Last night was just the half-time of my stay in Dahab, diving mekka at the Gulf of Aqaba. I am on a strict internet and phone diet with most my communication with home being one-way, by post-card. The internet diet is really good to get most out of my stay here and connect with many people as well as with myself. I am checking email only once per week and today I am using the occasion to also post some impressions here:
- First of all, Dahab is great for windsurfing, so I did in fact come to the right place! Although the rental prices for sail boards are just as expensive as in Berlin, Germany, the service is also as good and includes comfy rides on the rescue boat when you've gone farther than you can make it back. Wind is consistently coming down the gulf from the Nord, although this past week had a lot of quiet days.
- The Egyptians can be really fun people and it's totally worth learning a few words of Arabic to impress them and put conversations on a more relaxed and friendly level. They'll often start conversations, and when the conversation goes well, will teach me one or two more words. Some people here, unfortunately, have the job of selling absolutely useless things for astronomic prices and dealing with them is just as awful as with any slimy salesman back home. The prime example is when someone desperately tries to sell overpriced drinks at especially touristic places like an oasis or dive site. This really makes being at that place less enjoyable. On the other hand, it is nice to come back to the same shop (bakery, supermarket, restaurant) in Dahab every so often and getting to know the people there better.
- There's a lot of foreigners living here, either they operate a business or they just enjoy the great climate and the cheap cost of living. Almost all dive shops have some foreign staff (and/or owner) which I guess is because diving needs a lot of experience and communication to be safe. The main nations represented here are Germans, Brits, and Russians. It seems that the Russians run most of the sail-renting businesses and also some other shops, restaurants, and –of course– diving schools. Russian signs are as common here as locals who speak a bit of Russian. Most of the local–foreigner communication is done in English, tho.
- The climate in winter is excellent: day temperature just right to wear a T-Shirt outside, without sweating or feeling cold. It's a bit cold for diving, but ok for windsurfing with an optional wet suit when there's a lot of chilly wind.
- In my first week here, I hung out a lot with a nice man from Berlin who I had met at the airport. He used his stay here to plot out his next career moves after completing a second course of studies and to make plans for the next year. I gave him my copy of the “4-hour work-week” to read and we discussed it a bit. He inspired me to do something similar for myself and I quite liked the results. One of the outcomes is my resolution to celebrate my birthday on the fifth of every month, or in other words, have a monthly party to which I invite everybody I like, just to hang out together and to introduce my friends to each other. I will start with a Dahab-themed party on the week-end after coming back home!
- Besides being a great spot for board sailing, Dahab is the most touristy place I have ever been, which has a lot of advantages and disadvantages. The upside is that there are a lot of cheap places to stay. Right now I have a sea-view room for about 7€ a night, although there's no window, so I need to open the door to actually view the sea, but there's always the sound of waves to take me to sleep at night and wake me up in the morning. There are even camps which offer beds in little rooms for 5€ a night. There are a lot of very interesting people in those camps, among them many seasoned travelers and long-time travelers, which have interesting stories to tell. I myself am more a temporary resident than a traveler. The downside is that tourists are herded like sheep on some places and locals sometimes get bad impressions of foreigners.
- I am trying to live like an expat here, that is, a non-tourist foreigner. I don't go to the restaurants for tourists, avoid souvenir shops and tourist activities, don't go to see the most famous sights. Instead I try to eat where the locals eat, spend my leisure time just hiking or biking around the landscape, and when I do trips then go to any random spot where there are not so many tourists. It as funny to arrive by foot or bicycle at places where tourists are usually brought by bus, jeep, horse, camel or quad-bike. If I pass such a tourist spot while walking or cycling, I do my best to ignore it and move on as quickly as I can.
- Since the Red Sea is know so well for its underwater life, I bought a very simple snorkel so I can enjoy this at my own pace wherever and whenever I feel like it. I have no interest in diving and expect to discover a lot of beautiful things while snorkeling without all the hassle and cost involved with the diving machinery.
- Haggling is said to be important in Egypt, but it doesn't need to be. If you need something, just ask a third person (fellow tourist, camp worker, ...) for a fair price and then buy the thing at approximately that price. With the right people, you'll also get automatic discount for being a regular customer or for speaking a little Arabic.