Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Chillin’ in the sun

Salonaz Sami suggests a mellow pastime

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Christmas and New Year are synonymous with partying, drinking and reveling, but if you want a little less adrenalin and a lot more Zen then perhaps meditating your way into 2013 may be the way to go. Why not try listening to nature instead of loud music, loud voices and bright lights? Start a mellow year that will change your outlook and head to Nuwieba.

Budgeting is no problem since this border town has it all, from five-star resorts to simple campsites that are by far cheaper than anywhere else in Sinai. Strategically located on the Gulf of Aqaba, on the Eastern part of the Sinai Peninsula (465 km from Cairo; 180 km from Sharm El-Sheikh; and 120 km from St Catherine), Nuweiba is a small town with a lot to offer. Perhaps Nina Simone, the high priestess of Soul music, said it best with a song Feeling good that to me seems to be a synecdoche for Nuweiba.

Indeed, Nuwieba is all about feeling good. A few days at this off-the-beaten-track destination is a remarkable personal and spiritual experience that will rejuvenate your mind and soul. And when your mind is calm and clear you can make the best decisions and resolutions for the New Year about to unfold.

Historically, Sinai’s early settlers were nomads from the East who worshiped an ancient moon goddess named Sin, hence it was called the Land of Sin. And although like most Sinai destinations, Nuweiba was struck hard following the Taba and Ras Shitan bombings of 2004, but conditions are once again picking up slowly but steadily.

The small coastal city is divided into three main areas, the port, the city and the old Bedouin village of Tarrabeen. In times gone by, Tarrabeen was one of two major Bedouin tribes that populated and controlled the area, the other being El-Muzzayna. In recent decades and because of its ideal central location between two continents, Nuweiba attracted several gutsy investors who saw potential in its virgin beaches and helped transform it from a town with zero infrastructure to a promising tourist destination.

Pack light when going to Nuweiba and prepare for steamy hot summer days and a slight chill at night. In winter it is also warm and sunny in the morning but you will need something heavy to keep you warm after dusk.

 

THE PORT: Opened in 1985, the Port of Nuweiba is the industrial area of the city. Originally, it was the summer destination for El-Muzzaynas who eventually settled down there, which is why the entire port area is known as Muzzayna. A few upscale hotels and resorts, supermarkets and bazaars are scattered along the Red Sea shores. The port also serves as a ferry port thus allowing for easy travels between Egypt and Jordan.

The port area is also home to a duty free shop as well as a number of banks and ATM machines. Interestingly, there are no visa requirements if you enter Jordan through Aqaba since it is part of the Free Trade Zone.

 

THE CITY: Nuweiba, which in Arabic means ‘bubbling spring’, was originally an uninhabited oasis that only came to life in summer when Muzzaynas flocked to the palm groves around the oasis to pick dates. Following the opening of the port in the 1908s, the city began to flourish with homes, schools, shops, markets and the first hotels, like the Hilton.

Other than a few local government buildings like Nuweiba Hospital, post office, court house and police station, the city consists of narrow strips of small shops and bazaars selling silver artifacts, handmade Bedouin clothes, accessories, the most beautiful rugs, and decorative clay and wooden ornaments at cheaper prices than in Dahab or Sharm Al-Sheikh. If you need to use the Internet, the city is the only place with internet cafes.

 

TARRABEEN: This Bedouin village north of Nuweiba is well known as Sinai’s backpacker heaven, with a number of cheap grass huts and open areas to lounge around. The village is a yet unspoiled paradise for those who want to reconnect with nature, consisting of a thick grove of palms, a shallow bay and lively Bedouin ambience.

It was built around some fresh water wells that are still in use today. A number of outdoors restaurants and cafes are located by the beach furnished with woven rugs and cushions to relax and unwind. It is here that you can drink the best tea with Marmarya and let time drift by amidst stunning scenery.

