Blue whole photos are for the “Meditating ...” section. Wadi Gnai photos are for Wadi Gnai section
There comes a time when life becomes too overwhelming, and finding a sense of purpose in the daily routine seems distant and unlikely.
Determined to escape the mundane and every day hustle and bustle of the big city, and yearning to get just the right dose of solitude without being too remote, we took a 12-hour bus ride to the one and only Dahab, in South Sinai. My travel friend Yasmeen and I started our relaxation journey by humming to Umm Kalthoum’s “Hazehi Leilaty” (This is My Night). Although a long ride, we were very excited to watch the sunrise over the mountains as we approached our resting-place. It already felt very promising!
As we reached our destination, we were greeted by the clearest blue sea you could set eyes on, immediately dissipating all sense of exhaustion. No time to sleep! We enjoyed our first peaceful walk by the sea and a soothing sunset. As we took in the beauty, we continued singing along to Umm Kalthoum’s lyrics, while exploring the colorful wooden two-storey cafes and restaurants, overlooking the sea and echoing a spirit of the good old days.
Love has become you; wishes are you.
So with passion, pour into my glass.
For soon love will change its home and our nest, his birds shall forsake.
And a place which was once home will see us as we see it now: a wasteland.
Meditating under water and in the clear sky
Our first destination was The Blue Hole, a famed diving site that is also known for being quite a dangerous adventure. On the site, there is a wall of honor where, inscribed, are the names of the divers who lost their lives trying to uncover the secrets of the famous submarine sinkhole. But despite the risk, the beauty of the place is just overwhelming.
As it was my first time swimming in the Red Sea, I preferred trying snorkeling over diving. As I dipped my head into the water, I discovered a whole new world; in a three-dimensional, colorful underwater garden, full of bright and yet again colorful reefs and sea creatures going on with their lives undisturbed by the few curious swimmers. I had barely taken it all in, when a school of blue fish welcomed me by swimming right next to my face. I raised my head above the water, laughing in fear, before I swam down again.
I began to meditate, finding peace in breaths going out and in then in and out. But all of a sudden, I heard nothing but absolute silence. I let go of my usual control over my body, and let the water stir me in the direction it preferred. In the deep silence, I found traces of my old self, the one often shut down in daily life. I got out of water with a deep sense of gratitude.
The day might have come to an end, but the night was still young. We decided to experience a taste of the local culture with a traditional Bedouin dinner and entertainment at Al-Twailat Mountain. Under a sky full of stars, we were greeted by the Bedouins with delicious tea with mountain herbs.
We were introduced to the science of the stars, planets and constellations in the clear sky above us, opening yet a whole new world before my eyes.
Before leaving, I took a walk up the mountain to stargaze, and played “Hazehi Leilaty” yet again:
Life shall seek us for amusement and then of us would make fun.
Wadi Gnai: a dreamlike desert spot
The next day, we ran into a couple of childhood friends; and off we went to the three pools, another great place for snorkeling. But instead of settling for another day by the beach Yasmeen and I decided to take a beach buggy ride to the nearby Wadi Gnai, a little oasis at the East end of Dahab.
It was my first time riding a beach buggy, and I confess I was a bit afraid especially after losing control at the beginning. However, my tension eased as a kind and calming 9-year-old boy named Talal rode with me. Young as he is, he took care of me; old as I am, he wanted to make sure I had a good time.
We sang together as we drove alongside the sandstone mountains covered in occasional green shrubs:
Life shall seek us for amusement and then of us would make fun, so let me love you a little bit more now.
When Yasmeen suddenly fell from her ride, my heart skipped a beat but thankfully, she got up easily with only minor injuries. It was a good laugh afterwards.
“Sou’ ‘ala mahlak, terouh l’ahlak” (Drive slowly to return to your family), Talal sang as we continued our ride. Indeed, the fast pace of life makes us forget where we ultimately want to go, safe and sound.
“I’m touched,” I heard a steady voice within me say. It was the voice of my old self again as it gained confidence to arise amidst the stillness.
We reached our destination in Wadi Gnai, a dreamlike spot in the desert, seemingly untouched by mankind, surrounded with mountains and green palm trees. We were told that each of these trees belong to the forefathers of the Bedouin tribes who still live there and carry their names, reflecting pride in their roots and long family line.
“The world forgetting, by the world forgot,” I remembered the words of Alexander Pope, as I stood there, mesmerized by the beauty of the surrounding calm.
We went back to the three pools, where we were united with our driver and his other clients who had spent their day in the sea. We chatted with ease about our lives, and what we do for fun. This seems to happen often in Dahab, conversations strike up comfortably with strangers because it attracts the like-minded. We bid them farewell as we were about to leave the next day, and promised to keep in touch.
After just a three-day break, Dahab was where I met myself, the self that life had managed to distance me from. By reconnecting with nature, I was more at peace than ever.