Forced to resort

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[Writing in Cairo hotel room, hoping to stay up all night in preparation for sleeping through our 7:35 am flight to Paris.]

According to the original plan, we shouldn't have been on that overnight train back to Cairo at all. This was the first leg of our two-day journey from Luxor to Petra, and it was supposed to have started first thing Tuesday with a drive east to Hurghada, a resort city on the western shore of the Red Sea. From there we were to take a ferry to Sharm al-Sheikh, another Egyptian resort city, this one on the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. We would spend the night in Dahab (yes, another resort city), and then continue on our way from there.

We had been informed of the change in plan on Friday evening, our first evening in Cairo. We were sitting at an outdoor cafe near the train station at the end of our sightseeing day with Shiko our guide and our three new Australian friends. I was smoking a shisha, and Shiko was favoring a distinctly reluctant Jemima with a rather flirtatious palm-reading when the Egyptian agent of our tour company showed up. He had some news for Laura and me.

It seemed he had just learned that the ferry from Hurghada to Sharm al-Sheikh would not be running the day we needed it. It seemed, also, that he had known this might be a possibility, but hadn't let us know any sooner. His alternate plan would be for us to take a train back to Cairo from Luxor, then ride a bus from Cairo to Dahab. He said the bus would take six hours.

Let's just say of the very calm argument that followed that it is an unwise man who gets on Laura's bad side. Especially over poor planning. And doubly especially when the unwise man is trying to tell her a bus ride will be a good thing, when bus rides make Laura carsick.

To make a long story short, we arrived back in Cairo on the train Tuesday morning only an hour late. Shiko and the travel agent were both there to greet us, together with the news that the company had decided to offer us a private van instead of the bus. And that fast, we were hustled into the van and the van was on its way.

What is there to say about a seven-hour van ride across the Sinai Peninsula? It was no Death Race 2008, though it did have its harrowing moments. We were becoming more accustomed to the idea that Egyptians regard lane markers and dividing lines as little more than interesting suggestions, especially on empty two-lane desert highways, but we hadn't yet come to terms with it fully.

There were cool moments, too. Did you know that one crosses the Suez Canal by taking a tunnel under it? I didn't. And did you know that camels enjoy hanging out at filling stations? Well, here's proof:

Dahab, when we reached it, was a revelation. The Sinai Peninsula juts south into the Red Sea, splitting it in two at its north end. The western arm is the Gulf of Suez, while the eastern arm is the Gulf of Aqaba. That's the one our hotel in Dahab looked out on, and the water had a pure, deep, inky blue color I have never seen the like of. If we had to have a way station on the journey to Petra, this would definitely do.

Cat at internet cafe in Dahab, Egypt Laura and I spent the afternoon walking along the beach, lounging with books under umbrellas, and napping. For dinner, we enjoyed a sumptuous and delicious Egyptian buffet in the hotel restaurant, looking out of course at the water. And that night, after dark, we took the hotel shuttle into Dahab proper, strolled along their equivalent of the Boardwalk looking at souvenirs and dive shops, tarried a while at an internet cafe, and sorta kicked ourselves for eating at the hotel and not saving ourselves for one of the cabanalike restaurants serving tropical drinks on the water.

We stopped in at a T-shirt shop for some souvenirs specifically because the owner didn't hassle us as we strolled down the street. Laura picked out three shirts, then proceeded to haggle for them like a pro. She managed to work the price down from 150 LE to 125. My favorite line of the whole exchange came from the young merchant, as he slashed beneath his chin with an extended finger: "Seventy-five pounds?! That is cut-my-throat price! One-forty."

And then we rode the shuttle back to the hotel and turned in. It was the most relaxing day of our trip.

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