Bed and Breakfast & Holiday Cottage

Bed and Breakfast & Holiday Cottage

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Dragonflies in the Desert Part Three

While in Dahab we, well I, make a decision to take a camel ride to Ras Ab Galoum, a Bedouin camp along the coast from where we are staying. Camels turn out to not be as uncomfortable as I had imagined, (though a couple of hours is more than enough) and I am really impressed with the way they can negotiate the rocky outcrops along the shoreline. They just keep on plodding on with their massive padded plate sized feet over rocks I could barely see a path through. When we arrive at the camp we are the only three there. Our guide disappears and lunch arrives from nowhere and is delicious – fried fish with rice. On the way back my nephew’s camel decides he’s had enough and takes off at an alarming pace. I am stuck on top of a less energetic animal and can do nothing. I yell at Willy who is a little way ahead of me looking at the rock pools, to “DO something” but he just turns to me and says “Huh? What? What?” totally oblivious to what is happening. Being in loco parentis turns out not for the last time to be nerve fraying, but it all ends well when the camel stops on reaching another group further along the way.


Climbing Mount Sinai a few days later we are offered camels to take the strain off the 4km hike up the mountain. “No thank you” say the three of us in absolute certain unison, each nursing our own individual sores. What a climb though! Doing it alone I can imagine could be a very spiritual experience and I half wished I was doing that, but we had such a lovely group of fellow climbers that I was happy to walk and chat for the three hours it took to reach the top. This is the mountain where God handed Moses the ten commandments and is the highest in Egypt. At the bottom is Saint Catherine’s, the oldest monastery in the world and an incredibly welcome site on the journey back down when the temperature dropped so much that we were hugging each other for warmth and even a camel would have been welcome if he was prepared to cuddle.


Back to every day life in Dahab and we venture a short way along the beach to ‘Happy Village’ where apparently the snorkelling is good. New friends Barry and Tracey come along and we flop down onto the cushions in the beach side café for a spot of lunch before our swim.

I order vegetable rice and so does Barry. When it arrives we discuss what the vegetable might be and agree it must be carrot lying on top of a huge pile of rice lying next to a huge pile of chips. We taste it and find that it is coloured potato. So rice topped with potato and chips on the side. My carb free diet is now firmly postponed til we return to England.

As everyone squeezes and pulls themselves into their wet suits (what a palaver) our host comes to clear the plates away with his lovely big smile. He looks for a compliment and I oblige. “That was lovely – thank you so much” and it was lovely because we are sitting on well used mismatched cushions on a concrete floor covered in assortged rugs, under a bamboo roof on a sheltered Sinai beach, with friends we have just made and sweet sweet Egyptian tea with camels strolling past, the sun shining and the sea sparkling. It is very lovely indeed.


Ah the sea, the sea. I have agreed nine days in to our holiday to go out with everyone else to gaze through a plastic mask at the many and beautiful fish. Up ‘til now I have been perfectly happy to stroll along the shoreline while the others are immersed in the blue and I have met many happy little creatures scuttling, crawling, flitting around the rocks and dead coral. I am so taken by their separate universe and their tiny lives that I resolve not to eat seafood any more. Previously I’ve been sanguine about consuming prawns and the like as I argued, they, having such small brains and therefore awareness, barely know they’re alive anyway. This has been an excellent excuse for eating prawns, whitebait, clams, mussels - basically all the things I like to eat anyway. No more. It seems to me as I watch them that yanking them out of their universe and eating them is doubly selfish and that eating chicken might in fact be a better option. I am slightly annoyed with myself for reaching this conclusion.

