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The Solo Scooterist

Documenting my travels on a Vespa

Category: Egypt (page 2 of 2)

One night , two days to the Suez

The sun gave me the light to leave and at dawn Victoria and I set our sights on Ain Soukhna a mere 330 kilometres away and this would put us close enough to the Suez canal crossing to make it onto the peninsula and down to the Red sea diving Mecca of Sharm El Sheikh in one day . I had decided to take some time off the scooter and try and have a holiday to alleviate the road fatigue that was becoming an ever more dominant part of my day . My enthusiasm for the riding and the trip had diminished dramatically , I was stopping less and less , interacting with people was becoming laborious , my patience on a fuse the length of a new born silk worm and my camera spent its life in my camelbak  ignoring what we passed by , in favour of making it to our next destination in the shortest possible  time .

The Lore of riding had shown me the signs , stop , rest or error will stop or slow you forever . Just one night and two days of riding and hopfully the charm of Sharm would offer us refuge and rejuvenation so that once again I could find the things I loved about being solo on a scooter named Victoria.

 

The route from Lake Nasser to Sharm and beyond .

The route from Lake Nasser to Sharm and beyond .

The morning started with the belief that the day would be shorter than usual and allow me to get into Ain Soukhna  early , so I could rest well to take on the crossing bright and early the following morning . I had heard that that the military presence at the tunnel and check points could slow progress dramatically hence the desire to kick off early again .

The desert in this part of Egypt has nothing but oil refineries and rigs that line the coast , it takes on a look that fills you with despair and dread for all the beauty is lost and the harshness shows itself in a brutal way , with this landscape  came the wind that would change my day to one of the hardest and tiring to date . The scooter was been directed by the force and immense power of this wind that bent all to its will . My grip fused and locked to try and hold Victoria on the right side of the road , after loosing the battle within a few kilometres the only solution was to slow right down , use the full extent of the road and pray that it would subside , three hours later the direction changed and the wind took to our back , pushed us along with a force that had been so destructive but now  gave us  speed ,  pleasure and ease , I could only appreciate  after the battering of the last hours .

The word dishevelled came to mind when I arrived at the hotel , luckily I had made a reservation before hand , as I don’t think they would have let me in by the way I looked and felt .  I tried to use the hot water and time  as jaws of life in the shower to release the clamps that locked my body like the hunch back of scootredam , to no avail , but not all was lost the mattress was hard and full of support,  I knew after a night on this bed all would be well in the morning .

After my shower it was down to dinner and as luck would have it the hotel only offered a buffet , so thinking I had escaped the horrors of Hurghada  , I was once again shown how manners can be lost in the battle that reigns around the buffet , with the smallest gaps taken to secure that piece of meat ,  or the most supple of stretches that allow a person three back to secure the tasty tart twinkling under the frosting , how husbands forsake families , leave wives a gasp  to get down to that beacon of delight . The food was good , nobody went hungry and with my dinner done off to bed so the early bird to catch the tunnel .

Until we meet again.

 

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Out of Africa or not ?

The ride started early and within no time I was riding through the town of Suez in search of the tunnel that would take me across to the Sinai , and to the road that would lead to Sharm El Sheikh. I felt that I  needed to get 440 kilometres done to reach our destination and that  became my focus  . I found the signs to the tunnel expecting my delays to start here , I was waived through the check point and the next thing  Victoria and I found ourselves in the tunnel , I let out a cry of delight , here I was crossing the Suez on a Vespa and in my mind it felt like I had just left Africa and was so close to a different part of the journey with a newness that was palatable .

I debated with myself , had I left Africa or would it be when I made the crossing into Israel , the debate raged in my head while I re created the map in my mind , had I or had I not ? The wind carried us down the peninsula , tunes from the I pod offering opportunities to sing along while  the wind ushered us to our resting place. Wow ! The Sinai is truly magnificent with dramatic rock formations and mountains with sand so light that they look snow capped from a distance .

 

Beautiful nothingness , sculpted by the wind.

Beautiful nothingness , sculpted by the wind.

 

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The ride was much easier than the previous day and it was then that my luck with the check points changed and Victoria and I spent the next couple of hours stopping and starting , passport and papers in and out , the journey slowed but we were loving it nonetheless , this desert was something to behold . It might be the lightness of the sand or the majestic mountains that take your mind to a place that is visually and emotionally just beautiful , peaceful and tranquil . The serene Sinai , not how most of the world sees it , unfortunately .

