Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Monday, December 05, 2005

(Upper) Egypt – The Road to Masa Alam

Dedicated to Mahmoud, a very skillful driver.

Today was spent driving from Luxor to Masa Alam. It was a very long drive enlivened by the changing scenery from picturesque Nile farms and adobe (mud brick) villages dotted with turquoise walls, to the vast open spaces of sandy desert, and crumbling hills of weathered dark rocks. We played CDs of Oud music by a Nubian musician we met days earlier.

The highlight of the journey was Dad’s sharp recognition of rock art scratched into vertical surfaces beside the road. We stopped driving to walk a kilometer or two along the rock faces and wadis, photographing the images as we found them. There were scenes of human figures with arrows and spears, gazelle and ibex, ostriches, giraffes, lions and other locally-extinct animals. There were also several boats normally associated with the Nile, yet this was hundreds of kilometres from the river. I clambered up high several times to discover concealed carvings and take better photos of those we could see from ground level, almost most were easily accessed or partially buried under sand. Nothing was damaged, of course, and we took notes on the location of the area.

Masa Alam is a barren landscape where the rich blue waters of the Red Sea meet a beach which is simply the desert with a new title. There’s little here besides intermittent fields of resorts under construction, quite an eerie sight considering the total lack of a local population. Apparently the idea is that chartered flights will take resort-goers from Italy or Germany directly to the area, so it’s not on the tourist trails winding up and down the Nile. We are staying in the oldest of these resorts, the Kahramana, which opened in 1998, so that Dad can visit an important mining operation two hours drive from here. Most people here seem to be German or Italian, and the signage reflects this. It’s very much a resort, but it’s attractive in its own way and lined with colourful Nubian huts.

The afternoon was spent snorkeling in the Red Sea coral reefs. A long jetty takes you far out, right to the edge of the reef which descends sharply into dark blue depths. As you walk, you can see dozens of large, spectacularly coloured fish, swanning about in shallow water over coral. There were parrotfish, leatherjackets, wrasse, and far more species than I could name. It was magic to linger over these creatures, chase flickering schools, and dive along gullies of contorted coral and sponges. This was the type of place where I first learnt to snorkel, many years ago while living in Jordan, so it was a nostalgic experience.


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