Written by Rosalind Miles
Due to internet issues, images have been taken from our Instagram feed.
My first taste of the Middle East has been everything you would expect; brilliant, unwavering sunshine, a backdrop of red dust-clouded mountains running down to palm-lined beaches, clear blue sea with lush coral gardens filled with beautiful tropical fish. Warm, welcoming, sun-ravaged Arabs in their long white gowns and red and white head dresses. The call to prayer echoing from the turrets of white mosques. Fresh fruit aplenty, delicious, tender fish and meat, limitless tahini and baba ganoush, sweet mint and Bedouin tea, shisha, enjoyed for bargainous prices in colourfully decorated restaurants overlooking the sea. Oh and terrorism.
I’m writing this the day after our flight home was supposed to have returned. We were supposed to be doing laundry today, coming to terms with being back in the cold and damp British November. Instead our holiday is continuing, we are still in our tropical paradise home from home, but our carefree spirit has waned a little. We’ve had to re-plug in, check news updates, flights schedules, email work to let our colleagues know we won’t be in on Monday.
What’s happened over the last week has been the stuff of a Homeland or Spooks episode. A Russian plane crashes in the desert, 224 people die. Initially the Russians we’ve met here (many more Russians visit here than any other nationality) were confident it was a technical fault, saying it was well-known that the airline cut corners. Claims of responsibility from the so-called Islamic State are dismissed, but then given validity by British spies. David Cameron publicly announces the aircraft was more probably blown up. An international diplomatic row follows, newspaper scream alarmist headlines, flights are grounded, holidays cancelled and Sharm el-Sheikh airport is put on high alert. Flights home are mostly cancelled and tourists like us are uncertain of when they are going home.
It seems pretty plausible that an act of terrorism has taken place – that IS is punishing Russia for poking its nose into the wasps’ nest of Syria. But, nothing is sure until the investigation is complete. It could be a technical fault is to blame and IS have just found a more convincing way to persuade spooks they are responsible. Whatever the case, the damage is done, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, young and old, are dead. 224 families will never be the same again. And the hardworking, ordinary people in Egypt have been dealt a devastating blow. Each waiter working in the tourism industry is going to be sending less money home to their family, if they are lucky enough to keep their job at all.
Tourism in Egypt was already suffering, the revolution and the attacks on tourists in Tunisia putting many off of visiting Islamic countries. We are staying in Dahab, an hour north of Sharm el-Sheikh. Once a Bedouin fishing village, then a hippie hang out, it retains its relaxed, alternative vibe. It’s more carpet and cushions on the beach than high-rise hotels. It used to be a prime holiday spot for Israelis, until they were targeted in bomb attacks in 2006. The British Government classes Sharm as a green zone – safe for travel – but Dahab is classed as amber – travel not advised, although the British are the only European Government to do so. This means it’s harder to find insurance to cover you (although we did, think insurance). I was nervous about booking to come here, but was reassured by friends who had been here that it was safe and thoroughly worth visiting.
Ras Abu Galum is awesome too. Great for snorkeling! #dahab #egypt #sea #holiday #beach #snorkeling A photo posted by Smacula (@smacula1) on
Despite its stunning beauty and charm, the place is quiet, the outer edges of the town are lined with half finished deserted concrete structures, presumably hotels that lost investors as the number of tourists dwindled.
For locals here, tourists are their life line and they respect you as such. Never have I been made to feel so welcome as a tourist. The people do not hassle, or rip you off, they genuinely want you to have a good time and fall over themselves trying to help you. They want to talk to you, tell you how much they love people from your country, thank you for coming to Dahab. They are so humble and sweet you end up leaving generous tips and trying to spread your custom evenly through the competing restaurants.
In this small community where everyone knows everyone, it’s so quiet, remote and chilled it seems ridiculous that people at home are concerned about our safety. As our hotel receptionist put it, “I’ve been robbed at gunpoint and threatened with a screwdriver in Birmingham, and nothing like that has happened in Dahab!”
We’ve ridden on the back of trucks to remote Bedouin camps, swam in lagoons and eaten freshly caught fish and drank tea with Bedouin tribesmen. We’ve seen the most amazing tropical fish and coral in the Blue Hole, a 130m deep sinkhole, one of the top ten diving spots in the world. All the time we’ve been here we’ve thought how much our friends would enjoy it, how highly we’d recommend it to people at home. And despite the problems in the region, I hope if you’ve ever thought about travelling to the Middle East, you’d still consider Egypt and Dahab, specifically, not just for the sake of the livelihoods of the people here, but for your own enjoyment. And if you are worried about safety, bear in mind it is probably safer than Birmingham!
A photo posted by Smacula (@smacula1) on
If you do ever come to Dahab we recommend staying in Dahab Paradise, to visit the Blue Hole, Ras Al Galum and the Blue Lagoon.
In Dahab you can do yoga, windsurf, dive, kitesurf and trek in the mountains, or just lie by the pool.