 

The road to Sharm.

The road to Sharm.

 

The mountains that run alongside you .

The mountains that run alongside you .

The heat was intense with a few times that I thought that Victoria’s gauge might be showing a slightly elevated reading , ever so slightly above normal and then it settled down once more .  We arrived in Sharm to be stopped by the police twice within 50 meters , with the second involving me to strip Victoria down , unpack the entire scooter top to bottom in the blazing heat , while the scrutinising officials let lazy eyes follow my movments  . Once done it was time to get to the hotel . I had booked myself into Camel Hotel and dive club , finally unpacked and settled I made my way down to the dive centre and booked my dives for the next three days .

So enthusiastic I was about my dive holiday that I booked three dives per day for three days in a row , what was I thinking ? I was here to relax yet I thought time underwater would clear all and set my mind free once more to journey with me . I would be so tired after three days of diving I would have to extent my stay just to sleep in and rest from the rest.

 

From the boat heading out to our first dive site.

From the boat heading out to our first dive site.

 

Still sailing.

Still sailing.

The hotel beautiful the staff fantastic so I settled into my routine of diving and dining , walking the streets or should I say the semi deserted streets of Sharm and I seemed to find a sense of being  earthed in this place that usually is a 24 hour non stop party town .

 

Hypnotic .

Hypnotic .

 

Far fewer boats and divers than what one has come to expect here.

Far fewer boats and divers than what one has come to expect here.

 

Tourism is really down in Egypt and from my last visit here where you would queue to get anything and could not wait to get on the boat to leave for your week on the liveaboard , Sharm had clearly lost part of her charm , yet I was just happy to be in a totally different environment doing something totally different feeling like a guy on holiday with days of diving and nights of deep sleep with no planning where , what and how for the next day’s ride.

I thought four days would be fine and I would be ready to ride again , this was not to be and five days later I was still in slop’s , luckily with no socks and board shorts walking about , doing something close to nothing but a little different to the day before . For me Sharm still held all her charm and I really did not feel like leaving , a theme that was now a recurring one . It was then that I decided to extend my diving holiday and go up to Dahab to enjoy more of the same   , one of my better decisions I might add.

So with the coolness of early morning I packed up Victoria to take on the ride of 98 kilometres to our next stop Dreamy Dahab.

Until we meet again .

 

 

 

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Dahab

The ride up to Dahab was one of my more relaxed times on the scooter , we had a short distance to ride and time on our side a rare  combination on this trip ,  so it was all about soaking up the Sinai with her open display of natural beauty . I rode watching and  waiting for the sun to  bathe the mountains in different shades of light   , It was cooler than usual so the road was far more enjoyable and we took our time to  treasure the Sinai .

 

Victoria with her foreign registration , for Egypt .

Victoria with her foreign registration , for Egypt .

 

Sporting in the Sinai

Sporting in the Sinai

I had made arrangements to meet  up with  Ayman from deep blue divers who had organised accommodation and a six dive package for me .  Riding into Dahab shocked me , with so many shops , restaurants and hotels boarded up , parts of it resembled those ghost and tumble weed towns found in the old classic westerns . The town looked like some kind of epidemic had  hit and the people  packed up and ran for the hills . It felt slightly eerie .  I was to be the only diver for 5 of the six dives , which in a selfish way was fantastic  for me but not for Deep Blue .

 

Coffee shop between dives

Coffee shop between dives

I followed Ayman to the hotel to checkin and to drop Victoria and all my stuff off  , I grabbed a towel , jumped back into Ayman’s car and off we went to get the dive gear and to go diving . What a great afternoon of diving , Dahab really has some spectacular sites ,  then it was back to the hotel to unpack , settle in and  as the evening brought with it the cool air I set out to enjoy Dahab by night. I took a walk down to the ocean promenade to see if I could remember anything from my previous trip , that now felt a lifetime ago ,that been said it was  those very fond memories that brought me back here , to dive once more .

 

The road infront of my hotel .

The road infront of my hotel .

 

As I started walking down towards the sea all the memories came flooding back .

As I started walking down towards the sea all the memories came flooding back .

The sights and sounds all becoming more and more  familiar as I strolled the streets , the only real difference  was that there are just far less people than what I remembered . I started feeling right at home and a genuine  calmness came over me . Dahab has such an amazing feeling , it is dream like with the soft lights  on the water , the cool evening breeze and the very relaxed bohemian lifestyle . I took a long walk before retracing my steps to a fish restaurant that has the best reputation in town , the fisherman’s bride it is called . A reputation well earned and  deserved .

