A Little Blue by the Red Sea

9 10 2008

From the Adventure Blogger’s blue period.

I have never seen the Loch Ness Monster or the Abominable Snowman and only once sighted a Flying Object that I couldn’t Identify. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist because I’ve also never seen a baby squirrel or pigeon…or a genuine piece of meat in a tin of baked beans and pork. However, there was one enigma whose existence I disputed until I actually spied it with my own eyes.    


Many years ago I saw a photograph of the Appalachian Mountains. It was an evocative image likely taken in the late afternoon that featured the summits at the front in a dark navy blue while those behind glided through all the degrees of the blue spectrum to a very pale hue in the distance.  The photo pre-dated the marvels of Photoshop, but I suspected that the photographer had used a blue filter.


Over time, I saw many similar images of different ranges of hills and mountains. Some were photos and some were paintings, sometimes in yellows or greens, other times in reds or my original blues. Regardless of the medium or colour, the view always caught my eye and presented a picture of unspoiled wilderness, tranquillity and Mother Nature at its finest.


A few years ago I was in Dahab, Egypt on the Red Sea coast. It was late afternoon, the sun was setting and I had dashed out to pick up some postcards before dinner. The streets were quiet and the shadows were lengthening. To my right lay the Red Sea and beyond faintly twinkled the first lights of Saudi Arabia. I continued my walk and crossed a small footbridge beneath which a seasonal stream made its way from the mountains and into the sea.


Midway across, I glanced to my left through the opening between the low white buildings and towards the Sinai desert…and stopped dead in my tracks.


In the previous days I had come to love the Sinai. The rugged, barren interior was a stark land of jagged peaks, rolling sepia hills and harsh desert. It was the land of the Bedouin and rich with biblical and modern history, intrigue and wild solitude. But as I stood and stared at the view, it was not the yellows, beiges and browns to which I had grown accustomed…but a myriad of blues.


The pallet from which it had been painted was the one from which Gainsborough had painted his boy and Picasso had dabbled during his famous period. It was a mixture of navies and royals, periwinkles and cobalts, egg shells and skies. It was the Appalachians and definitely not a mirage, filtered or Photoshopped. I reached for my camera to capture the scene that had so long captured my imagination only to realise I had left it in my room. Instead, I stood and drank it in with my naked eyes, watching the shades change with each moment of sunset.


Although I didn’t have a photo of the vista whose existence I had long doubted, it was forever emblazoned on my memory. I would never again question any similar photo or painting…or those abducted by aliens, chased by Sasquatch or stalked by the Yeti who survived with vivid accounts but, curiously in an age of camera phones and pocket point-and-shoots, no decent photos or video.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan








Just Deserts

21 04 2008


Wadi Rum: The dead centre of the Sinai Desert

When I was little and we headed to the beach on holiday, nothing made me happier than a jam and sand sandwich. I can’t say that I actually liked the sand part of the sandwich as I’ve never been partial to the crunch of grit between my teeth, but sand in my food has always been synonymous with a holiday.


The sand, of course, was not part of the original culinary design, but had managed to work its way into the picnic basket, past the paper bag and through the plastic wrap, as sand tends to do. In fact, sand tends to work its way into anything and everything as any beach bunny can attest. So imagine living in a desert…a fancy name for a really big beach that’s devoid of water, ice creams, enormous inflatable bananas and magenta thongs.


Most people can understand someone with a passion for mountains, or rugged coastlines or even pretty Bambi-luring forests. But deserts are an acquired taste that can’t be truly appreciated until properly experienced.  


The Sinai desert stretches from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean in eastern Egypt. It is a magnificent desolation of mountains, wadis and much biblical significance and home to the nomadic Bedouin people. I was to spend a few days with the Bedouin, sleeping in their oasis camps and trekking the sands they have called home since time immemorial. 


Our 4WD turned off the isolated road that had wound its way through the mountains from the coastal town of Dahab. We stood in the blazing sun and were met by our Bedouin guide in his traditional dress. This was no costume for tourists: his loose wraps and flowing gown were the most sensible thing to wear in such a hostile environment. He checked our water bottles, footwear and headwear. We had been advised to wear a white cotton keffiyeh rather than a baseball cap, as the keffiyeh provided protection while allowing the circulation of air. Once satisfied that we were ready, we set off into the drifting sands. 


As we plowed through the fine powder, our calves and leg muscles burned from the effort of taking one step backwards for every two forward. We eventually reached more solid ground and picked up our pace. There are few places in the world that seem untouched by humans, but the Sinai is certainly one. For hour after hour, we found no trace of human presence. We passed the carcasses of camels bleached by the sun, and saw the side-winding trail of snakes. We eventually squeezed through an opening in the rocks and descended into a narrow canyon, sheltered from the sun and deliciously cool. The silence caused our ears to buzz.


In late afternoon we reached the Bedouin’s oasis camp. A simple awning had been raised over a sea of carpets and small cushions. Small glasses of tea were brought out for us and we sat and learned about Bedu life. After a traditional dinner we climbed into our sleeping bags and snuggled down against the bitter cold of the desert night, all the while trying not to think of scorpions, cobras and other company.


The night was eerily silent save the crackle of the dying campfire. The stars shined brightly enough to read a watch and there was the occasional feather-like caress of the wind on our exposed faces. We packed our small packs and after a light breakfast headed back into the canyons and desert. 


By the time we reached the end of our trek and emerged once again at the tarmacked road, we had all gained a great appreciation for the beauty of the stark surroundings, and the hardiness and hospitality of the Bedouin people. We arrived back at Dahab just as the lights began to twinkle across the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia.  

We all returned home with not only enough memories to last us forever, but enough sand hidden in every nook and cranny to build a small fortress.  

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008