Journal: Thursday 20 November 2003
All through the trip so far we had been getting up very early, so this morning was a real treat to sleep late and meet up at 9.00am for breakfast in the hotel’s rooftop restaurant overlooking the beach. A wonderful array of food waited for us as well as very good coffee. This was followed by quite a leisurely day, at least for me.
We decided to drive from Dahab up the coast road as far as Taba on the Israeli border and Sam was happy to drive the hire car on the quiet roads here. The road winds around between cliffs of limestone and sandstone in many colours of pink, orange and gold, streaked now and then by thick black lines of basalt-like rock. One minute we were in bright sunlight, the next in deep shade. The road through the mountains comes out on the coast approaching Nuweiba, and follows a steep hill that gave us a spectacular view of the port from its crest and we could see the big ferry ready to depart for Jordan. The sea that is the Gulf of Aqaba was the deepest blue-green, with lakes of jagged turquoise that stretched across to the shore of Saudi Arabia. We went into Nuweiba and drove around the town, but it seemed to consist mostly of part-built hotels. On the main road there were many beach camps that offered the cheap accommodation favoured by back-packers and mini-towns of timeshare villas, painted in warm Mediterranean colours. All seemed totally deserted.
Driving north and after once more climbing through mountains, we came down again to a deep inlet on the coast, known as ‘The Fjord’, a spectacular idyllic spot with a lonely beach of perfect unmarked sand. A little further on there was an island, about a hundred metres off-shore, which for some reason is called ‘Pharaoh’s Island’, in Arbic Geziret Faraun. It is believed to be the site of an ancient Phoenician port, Eziongaber, founded by King Hiram of Tyre in the 10th Century BC. The island is dominated by a large stone castle, built by Crusaders at the beginning of the twelfth century and enlarged by the Sultan Salah el-Din. I would have loved to take the little ferry over to explore the island, but there was not enough time today.
Then suddenly we were approaching the town of Taba, 133km from Dahab. The road led straight to the border post and there were guards everywhere so we were not allowed to stop. From here we could see the Israeli border, its flag flying over the customs post, the Jordanian town of Aqaba, just a little way across the gulf and the factories and oil refineries of Saudi Arabia a little to the south on the other shore. Sam decided to turn around and we didn’t venture into the town, which is just another holiday destination with large hotels.
It has been a really lovely day and the spectacular coastal scenery took my breath away several times. We arrived back in Dahab in the late afternoon and went to eat this evening at a local fish restaurant. Dahab is famous for its fish, which unfortunately I don’t eat, so once more it was rice and vegetables for me. Sitting outside a coffee shop until almost midnight, Sam and I played Jenga and watched the tourists meandering around town. It’s a very relaxing place to be.