The Red Sea seen from above, in southern Egypt. November 2011.
The Red Sea seen from above, in southern Egypt. November 2011.

In the middle of nowhere

  Egypt: Hamata - Red Sea - November 2011

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


I was in southern Egypt, in November 2011, for the to dive in the Red Sea. Strange feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. With no other landmark than a ribbon of asphalt between the sea and the desert.

Between sea and desert

To the left is the sea. To the right is the Egyptian desert. In our back, Marsa Alam. Right in front, Hamata. Our goal.

In the minibus, between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.
In the minibus, between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.

Hamata, where the hotel for our little group of diver-photographers is located. Where the boat that will take us from one coral reef to another is moored.

I looked at a Google Map before coming. A little further on, south of Hamata, there's a port with the beautiful name of Berenice. At the very end of the road, even further on, is Sudan.

We landed in Marsa Alam. The minibus ride from the airport to our hotel takes a good couple of hours.

Already from above, through the plane's window, the view seemed strange. No trees, no fields, no greenery. Just the sparkling azure of the water and the dry ochre of the earth. Here and there, hotel complexes. Planted in the middle of nowhere.

The Red Sea seen from above, in southern Egypt. November 2011.
The Red Sea seen from above, in southern Egypt. November 2011.

Ghost hotels

It's a strange place to come for a vacation. Accustomed to the monsoon-swept, humid tropical countries of Southeast Asia, where exuberant vegetation easily turns to jungle, where agricultural areas are flooded to grow rice, I'm not used to this inhospitable rock that stretches endlessly to my right.

People live here, though. Our minibus passes through a few villages. A handful of dwellings, a mosque, a signpost, a line of ragged palm trees along the road.

On the road between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.
On the road between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.
Children playing along the road, near Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.
Children playing along the road, near Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.

The most curious is the huge abandoned concrete buildings scattered at regular intervals along the coast. Huge unfinished hotel projects.

These remains of real estate are a little gloomy. Foolish, absurd.

An abandoned construction on the road between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.
An abandoned construction on the road between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.
An abandoned construction on the road between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.
Another abandoned complex, on the road between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.

Divers and kite surfers

Our minibus swallows up the kilometers. In the distance, against the intense blue sky, a glittering cluster of kites suddenly catches the eye.

At first, an incongruous, incomprehensible sight. In fact, they're kite-surfers. In addition to divers, there's another tourist tribe in the area: wind and surf enthusiasts.

Kite-surfing in southern Egypt, near Hamata. November 2011.
Kite-surfers in southern Egypt, near Hamata. November 2011.

We bump into them at the hotel. Our two tribes have no chemistry and hardly speak to each other. Like us, the kite-surfers have been transported to the middle of nowhere to devote themselves exclusively to their passion. An out-of-this-world, out-of-time interlude. The sea on the left, the desert on the right.

The road between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.
The road between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Egypt, November 2011.

A parenthesis out of the world and out of time

As a worthy representative of my tribe, I certainly loved this Egyptian trip devoted to underwater photography (read : Atmospheric dives in the Red Sea, The color of the coral, Dance with dolphins). But of Egypt and the southern desert, of its inhabitants, I will have seen nothing.

I only had contact with the staff at the hotel or on the dive boat. All men. All adorable and attentive. But it was strange not to come across any women.

On the dive boat. Egypt, November 2011.
On the dive boat. Egypt, November 2011.

There were also a few kids watching every day our descent from the boat, trying to sell us trinkets.

Since I've been back, I've often thought of those slightly sinister, abandoned ghost-hotels that will never see a tourist tribe disembark. The asphalt line that follows the contours of the Red Sea and leads to Sudan.

It was a new vacation destination for me. But I'd only recommend it to divers and kite-surfers. You really are in the middle of nowhere, sandwiched between the Red Sea and the pebbles of the desert.

Near Hamata, southern Egypt, November 2011.
Near Hamata, southern Egypt, November 2011.
The beach at the Wadi Lahmy Resort. Egypt, November 2011.
The beach at the Wadi Lahmy Resort. Egypt, November 2011.

