Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Romantic, Relaxing Dahab

Early evening is my favorite time in Dahab. This is when Geoff and I go out to one of the dozens of open-air sea-side restaurants that line the local shore of the Red Sea. To calls these restaurants isn't quite right. There are no walls, no chairs, and no wait staff running around delivering food. These are more like Bedouin eateries: palm leaf roofs are held up by palm trunk pillars; the red pebbles of the beach floor are cover in a quilt of colorful rugs; heavy bright cushions are arranged in large circles around small wooden table. Travelers drape themselves on the floor collectively smoking hookahs (water pipes) and filling the air with the pleasant, sweet smell of cherry tobacco.

We usually pick a comfortable looking stack of pillows near the edge of the restaurant that puts us no more that 4ft away from the slow, lapping waves of the sea. We gab about the day's dives and watch the shore start to sparkle with the hundreds of soft, colorful Christmas tree lights that are hung in the palm leaves of the restaurants. We relax in the light of the dozens of candles put around the perimeter of the restaurant and on each small table. It's impossible to get a meal here in less than one-and-a-half hours, but who cares. The wind is perfect: warm and steady. The kind that can make you want to turn your face into the wind, close your eyes, and inhale.

As the sun sets the minaret of the mosque wails poems in Arabic to call the men to evening prayer. One night we ate at the south end of the main road. The edge of the restaurant is reserved for several large straw prayer mats. As the minaret continued to call, we watched several of the restaurant's staff make their way to the mat; some wearing western cloths but many wearing a thob (long sleeve, ankle length dress) and ghutra (head scarf). They all looked across the Gulf of Aqba to the visible cliffs of Saudi Arabia. Facing Mecca they stood, knelt and bowed while moaning poems and praying to Allah. I know I probably shouldn't have, but for the next 20 minutes I watched out of the corner of my eye trying to not get caught.

We have spent every day diving. I am now a certified PADI Open Water diver.

The reef here has been disappointing. We've seen sporadic mounds of incredibly vibrant coral absolutely exploding with life, but they are rare. Most of the reef has been killed by careless divers and poor reef management. The living coral serves mainly as a contrast to the brittle, white skeletons of the dead coral and as a reminder of what once was. Now that I am certified there are many more dive sites open to us. We hope to find better water in the next two days.

We have already been here for the five days we had planned, and good diving or not, we are having trouble thinking about leaving. I think we will be soaking up the mellow vibe for a while yet.