It was remarkably cold in the desert at night. Everybody had warned us, but having come from a frozen London, we thought: how cold can it get in Egypt? Very cold, it turns out.
We lay in a row under our camel-hair shelter, watching the dying embers of our campfire and the sky full of stars. We were tucked into the edge of an enormous rock in the middle of the Sinai, at Matamir. Around us the desert stretched away in ancient formation – nothing but sand and rock for miles. It was absolutely silent. There was almost no vegetation – just the occasional scrubby bush – very few insects, and just one type of bird, a hardy and chirpy white-tailed wheatear.
We’d spent the day exploring the desert as part of The Adventure Company’s new Desert & Reef family adventure. Our four boys, aged between 5 and 12, raced up and down the White Canyon, developed a real taste for Bedouin tea at the Bedouin oasis camp, and shrieked with delight as the Jeep lurched up and down vertiginous sandy hills.
We’d chosen a special Young Photographer departure, and as they charged about, the boys took photos of each other jumping off rocks, lay on the sand fussing with ISO numbers as Muhammad, our lovely guide, posed by a solitary fragile plant, and took close-ups of the local Bedouin we met. Accompanying us into the Sinai was Graeme Fordham, a professional photographer from Dahab, teaching us to take better photos.
We’d spent our first day by the Southern Oasis with Graeme and JP, an underwater photographer, who patiently explaining about aperture size and composition and how colours change underwater. We snorkelled with an array of borrowed underwater cameras and tried our hand at capturing pictures of some of the gorgeous little fish swimming within metres of the shore. The water of the Red Sea is unbelievably clear, making it a wonderful place for children to snorkel.
We had plenty of chances to examine the fish. Although the water was cold in February, we borrowed wetsuits from the Coral Coast Hotel and plunged bravely in. Our free day was spent doing an introductory dive. The older boys went straight out into the sea; their dive instructor hovered overhead, helping them with their ears and their buoyancy as they bobbed about, excitedly blowing bubbles over the puffer fish or the fluttering displays of butterfly fish. When we weren’t in the water, we were on camels or galloping along the beach on sprightly Arabic ponies, the 8-year-old clinging to the pommel, an enormous smile plastered on his face.
We covered an enormous amount in our eight days in Dahab. When we weren’t exploring, swimming, riding or sand-boarding, we explored Dahab town. The troubles in the rest of Egypt seem to have hardly touched the Sinai. Local people talked of a ‘power vacuum’ but also of excitement for the future; the thrill they still feel about ousting Mubarak. I talked to the owner of the Coral Coast Hotel, a local Bedouin who has just been elected to parliament. He felt that things were going to improve for the Bedouin; he is planning to bring issues of land rights and permits to the government – issues that could not be discussed under Mubarak’s regime.
Our last night was spent having a meal with a Bedouin family, sitting in their garden eating little fried fish and drinking the ubiquitous Bedouin tea. Graeme and JP set up a screen in the garden to show off our photos. They’d selected pictures from all of us and showed us why each picture worked – the composition, the action captured. From these photos they selected a grand winner – our 10-year-old’s picture of Dinosaur Rock – and presented him with the winner’s cup.
It is sometimes difficult to pick a holiday to suit different age groups, but we found that having a photographer along meant that the older boys had something extra to absorb them. They really enjoyed it, as did the adults, and I think we’ve all became much better photographers as a result – as well as having just an amazing holiday overall.
See also our feature on a Feluccas & Pharaohs family holiday by The Adventure Company.