Red Sea Relaxing and Adventure

After a hectic whirlwind of visiting temples in Aswan, Abu Simbel and Luxor, I decided to head to Dahab for a change of pace before ferrying over to Jordan. While I had never heard of it before coming to Egypt, all the travelers that I met either raved about it or were heading there themselves.

Philae Temple, near Aswan

Abu Simbel

Karnak Temple in Luxor

While I expected Dahab, a low key diving town on the Red Sea, to be more relaxing based on what I had heard from fellow travelers, what I have experienced is a difference of night and day compared with everywhere else I have visited in Egypt. You get hassled much less frequently, its much more socially liberal (for instance, alcohol is easy to find) and the sea beckons at every turn.

Relaxing

First and foremost, just being able to escape the constant throng of Egyptians trying to sell, pressure and cajole me was a big relief. People in Dahab are laid back while still being friendly. If someone approaches you and you tell them you’re not interested they still welcome you.

I lucked out with my hotel, the Red Sea Relax Resort. While it is a hotel complex right off the sea, it also offers a few dorm rooms for the budget traveler. For only $6.65 a night, I had a bed in a (half empty) six bed dorm but also had access to all the amenities of the resort including free wifi, breakfast, a lovely pool and best of all, free passes to the nearby gym (unfortunately it was closed Friday, the day I arrived, and Sunday/Monday for Eid, so I only got to work out there one day but still).

getting ready to swim in the Red Sea

After spending my first week in Egypt bouncing from place to place and site to site, there was nothing better than spending a few afternoons just relaxing by the pool. And then capping it off with a swim in the Red Sea.

Seemingly everywhere I turned here I bumped into someone I had met earlier either in a previous hotel or tour. It is a very tourist oriented town but it still manages to give off that relaxed vibe that makes it so appealing. The waterfront is dotted with cute restaurants and dive shops, all with beautiful vistas of the Red Sea.

Dahab waterfront

Adventure

Not content with just R&R, I decided to take advantage of the many excursions on offer in Dahab. Diving didn’t really interest me but I had heard great things about a nighttime hike up Mt. Sinai, which is less than two hours away.

Joining a tour group, we took a bus to the base of the mountain, arriving at 1 am. We then hiked up the mountain with two guides for the next three hours. Let me just say that it was a more strenuous hike than I had imagined with fairly steep terrain made all the more difficult because it was dark outside. For some foolish reason I neglected to bring along my flashlight so I had to rely on my cellphone to help me see the ground. Thankfully I kept my balance and didn’t trip over any rocks.

We arrived at the top of the mountain right before sunrise. As you walk around the top you can’t help but be mesmerized by the surrounding mountains and valleys. It is a spectacular way to start the day even if I was running on fumes at that point from lack of sleep.

view from the top

you’re so high up you can practically tough the nearby mountains

The walk down was much easier and when we made it to the bottom we visited St. Catherine’s Monastery, where inside Moses is supposed to have seen the Burning Bush.

thankfully my hands weren’t harmed by the Burning Bush

Walking along the waterfront in Dahab, I kept getting drawn into bike shops that offer quad biking tours. For less than $20 you can join a tour where you ride your own bike for two hours through the desert. Riding the quad bike kind of feels like you’re in a big boat because the base is so wide that you feel as if it’s impossible to tip over, which is a good feeling to have as you’re ripping over sand dunes.

When we got off road into the desert everywhere you looked there was sand and mountains. The longer you ride the more comfortable you feel ratcheting up the speed. What’s so great is you are riding solo the whole time so you have a sense of freedom right away that is harder to find in more regulated activities like diving.

this was purely for effect I promise

Dahab in the background

A little bit of stress

I decided to get a haircut while I was here. Asking Said, a member of the hotel staff, where I should go, he pointed me in the direction of a nearby shop and said I should only expect to pay 10-15 Egyptian pounds, or $1.67-$2.50.

I walked over at 6pm but they said they were closing until the end of the Iftar meal and they would re-open from 8:30 to midnight. When I did go back around 10, the place was closed. Luckily, I had seen another barber shop earlier in the night and as it was close to my hotel I decided to head over.

When I asked the shop owner how much a haircut would be he told me 15 pounds. That sounded good to me. I ended up waiting an hour for my haircut as two people were ahead of me and there was only one barber (side note: everyone in the shop had their hair in a heavily gelled, slick back style – picture Egyptian Pat Rileys). Meanwhile I was sitting in this tiny shop as each person getting their haircut was puffing away on cigarettes.

When my turn arrived I had to tell the owner what I wanted as the barber didn’t speak English. The haircut ended up taking a half hour as the poor barber was so nervous cutting my hair that he barely cut anything. I had to keep telling him to take more off the top and then had to adamantly insist that he not put a mound of gel in my hair.

I gave the guy a 20 pound note and left the shop only to have the barber chase after me. He had me come back to the owner. I thought maybe I had been stingy with the tip. But the owner then said the price wasn’t 15 pounds but 50 pounds. I was flabbergasted. Was he really trying to pull this on me? He was pretty adamant that he had said 50 and I started to vacillate a bit. He did sound convincing. 15 pounds would be a dirt cheap haircut. But then I thought about what Said had said. 15 pounds was reasonable and what I had agreed to pay. I chose to stand my ground.

The owner was not happy. He kept insisting that I was taking 30 pounds directly out of his pocket. Had I known it was 50 pounds I would have just waited until the next day to go back to the original shop. I wouldn’t have waited an hour in his smoke filled shop. But I had the nagging thought that maybe I was being unreasonable. I left the store genuinely torn.

When I got back to the hotel I explained what happened to Said. He told me that I should have just said I lived in Dahab and it would have avoided the conflict. He insisted that 15 pounds was what locals paid and 50 pounds would have been a ripoff. So at least I think I did the right thing even if it still doesn’t sit quite right.

Despite that speed bump, Dahab was a great way to finish my time in Egypt. If you’re looking for a chill place to relax and enjoy diving I’d highly recommend it.

Link to Egypt pictures

The Adventure Continues…Up Next: Wadi Rum and Petra in Jordan

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2 Responses to Red Sea Relaxing and Adventure

  1. Steve says:

    Really good post and you sounded very relaxed when we spoke to you yesterday via Skype. Looks like you avoided a nasty confrontation over a haircut. Remembering your infamous cab ride, it might be good to avoid arguments on foreign soil. LOL. We are living your trip with you vicariously and look forward to your next post and our next Skype. Xo

  2. stuschis says:

    Great stuff, Matt. By far the best line from all of your blogs, “side note: everyone in the shop had their hair in a heavily gelled, slick back style – picture Egyptian Pat Rileys” I can only imagine a town filled with people looking like Pat Riley. Way to stand your ground with the barber. You’re doing a great job with the blog. Thanks for doing it!

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