We wake to the sound of translucent waves crashing on the beach which is within metres from our room at Dyarna Hotel. I pull back the wooden shutters to drench myself in warm sun and a blemish-free morning sky.
The seaside town of Dahab is located on the Gulf of Aqaba, only a couple of hours’ drive from Nuweiba; our entry point into Egypt. Steep, winding highways and dusty desert mountains orbit the town and it becomes clear that Dahab has more than just a pretty beach. Apart from snorkelling in the Red Sea and adventure quad biking, Dahab can also play host to any weary tourist who wants to refuel on coffee and seafood.
With towels and ambition in hand, we climb into the back of a rickety, old four-wheel drive and bump along unmade roads to Dahab’s outer coastline for a snorkelling adventure. Reclining benches and hut-style cafes hug the sand. We deck ourselves in wetsuits, goggles, flippers and snorkels.
Our host is adamant that Dahab’s reef is better than the Great Barrier Reef. I tip-toe across a rocky diving ledge and slip into the cool liquid. Visibility is at an all-time high and I manoeuvre through the waves to duck-dive for glimpses of undamaged coral, small schools of glistening fish and the occasional sea urchin. Suddenly, the Blue Hole announces its vastness and crisp, deep blue that gives the Hole its namesake. Dahab’s reef isn’t as colourful as the Great Barrier Reef, but its virtually untouched existence gives me the impression that it’s one of the most well-preserved reefs in the world.
We later trudge to the four-wheeled drives to make the bumpy track back to the hotel. After a quick change, Mr C checks in for an afternoon of adventure quad biking. I opt for a more laid-back approach and decide to wander the boardwalk in search of sustenance and relaxation.
After Mr C departs, our guide Ahmed suggests we go for coffee. The streets are calm and local shops are opening for their day of trade. We seat ourselves at a table in a kawa, or coffee shop. A light breeze seeps through the window pane-less shopfront to calm my mind.
Ahmed explains that Egyptian coffee is far from the espresso variety. What I learn is that it’s all about the sugar. You order your coffee and tell your waiter how much sugar you’ll have. The sugar is added to a pot over a heat, sometimes over direct fire, with water. As the water and sugar form hot syrup, freshly-grounded coffee is added to the mix and later served, steaming, in a small espresso cup. Ahmed warns that my sugar could be measured by any sized spoon. So, I could end up with however many teaspoons or even tablespoons of sugar.
“How many sugars will you have?” Ahmed asks.
“How many do you have?” I ask Ahmed.
“Er, you can’t have the same as me,” Ahmed interjects.
“Why not?” I demand.
“Because you’re not Egyptian!” Ahmed declares, smiling cheekily at my defeat.
What Ahmed doesn’t know is that my sweet-tooth is about as big as Mount Sinai. Ahmed says he’ll have three so I opt for the same.
Our coffees arrive. A rich aroma blankets the coastal sea air. Steam rises, alerting me to wait a while. Ahmed and I banter about life and work. I stir my coffee and take a modest sip. The viscous syrup reminds me of drinking melted chocolate. The coffee is sweet and decadent without a skerrick of bitterness. “It’s very good,” I beam.
As we sit and chat, listen to a plasma screen blaring Arabic news and watch locals stroll outside, I realise that my time in Dahab has been justified. While I can snorkel as an Australian, I can drink coffee in Egypt as an Egyptian.