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Dahab: Fun in the Sun on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

Dahab: Fun in the Sun on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

January 13th. 12 pm. Dahab, Egypt.

My gray Arabian horse, Oscar, starts prancing beneath me. I feel his powerful muscles coil in anticipation as we turn off the paved road and approach a mile-long stretch of hard-packed sand.

dahab egypt

“Are you ready?” my guide asks.

“Ready,” I reply, and release my hold on the reins.

Seconds later we’re thundering down the straightaway, galloping through the sand as Arabian horses have for millennia. These animals are bred for the desert; every drop of their purebred blood is designed for speed, endurance, and the relentless Egyptian sun. Oscar’s breaths come steady and fast and his long silver mane whips into my face as we fly along the shore at speeds nearing 40MPH.

To my right, the barren red peaks of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula stretch towards the sky. To my right, there’s nothing but the open expanse of the Red Sea and–off in the distance–the purple peaks along the coast of Saudi Arabia.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

Welcome to beautiful Dahab.

I’ll come right out and say that current travel advisories tell visitors not to go to this part of Sinai. It’s considered “dangerous” for travelers and “should be avoided” on travel itineraries.

Of course, like the rest of Egypt–and the rest of the world–there are potential dangers that exist. But during our five days in this absolutely breath-taking resort town, the only things I felt were happy, safe, and exuberant. The locals are the friendliest and most welcoming I’ve met anywhere in the world.

And since there are so few visitors these days, they truly do treat you like royalty. We experienced that our very first night, when we rode in the back of an old Jeep out into the desert for an authentic Bedouin dinner, cooked and served by the campfire.

dahab egypt

But anyway, back to the sunshine.

We’re staying at the cozy Amanda Hotel, located right on the shore of the Red Sea. The owners, Mohammed and Rita, have treated us like long-lost family from the moment we arrived.

dahab

dahab

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

Dahab is a stunning little town, full of funky street art, coffee shops, and family-run businesses. Along the seaside path that meanders through town you’ll find joggers with dogs, locals on horseback, mothers pushing strollers, and street artists at work.

If there was a dry, desert version of the Caribbean, this would be it.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

For me, it was love at first sight. The sky and the sea are so blue it almost hurts your eyes. The mountains shift from red to chestnut to gray to lavender, depending on the time of day. The air is crisp and dry and the temperature hovers between 60-70 degrees.

I’ve found my happy place. It is Dahab.

From here, we’ve explored Saint Katherine’s Monastery and climbed to the top of Mount Sinai. We also took a ferry across the Red Sea to Jordan to explore Petra–but that’s for another post.

Let’s return to Oscar and our gallop across the sand.

When we (finally) reach the end of the straightaway, it’s time to untack the horses and go for a swim. I haven’t done this in ages, since I had my own horse in Florida–and I’m psyched.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

Back and forth we swim through the most amazing crystal-clear water I’ve seen in a long, long time. The water’s a few degrees cooler than my Floridian blood prefers, but hey…I’m not about to complain.

After we dry off and saddle up again, we head back towards town past a literal cemetery of beachfront resorts. The 2011 and 2013 revolutions hit all of Egypt’s tourism industry hard, but especially so in Sinai. Beautiful high-rise resorts now sit eerily empty, their windows sandblasted, their pools dry, their lounge chairs rotting in the sun.

It’s easy to imagine the town in its heyday, and it’s sad to see what it’s become now that so few people are traveling here.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

By the way, I didn’t have to try hard to get these photos with no people in them. In fact, I didn’t have to try at all.

There’s virtually no one else here.

But anyway–enough dwelling on the negatives. The upside is that we had the whole place to ourselves and our pick of leisure activities to enjoy!

My ride on Oscar was awesome, but it wasn’t my only outdoor adventure in Dahab. We also signed up for an excursion to the Blue Hole, via a slightly untraditional mode of transportation.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

As if riding camels isn’t awesome enough (how cute are those ears?!), riding camels along the beach is seriously cool. The peaks of the Sinai Peninsula spread out before us, while the mountains of Saudi Arabia rose from a gray haze across the sea.

It was pretty trippy. In a good way.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

As always, Jeremy was such a good sport. I drag the poor man on all sorts of four-legged adventures all over the globe–even though he’d prefer to be on the ground.

He’s a keeper for sure.

dahab egypt

When our seaside camel trek was over, we continued our journey via Jeep to the famous Blue Hole. One of the best-known dive sites in the world, it’s also the most dangerous.

How dangerous? A staggering 130 divers have died here in the last 15 years alone! The beach surrounding the Blue Hole has been nicknamed the “Diver’s Cemetery” because of all the commemorative plaques and tombstones lining the rocks.

dahab egypt

Danger aside, the Hole itself is a sight to see, both in and out of the water. The little spread of dive shops that have popped up around the site is reminisce of an old west town. I half expected to see a stagecoach come rolling through!

