Living By the Sun
Sinai is a place for relaxation. It can be a life of living by the rising and setting of the sun, if you so wish (although there are plenty of party beaches where all-nighters take place into the wee hours). It's the time to see the sun rise to the east over Saudi Arabia, the deserted mountains forming a silhouette against the rising sun, throwing shadows across the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. Sunsets are less forthcoming from the coast as the mountains skirting the peninsula road block the sun in its full setting glory. But the light from the setting sun does throw extraordinary light over the becalmed waters, reflecting onto Saudi Arabia and proving the explanation as to why its known as the Red Sea.
And following the trip to the Coloured Canyon, what better place to end than back on the coast in time to understand why its known as the Red Sea - with Saudi Arabia on the other side of the gulf. (Most people who visit the region come specifically for the beach and the water).
Its not a overly difficult tramp through the canyon - the beginning involves 'sliding' down a few metres of rocks, and on the canyon bed is the occasional rock that needs to be clambered over. The canyon joins a much larger (and totally dry) river bed which essentially marks the end of the trek. A further 10 minutes straightforward walk up hill takes you back to the top of the world a mile or so away from where you first started.
The Bedouins are the only people that seem to be able to eke out a living in the harsh landscape. More recent developments have seen the growth of tourism - which supplements what is a hard way of life. Our guide spoke a little English to help us understand the environment we were in.
Yellows, reds and greys are the main colours here - the whorls of colour are pretty impressive without being incredible. It's the whole experience that makes this walk worthwhile - once in the gorge, it's not about height of the surrounding 'walls'. Then there is this sudden flash of green - and you ask yourself just how does this grow and survive here?
The Coloured Canyon - the start
The beginning is what can only be described as at the top of the world. Desolate (that word again) environment - we're heading downwards from this point.
And once down, it's pretty easy to forget that this is formed by water as you tramp through pure sand and dust. But sudden (although rare) rain can make this a death trap. But it happens about once every three years.....
The Coloured Canyon - the road in
In addition to St Catherines, the other main attraction to Nuweiba away from the beaches is the Coloured Canyon.
The Canyon is about 15kms north of Nuweiba: the road is tarmacked until the Ain el-Furtaga oasis, then this track (photo) takes you to the beginning of the canyon itself.
I may be getting boring about highlighting the desolate landscape, but its overwhelming. This leads to the coloured canyon - and on the back of a pick-up with little suspension, you notice every bump.
The road from Nuweiba to St Catherines
I think David Byrne and Talking Heads were thinking of this route when they wrote 'Road To Nowhere' - miles and miles of hot tarmac into seeming nothingness (but absolutely stunning).
While driving (or to be more exact, being driven) along this road, it was the first time I had ever seen what I can only describe as glaciers - but glaciers of sand, not ice. Vast sweeps of pristine, windswept, virginal sand, hundreds of metres in length
Camel rides at St Catherines
Camels aplenty outside the monastery gates. Some belong to the tourist tack that's on sale, some are available for short camel rides back to the road (1km or so) or you can actually arrange 2-3 day camel hikes into the desert from here.
It really is as uncomfortable as it looks. We are heading for the road - even though the landscape may look more like the 3 day camel hike!
The background also emphasises the remote and barren landscape.
St Catherines Monastery (inside)
As well as the oldest working monastery, it also the smallest diocese in the world.
Architecturally, its a bit of a hotchpotch. It has been added onto for many centuries, including, at one stage in the 10th century. converted into a Mosque, built in allegiance to the Muslims that promised to protect it. The walls surrounding the whole complex are metres thick, although nowadays the monastery has spread into the surrounding desert, where, coming from the road, the first thing that you see of the Monastery are the cypress trees and gardens.
The site of the burning bush is still there (as is a more recent bush to represent the Biblical story) and. thankfully, entrance to the monastery is now at ground level, as opposed to the original gate about half way up the front wall (small wooden structure in the main picture). Goods and people were all hauled up by a crude rope pulley to gain access!
St Catherine's Monastery
Sited in the shadow of Mount Sinai and on the spot of the Burning Bush, St Catherine's is apparently the oldest working monastery (built between 527 and 565) in the world.
Completely walled, it belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. Only part of the monastery is open to the public (it has the largest collection of religious manuscripts after the Vatican), but, along with the landscape, the possibility of climbing Mount Sinai (a gentle track or 3000 rock-hewn steps - leave those for the descent!) and even a camel ride from the car park along the track from the road to the monastery itself (10 minutes) make this one of the highlights to any visit to Sinai.
Bedouin parties at night
The beaches of Nuweiba are superb during the day and also at nighttime. Enjoy a party on the beach... no loud music.... just a few friends around a fire, some good bites to eat, fun and laughter... and even swimming !
Watching the sunrise...
Spend the night on the beach, spot the many shooting stars and wait for the sun rise coming up from the Saudi mountains across the sea... if full moon the light is bright enough to safely go swimming.
Nuweiba is ideal for snorkeling - calm warm waters filled with colourful fish and corals !
Probably the best area is the 11/2 km long stretch from Swisscare Hotel to the MFO point. Various coral formations, very wide selection of large and small fish and a depth varying from 2 metres to 8 metres.
Dive, Dive, Dive
Or at least do some snorkeling.
Sinay (and the red sea basically) is known as one of most beautiful spots in the world for diving. There really amazing areas for diving and Loads of underwater life to see !!!
And for you Dolphins lovers, ask the beduin people about the famouse Dolphin (Oli) in Sinay and go to see her and sweem with her and her baby.
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