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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.