 

Sunset over the Sinai .

Sunset over the Sinai .

 

Seafront promenade

Seafront promenade

 

Seafront restaurants.

Seafront restaurants.

Dahab proved just the place I needed , the diving was absolutely spectacular , on my second day of diving I did two dives that are just beyond belief  they are so beautiful . The first being the canyon and the second being the blue hole . I decided that I felt like a deep dive and the Canyon was to be the place  . You enter the water swim out a little , start your decent and suddenly you feel that you are in an underwater Cathedral , surrounded by the canyon in this deep , deep blue water that lies almost still , the light fights its way through the cracks in the rocks to give you a sense of spirit and light and a faith that if you prayed in a place like this , God would answer you , the light brings a whole new life to the canyon , you settle down feeling like you are floating in space , you look up  the colours  and the light just pour into you , your gaze is held , you feel that you could dwell here for an eternity in this place of  blue peace , then your time runs out and you have to leave even though you don’t want to , you turn back to  exit take a deep breath and a last look before you make your way slowly towards the surface , with your mind trying desperately to hold onto the beauty it had just witnessed , it runs the images time and time again trying to fuse them  to your retina . Sadly by the end of the dive while at the 5m safety stop your mind holds only the diluted images it fought so hard to hold , but you are grateful just to have had your time in that special place with whatever image you where able to preserve  . What a dive what a place .

 

Near the Canyon entry point

Near the Canyon entry point

My days filled with the splendour , colour and tranquillity of this world that is so rich and full of wonder , it lies just meters away from a landscape that is totally devoid of life and colour except for the odd camel and Bedouin crossing the sand dunes . The world under the blue almost the direct opposite to what lies above the water line , shades of a single colour above while under the sea lies all of the spectrum , teeming with bountiful life  , above the sand stretches on for miles with a emptiness that feels like a vacuum in comparison . Egypt’s true beauty lies and waits in an ambush of colour for you , just below that azure blue .

 

All the beauty in colour lies just below.

All the beauty in colour lies just below.

The dives would all capture something to ensure they where memorable and so I completed my dives , reluctant to leave Dahab , wanting another week of so in her company , but Israel was calling , my 11th crossing it was going to be and  yet another country I had never before set foot or tyre down , now it was to be OUT OF AFRICA .

 

Farewell cappuccino

Farewell cappuccino

Diving done it was time to do a few chores so that I could have my  last night free to roam Dahab , so first things first , time for a hair cut and a beard trim , I was feeling a little over grown to say the least , enjoy the before and after , I did. That done I  spent time  checking Victoria , topped up her oil , checked the water level , tyre pressure and all the other checks I perform every couple of days , she was good to go , just a little dirty and dusty , but her inner beauty unquestionable .

 

Before

Before

 

After .

After .

 

 

My favourite Dahab restaurant , magical at night.

My favourite Dahab restaurant , magical at night.

So I spent my  last night soaking as much of Dahab up as I could , eating at one of my favourite restaurants on the water , enjoying some voluptuous chilled red , letting the twinkling lights on the water take my dreams into the desert , to  set them free to fly and  roam as they wished , to cover the places  I had journeyed from  and  to take flight to places I yet had to explore

I stretched out amongst those soft orange cushions , propped up my feet  , glass in hand I lay and let the cool desert wind transport me back across the continent I had journeyed , to give thanks to all the countries of Africa that had carried me so safely to this point , to remember the kindness and generosity of her people and take a moment to let her wash me in her night air to seal our covenant that we would forever live in each others hearts , for Africa touches you like no other , offers you a glimpse into lives  that stay  burnt in your  eyes , she makes you better , she makes you human  , she returns humility to  you and If you allow her to touch you she is unconditional .

Next stop Eilat and then Jerusalem .

Until we meet again , my precious Africa .

 

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Egypt to Eilat

It was time to  move on again , the streets of Dahab even more disserted  than usual , the morning air cool , the sun still hiding behind some of the buildings , I packed the last few smalls onto Victoria . We rode out and into the Sinai , with the mountains on both sides , we were transported  in a tunnel of rock , sand and sky with the sun not high enough to penetrate , all around shrouded in cool grey  air . As the sun climbed so the light changed the landscape ,  the gaps in the range  allowed us to cast our shadow briefly into the desert .

