EGYPTIAN RED SEA PARADISE
The architecture along the road from Nuweiba to Sawa Camp doesn’t augur well. There are blocks and blocks of condominiums, many unfinished, behind futuristic looking gateways that might well be at home in the deserts around Las Vegas. Landscaping in this rainless environment amounts to the occasional straggling palm – otherwise these compound-like resorts are concrete and bitumen and allow only glimpses of the area’s main attraction, the Red Sea.
Talk about false advertising – there’s nothing red about it. The soaring rock faces leading down to the sand are reddish, yes, but that sea is nothing if not turquoise. Anyway, there’s a theory that the sea’s name came from a mistranslation and it was originally the ‘Reed Sea’ because in biblical times this body of water was thick with vegetation. It also would have been a lot easier for Moses to part reeds than water – sorry, myth lovers.
The further along that road you push, the simpler the architecture becomes until it’s all very low impact and impermanent. These more humble resorts don’t seem to attract anything like the numbers of tourists the monstrosities up the road do and therein lies the mystery. Sawa Camp is one of several clusters of huts set on the sand as close to the water as possible without getting wet at high tide, and its appeal is enormous.
The set-up here is entirely uncomplicated and demands nothing of guests, other than, perhaps, relaxation, which I found unavoidable. When we arrived we sat in cushioned, bamboo chairs in a shady lounge area while our room keys were sorted. Then stepping onto fine soft sand we went to find number six. Like the other dozen or so huts, ours had its own little verandah with a hammock, was pine framed with bamboo wall and roof panels secured with raffia twine.
Inside, the concrete slab floor was softened by multi-coloured rag rugs and our foam mattress, made up with just a fitted sheet, was tucked neatly inside a taut pink mosquito net. Apart from a few hooks attached to a piece of wall-mounted pine, that was it. Light filtered in through cracks in the roof or flooded in with the breeze when the hinged bamboo window was thrown open. There was a shared ablutions block at the back of the camp which was pristine and only partially roofed, so its gleaming white tiles dried quickly in the sun and sea air.
With bags dumped and sarong on, it was time for an important decision: to climb into the hammock and watch the tide come in or give in to hunger pangs and order lunch. The hammock could wait. The food is good and straightforward at Sawa Camp and lunch that day was a salad of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and a firm white Arabic cheese like a creamy version of feta. Freshly squeezed guava juice was the perfect partner. To make life easier, everything just went on the room tab, so there was no need to tuck money into your swimmers.
By early afternoon the tide was high enough to go snorkelling – and this is where Sawa Camp comes into its own. Instead of having to get a boat out to a reef, an all too common requirement for this activity, here you just wade out through warm, knee deep water and leap off the ledge into a seemingly endless marine world.
I hadn’t done much snorkelling so found the diversity of life, colour and geography beneath the water’s surface surprising. From the sand the view was beautiful in that tropical blue postcard way but submerged with face mask and snorkel it really was like being on another planet. The backdrop of cool hues ranging from palest aqua to deep ultramarine was punctuated by corals of magenta and chartreuse, some patterned like cerebral cortex and others with tendrils as fine as fur. Slender grey barracudas hovered like hummingbirds while angel fish, looking radioactive in their striped yellow brilliance, darted between the broad leaves of weed.
It was by no means a silent world out there; my own breathing with regular sharp snorkel-clearing exhalations was the dominant sound track, but even that took on a meditative rhythm eventually. The exhilaration of this aquatic adventure had begun to subside after a hot shower but there was still time to wind down further before dinner. Sunken sofas upholstered in multi-coloured cottons in the lounge area were easily long enough to recline upon with cushions and a book. When the cocktail hour rolled around, we braved the local rosé bought earlier that day in Nuweiba, and drank from plastic cups we’d brought with us. Sawa Camp doesn’t sell alcohol but they allow it to be brought in, will let you use their fridge and corkscrew but not their glasses for its consumption.
We had dinner at a table set up specially on the sand, with candlelight adding to the sparse electric illuminations. Thin-crusted pizzas and eggplant casserole did the trick and, when my companions’ conversation turned to extreme sports, it was my cue to retire. In the few minutes it took to pass out I registered the soft rumble of waves breaking metres from my door and the specks of moonlight shining through the cane roof.
The writer was a guest of Intrepid Travel
This was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald. Read it here