 

‘Sun in the sky; you know how I feel’

Both sunrises and sunsets over the Saudi Arabian Hijaz Mountains and the Gulf of Aqaba are spectacular. The sky is a blend of golds and reds as you relax on beach hammock and watch the sun light up the mountain rocks. Most hotels and camps in Nuweiba offer breakfast by the beach, but if you decide to wait for the sunrise on the beach make sure you have something heavy to wear during the very early hours. It is worth the effort to bring a sleeping bag in case you are lulled by sea breeze and fall asleep; otherwise, most camps in the area rent out blankets.

I like a simple stroll by the beach in the beautiful scenery and ever-changing mountainous landscape, but if you fancy a little more action in the morning then camel trekking by the beach or into the mountains would be a good choice. This could be arranged with the Bedouins at Tarrabeen and at a fair price between  3.7 to 6 euros per hour. You might also enjoy ship-spotting or bird watching from the beach.

 

‘A fish in the sea; you know how I feel’

Diving and snorkeling are two popular water activities in Nuweiba, and most hotels and camps have diving centres that will plan trips and rent out the necessary gear. If there is anything in particular you want to see, make sure to tell them so they can help schedule the best time to visit. The mimic octopus, ghost pipefish and freckled frogfish are among the special marine life in the area that could be seen year round; beautiful coral gardens are everywhere as well as soft sea grass; green turtles, dolphins, seahorses and rays are often found more in winter. Make sure you wear sea shoes at all times to avoid getting stung by the many toutia in the area.

If you enjoy underwater photography, bring along your waterproof camera for unique photo opportunities thanks to the rare current along the coast. One of the best locations for diving and snorkeling is Ras Shitan (Devil’s Head) north of Tarrabeen along the Nuweiba-Taba coast. Wind and kite surfing along this coast line are also popular.

The average cost of a single dive is 30-50 euros and an open-water diving course is between 350-400 euros, which is considerably cheaper than other Red Sea destinations.

 

‘Stars when you shine; you know how I feel’

Nuweiba has a little something for everyone. At night, the stars shine brighter than anywhere else. Years ago when I first visited the Taba-Nuweiba coastline, I noticed the three brightest stars on Orion’s Belt called Three Kings that are lined up like an arrow pointing downwards. Since then, every time I am in Nuweiba the Kings are my companions in the early night sky especially in winter.

It is said that the three pyramids at Giza were laid out in a way that mimics the arrangement of those three stars on Orion’s Belt.

 

‘Dragonfly out in the sun; you know what I mean’

There are many popular excursions to choose from, and most resorts and camps organise day trips to these stunning destinations. Some examples:

Nuweiba Castle: Built in 1893 by Ottoman Turks over the remains of an older fortress, Nuweiba Castle was strategically positioned on a mountain near the city centre, to defend against any attacks or invasions. Inside the castle, there is a granite tower and a water well that served as a fresh water source for Bedouin through the ages. The ruins of the Turkish castle were purposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

El-Ain El-Khadra Oasis: ‘Green Oasis’ perfectly describes this extraordinary location tucked away between magnificent cliffs and mountains.  Historically, the oasis was considered an important resting point for pilgrims traveling from St Catherine to Jerusalem, and is also home to the Rock of Inscriptions which has drawings and writings proving that the Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, among others, have passed through here. The rock is said to have hunting stories and messages from those who have travelled this road centuries ago.

The oasis has a number of gushing water springs with gardens of green palm trees surrounding it; the perfect landscape to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Coloured Canyon: Not only is it one of the highlights and most popular locations in Sinai, it is also one of the easiest canyons to hike through. Located 12km north of Nuweiba in El-Tih Mountain where Moses was said to be lost for 40 years, the canyon has spectacular and dramatic landscapes surrounded by breathtaking sculptured walls and cliffs that reach 60m high in some places. The canyon is a maze of sandstone rocks in shades of red, yellow, purple and gold.

Millions of years ago, Sinai was covered by an ancient ocean so don’t be surprised if you find a fish skeleton or seashell while trekking through the canyon. As you follow the twists and turns of the maze you will br impressed with the ever-changing scenery and magnificent colours. Having a Bedouin guide with you is essential because they know the ins and outs of the desert like no one else.

