The Middle East part III:
THE READ SEA
Part III covers the journey around the entire Gulf of Aqaba, both the Saudi, Jordani and Israeli parts, across the Sinai peninsula and downstream the Nile to Upper Egypt, finally reaching the ocean once again.
This is leg three on a longer journey across the Middle East. This leg orbits the entire Gulf of Aqaba and takes us into Upper Egypt.
Most travelers perhaps only pick one country and thus only visit the Gulf partially, but during our journey we decide to see it all.
Thus, we start this leg in Duba in the Northern part of Saudi Arabia, just a few hundred kilometers south of where the Gulf of Aqaba bursts into the Read Ocean.
The entire Gulf of Aqaba is a region of astonishing natural beauty.
The Saudi part from Duba to Haql is extremely off-the-beaten-track and reveals many astonishing treasures. There are no guidebooks or travel reports from the Saudi coast line at the time we visit it, so we travel along the complete Saudi coast line with only a satellite map and visit ship and plane wrecks, mountain gorges, and wild coastal landscapes with a sense of being pioneers and first visitors.
Location: Saudi Arabia's Northern gulf region as well as parts of Jordan, Israel and Egypt; the entire journey took +5 months
Jordan’s Bay of Aqaba and Israel’s Bay of Eilat offer great diving, and Eilat is backed by breathtaking mountains and fabulous back-country trekking paths due to the Great Syrian-African Rift. We do lots of diving in both Jordan and Israel, and in Israel we hike across the Eilat Mountains visting the Arava Valley, Wadi Eteq, Mount Yoash, Red Canyon, Black Canyon etc., while also doing parts of the Israeli National Trail.
Next, we move on the the Sinai mountains in Egypt. The entire Sinai Peninsula is rural and forbidding, giving access to Bedouin heartland, Biblical sights and amazing climbing opportunities. Wedged between Africa and Asia, the peninsula is a region of stark beauty, where prophets, nomads, exiles and conquers all have left their footprints. Actually, in Egypt, we stop for quite some expanded time in the Sinai. We stay for nearly a week in Dahab to dive and explore the offshore reefs in the Read Ocean. The coastline is barren, but offshore the reefs, including the Blue Hole, are a true nirvana for diving freaks. Afterwards, we cross the Sinai along a rural inland route from Dahab to Suez via the Wadi Nasb Pass, the mountains of Gebel Musa and Gebel Katarina, Ain al-Furtega, Tamad, Nakhl and the Mitla Pass. One of the highlights is living with a powerful Bedouin family for three days in the heart of Sinai’s high mountain region, before we manage to convince the local chief that it is a clever idea to allow us to climb Egypt’s highest mountain at 2.624m in his “backyard”. The trail it is taxing, but with a rugged and adventurous bent.
Finally, we travel upstream the Nile from Cairo to the Nile Valley around Luxor. The entire route covers magnificent World Heritage Sites and a thousand tourist clichés, but the grandeur and beauty of this ancient land is evident. Magnificent monuments are everywhere, but when traveling on the extreme cheap the real highlight perhaps is the Egyptian people. Wandering around the many markets, living in cheap hostels and moving on by rusty buses involves sipping a lot of shai while discussing politics, cuisine, love and ancient history. We finish our 5 month Middle East journey in Marsa Alam to do some more diving in the Red Ocean.
If you simply love the Sahara region check out our journeys to The Sudan and other parts of North Africa, which also offers excellent mountain climbing opportunities in the High Atlas. If you are keen on diving in the Read Ocean do see the Red Sea part of The Sudan journey or the Djibouti part of the African Horn journey.
Traveling around the entire coastline of the Gulf of Aqaba (Saudi Arabia -> Jordan -> Israel -> Egypt), exploring the Sinai Peninsula, and then moving upstream the Nile to end at the Red Sea coast of Egypt's Eastern Desert
A short transit in Riyadh before moving on to the Red Sea coastline. The green national flag is omnipresent; here at the Masmak Fortress, which is made of clay and mud-brick
We explored all of the Tabuk Region in Saudi Arabia, which is known for its amazing desert nature, wild Red Sea Coastline, unique sites and cultural heritage monuments. By local rental car - 10 USD per day!
... there were no tourists at all. During 5 days in the region we met zero tourists
With its imposing rock formations and natural springs of water flowing along the canyon, the Al Disah Valley is a paradise for hikers. We arrived there early morning and spend a whole day to walk to the base of the wild valley and back again. There were no people, not even locals. Magical day in a very remote place
On Route 8756 between Shuwaq and Duba
Between Duba and Haql we trekked close by Jebel Al-Lawz (2,580m). Some scientists claim that this mountain is the the real biblical Mount Sinai, where God spoke to Moses.
Local citizens describe it as The Pearl of the Red Sea.
On the road between Duba and Gayal, at the Red Sea
As we traveled during the Ramadan, all lunches we eaten in the middle of the empty desert expanses, under a tree, or in remote valleys, where we did not disturb local order. Lunch was typically flat bread, feta cheese, labneh and humus dips, and olives + tomatoes - all bought in local by-the-road markets. Delicious
There are not any books or online guides to the Saudi Red Sea coast line (anno 2018). This is also one of the beauties of it. To prepare this part of the trip, we therefore pulled a satellite photo, working as a map, and screened the coast line for sights. What we found is dotted in this photo, and we then drove for it on-site: We visited wild plane and ship wrecks, deep canyons, and remote beaches - all "found" via Google Maps and satellite photo investigations
We found a the PBY-5A Catalina, a military American seaplane from the 1930's, which is located on a beach off the Strait of Tiran on the Saudi Arabia side of the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba.
In 1960 and American adventure traveler landed here with this seaplane but was shut down by local beduins and captured, as they though he was an Israeli spy. The plane has been lying there in the remote corner of the Saudi Tiran strait peninsula ever since
In two days we drove along the coastline all the way from Southern Tiran Island to Northern Haql at the Jordan border. What we saw? Wild seascapes, beautiful beaches, gorges and sleepy villages.We also snorkeled many times every day along the way
There were unperturbed reefs all along the coastline. Particularly close to Magna, Northern Saudi, there were vivid presence of hard corals and reef fish
Wadi Tayyib Al Ism is a 600-meter-high granite massif of the Tayeb Al-Ism, whose sharp edges fall into the Gulf of Aqaba, just North of Magna. We spend the late afternoon to trek through the wild gorge
They were all contract workers in Jeddah and had weekend. They had spend the whole night and half a day to drive all the way from Jeddah to Wadi Tayyib to just see the gorge for one hour
Local residents in Magna believe it was were Moses (Musa) landed when he crossed over the sea from Egypt.
We had planned to sleep right on the beach, but were invited to sleep in the home of a local family
Before going to bed, we had cigarettes and shai (tea) until 3 AM with the sons in the family.
We drove to Al Bad to visit the beautiful Nabetan city called Madyan, or Mugha’ir Shu’ayb, which is still mostly unknown although it has some of the most beautiful monumental tombs typical of the architecture of the ancient Nabatean kingdom. After Petra in Jordan it was nice to visit the Nabatean sites in Saudi Arabia