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

Since neither of us is PADI certified, we rented some snorkeling equipment and prepared to brave the chilly water. While the Europeans and Russians bragged about how warm the water was, I tried to control my chattering teeth as I slid on my fins and forced myself to get wet.

Let me tell you–the chattering teeth were worth it. We hugged the shallow rim around the bottomless blue abyss, marveling at the brightly colored coral and fish. Hundreds of them–thousands of them–all just inches below the surface. The water was the clearest I’ve ever seen, far clearer than the Florida Keys, Belize, Hawaii, or southern Thailand.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

I had no idea water could look like this. Makes me wonder how incredible the oceans must have been hundreds of years ago–before modern industry polluted them!

On our final free day in Dahab, we ticked another activity off our bucket list: sandboarding! We saw it once in a travel show and always wanted to try it, so we were thrilled when we saw a place in town advertising it for a very reasonable $15.

Done.

We’re picked up by a kindly man and his 14-year-old son (who doubled as our sandboarding instructor) in a beat-up car with equally beat-up snowboards sticking out the back. Off to a great start already!

We drive out into the desert to a surprisingly tall dune located just off the (one) road leading inland. No boots, no fancy equipment required. Just you, your board, your bare feet, and hundreds of feet of sand to climb.

Where’s a chairlift when you need one?

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

Let me be the first to say: This is NOT as easy as it looks! Unlike snowboarding, where the snow does most of the work for you, you have almost no maneuverability in sand this deep. You can’t turn an edge or carve down the hill.

You pretty much have to straight-line it down and hope for the best.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

After climbing the dune and making four or five runs, we were sufficiently exhausted (and had sand in places we didn’t know it was possible to get sand). It was officially time for a shower and a seaside meal in town.dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

Yes, it really is that beautiful. No, we never wanted to leave.

Especially after we tasted these incredible dishes: calamari tagine, beef shish tawook, and two scoops of date and hibiscus ice cream.

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

dahab egypt

It was a delicious end to our five fun-filled days in Dahab. We were sad to drive to the airport at Sharm el Sheik and leave Dahab behind, but I have a strong feeling we’ll be back someday!

dahab egypt

 

Hoofprints Through History: Horse Riding in Luxor

Hoofprints Through History: Horse Riding in Luxor

January 7. 7 am. Luxor.

We awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in our hotel room in Luxor, eager to begin our day. For me, this ride was going to be a highlight of my visit to Egypt – right up there with riding past the Pyramids in Giza.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that horse riding is a top priority anywhere I visit. But riding in EGYPT? Native home of Arabian horses, my all-time favorite breed?

I’ve died and gone to equestrian heaven!

We’d arrived after dark on the train from Aswan the night before, so we had no idea our room looked out over the grounds of Luxor Temple. In the streets below, horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped by, along with an interesting mix of taxis, donkeys, and pedestrians.

luxor

luxor

If you removed the taxis, you could easily be seeing the city as it’s looked for the past 4,000 years.

Have I mentioned Egyptian breakfasts yet? Let me tell you – this culture does it right. It’s particularly great at this hotel, where a smiley Egyptian man expertly whips up eggs and omelets. Along the buffet line you’ll find a feast of ful (mashed and spiced fava beans), potatoes, crisp vegetables, four types of cheese, and freshly baked bread and fig jam. Add in a cup of Arabica coffee or Egyptian tea, and you’re set for most of the day.

We wait outside for our pickup to the stables, which seems to be taking a little longer than usual. When I finally call to inquire, I’m told that the boatman is there waiting for us right behind the hotel pool.

This is a fascinating twist, consider our hotel has no pool, nor is located on the river!

After some confusion and laughs, we realize that the stables had us down as staying at the Hilton outside of town. Nope, I say, definitely not staying at the Hilton. (One can dream…) A comedy of errors later – including a taxi ride, the boatman’s brother, and a tiny tuk-tuk – we’re across the Nile to the West Bank and headed to the stables of Luxor Equestrian Adventures.

luxor

luxor

luxor

luxor

luxor

luxor

As I imagined, this place is GORGEOUS. No skinny horses here – the British owner Emma keeps her herd in flawless condition. Their diet of clover, barley, chaff, and quinoa (these horses seriously eat better than I do) show through in their bright eyes and shiny coats.

luxor

luxor

luxor

We meet our guide for the day, Sayyid, and the three beautiful gray Arabian horses we’ll be riding – Luna, Gypsy, and Amira. Just like my old horse Jon, Luna has a sweet disposition, a thick white mane, and a pink nose.

