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Diving into Egypt’s historic delights
8:46am Monday 1st August 2011 in Features
The calm, sun-flecked waters of the Red Sea looked inviting as I zipped up my wetsuit, snapped on mask and fins, and clambered over the edge of the boat. Balancing on the last rung of the ladder, I took a deep breath and jumped, landing with a splash next to my instructor Nicci.
Any last-minute butterflies about diving for the first time evaporated as I let gravity, and my lead weights, take over.
I was on a Try Dive – a brief introduction to scuba that gives total beginners, like me, the chance to experience diving without spending precious holiday time in the learner pool.
My life (or at least the next 20 minutes of it) was now entirely in the hands of Nicci, who would be regulating my air supply, and ensuring we didn’t drift off course.
Organised through my hotel, Taba Heights, this was my first adventure during my week-long holiday in Egypt.
We were on a boat moored just a few kilometres south of our resort, located on the coast of Egypt’s popular Sinai peninsula, a 40-minute drive from Taba International airport, or three hours from Sharm El Shiekh.
So although I’d promised myself seven days spent flopping on the sand with a thriller in one hand and a cocktail in the other, the local area was proving far too interesting to ignore.
Having peeled off my wetsuit and clutching a cup of sweet, black tea, I rejoined the rest of the group aboard the boat to exchange tales of the incredible marine life we had seen.
That night, eager to get stuck into the serious business of relaxation, I tried out some Sakara Gold.
Sakara is one of several lagers brewed in Egypt, which although a predominantly Muslim country, has a generally-relaxed attitude towards alcohol.
The ancient Egyptians were keen winemakers and I was surprised to discover their legacy lingers today, with several vineyards producing some delicious drops.
However, mindful of my day trip to Petra the next morning, I resisted the temptation to crack open a bottle.
After a smooth half-hour Catamaran ride across the Gulf of Aqaba, we were met in Jordan by our chirpy Bedouin guide Ibrahim, who introduced us to his catchphrase: “Mashi Mashi”. This translates roughly as “Okey Dokey”, and, when bellowed loudly enough, proved a useful tool for rounding up our 30-strong group.
As the bus chugged for hours along the empty Kings Highway, I had time to absorb the spectacular lunar landscape around Wadi Rum, where Lawrence Of Arabia was filmed.
Sandstone jebels (cliffs) soared to heights of more than 1,700 metres, towering over Bedouin tents scattered across the wide valley floors like giants.
Wadi Rum is home to several Bedouin tribes holding on to their traditional nomadic way of life. Ibrahim explained that while all Jordanians are proud of their Bedouin heritage, few live in tents or caves all year round.
As we drove through the region, I saw evidence of this in the endless numbers of flat-roofed concrete homes being constructed, with camels, goats and donkeys tethered nearby nibbling at any tufts of greenery they could find.
Later, running the gauntlet of street sellers and souvenir shops selling Indiana Jones memorabilia, I managed to reach the top of the 1.2km canyon leading to the ancient city of Petra.
But the walk down the narrow, winding gorge, known as the Siq, towards ‘The Treasury’ where the final scene of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade was filmed proved an adventure in itself, as horse-drawn buggies and camels clattered by.
Hidden amid the rugged Shara mountains for centuries, Petra was rediscovered in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
It’s easy to understand why local tribes kept the city a secret for so many years. Carved into the pink sandstone more than 2,000 years ago by the wealthy Nabataean tribe, Petra boasts hundreds of buildings, including royal tombs, theatres and temples, as well as an intricate system of pipes, aqueducts and reservoirs.
Most impressive of all is ‘The Treasury’, or Al-Khazneh, with its colossal, 43-metre high facade and steps leading up to classical columns.
But after a wonderful day exploring, I was determined to get back on track with my relaxing holiday. And a quick stroll around the grounds of the rambling, five-star Taba Heights with its lush, bougainvillea-draped gardens, saltwater lagoon, Olympic-size lap pool.
There was also the resort’s 18-hole golf course to tackle. But as a total newcomer to the sport, this proved a challenge too far.
My week in the Sinai Peninsula rushed past in a whirl of activities, including desert quad biking and a second day trip, this time to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.
But somehow I managed to see these fascinating sights without losing too much sunbathing time.
- Rosamund Hutt travelled with Longwood Holidays, which offers seven nights’ half-board accommodation at the five-star Hyatt Regency Taba Heights from £655 per person, based on a mid-August departure. Price includes flights ex-Manchester, accommodation, transfers, all taxes and charges, seaview room, 15 per cent discount on all beverages and 25 per cent discount on massage treatments.
- Reservations: 0844 7704898/ longwoodholidays.co.uk. For more information on Taba Heights, visit tabaheights.com or e-mail info@tabaheights. com.