Barbara’s trip to Egypt This March, Barbara Hunter – a Berneray resident – threw caution to the wind, rain and snow, and swapped it for a 10 day camel trekking holiday in the Sinai desert. Here are extracts from her daily journal… Travelling there For reasons only my travel agent understood, I had to fly to Sharm el Sheikh, South Sinai, via Manchester, necessitating an overnight stop there. Brushing my teeth on the morning of my flight, I heard a loud PING! and watched as a large filling disappeared down the plughole. This was not the ideal start to a desert trek! However, there was no time to fuss: after eating breakfast carefully I left for the airport. Now, I find airports incredibly confusing and so it was no surprise to find I’d been standing in the wrong departure queue for 45 minutes. When I did find the correct departure gate the passengers were just disappearing into the plane – but I made it. After the serenity of a good flight Sharm el Sheikh airport was like bedlam underpinned by organised chaos. A cool head in the tropical heat was called for to negotiate currency transactions, Visas and Passport Control. The volume of luggage from dozens of flights soon ground the conveyor belt to a halt, and I joined other wanderers searching acres of floor for their cases. I was so glad I had stuck fluorescent stickers on mine, as it twinkled at me from a distant corner. Outside, I found My Man With A Placard, and his people carrier deposited me at the resort of Shark’s Bay Bedouin Home and Camel Dive Club. Settling in I am now in my twin-bedded wooden chalet, which is clean, basic and comfortable. Upon first entering I was impressed to see the red blanket on each bed had been artistically formed into the shape of a striking cobra sitting on the coverlet. Placed in front of the ‘snake’ was its ‘basket’ cleverly designed from a yellow bath towel. Earlier this evening I had explored the small pleasant resort and browsed the many Bedouin shops. All the shopkeepers were most hospitable, and I ended up having mint tea with Mohammed, who has adopted me as his ‘holiday Mum’. Lastly, I found a Bedouin smoking tent where I bought water for the night. Located the Diving Centre, the 2 restaurants, beach bar, and had a chat with Farat in Reception. Everyone is very helpful. Nice quiet place – no discos or nightclubs, thank God, just pleasant Salsa music drifting up from the beach bar. To bed now. First full day at Shark’s Bay resort Mosquitoes sang around me during the night, until I discovered how to use a remote control operating the air-conditioner. Then, blissfully cool, enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Found the breakfast bar well displayed with fruit juices, cold meats, olives, tomatoes, cheeses, breads, tea and coffee. It was air-conditioned, but I preferred to sit outside, al fresco, overlooking the balcony flowers above the nearby beach, and guessing the nationalities of those meandering along the sand. Tooth not giving any trouble, thankfully. Reception tell me the other trekking group members – 4 Germans – arrive tomorrow. Now sitting under a Bedouin tent on the beach. It’s wonderfully hot outside, but I’m cool here and sipping a soft drink with a book at the ready. Beginning to relax into all this, with a bit of sunbathing and paddling. Using the factor 30 suncream as a precaution. Later, I spent time watching snorkellers and divers in the water exploring the coral reef and its colourful marine life. Made friends with Hussein, a Bedouin who runs an oils and herb shop, who spent much time explaining his wares. He made up a ‘mix’ of skin oils and gave me a facial massage. Very soothing. Also bought some rose oil – heady stuff which I’ll use for burning. Next day Getting a bit restless now - want to get on with the trek. Found the 4 Germans who will be my companions in the desert: Gisela, who speaks very good English (putting my 15 words of German to shame!), Uli, another lady who, like me hasn’t ‘done’ camel-trekking before, and a couple who are seasoned trekkers, Roland and Magda. Sat round a table at the beach bar and got acquainted. At sundown – and the sun goes down very quickly here – Samer Makarois, our guide and leader, arrived and during dinner he talked generally about the trip, asking if any of us had any ailments. When I told him about my tooth mishap he insisted he take me to a dentist right away as he did not want me to have any problems. Initially worried as to what standards of dentistry were currently allowed in Egypt, and whether or not I was going to be more in danger in the dentist’s chair than in the desert, I reluctantly agreed to go. Well, I need not have worried: the premises were more