A World Away from the City
Written by Ibrahim Nassif
Photographs courtesy of Youssef H. Youssef
It was late April when a few friends and I decided to take a trip to Marsa Alam to see the first signs of the blissful season of spring. To me, nothing is as beautiful as spring, and we thought there wouldn’t be any place better to shake off the winter blues than down south in the beautiful town of Marsa Alam.
Marsa Alam is 750 kilometers south of Cairo, past Ain Sokhna, Hurghada, Safaga and Al Qusseir. It is Egypt’s capital for diving safaris, as it lies in an exquisite location along the Red Sea, home to some of the world’s most exotic beaches. It captures both the dry, adventurous feeling of being in the desert and the refreshing, green feeling of summer paradise.
After a seven-hour, never-ending car ride, we finally arrived at the camping site we would be staying: Abandon Bay. As we walked to the check-in desk, our shoes were sinking slightly in the sand with every footstep. Our only source of light was the moon. Every now and then I would notice a scorpion or lizard run past our feet. I knew at this point that I was going to have to let go of my comfortable city-boy lifestyle and take on the lifestyle of the Bedouins.
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A refreshing dip at Nayzak[/caption]
By 2 a.m. we had finally set up two tents and gotten comfortable. As I lay down, looking at the stars, I could not stop thinking about life in the desert and countryside, and how simple it really can be. I closed my eyes, excited about all the sights we were going to see.
The next morning, we drove four kilometers to the site of our first excursion, a famous place known as Nayzak, meaning meteorite. Nayzak’s highlight is an extravagant, bright blue, natural pool, said to be created by a meteorite, in front of the sea. We stood on a ledge surrounding its uneven oval shape and looked down into the deep, clear water, then we jumped into the pool together. I swam deep to the bottom of the pool and, to my surprise, found hundreds of little fish swimming together in circles. Their colors were so rich and diverse. I swam back up to the surface so as not to scare them away. Nayzak is connected to the sea by one very narrow canal, created to let in water… and fish.
Captivated by the scenery around me, I noticed a tree kilometers away in the center of the sea. It was completely isolated, and I could not understand how it got there but wanted to go check it out. I convinced my friend Shady and a few others to come along with me. The tour guide at Nayzak warned us to wear beach shoes or sandals before going.
It seemed a little intimidating, but we still decided to go. As we walked across the sea, we came across uniquely colorful seaweed, sea turtles, spiky ritza (sea urchins), crabs with huge claws, a sea snake and one particularly frightening eel, which we had to run away from. We arrived at the tree and stood before it in amazement. The tree stood so tall and strong, with countless beautiful branches, and at its base was a small wooden sign that read Qulaan Islands.
That night, back at the camping site, everyone was sitting around the fire, singing and dancing. The Bedouins were sitting with the foreigners, who were sitting with the Kaheraweya (Cairenes). There was no discrimination or favoritism. We shared food and drinks, told many stories and laughed together.
Tondoba Bay was an open area, completely exposed from every side. It is not a gated community, which is very uncommon in Egypt, especially because of the political instability and danger that comes with it. Curious, I took a seat next to one of the Bedouins sitting at the campfire.
“Hello,” I said. “My name is Ibrahim.”
“Hello Ibrahim,” he replied. “I am Saeed. You are from Egypt, yes?”
“Yes, I am. How did you know?”
“It is very easy to tell,” he chuckled.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I said. “How is this place protected? Isn’t it dangerous, without any walls or fence to keep people from coming in?”
“No, actually, it is not dangerous for visitors,” he said. “You see, Ibrahim, the owners of this place pay a monthly fee to the Bedouins who control this area, like myself, to keep them protected. The Bedouins in this country are divided into big families and every big family has control of some area in the desert. My family controls this area. So no one can come in and steal or harm any visitor in our area.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because if he harms our visitor, he harms us,” he replied. “And people generally do not want to mess with a Bedouin tribe.”
Saeed was from the Bedouin tribe of Mzeinah, which controls the southern region of Sinai and the entire district of Marsa Alam. His ancestors have lived in this area for hundreds of years, and it is his responsibility to preserve their control of it and to keep their family name strong and respected.
The Bedouins know exactly where and when they can find water. Shrubs explain when it last rained and how much. Bedouins navigate by the stars, familiar landmarks and stone markers left on previous treks. They are such a large and significant part of our country and culture, very often neglected.
Saeed and I watched the rest of the Bedouins as they sang to us a few of their enchanting tribal melodies. Soothing and captivating, they were melodies that take you to a completely different place: a place of peace and imagination. We spent our next three nights singing together and playing music under the moonlight. I had never in my life imagined Egypt could offer such an incredible traveling experience. et