Trip Reports

Send Your Camel To Bed (17-Apr-2002-08-00):
8:00 AM local time, Wednesday, April 17 (0600 April 17 UTC) 27 24 N 033 40 E. Temp. 80, Humidity 74%, Cloud Cover 0%. Abu Tig Marina, El-Gouna Resort, near Hurghada, Egypt.

Warm greetings from the crew of Maverick.

Well, we're still in the very nice harbor here in El-Gouna, a completely new resort town where they've blasted a hole through the reef near the shore of the Red Sea and dug a maze of canals you can buzz through in your dinghy. The developers plan to make this the Egyptian St. Tropez, so they're trying to attract some celebrities to add a splash of cachet and the crew of Maverick has deigned to oblige them.

Caroline and Theresa came to visit, bringing a lot of stuff we need and, way more importantly, their wonderful selves. Caroline and Terry took off for Luxor and Cairo, and we followed them after a couple of days here for Theresa and me to relax by ourselves before the sightseeing frenzy we knew we were about to face. Most of the cruisers we know, who of course give us a lot of stick about being two guys from San Francisco, had left for inland trips themselves so they never saw our better halves and don't believe they exist, or so they say.

While Theresa and I were here in El-Gouna, one afternoon we hired a car to take us out to the nearby oasis that, unlike the brand new artificial resort town, has been occupied since time beyond memory. We had not come with an organized event, during which the inhabitants of the oasis, real Bedouins, step aside for the chefs and entertainers brought in by the resort hotels for their guests. We just showed up, uninvited, having established that this was permitted. But we had no idea what to expect, and really thought we'd just go walk around and if possible talk to a couple of people. The oasis looked like your fantasy of one. The surrounding area had the feel of the Mohave desert in California, and the oasis, at the foot of a small mountain range, was lush with date-palms (Phoenix dactylifera), and other trees and undergrowth that we did not closely examine.

A handsome man of about forty came out from somewhere, dressed in Bedouin robes, and welcomed us. He showed us the tower where they keep doves, as Mohammed did. He showed us the well, which is of course the raison d'etre of the community. We were then taken to a structure that was tent-like in feel, but semi-permanent as it was constructed of reeds and palm fronds. We were invited to sit on the rugs and cushions placed on the dirt floor, and asked if we'd like some tea. This we accepted, and as we drank from small glasses we were regaled by our host with stories of Bedouin life. For example, we were told that they used to fish and swim where the current resort town of El-Gouna has been raised out of the desert, as is happening all along the Red Sea coast of Egypt. Now, he says, they take their camels and ride 15 miles north, because, he said without a trace of bitterness or sarcasm, they are too "shy" to be around the western women from the resorts who swim in skimpy beachwear, or even topless. The Bedouin women, when they go to the beach, immerse themselves in the sea clothed head to foot.

Then our host asked if we'd like to try the sheesha, something you readers of a certain age will remember as a hookah. We were quite aware that this was not an invitation to smoke hashish or the like, but rather tobacco flavored with molasses and sometimes also with apple or strawberry. At an Egyptian restaurant, the sheesha can be ordered from the menu and the pipe will be filled with the mixture of your choosing and lit, then brought to the table for you to smoke. Theresa and I are non-smokers, and we at first begged off, but were reassured that it wasn't harsh and we should give it a try. I had crossed several seas, drunk kava, ridden an elephant, dived into an underwater cave, held a baby alligator, and drunk homebrew with some guys from Tonga. Why should I be intimidated by a waterpipe? We were given the apple-flavored version, and, it's true, I inhaled. The smoke didn't cause much of any feeling going down, the taste was sweet and the sensation of exhaling was very pleasant, I must say. Theresa tried it and as she was saying she didn't think she got anything, smoke came out of her mouth, which gives an idea of how mellow it was. We don't know if they had a banana flavor, for you Donovan fans.

Next, we were shown green coffee beans from Ethiopia, which were roasted for us in a frying pan over coals, ground in a mortar and pestle with cardamom, mint, and other spices, and then brewed in an earthenware pot. We were each given a little in thimble-sized cups with quite a bit of sugar, and this also was good. As we drank the coffee, the sheik of the oasis entered and we were introduced, and told that the man we'd been talking to was his son.

Throughout, our host and his assistants were as sweet and gentle as could be. As we rose to leave, we asked if we could give him something, and handed over, if I remember, twenty Egyptian pounds, or about five dollars. I haven't the faintest idea whether this was too much, too little, or just right, because he gave no indication whatever and had asked for nothing. We walked by some camels on the way out, and when Theresa wanted a picture they insisted she sit on one. They had the camel kneel but it was still a big step to get up so she needed a boost. However, their customs prohibited them from touching her, and they indicated that I should help her up onto the camel, which I did. After the photo we said many warm goodbyes, and then left them to the night.

Next report from this location: Into The Valley Of The Nile

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