Many divers swear by Egypt for diving. It's true that the destination is less remote than my favorite Indo-Pacific seas. But for my part, I find this kind of desert atmosphere a little sad. I have trouble with sand and gravel, no doubt, being used to tropical greenery. But also with the lack of life around me, the lack of interaction with the locals due to the isolation of the hotels and the fact that I only deal with male staff...

Anyway, I'm glad I came. I'm glad I came, I'm glad I discovered a bit of the local underwater world, but I don't know if I'll ever be tempted by a Red Sea diving trip again.

😎

  Egypt: Hamata - Red Sea - November 2011

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  1. That's exactly right!!! This is one of my memories of my first stay at the Hotel Equinoxe, near Marsa alam (March 2008). The sea, the hotel, the desert ... and basta! A vacation for divers only. I couldn't even understand why there were non-divers in the hotel, in March to boot (freezing pool water).

    1. So you comfort me in my impressions... I was thinking that it was perhaps a very partial vision on my part, my main reference as a traveling diver being Southeast Asia. Well, we agree: it's a great destination for divers (and kite-surfers). The others might get bored... 😉

    1. It was also my 2nd time in Egypt. The first time (quite a few years ago), it had nothing to do with a diving trip: I had been able to discover Cairo and Alexandria, it was a press trip to meet, among others, the CNRS archaeologists who were working in the bay... Fascinating!!!

      Last November, I saw absolutely nothing of Egypt, apart from a road, a seabed and a hotel... But I knew what I was getting at: I'd come exclusively to dive.

      🙄

    1. That's what I told myself: that there were surely more activities and excursions to be had a little further north. Here, we really were in the middle of nowhere...
      😯

  2. Hello,
    I'm going to Egypt for the 7th time in March. We started going in October 2009, and I know why I'm going: TO DIVE.
    The first time, we tried a trip to Luxor: never again, as it was a tourist factory. The first three times we stayed in hotel complexes, almost like prisoners. Since then, I've been the one organizing the trip. We chose a small hotel (Toubia) located between Safaga town center and the diving club (Dune). We can walk to the marina in the morning, and in the evening go for a drink or a local fish supper.
    To return to your ghost hotels, go back there in 1 or 2 years, the hotels will be finished. The landscape is changing fast at the coast.
    Indeed, there are only men, the women having remained in the big cities or in the small villages along the Nile with the children. The men go where the work is. That's why there are hardly any chambermaids, only chambermaids. On the boats, they are above all sailors.
    And Hamata is just beyond the end of the world, somewhere in the middle of nowhere 8)

    1. I think you've found the right formula: a nice little hotel, close to restaurants and the sea, so you don't feel like you're stuck in an all-inclusive situation where you're a bit cut off from the realities of the country...

      As for the men's work, yes, I had a little chat with the boat's captain and our guide, who explained to me that they had to work, while the women stayed in their towns and villages, with the children.

      Even if these ghost-hotels are eventually completed, it won't make much of a difference to Hamata, which is a remote corner of the world, far, far south...

  3. I love this part of Egypt (I went to El Quseir, a little north of Marsa Alam, to the Radisson, which was really beautiful)! It's true that the real estate projects are sinister, but I love the contrast between the sea and the aridity of the desert (and the "calm" you feel when you're there...). The sunsets are breathtaking too 🙂 Your photos are beautiful 😉

    1. I was just discovering this part of Egypt, and I was even further south... The light is indeed magnificent, at the end of the day. But the aridity is hard to get used to.
      🙂

  4. I've just come back from a week on the shores of the Red Sea, and it's true that it's a very strange place. I felt the same way as you about those big abandoned hotels, but at the same time I think they'd make an excellent setting for a novel, don't you?

    Anyway thank you for these beautiful travel photos!

  5. Like laurence, I also went to Dahab and more particularly to Blue Hole. It's a very nice spot for scuba diving because it's so deep. Blue Hole is over 100m deep.
    For snorkeling, I was on vacation in Taba and it was also very good, with beautiful coral and fish everywhere.

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