26/05/2010 – Sinai by Starlight.

I have given up trying to decipher my note-book and will try to write this from memory.

The first trip that we booked was one that had been recommended to us by a friend. A trip out into the desert to sample the Bedouin way of life and look at the stars in the clear night sky and through a telescope.

I awoke early, after a much better night’s sleep and headed straight to the pool for an early morning swim and to snag some decent sunbeds. After breakfast we lounged around by the pool until it was time for our afternoon trip.

We set off at around 3pm on a lovely big air-conditioned coach. As we approached the coach, having had our passports checked by the tour rep (a tourist visa is not required if you are remaining in the Sharm area only, if you are travelling outside of the town, you need a visa), we noticed a man with a huge camera on his shoulder filming us getting onto the coach. We later learned that the whole trip was being filmed for the purpose of making a souvenir DVD which you could then purchase. We did, and for the life in me I can’t remember what I have done with it, having only now remembered I own it.

After several stops at other pickups we set off out into the desert for real, into the complete and utter nothing but sand and mountains. Absolutely stunning. If you haven’t gathered by now, you will by the end of this journey, I love the desert, I love mountains and I love sunsets. All are in abundance in Egypt.

After about three hours journey we stopped right at the corner of no and where, where there just happened to be a whole bunch of camels and small children waiting for us. Now, I have ridden a camel before, and find them to be quite accommodating beasts. At least the lovely tourist ones in Tunisia where. These guys, not so much. Saddled in the Bedouin style, a bit of wood with a small pole at each end, covered in various rugs, doesn’t make for the most comfortable of seats, which was proven by the huge bruise on my back from the rear pole the next morning. Carl, on the other hand, sneakily watched our tour guide expertly perched cross-legged on his beast, copied him and was off. My camel, I called him Digory, seemed more concerned with biting the ass of the camel in front than carrying me in a dignified manner.

Just as I thought I could take no more of the back battering, we reached our destination and, after clinging on for dear life as Digory tried to launch me over his head, we were led to our Bedouin tents, where we were greeted with some welcome tea and a hubbly bubbly pipe.

As we relaxed, sipped the rather lovely tea (a bag of which I purchased later) and the swaying motion subsided, we were introduced to the Sheikh and our guide told us a little of Bedouin history and lifestyle.

The Bedouin people live out in the desert that covers 80% of Egypt. For most of their history they have roamed from place to place, following the water, settling only for as long as the water lasted. Needing only food and shelter and a good few camels to survive. Camels are their bank accounts, one is worth around £1,000 and if you can breed them you have WAY better interest than Santander are currently offering.

These days, the tourist industry has brought them reasons to take root. The men make money as taxi drivers in Sharm, selling their handmade goods to tourists, or playing host to ‘Bedouin nights’ like this one. Some are even building brick houses and the government are building schools for the children. The simplicity of their lifestyle remains pretty much the same for now, though for how long, can only be guessed.

Once we had rested, we were shown how to make Bedouin bread which is similar to a chappati. We watched as the chef took the dough, made with just water, flour and salt, rolled it out flat and then expertly flipped it from hand to hand in the manner of a Pizza chefs. Once sufficiently stretched out, the dough is draped over an inverted bowl shaped ‘oven’ and baked for few minutes. Then it was our turn.

After watching a couple of “volunteers” have a go, I decided to take the plunge and get my hands all floury myself. The chef smiled and nodded and pointed and gestured while probably inwardly rolling his eyes and wondering what they make girls out of in England. I had fun though, kneeling down, rolling the dough out using the tube from a kitchen roll and then “expertly” slapping it from hand to hand to make a “perfectly” round shape to throw onto the “oven”. OK, I had a little help, it was my first time, they were being gentle.

Once everyone who wanted had had a go, and the warm bread had been passed around and devoured, it was time for more tea and hubbly bubbly while our hosts prepared our dinner.

Dinner was various barbecued meats, salads, rice and more of the bread, which was not nearly as nice when it was cold, and there was more than plenty for everyone. Once we had feasted, and gone back for seconds, we clambered up the mountain to watch the sunset. Remember what I said about sunsets and mountains? Yep, many, many pictures of the sun at various stages of setting as it vanished behind the mountains leaving a glorious glow of reds, oranges and purples. When I turned around, it had suddenly become dark and a glorious almost full moon was adorning the sky.

We scrambled back down the mountain in time to be regaled by the Bedouin men with some campfire dancing, some of us joining in, making a huge circle around the fire and doing some kind of weird hokey cokey that amused the Bedouin greatly. The chief dancer shook and shivered, cavorted and contorted his body in ways only people with little else to do in a large desert can, before pretending to run off with one of the younger girls as his latest bride.

At last it was fully dark, or, wait, it should have been fully dark, I had expected pitch blackery, there being little in the way of street lighting in the desert. But there was the moon, in almost her full glory, shining down and lighting the desert up.

The astronomer took us down to what he called the Stargate (I’m telling you, we’ve been completely lied to by American television, it looks totally different in real life, and not a Go’ould or Jaffar in sight!) and pointed out some stars to us. Due to the luminescence or her mooness the stars were not nearly as bright or visible as they could have been. The North Star was there twinkling away, not nearly so bright as it is over England, and in fact, hard to spot if it hadn’t been pointed out, Venus shone brightly and even Mars could be seen, in it’s red dead glowly glory.

Once the galaxy had been explored with the naked eye, we moved to the telescopes. Three of them, huge things operated by satellite. Yes, out there in the desert, corner of no and where, they had remote controls which hooked up to satellites and focused the telescopes directly on the object of choice.

First up was the moon, shining so bright it almost blinded you, but beautiful, which all it’s nooks and crannies plain to see. Next up was Saturn, a spec in the night sky, circled with it’s rings of rock and ice, and finally Venus, not much to see but a big fiery blob. Once we’d all seen enough, we trooped back to the coach, full, blind and tired.

If you ever find yourself in the Sharm way, I heartily recommend this trip, it was certainly a full, fun and educational day. Spectacular.