 

My morning riding partner courtesy of sunrise

My morning riding partner courtesy of sunrise

Early morning scootering on the Sinai felt incredibly special and I suppose with only just over a hundred kilometers left before crossing into Israel , I became even more aware of the beauty , for I did not have much time left here .The mountains turned cinnamon on pankake as the light ignited the colours . The blue of the sea started to dance in the flickering light , the coves like hidden sancturaries half covered in desert dusk , half the soft  light of  dawn , with the water providing the  serenity  . I rode in this  trance of calm and colour taking in as much as possible knowing that I was on borrowed beauty .

 

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The ride up to Eilat

The ride up to Eilat

 

Pausing to take it all in .

Pausing to take it all in .

I had left early knowing that this was to be a long day , I had heard about the border procedure at Taba so I was prepared for a long crossing . I arrived at the border  around nine in the morning and started the process of exiting  Egypt , which involved de registering Victoria and returning her foreign  plates , which would be sent back to Aswan to cover another traveller as he or she made their way  North . I then had to get immigration to stamp me out and the final leg to leaving , was to unpack the scooter and carry everything to an X ray machine inside the immigration bulding , then once cleared re pack and was waived out of Egypt.

You can feel and see the difference as you approach the Israeli border , the buildings modern and clean , the security impenetrable , the barrier large and looming . I jumped off Victoria passport in hand and was immediatly sent back to stand and wait at the scooter . I think Israeli borders are the only crossings in the world were beauty comes so well armed and dressed , her eyes smouldering , her features soft  and speech seductive  . It was the first time that I would have preferred to be having dinner with the border official than being questioned . That been said with GI Joe only meters from us I kept my answers short and sweet , thinking to myself I wonder if I should do an annual calendar of beauty at borders , would it rival  Pirelli ? So with the initial step done I was ushered along to start my entry into Israel .

The long , meticulous and very thorough  process started , The scooter inspected , I unpacked everything to have it  X rayed and then it was my turn to  clear immigration while Victoria was taken to be checked and cleared . It was to be a long process , I would finally arrive at my hotel in Eilat after 16h00 . At one point I thought there is no way I was getting in , this vagabond on a scooter arriving from the desert , I was bound to attract a little extra scrutiny  . The officials very professonal in every sense doing a very thorough job but at the same time polite ,  offering me conversation, coffee and hydration .

I had adopted a very relaxed approach to crossing countries from my very first border and it had served me well to date , every one had their procedure and what I had come to realise was , it would be followed irrespective, so no point in allowing frustration to ruin your day . So I waited and eventualy I was cleared to enter what a relief it was , I had my moments of panic thinking what I would do if I was sent back to Egypt , doing all that paperwork again , but with passport cleared and stickered ,  Victoria and I rode into Eilat .

 

Eilat .

Eilat .

I booked into my hotel exhausted from a long day , unpaked Victoria for the third time in less that 12 hours , took a long and welcomed  shower and then it was  off to enjoy people , prams and a bustling promenade wide and pristine . Eilat has a wonderful holiday feeling , with families out and about , dad trying to catch junior before his gelato goes flying , mothers praming  along burdened by only having two hands yet so many balls in the air , this place felt so different , safe and secure with a freedom I had not felt in people for a while .

 

The promenade just before the night life transforms it.

The promenade just before the night life transforms it.

Was Eilat the promised land , a place that the burka has traded places with the bikini , a place that seems to champion individuality and freedom to express , sushi , sashimi , steak and gastronomic choice anxiety ,  welcome to Europe surrounded by sand . The mall a sensory overload with so much on offer , lights , camera , action , my head spun , my eyes rolled around in my head like that of a  cartoon character , just so many people , so much movement , glitz and glamour , all too much for this desert fox , so after sushi it was back to the hotel to find sanctuary .

I took a shower and stood looking out of the window at this Red Sea Vegas , realising with a heavy heart Africa was gone , I was in a brave new world , lacking the skill to acclimatise this fast , I was still filled with the stars of Africa to light my way . Neon not yet please !

 

The beach at dusk .

The beach at dusk .

 

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In the morning we would leave for Jerusalem , meet David in Beer Sheva and ride together into the city . It was to be the first time since leaving Johannesburg that I would not be solo on a scooter and that Victoria would be in the company of another Vespa. Wow !

I lay in bed images of Africa rolling on retina , then sleep came , covered me in a dense fog before transporting me back to dream in the desert.

Until we meet again .

 

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