It’s love at first sight.

luxor

Our three-hour ride took us through an incredible variety of settings – a chance to see the “real” Egypt off the beaten tourist trail. We rode through small villages, along cart tracks where they transport sugar cane, wheat fields and family farms, colorful bougainvillea and flower gardens. Everything was so lush and green!

luxor

luxor

luxor

luxor

luxor

luxor

We also rode past a few historical sites, starting with the Colossi of Memnon. (Photo op!) Off in the distance, up on the mountainside, we could see the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut and the entrance to the Valley of the Kings.

luxor

luxor

luxor

Awesome.

After riding past a few more temples and villages, we entered the open desert. Nothing but us, sand, and barren desert mountains.

luxor

luxor

luxor

Again, awesome.

It could’ve been 2018AD or 2018BC, and we wouldn’t have known the difference. It was just us, the blazing sun, and our trusty steeds…the same as it’s been for Egyptians for thousands of years.

luxor

luxor

Our return to civilization brought us through more villages and sugar cane, boys riding donkeys and men working the fields. It was a portrait of Egypt past, present, and future, and it wouldn’t have been the same from the window of a car.

Luna and Gypsy behaved beautifully for us, and Sayyid was a kind and knowledgeable guide. We were sad to return to the stables at the end of the morning, but time was pressing on, and we still had an afternoon tour to get to.

I have nothing but high praise for Emma, Sayyid, and the beautiful, well-trained horses at Luxor Equestrian. Something tells me I’ll see them again someday soon!

Horse Riding in Bali: Temples and Rice Terraces

Horse Riding in Bali: Temples and Rice Terraces

I don’t often wake up before my alarm. I’m not what you’d call a “morning person.” However, there are exceptions.

And one of those is when I’m about to go horse riding in Bali.

I awoke at 6am on the outskirts of Ubud at the charming Kamandhani Hostel. (A little gem of a place, tucked at the end of a very quiet street but only a few minutes’ walk from the liveliness of Ubud.)

ubud bali

ubud bali

A few cups of insanely delicious Balinese tea later, and I was ready to go when my driver arrived. We cruised north through Ubud and out into the endless green of Bali’s interior.

Where does one go for the best horse riding in Bali? I’d done my research ahead of time and decided on the 3-hour advanced ride at Ubud Horse Stables. This establishment has received stellar reviews, and rightfully so. No skinny, neglected Asian horses here. Their herd of imported Thoroughbreds and Appaloosas are beautifully cared for and professionally trained. The level of care, riding, and service are comparable to any reputable stables in the western world.

ubud horse riding bali

ubud horse riding bali

ubud horse riding bali

Upon my arrival, I met Duke, Raja, and Cola (the black, white, and chestnut horses, respectively). All were beautifully groomed and had lovely dispositions. After signing the appropriate forms and discussing my riding history, I was paired up with Cola for the day.

ubud horse riding bali

My only regret of the day is that it wasn’t sunnier. But hey, it could have been pouring rain, and that would’ve been worse! Despite the overcast and the stickiness of the morning, spirits were high as I set out with a French woman named Mathilde and our Balinese guide. We also had a photographer following us on his motorbike!

ubud horse riding bali

ubud horse riding bali

ubud horse riding bali

What’s horse riding in Bali like? It’s AWESOME. The trail wound through a local village and out into the rice terraces. All the greenery and water reminded me a lot of Florida, where I grew up and learned to ride. Once we were used to our horses and the landscape, it was time to open up and let manes fly.

horse riding bali

ubud horse riding bali

ubud horse riding bali

A word of warning to those dreaming of galloping through rice fields: When they say “advanced ride,” they MEAN it. We hauled butt down these trails and up several very steep hills. If you’re not extremely comfortable in the saddle at all speeds and terrains, better stick with the beginner or intermediate rides!

For me, it was heaven. Cola behaved wonderfully all day, whether we were blazing along or enjoying a stroll through the flooded fields.

ubud horse riding bali

ubud horse riding bali

ubud horse riding bali
Riding selfies are hard!!

Our ride included a mid-morning stop at a local warung (restaurant) for breakfast and tea. After a few more gallops we stopped at an orange grove to rest the horses and enjoy some local produce.

horse riding ubud bali

horse riding ubud bali

bali children

My awesome day of horse riding in Bali was winding to a close. We gave our hard-working horses a nice long rein as we walked through the village back to the stables.

horse riding ubud bali

horse riding ubud bali

horse riding ubud bali

Having had the privilege to do a lot of cool rides around the world, I have to say that my experience at Ubud Horse Stables was one of the best! The staff was experienced, friendly, and spoke excellent English. Most importantly, the horses were well cared for and well-trained (always a concern in a foreign land). And we got to ride at all paces, which is always a bonus for advanced riders!

After bidding farewell to Cola, I returned to Ubud and enjoyed a much-needed massage at the fabulous Spa Bali Ubud. Then it was time to meet up with hubby for some happy hour cocktails at Mingle Cafe & Bar.

spa bali ubud massage

mingle ubud

My day of horse riding in Bali was awesome, but it was time to get back on the road. Stay tuned for our next adventure!