like a 5 star hotel, the practise was a vision of marble, fresh flowers, discreet spot lighting and a very swish reception area run by white coated, pleasant receptionists. Even more comforting was to hear that Samer brought his 2 children here. The dentist was Sean Connery’s double; the equipment was top of the range and I was highly impressed with his workmanship. Please can I go there again! Trek Day 1 What a day to start a streaming cold! First a tooth, now this – more challenges afoot, however Samer has promised us a leisurely and peaceful trek – not arduous. He asks us to leave jewellery and watches behind, for safety and to enable us to adapt to the rhythm of the desert. We all piled into a jeep for 1 1/2 hours driving up the tarmac road on East Sinai, northwards, during which Samer gave us a lesson in camel riding techniques. Three smiling Bedouins and the camels met us and we were supplied and fitted with the correct headgear for desert life. Soon we were on the move, seated on a well-padded chair with a pommel in front and behind for support, swaying gently with the camel’s rhythm in a comfortable silence across flat sand and away from civilisation…after a stop for lunch cooked over a campfire we climbed to a wonderful view. Joined camels and our Bedouin hosts again for a final camel ride through a strange windy mist and a hazy sunset to our night resting place. Good companionship around the fire, and the freshly cooked dinner tasted marvellous. Very peaceful. Slept well. Day 2 Awoke sometime after sunrise – no watches so we don’t know the time! Watched as the unleaven bread was prepared with much pummelling then slowly cooked through in the hot ashes of the campfire. We trekkers huddled round the warmth in the chilly air, sipping sweet tea or coffee until we were offered the warm bread with soft cheese, and a selection of jams and marmalade. The odd grain or two of sand provided necessary ‘roughage’. Feel better today – still a heavy cold but the clear warm dry air is a real tonic. The scenery changes with every step, whether on camel or foot. It was a windy start, so we wore fleeces, jackets and covered our faces somewhat, until the weather changed and we shed some outer coverings. Day 3 Very chilly night, we all noticed it. Breakfast warmed us up, then we were visited by a group of Bedouin children selling pretty hand-made beaded jewellery. Later we walked, covering a lot of ground today with Samer guiding a looking after us very professionally, As usual, after our lunch break some of us disappeared behind a rock or out of sight for toilet purposes. We have been well trained to deal ecologically with this daily routine. We always take away any general refuse with us, and before leaving camp any burnable rubbish is set on fire. A lovely camel ride this afternoon, past acacia trees and beautiful rock formations. My camel is quite a character – very tranquil when walking, head sometimes moving to the left sensing for air, or to the right looking for vegetation to chomp. When I dismount, however, he snarls and grumbles loudly at me, and life in general. Tonight had a delicious dinner of goat - giblet sandwich, then a tasty broth followed by stewed goat meat and vegetables, rice and salad. Much to talk about around the fire; we’re all getting on famously. Warmer now. Slept well. Day 4 This holiday is less about sightseeing and destinations of interest; more about a series of experiences shared between strangers who quickly become friends…about becoming one with the stillness and beauty…embracing a journey beyond time and space…linking one’s own existence here with travellers of the past…pilgrims of the way…It’s easy enough to give you details of happenings…harder, even impossible, to pass on an experience. Anyway, we are now resting after trekking and a lunch of falfa beans, bread and salad. Explored an ancient settlement as daylight was fading, which added to the mystery of the ground markings…camel ride through a ravine to our night stop. Day 5 Lovely sheltered sandy place, breakfasted, then we rode and walked with the camels who are very sure-footed even on stony ground. My camel tried to bite the leg of the guide’s camel, so I’m placing myself a bit further back in the camel-train. Spaghetti bol. tonight. Day 6 Because I had left my bag unzipped overnight a grey spider took shelter. Samer killed it as it was poisonous. Fully grown it could kill a scorpion. Will zip up my bags in future! After breakfast and packing up our belongings ready for loading on the camels we soon heard the familiar call: ‘Yalla!’ (Come on!) as our guide rallied us ready for another morning departure and a wonderful trek, up and down in a lovely peaceful silence…through canyons…lunch…and finally a very long camel ride across open desert with quite a wind and the light fading until we arrived at a suitable resting place. Dinner was something red with okra and rice (well, it was dark!). I have got very fond of the Karkadee tea we drink. It’s red, and brewed from hibiscus leaves. Must take some home with me. Day 7 After a camel ride through a settlement near Ghlim and a short walk we arrived at a well. Oh, bliss - we each took turns with a mug having a wash with water steaming away in a tin bath over an open fire. Felt totally reborn after washing my hair. My Yardley’s English Lavender soap was very popular! I also washed my socks which then dried in about half an hour. Now we are resting, clean, in the shade. Lunch tasted marvellous – alfalfa beans, vegetables and some creamy pink stuff – have given up trying to work out the menu. Then a mixed fruit salad which included pomegranate seeds. The day continued with riding camels through a rocky pass, also allowing the animals to make their own way down a steep mountain pass where we joined them again. Off again to our night rest and the campfire meal. Roland is taking masses of photos and movie footage. He is to send us all copies, wonderful. I ran out of camera film today, so three cheers for Roland! Apparently he is a whizz with camera technology, so we should be in for a treat. Day 8 Had a bit of a dicky stomach through the night, so Samer gave me cinnamon tea with breakfast. A camel ride took us across more desert to where we are now, a lunch spot which is a stopping place from ancient times for pilgrims on their way to St Catherine’s Mount. There is a lot of writing carved into these rocks and depictions of crosses from different faiths. Then followed a trek across varying surfaces…my cold is nearly better now…the sun is a real tonic…by the time we sat round the campfire my stomach was fine and we were treated to another feast of goat meat. I’m with a jolly crowd and we’re getting on really well. Day 9 Some amazing walks and exploration through canyons today – we were very adventurous. Roland’s camera was red hot with activity. We were quieter around the campfire tonight – I think we are all very aware this holiday is drawing to a close. Also, it was a bit windy, blowing the smoke into our eyes, so we all retired quite early. Day 10 The very last day, I’m going to miss this place…the space…the pace…rode a lot today across vast sandy plains dotted with brittle, scrubby bushes which the camels insisted on tearing at…later we ran down a sand dune – fantastic fun…I sang a song for the Bedouins…saying goodbye to them was sad…we gave gifts. Samer was a wonderful guide – cannot speak too highly of him – and he and the Bedouins looked after us as if we were family. The jeep was waiting for us on the tarmac road, and after waving to our hosts we piled in with our luggage. Whether it was tiredness or emotion I don’t know, but within minutes of driving off we were all asleep. Would I recommend this holiday? With no hesitation, yes! As long as your legs and hips are O.K. you’ll have the time of your life. Would I go back? Like a shot. And until then I am leaving my sleeping bag unwashed while it smells of woodsmoke. ***** So, if you’d like to follow in my footsteps and want more information, contact: Rudiger Sauerland Blue Planet Erlebnisreisen Buro Hamburg Suckweg 83 22419 HAMBURG Germany Tel: 00494038612311 or visit www.blue-planet.reisen.de IMPORTANT: Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months. Good quality sleeping bag and an insulation mat needed. Strong walking shoes necessary. Consult your doctor about inoculations. As at March ’06 you need jabs for Typhoid, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Polio. It’s also a good idea to take out health insurance. Also to register with the British Embassy, Cairo: www.britishembassy.gov.uk/egypt Bring Egyptian and U.K. currency (English banknotes) and Euros. For flights try also www.redseaflights.com After the trek the remaining time will be spent at the Red Sea resort of Shark’s Bay Bedouin Camp and Camel Dive club, clean and well-kept and with good security. There is a beautiful reef near the beach, with bathing, snorkelling, diving and various boat excursions available. Everything is done to make your stay pleasant and our leader, Samer, the hotel staff and the diving school can help with any organisation of activities. The holiday can be paid for by bank transfer – 1,150 euros without flights (at March 2006). (100 euros for single room supplement covering 5 nights.) P.S. In the desert we slept outside – no tents – under a beautiful starry sky. Fantastic!