Bird's eye view
Amira El-Naqeeb soars high above the Red Sea Mountains in Ain Sokhna
Ain Sokhna is considered Cairene's easiest getaway due to its proximity to the city. It takes one hour on the ring road to reach Ain Sokhna Òê" exactly 93km Òê" where you will find lodging at one of the hotels dotting the Red Sea coast, making it a day-trip destination for Egyptians and foreigners alike.
Ain Sokhna is located against a backdrop of soft chocolate-coloured Red Sea Mountains, a series that begins at Suez and extends to the towns of Halayeb and Shalateen in the southern tip of the Red Sea. From Ain Sokhna to Zaafrana, this part of the Red Sea Mountains is called Jebal Attaqa (Attaqa Mountains). I joined a group of hikers who embarked on a trek amidst these beautiful mountains.
Our guide took us to the hiking spot which was 27km after Ain Sokhna toll station. Mady led us through a wide and easy elevation the mountains, and every now and then I would stop to contemplate the contrast between the cinnamon-coloured mountains and azure Red Sea. "This track is mainly used for the maintenance of electricity towers around here," explained Mady. I nodded, but felt the urge to later Photoshop these ugly towers from this picture-perfect setting. Upon reaching the end of the track, on an elevation of almost 500m, there was a very narr ow path for one person at a time with two steep slopes on both sides. We were literally walking on an edge. The rocks were wobbly underneath my feet which was uncomfortable for most of the people, including myself; I tried not to look down. We finished walking on the edge, which was short but nerve-racking.
Then came an extra dose of adrenaline rush: going down a steep slope with a rope. Frankly, it wasn't as bad as it looked; Mady was holding the rope at one end and one of the hikers volunteered to go down sitting then anchored the other end while the others came down. We started going down one by one, holding onto the rope on one side, balancing ourselves on the edge, and then sliding down a rock that took us after a small leap to a plateau top of the mountain. I caught my breath after the excitement and tension, and in preparation for the next stage of the hike.
The view from this part of the mountain was breathtaking; we were enclosed in the heart of the mountain from all sides. Different shades of brown, different rock formations and different altitudes. We looked like small dots on the face of the rocks. The only contrasting colour in this painting was the blue strip of the sea, squeezing its way through this beautiful painting of brown hues.
After every one landed safely on the plateau we took a 15-minute break. I took the time to reflect on how hiking brings out the best in people. It's almost a spirit of chivalry; men taking care of women if they are frightened by the altitude; a friend carrying my bag so I can keep my balance going down the steep slope; a man going all the way up again to help and reassure a girl who suddenly panicked and refused to go down holding the rope; another helping his disabled friend by supporting him physically, and emotionally, during the hike, and not discouraging him from coming on the trip because of his disability.
It is these humane gestures that are perhaps lacking in busy cities where everyone is looking out for themselves, and it is hard to reach out to anyone. Sometimes you have to return to nature to restore your faith in human beings, and once again believe there are still people who are not preoccupied with themselves.
We started moving again. Our next destination was a small valley between the mountains where we will have lunch since this is a short picnic hike. "To go to the valley, we have to take this route back again, which means using the rope to go up," said Mady with a big grin on his face. (But it turned out that going up was easier than going down, and I almost didn't need the rope for balance. Walking on the edge, however, was still unnerving.) The minute the tiny narrow track intersected with a big one we turned right and arrived at the so-called "valley".It wasn't exactly a valley because it is perched high on top of one of the mountains; it was just a spacious plateau-top of a mountain carved in a crescent shape to give a sense of a traveler's oasis. We spread our picnic out, tuna, noodles, fresh fruit and bread, as Mady began heating up water on an easy-to-ignite camping stove. We took turns pouring hot water on our noodles and later made tea.
We sat in a circle, eating, chatting and sharing our food. Most of the hikers were first-timers and we almost all agreed that it was an easy hike. Julien Congretel, an experienced hiker from France who was in Egypt for the first time, said that it was not a physically demanding hike, but for people who suffer from vertigo it would be uncomfortable because we walked on an edge with slopes on both sides. Remi Boutant, also from France, said that this was his first hike and he enjoyed it very much Òê" although climbing the cliffs was harder than he thought.After finishing our meal we took a walk and watched the horizon painted by the sun as it readied to set and bid us farewell. We packed our things, including our trash since responsible tourism mandates 'Take nothing with you; leave nothing behind'. On our way back, we drove 15 minutes to Porto El-Sokhna in the direction of Hurghada where there are several cafes, restaurants and restrooms.
It was a one-day trip and the total hiking distance was 7km.
Al Ahram weekly. 3-9 May 2012