To make the most of the day, get there early to avoid both sun and crowds, and make sure to wear proper shoes and have all the water you need. But most importantly, do not carry any excess baggage since you will be doing a lot of walking and climbing. A three- or five-day coloured canyon El-Ain El-Khadra trek costs about Euro 60 per person, per day. You can also take the same tour using a 4x4 in only one day with an extra fees of Euro 200 per day.

The amazing open spaces and clean fresh air make this a unique experience.

Castle Zaman: If you are looking for an exceptional dining experience, head to Castle Zaman located on a mountain cliff in front of Basata Ecolodge, one of Nuweiba’s landmarks. The Castle has a pool carved into the cliff with a breathtaking view of the Red Sea. Their mouthwatering food is slow cooked Bedouin-style using clay pots and pans.

Reserve at least three hours in advance so you don’t have to wait for your meal and at least one day ahead if you plan on spending the day there, relaxing on a bean bag or enjoying the sauna. The castle is a maze with long tunnels in the cliff stretching underneath it, a treasure room and a candle that supposedly can be lit by the sun on certain days of the year. Local handmade handicrafts, clay pots and pans are on display for sale, made by regional Bedouins.

 

‘Sleep in peace when the day is done; that’s what I mean’

Other than fancy resorts and upscale camps like Bawaki and Crazy Horse, most accommodations in Nuweiba offer more or less the same huts with direct beach access and a scenic relaxed atmosphere. Some of the best names include Ananda Camp, Basata Ecolodge, Petra Camp and Castle Beach.

There is also Moon Island Camp which is ideal for those, like me, who prefer cleanliness. Their bathrooms, although communal, are spotless clean; each hut has its own rubbish bin in addition to several on the beach. Compared to most camps here that only offer minimum basics, such as a floor mattress and a mosquito net (with only one hole if you are lucky), Moon Island is the lap of luxury. The rate is LE75 per person per night, including breakfast.

All 35 huts have built-in beds and comfortable mattresses, six windows so rooms stay breezy, shaded private patios overlooking the Red Sea, and power outlets. There are also hangers and a built-in shelf along the inside perimeter of the walls for bags and toiletries. Front row huts have a large rectangular window facing the sea so you can sleep by the sea in the comfort of your own bed.

The only downside at Moon Island is that the beach is more rock than sand, but a few minutes away by foot is the neighbouring Castle Beach Camp, one of the oldest and best known along the coast, with soft sand beaches and natural pools. The restaurant here offers a wide selection of local and international dishes in addition to fresh seafood.

It has a laid back atmosphere with pleasant and friendly staff. Pick-up and transfer services are also available. For more information visit http://www.facebook.com/groups/moonislandcamp/ and for reservations call Hazem Khamis +20-100-152-2578

Crazy Horse Beach Resort is one of the best resorts in Nuweiba with its own beach, hammocks and many comfortable shaded areas to relax by the Red Sea shore. They offer single and double rooms with AC and private bathrooms. Just 22 km from Nuweiba, it is the best choice to enjoy the serenity of the place in a more luxurious way. The sea view cafeteria is a good spot to lounge or indulge in the extensive menu of local and international dishes. One of their best dishes is the Bedouin maglouba.

Alternatively, you can enjoy your meals and drinks in the indoors air-conditioned restaurant by the pool or in one of their Bedouin tents. Management also allows camping but you need to bring your own tent. At night, Crazy Horse is one of the busiest spots along the coast with impromptu jamming sessions by visiting artists or guests hooking up their own devices to speakers. Room rates are Euro30 per person per night, including breakfast.

Crazy Horse offers a host of activities and day trips including to Petra in Jordan, Israel, St Catherine, the white and coloured canyons, and many other destinations for bargain prices. For more information visit

http://www.facebook.com/groups/46413799724/?ref=ts&fref=ts and for reservations call Waled Ismail +20-122-163-3812

What to pack: Identity card; passport and visa; torch or flashlight; sleeping bag (if you are an outdoor person); snorkeling kit; sea shoes; light clothes; sunglasses; hat.

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