoilt only by the fact that it too resulted in a messy translation.

I felt fine after though, and we all decided on our plan of action. Likewise, John and Allie hadn't been at peak fitness since the Stellas of the night past, so we ended up only having the single birthday drink. Yes, I apologise, I only had one beer on my birthday. I am officially disgraced. But we'd booked ourselves into an overnight climb up the fairly nearby Mount Sinai, scene of where Moses did a load of biblical stuff. The bus left at 11pm, got to Mt Sinai at 1am, and left back for Dahab at 10am. The 9 hours between were to climb the mountain, sleep a couple of hours, then return back down.

It was all rather cool actually. The minibus was full and upon arriving and trying to figure out where Mt Sinai actually was, we began climbing. Taking the right path this time - while climbing Masada in Israel, myself and Simon managed to go totally off course and found ourselves climbing a gravelly and sheer moutain face in total darkness. But we avoided such errors this time (helped by the fact that this time we weren't both hungover and still drunk). The climb was amazing. A bit tiring, as the mountain is about 2500m, but the moon lit everything up and the view of the stars was remarkble. The mountain was a groovy mountain too - barren, rocky, sandy, craggy. Get some postcards of it and see for yourself - I can't be bothered thinking of adjectives.

It was also pretty damn cold and when finally getting to the top, we all just climbed in our sleeping bags and found some space to rest for a couple of hours.

Hmm, time is running short here. Basically, we saw sunrise, came back down (meeting a heavily bearded Russian Orthodox priest on the way, clad in black gown and giant gold crucifix) and are now back in Dahab. At 10pm we leave for Cairo, another overnighter (we've done way too many of these recently) along with John and Allie. Tomorrow we're meeting Susanne at 7pm at the airport, followed by Justin on Friday.

We might also check out the pyramids too. If we can be bothered.

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