Anyhow, I have agreed to join the others in the sea – or at least on the sea and am the only woman in Sinai to be found on a bright blue lilo. I am very aware I am uncool, but at 47 coolness is well on the way out of the question and self-preservation and keeping water out of my ears is way more important. Though it must be said that scuba divers don’t rate much in the cool stakes either – they look as ridiculous as men in jodphurs to me - and more frightening, immerging like black Cybermen out of the shallows where I am quietly paddling. Still whatever floats your boat I suppose. I last roughly twelve minutes in the water and declare “Well that’s all jolly lovely, can I go back now?” Apparently it‘s not that easy. I thought I could just head for the shore but I have to be tugged inelegantly, lilo sagging, back several hundred yards along the reef to a gap where I won’t do any damage to the coral while heaving my bulk to the beach. As I said, what a palaver.

Safely beached I return to my book and my daydreaming and my daydreams turn to my garden. I make the mistake of thinking England might at least be as sunny if not as warm as Egypt when I return and I am filled with excitement at the coming season in our garden. I have some ideas and I scribble them down on the back of a boarding pass and then I fall asleep in the sun in Egypt thinking of my nice little place in the country in England and I feel very lucky.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Dragonflies in the Desert – Part Two


I totally LOVE the Middle Eastern dispensation with chairs. Shack after tearoom after beach bar after café simply scatters big comfy cushions on the floor – perhaps leaning up against short concrete divisions – divisions that hold at least twelve people for a gregarious lunch on locally caught fish and rice (lots of rice), or for a gentle afternoon spent with people you’ve just met sipping Egyptian tea- which, after only two days in the area, you pour sugar in from the bowl like a native rather than spooning a carefully measured “Just a half for me” teaspoon.

Lazing around on these cushions with tea and a book is turning out to be my favourite holiday pastime. While the others push themselves into their wetsuits and head off for the coral my mind flits between the Egyptian sun-baked shore where I am anchored and South Africa, Norfolk, France – wherever my literary companions are taking me. Is there any better way to spend a day? I am full of ideas of making the same sort of colourful den at home for guests to lounge around in during their stays. Of course the Egyptians have the advantage of the ground being mostly dry, which cannot in truth be said about Brook Farm, but I am considering a raised decking area outside the old 1950s caravan which will give me a fabulous cushion buying opportunity. Months of rain will not put me off the cushion buying.


The restaurants in Dahab, perched on jetties sticking out over the gentle waves raise you slightly off the ground with huge chunky wide benches – the sort I would pay over £300 for in a shabby chic secondhand shop in England but which here must be two a penny given all the restaurants have them in great numbers. Bright coloured drifts of fabric drape the make shift ceilings and wrap around the supporting poles. A massive variety of pretty lanterns hang with red, green, blue and orange bulb, hubba bubba pipes adorn the tables of the ageing hippies stranded here since the 70s and the young twenty-somethings trying to recreate the vibe. At another table a group of young British girls, presumably blissfully unaware (or uncaring) of the Muslim preference, have dressed in tiny shorts and tight revealing tops and are giggling and flirting with the good looking waiters.

Near the pool at the Dahab Paradise is a large Bedouin tent for lounging. In front of the tent a very successful ground covering succulent sprinkles little pink flowers across its front and attracts more butterflies than I saw in our English garden all last summer. (There is more than one sort of Painted Lady attracted to Egypt at this time of year.) Dragonflies flit over the swimming pool and we wonder how on earth they came to survive here – surely dragonflies need freshwater? We ponder lazily about this as we sunbathe attempting to google the answer, but the connection was too poor so we promise ourselves to look it up when we get home. I still haven’t. Procrastination has always been one my strongest attributes but the Egyptians are world leaders. Absolutely nothing is done in a hurry, perhaps it is the only way to cope with the heat. Maybe we rush around like mad things in Britain simply as a way of keeping warm.


It’s a pity then that they expect so much of their animals – though worshipped as Gods in ancient history, animals here today have a tough life. I knew that the hardest part of this trip for me was going to be seeing abuse of horses and donkeys and I travelled armed with a list of contact numbers and addresses for the Brooke Hospital ( so that in the event I could actually contact someone who would do something. How relieved I was then to find that most of the animals I saw were in reasonably good nick. Just as pleasing was the very prominent presence of the Brooke in Luxor in the form of long rows of palm leaf shelters providing shade and posters around the town and even at the airport. The Brooke welcomes visitors so we went to visit the office and hospital seeing a horse who had been in an accident with some scaffolding that morning nicely stitched up and resting in a cool box. Two other horses and three donkeys were also being cared for there and we were told that the vets go out to other towns and villages every month. They offer a totally free veterinary and education service. What worries me now is the effect the huge reduction in number of tourists is going to have on these animals. If their owners aren’t getting paid to drive tourists around town, how are they going to afford to feed them?


