Red Sea and Petra

8 – 26 November 2012

We’ve had a lovely relaxing two and a half weeks by the Red Sea: so much so that we stayed longer than we’d originally planned.

After the last blog entry Karen jetted back to the UK and had a wonderful, if hectic, long weekend catching up with family and friends, attending her good friend Gill’s wedding (fab “do” and the bride looked stunning) and picking up a few supplies. In the meantime Marcello spent a couple of days servicing and tending to Charlie, followed by a few well deserved days of chilling and diving.

After Karen’s return, we stayed in Sharm for a few more days. We’d found a great place to stay in Shark’s Bay called Umbi Village which is run by a local Bedouin family. It’s incredibly relaxed, friendly and low key – a refreshing contrast to the usual hotel chains found in Sharm. It was also a great place to meet other likeminded people and we had some good banter over beers, food and tea with Amir, Joe, Tara, Ursula and Wendy during our time there. We especially enjoyed our meal in the Old Town, a discovery of Ursula’s, where we had some fantastic seafood.

Also staying at Umbi was freediver Annelie Pompe, who was attempting to break the freediving world record. This in turn would make her the first woman to have been at the highest point as well as the lowest as she’s already conquered Everest. Unfortunately she didn’t quite manage it, but was incredibly close. And at 124 metres deep we think this is pretty damn impressive! She’s going to be trying again in April so we wish her the best of luck.

As neither of us had been to Dahab before so we decided to leave the comfort of Umbi for a few days and head up the coast to check it out. Unfortunately Marcello had picked up an infection in a cut on his foot from his last day of diving, so the Blue Hole was to stay on the “must do” list for a while longer. However, we still had a nice few days there and we got to witness a very rare occurrence for the area: a hail storm. It was very surreal! One minute it was 30 degrees and sunny and then what started as rain soon turned into quite large hailstones pummelling everything in sight. For some of the locals it was the first time they’d ever seen hail. Although once the excitement, and the hail and rain, had died down, there was a big clean-up operation needed to clear the floods.

While we were in Dahab we arranged a day trip to Petra. We’d ummed and ahhed about whether to drive ourselves and spend a few days there, but in the end time and the potential hassle of going through Egyptian customs with Charlie again swung it.

Even though the day trip option only actually gave us a few hours in Petra, it was definitely worth it. The site doesn’t disappoint. From the moment you start walking down towards the siq, the passage that leads to the Treasury, “windows” in the hills and tombs start to appear in the sandstone cliffs. Then there is the passageway we’ve all seen in the classic photos. It continues for almost 1km widening and narrowing at various points along the way and the colours in the rock are like some kind of sandstone tie-dye. Our guide pointed out that the area is still being excavated, with carvings of camels and their drivers being recent findings.

When you get towards the end of the siq and get that first glimpse of The Treasury through the opening in the passage you can’t help but feel like a discoverer yourself, despite the other tourists around you. The site is huge and there wasn’t enough time to take in everything, but as well as the Treasury (perhaps also famous for its use in Indiana Jones) we were able to see the theatre, Royal Tombs and a lot of the smaller tombs. Even just the sandstone hills around the site made for impressive viewing.

Before we knew it, it was time to depart and start heading back to catch the ferry. Luckily we made it back before 11pm, so having departed at 2.30am it wasn’t quite the 24 hour excursion it could have been!

The following day we headed back to Sharm and the comfort of Shark’s Bay. We’d booked a final day of diving before embarking on the next chapter of our journey towards Luxor and Aswan. Luckily Marcello was given the all-clear and we were able to enjoy the beautiful Ras Mohammed national park. Amongst many others we saw lots of clown fish (Nemo!), including their tiny babies, domino fish, giant morays, a lion fish, a crocodile fish, a blue spotted stingray, hundreds of glass fish which completely surrounded us when we swam in a cave and, best of all, a huge eagle ray. A fantastic end to our time in Sharm – we could have easily stayed there for much longer!

Then it was time to hit the road again. We took the coastal road back to Suez and this time had police convoys for over half the journey. We’d heard that there were protests planned against President Mursi’s decree to give him sweeping powers. We did see increased numbers of people on the streets and at one point passed a chanting crowd that had overflowed into the road, but we didn’t see or experience any trouble.

On the way to Luxor we stopped just north of Hurghada for a final day of chilling in the sun. Unfortunately for Marcello half of this time was taken up trying to find and waiting for diesel, of which there is a shortage in Egypt at the moment, resulting in very long queues of lorries and vans outside fuel stations. We’ve now arrived in Luxor where, as well as visiting the sites, we’ll start the process for the ferry over to Sudan. From everything we’ve read we have some “interesting” times ahead!

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