Dahab

Once a Bedouin fishing village, the small town of Dahab is now firm in the grip of tourism. The main bay’s waterfront is lined with restaurant after restaurant, with the occasional café thrown in. The other side of the road is just as densely packed with shops and tour agents.

With Egypt’s tourism crippled anyway and low season on top of that, most of the places are deserted. A restaurant that could seat 100 is now serving a guest or two. Eager (or desperate) owners stand in front of their premises and chat up any foreigner walking past. I avoid that part of town as best I can. Tried the food once but it wasn’t particularly good.

As is common with towns like this, the income of the average local and the holiday wallet of the average tourist are light-years apart. Hence few locals populate the waterfront, those speaking Arabic there are either the shop owners or tourists from Cairo.

It takes about five minutes of walking inland to find restaurants that don’t advertise in English and where a plate of falafel, bread and dip costs the equivalent of €0.75. Arab coffee is €0.30. That is not to say that the touristy part of Dahab is expensive. €6-7 for a dinner is still very very affordable. But it should give an idea of what discrepancies are in place.

Me, being the traveller turned nomad turned tourist I am, I’m jumping between the two worlds. On a morning of diving I’m spending the equivalent of a monthly salary around here, in the afternoon I go as local as I can.

When it comes to the atmosphere here… I’m not convinced. Of course the touristy part is highly annoying, but it has bothered me less in places like Pokhara or Coron, which also have strong tourism, but aren’t as shaped by it. I also find the local culture more difficult to dive into. It’s a highly male-dominant one and a pretty loud one as well. Asia, even in a strongly male-dominant country like Nepal, still felt more equal, more balanced.

Now that shouldn’t sound too negative. Even though Dahab is unlikely to become my favourite place on earth, it still has a lot to offer. It is easily (and affordably) reachable from Berlin, the weather is pleasant, even in winter, the diving is pristine and the seafood outstanding.

Learning to dive (more)

After more than two years of dive-break, I went for a refresher dive yesterday morning. Just repeating how to assemble the gear and the basic skills like mask clearing and regulator retrieval.

Following that, I added a nitrox course to my dive education, which now allows me to use different gas mixes for diving (e.g. 32% oxygen instead of the 20.9% in the atmosphere). The main purpose of that is to lower the nitrogen concentration in the body, which allows for longer bottom times and is also said to decrease “post dive fatigue”. I was mostly interested in the latter, as I often feel tired after dives.

This morning, our team of four divers headed north out of Dahab to a dive site called “The Canyon”. The surface area sports the common “desert meets ocean” look.

Going diving here is as easy as gearing up and walking into the water – no boats required. The dive site itself is one of the cooler ones I’ve seen. As the name suggest, a crack in the earth runs below water forming a canyon, and invites for a little “dive in”. Not suitable for the claustrophobic. We followed the canyon down to about 30 metres, tec divers can even go on to 55m.

We would do a second dive on the site and spent the hour and a half in between in a shack/restaurant right by the sea. It’s quite windy these days but sunshine and temperatures in the low 20s still make for a comfortable stay.

Afternoon program: Drinking coffee and watching the sunset colouring Saudi Arabia across the sea.

With its interior, the café wouldn’t be out of place in Berlin. Except for it being next to the ocean of course.

The Philosophy of Travel

Just a few days ago, I gave to a friend my definition of what the difference between a tourist and a traveller is. A traveller has a lot of time but only little money – while with the tourist it’s the other way around.

I pride myself on being a traveller. Moving at a slow pace, using local infrastructure and eating whatever it is they eat in the country I’m visiting.

Now it’s been a long time since I went anywhere for more than a few days, and I felt the itch to see something new. And get out of the Berlin winter.

Knowing that really only a short trip is an option at the moment, I felt that I would be breaking with my standards if I just hopped on a plane, flew somewhere sunny and came back a week or two later.

But that’s what I decided to do. It took a while to convince myself, but here I am now, 100% tourist. People on the plane applauded at touchdown, a driver picked me up outside the airport, I’m staying at a hotel in my own room and I intend to spend most of my time with distinctly non-local activities such as scuba diving. It doesn’t get any more touristy really. Won’t rename the blog to pattourist.com just yet though.

Enjoying my time in Egypt so far. Everybody has been friendly – more so than I expected – and even though Dahab is touristy, it has a somewhat laid-back vibe. Bit like Koh Tao (Thai island) a few years back.

Reaching Dahab took about an hour driving through the desert. It’s such a lifeless place (superficially) but still I find a lot of beauty in it, a serenity. Hope to see a bit more of it the next couple of days.