Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Colors of the Redbow

[Basata Eco Lodge, Sinai Peninsula]

You’re on another early bus ride, this one headed not to the desert, but to the sea. It’s an hour blur and you are asleep for a lot of it, drugged, almost, and the boy sitting in front of you has to shake you awake each time someone comes by to check a ticket or passport. You respond to all questions with ‘Basata’ and a display of your ticket. But one policeman wants to know everyone’s nationalities – whether the bus is sufficiently foreign and if there are any Israelis on board. “Israeli?” it sounds like he’s barking, and your ticket doesn’t answer his question. Quickly flourishing your American passport, you soften his gaze, he approves with a “mesh” and moves on to the next passenger.

The British-Egyptian girl you noticed at the bus station in Cairo strikes up a conversation. She came to Cairo for a graphic design job but quit when she was told she had to forge signatures. Unemployed and broke, she’s figuring out what to do next. Turns out she’s a wild London girl with a penchant for punching people who irritate her. Her track record includes kicking an unrelenting drunk at her local pub in Londong – “I told him not to touch me, innit?!”– and smashing a beer glass in his face. “I just switch, you know, I can’t control myself!” she explains with an ease and confidence you envy. It’s clear she hangs tough.

The incessant wail of prayers over the bus speakers filters in and out of your dreams. Eventually the prolonged drone – you once considered it musical and relaxing, but now it’s become a nuisance – is replaced by a deafening television. You are treated to an Egyptian movie but its slapstick comedy, dangerously similar to that of an Indian movie, doesn’t captivate you like the scenery outside your window: jagged mountains and glimpses of the Red Sea are far more enticing.

You arrive at and continue from Taba , with signs for Nuweiba indicating you’re not far from your destination. Several campsites invite you to their bit of beach, from Diana Beach to Read Sea Star. Signs greet you , “Wel Come” and are painted on colorful boards and on mountain sides.

The bus stops at the ‘Basata’ sign and it takes you 5 minutes to walk from the main road to the center of this eco lodge. You are upgraded in the lodges’ books from ‘Mrs. Bus’ to ‘Aditi’ since the Bedouin who answered your call the night before speaks no English, German or Arabic, booked you as such.

Your hut is beautiful and 20 paces from the Red Sea. As the sun sets behind the mountains on the other side of the main road the sea gets ready for cocktail hour. Her tide becomes noisier and she puts on a new outfit showcasing the many blues in her Red. Couples, families with young children and older solo travelers – almost all German – relax along the beach and on the couches near the kitchen.

With the perfect timing one lucks upon with spontaneity and an empathetic Mother Nature, you set off for a walk along the beach as far as the red rocks scattered further north in time for a display of color and breeze. You know this is north because the sun has dipped below the mountains on the other side of the main road, streaking the sky orange, then pink. You spot crabs vanishing into frantically built holes – each one amidst impressive piles of hastily kicked up sand, although that could be the norm for 8-legged creatures – while the Basata cats peer intently into them. Hide-and-seek turned lethal.

You end your walk in Basata’s library and settle down with September’s New Yorker. Some pages have been curiously cut up – a school project, a cryptic ransom note? – but the Fiction piece is intact, which is all you really care about. You read under light bulbs that rest in twine baskets.

Dinner at last. You are seated 12 to a table: little Yusuf, his baby brother and his Moroccan and Kuwaiti parents; Swiss Leila who is doing a year of social work in Basata; her Egyptian colleague; the beautiful and soft-spoken Lebanese couple; a quiet German man; a German teacher on sabbatical and you. Quite the UN gathering. Food is copious and flavorful, fresh, hot and healthy. You wish you had a larger stomach to do it more justice. Rice, eggplant, zucchini, potato salad, a cole-slaw-like concoction, mozzarella sticks and fresh vegetables. You eat and learn about your table’s travel plans and backgrounds. For a while you forget you are traveling alone.

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