I leave you for now with this worry in the hope you will visit the Brooke website and send support!!

End of Part Two…


Monday, 11 March 2013

Dragonflies in the Desert

By Sarah Wint

Few places can beat Egypt for sun-starved Brits at this time of year. Being in the UK tourism trade February is the best time of year for me to leave home and emboldened by a well-travelled husband I happily ignore the Foreign Office warnings not to travel to Egypt and head off for some warmth. And warmth is what I get – not least from the Egyptians themselves. A more welcoming race I think I have not yet met, though the Turks come very close. (Indeed this must be a friendly neighbourhood)

Fourteen days on the shores of the beautiful Red Sea and three days in Luxor to end with a mind-boggling tour of 4000 year old temples and tombs. At the beginning of our second week, my sister rings to check we have not altered our programme and found ourselves on the doomed air balloon flight in Luxor. We are safely sitting on the beach at Dahab, but my heart lurches at the fate of those poor people and our own proximity to a similar one. A hot air balloon flight over the Valley of the Kings comes highly recommended and is perhaps something I would have eagerly undertaken.

When we arrive in Luxor the place is unbelievably quiet. We walk to the Museum of Luxor along the new promenade by the side of the Nile – a new area planned and started before the revolution ready for the perennial masses of tourists. Since the revolution work has stopped on the promenade and as we are three of maybe a dozen people using it, there seems little point in it continuing for now. Tourism is down 80% and the horrible accident in Luxor is not going to help, not to mention stories of kidnappings, however brief.

As we’re travelling with my 14 year old nephew we’ve decided to avoid Cairo on this trip – more for the peace of mind of his parents than our own – but we meet other travellers who report it being entirely peaceful. It saddens us more and more as we tour this country that people are being warned against travel, seriously hampering the high hopes of a new democratic prosperity. On a personal level however, I feel bold and intrepid - like a proper traveller, not just a tourist. I feel quite pleased with myself and then immediately ashamed.

To my eyes this is a tough and chaotic place to live, but apparent poverty here is actually just normal life. The difference between the residents of Tenbury and the people of Luxor is mirrored in the difference between my fat spoilt donkeys and the working animals in these streets.

In Luxor I have found us a nice little B&B La Maison Pythagore – I like to support other BnBers - and from the website the Pythagore looks authentic and pretty. The owner kindly arranges a pick up from the airport and after speeding through the outskirts we eventually bump down the broken back streets of Luxor to a point where the driver can go no further, so we drag our cases down the narrow bumpy sandy back alley towards our temporary home. Children are playing and shouting hello to us as we pass donkeys and carts laden with vegetables or building supplies. Luckily we stop at a door just before a vast hole in the ground where several builders are working and our guide rings a doorbell. At this point, even after our experiences in Bedouin desert camps and make-shift mountain ‘cafes’ (with make-shift lavatories), I think I may finally have to say “I’m sorry – I can’t stay here”. I am a fish out of water – I actually feel a little scared but I give myself a notional slap and the door opens and a short man with a friendly face says welcome so we step in. Inside I immediately relax. The vibrant colours of the walls the welcoming sofas and cushions and a garden! A garden! At last some green! Now I feel at home. A lovely patio garden with bougainvillea and frangipane and lemons and bananas, more sofas….and a cat. Our host Mosin (who turns out not to be so short –it’s just that there’s a big step down from the alley into the house) brings us tea. A garden, a sofa, some tea, a cat. I’ll stay….

End of Part One
(I don't like long blogs!)