Welcome to Egypt! مرحبا Let me take you on a 12-hour bus ride from Alex to the tip of the Sinai Peninsula.
Dahab, a touristy yet real town on the southeastern side of the Sinai Peninsula, is easily one of the coolest places I have ever been. Its natural beauty comes in a close second to that of my favorite place in the world, la Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico. The water has the same gradients of blue, starting at an almost transparent sea green, moving to pure sky blue, and ending in deep navy jean. The difference between Dahab and Puerto Rico lies in the mountains... Sinai's are fierce and menacing stone giants with a rugged kind of charm. Saudia Arabia's similar peaks stand out on clear days across the Gulf of Aquba... I swear I could see Mecca. But IMAGINE. Sinai, land of The Book, with the azure ocean all around, and Muhammad's holy land gazing over at us. Here:
Naturally, I rented snorkeling equipment the first day and dove right in. The water's color was just as rich below. I wish you could have been there, Papi and Diego. We also took a day trip to Ras Muhammad, a national park at the tip of the peninsula with outstanding snorkeling. We swam among fish as one of them, and when the strong sun penetrated the surface, they glittered and rainbow sequins appeared all around. The reef was a gem, although its endless depths were slightly unsettling. I also accumulated a solid rock/shell collection while walking around the crustacean formations 1000s of years old (I truly felt like my father's daughter).
Nights in Dahab were spent along its boardwalk in any of the numerous restaurants, bars and shopping stalls, eating and drinking with the sound of the waves crashing, the gusty wind at our hair, and the twinkling lights of Saudiyya off in the distance. I truly got to know and enjoy the other students in my program, as we broke pledge and spoke English a lot, laughed a ton, and searched high and wide for dance clubs. Yes, it can be appropriate to dance in Egypt in public, and yes, we showed up at clubs, started dance parties and danced on tables. Sometimes it's okay to obviously be American.
One day, we set off in land cruisers with 3 Bedouin guides, and they took us off-road into the desert. Remember what I said about how Egyptians drive? Oh, they are just as MAD in the desert with no traction, dunes and rocks. Needless to say, I saw my life flash before my eyes a couple times, but it was worth it for the canyons they introduced us to:
First we saw the Colored Canyon. The swirl of ancient sand and water was gorgeous beneath the relentless sun. We trekked for over an hour, then stopped at a Bedouin rest stop for tea, by which I mean thatched roof over mats and camels lazing nearby. Legit. We were then taken to the White Canyon. I have no other word for the place except Biblical. I could see the devout nomads tiredly walking between these canyons, their prayers reverberating off the boundless stone. I also finally understood the meaning of Oasis, as the sight of one at the end of the canyon was incredibly welcoming. We ate lunch in the Bedouin village there, playing cards with their children, and being offered sips of their salty water from way underground. Real World Egypt, baby.
The night before our departure, we began our ascent up Gebel Mousa جبل موسة, or Mount Sinai, at 1am. I had no vision of where I was going. Every few minutes, I would hear "Gamel? Gamel?" and suddenly a ginormous camel would saunter out of the dark, and we would all cower toward the edge of the cliff to avoid his lunging hooves and spit. I think I have camel-phobia now. I have possibly never seen as many stars. They dotted the sky magnificently, and I could have looked at them forever had my road to the top been less treacherous. The hike was exhausting, and I have no idea how Moses did all that, then received the 10 Commandments from God. Hardcore, beghed, seriously. We shivered at the top for an hour with a horde of other climbers, until finally the sun began to paint colors across the peaks. A hush fell over the pilgrims, and I could feel the solidarity in my heart. Awe as the sun broke across the jagged and holy land. What an experience.
Now, here I am back in Alex, with an even greater love for the country of Egypt. Yesterday I went bowling with the group, today I went to their version of Wal-Mart, a "hypermarket" called Carefour. I also (somewhat proudly) confess that I went to H & M and Starbucks. I am often amused at how American my habits are, and I don't really care - I just remember that I'm lucky. Classes have started rolling, some of them I enjoy, some of them I am annoyed with the pace. My learning takes place mostly outside the university, where I work on my Amiyya, and frustration has subsided in the last day or two. Some of the American students are frustrated with certain aspects of the program and life here, but I am very much at peace. Of course, I have my moments of GAH, but all in all, I have never felt more in the moment of my life. And that is one of the best feelings in the world.
Here is a link to some photos thus far, they really tell the story, so enjoy:
Every day I wish you could all be here with me on my adventures.
Love from Egypt, مصر