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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

 

Bali Road Trip: North Coast to Central Highlands

Bali Road Trip: North Coast to Central Highlands

The gentle sound of lapping waves stirs you awake. Warm sunlight pours through the balcony doors, illuminating the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean. The scent of salt and blooming frangipani drift in through the windows. And right in your backyard, the towering peak of a still-active volcano casts a long shadow.

Welcome to Amed Beach, Bali.

beten waru amed bali

This beautiful little beach town is truly one of Bali’s hidden gems. Set way off the beaten tourist trail, it will take you several hours to get there from the southern cities of Kuta and Denpasar. If you want to take the scenic route, turn off at Amlapura and drive the narrow, winding coastal road. If that’s too daunting, you can take the main road north through Tirta Gangga.

Either way, you’re on your way to a true island paradise.

amed beach bali

amed beach bali

We awoke to the opening scene at the lovely Beten Waru Bungalow. After a hearty breakfast of banana pancakes and Balinese tea (seriously…my favorite tea EVER), we rented snorkeling gear, hopped in our rental car, and backtracked a few miles to Amed’s Japanese shipwreck.

amed bali

amed beach bali

Scuba diving is one of the main draws to this side of Bali. But even if you aren’t certified (we’re not), there’s an incredible site to explore just a few feet offshore. The Japanese wreck is about 65feet (20m) long and lies at a depth of 10-30 feet (3-10m). Apparently, this was a Japanese patrol boat which sank during the island’s occupation in World War II.

It’s covered with countless soft corals and a huge variety of fish. The sea floor is sometimes sandy, in other places covered with black coral, sponges, and gorgonian sea fans. Besides the typical varieties of tropical fish, you might also spot scorpion fish, ghost pipefish, seahorses, white-tip reef sharks, or sea turtles!

The wreck is easily accessible from the beach. Look for the parking lot and sign between Baliku Dive Resort and Eka Purnama Cottages. You can also access the beach from Kawi Karma Beach Cottages. Head down the steps onto the tree-lined coast, where you’ll find divers and snorkelers getting ready to wade into the water.

amed bali

amed beach bali

(Tip: GO EARLY! We arrived around 9am and had the wreck to ourselves for about 20 minutes. By the time we headed back to shore around 9:30, there were dozens of divers arriving.)

The wreck did not disappoint. The water was clear and fairly warm (I’m a Floridian, so take my temperature gauge with a grain of salt). It’s an easy swim from shore, no more than 50 feet (15m) to the first part of the wreck, and plenty of coral and fish to see on the way!

japanese shipwreck amed bali

The best part? Aside from 10,000 rupiah (75 cents) to park your car, snorkeling this beautiful wreck is absolutely free!

We enjoyed a yummy brunch of nasi campur on the beach, settling in to watch the divers head out to the wreck. Then we headed back to our bungalow, soaked up a little more sun, and reluctantly bid farewell to Amed. There was still so much more of Bali to see!

nasi campur bali
Nasi campur – a delicious blend of Indonesian flavors.

amed beach bali

I’d love to tell you that the 3-hour drive from Amed to the far northern shore around Lovina Beach is a scenic wonder. But compared to the mountain road between Amlapura and Amed, it was kinda boring. The one cool sight was the peak of Mount Batur, partially obscured by passing clouds.

bali road trip

bali road trip

bali road trip

We passed through Singaraja and Lovina on the north central coast. Again, not much of note. After a relaxing evening at Lovina Beach (including Balinese massages in a beachside bungalow), we awoke early and continued our scenic road trip.

lovina beach bali

bali massage

Turning south from the coast towards the central highlands, we climbed steadily towards the hilltop towns of Gobleg and Munduk. Both towns sit around 2,000 feet (600m) in elevation and offer 360 views of Bali’s majesty. Distant volcano peaks, vibrant green rice terraces, towering palms and banana trees – it’s a dizzying palette of color.

bali road trip

bali

bali

bali

We regretted only passing through this stunning area. I actually felt quite jealous when we passed a few tourists with day bags, on their way to a nearby trailhead. On our next trip to Bali, we’ll definitely set aside a few nights to explore the surrounding area, which features scenic hikes to hidden waterfalls.

lake danau timblangan bali

lake danau buyan bali

As we descended towards the twin lakes of Danau Tamblingan and Danau Buyan, we passed a roadside viewpoint. Not only was it an awesome photo of the lakes and mountains, but we got to meet some of the local wildlife. One species, in particular. While Jeremy kept a very safe distance, I stepped right up to meet Petrie the Giant Fruit Bat.

giant fruit bat bali

Okay, I don’t actually know what his name is. But he reminded me of Petrie from The Land Before Time (the pterodactyl), so that’s what I called him. Petrie was friendly, calm, very much alive, and HUGE – easily 4 or 5 pounds!!

giant fruit bat bali

We said goodbye to Petrie and continued down to the lakefront, stopping briefly at the abandoned Pura Ulun Danu Buyan temple.

pura ulun danu buyan temple bali

pura ulun danu buyan temple bali

Then we drove the short distance into Bedugul and the much more popular Danau Bratan (Water Temple). This beautiful Shaivite temple dates all the way back to 1633!

water temple bali

water temple bali

It continues to be used for ceremonies and offerings to the water goddess Dewi Danu. And at almost 4,000 feet (1200m) above sea level, Bedugul enjoys a cooler climate than the lowlands.

water temple bali

water temple bedugul bali lake

water temple bali

(Side note for ladies and gents: If you show up at a temple in Bali wearing shorts or a short skirt, you’ll be given a sarong to wear for modesty.)

After jostling through the crowds for the best photo ops, we continued south on the main highway out of Bedugul. Our plan was to drive straight to Ubud, but we couldn’t resist another roadside stop along the way. “Pure luwak coffee” jumped out at us in big bold letters – and like any good foodies, we couldn’t pass it up!

coffee bali

We received a little tour of the roadside coffee plantation, where we saw coffee beans at all stages of processing. Then we took a seat and prepared to sample their many specialty teas and coffees – including kopi luwak.

And what is kopi luwak, you may ask?

To start, I’ll tell you what a luwak is. It’s a catlike creature (similar to a mongoose) that lives in Southeast Asia. What does this have to do with coffee? Well, luwaks are particularly fond of coffee beans. In fact, they eat them all the time.

And somewhere along the way, someone decided it would be a great idea to pluck the undigested coffee beans from the luwak’s excrement and make coffee out of it.

Yes. Kopi luwak is, in fact, made from coffee beans that have passed through an animal’s digestive tract.

Before you start gagging, let me assure you that this is no tourist gimmick. Kopi luwak is the most expensive coffee on earth, selling for hundreds of dollars per pound. Why would anyone pay that much for coffee made from – well, cat poop?

Because it’s delicious.

Let me add that I actually hate coffee. Won’t touch the stuff. It’s way too bitter for my taste. But kopi luwak doesn’t have that bitter taste. It reminded me more of roasted nuts. It was smooth, nutty, and utterly delicious. I totally understand the price tag now. (Although in Bali, you can sample a roadside cup for just a few dollars.)

The plantation also offered coconut coffee (like drinking a Mounds bar), and a dozen varieties of tea. Sufficiently hyped up on all the caffeine, we got back in the car and continued on to Ubud.

What adventures awaited us in Ubud? Stay tuned to find out!