Stowaway on the Red Sea

Hurgurdah to the Sinai –

We woke up at 6:30 a.m., packed our stuff and made a very silent exit from our hotel before the manager could tell us the ferry was full again. We got a minivan to the port and arrived at the boat just as the last of the travelers were getting off. We tried to get on the boat but were stopped by a crew member who asked to see our ticket. I lied and told him we’d been told to buy tickets out here and he said it wasn’t possible – we needed to go back to town. I then asked if there was anything he could do to help us get tickets for the ferry that morning. He said he could help us out, but it would cost us E£80 (E£10 more than the cost of a regular ferry ticket). We agreed for we weren’t about to stay in Hurgurdah any longer, so we paid the crewman to stow us away in the belly of the boat. At that he led us through the empty boat to a door at the back above the engine. We climbed down this set of narrow steep stairs and followed the guy the three steps down the short hallway. He opened a door into one of (what appeared to be) one of the crew’s rooms. The room was minuscule, maybe eight feet long and six feet wide. There was a bed along one wall, completely covered in old clothing, and a small shelf along the shorter wall, completely covered in crap. One dingy circular ship window lit up the room, making it that much more depressing with the sunlight filtered through the unwashed window.

The crew member told us we’d have to stay in this room with our stuff until the boat made it’s departure (two hours later) then he would come down and get us, allowing us to sit up on deck during the actual crossing. He headed upstairs and we entered the dingy little room. The first thing that hit me as I entered was the strong mildew stench, and after tossing our stuff on the bed I picked up a newspaper off the shelf and it was covered in green mildew. Great – and we had to stay down here for two hours? Hell, who was I to complain, I was stowing away on a boat. Sarah and I sat on the bed while Rich stood next to the shelf; we were totally crowded in there – I don’t think there was enough room for all of us to sit on the bed at the same time. We decided to have breakfast, so Sarah opened up our bread and jam and put it on a newspaper on the bed. As we were eating breakfast Sarah looked over my shoulder onto the wall and spotted a cockroach climbing up the doorjamb just over my head. I turned around and killed it, then I noticed one walking across all the old clothes on the bed, not too far from our breakfast. We got that one onto the floor and quickly finished eating our breakfast, as not to attract any more creatures. After eating we noticed cockroaches all over the place; every half hour or so we’d knock away one that had ventured too close to us. We sat there for a while when Sarah and I decided it might be nice to have a cigarette to kill some time. We lit up and all of a sudden the walls seemed to close in on us; it got really claustrophobic and almost unbearable from the second hand smoke. We put out our ciggies and tried to open the circular window. No dice – the thing was sealed shut. The temperature outside was rising, and as the window was facing east the sunlight was beginning to come in, rising the temperature of our cell. We looked around the room and noticed a hole in the ceiling which looked like it might be a fan of some sort. I turned this switch and with a large metallic groan the fan slowly started to spin, drawing away some of the smoke in the room. It was getting hotter and hotter by the minute and we still had another hour to kill down there. I took a short walk across the hall (one step) to the opposite room, which looked like no human had been in there for about a year. There was a mildewed mattress balanced on some wood structure and there were cobwebs floor to ceiling. It was a little cooler in her, and we weren’t as smashed into the other room so I sat in there for a spell, eventually lighting up another cigarette because there was an entire room of air I could pollute without bothering anyone. I amused myself by burning the strands of cobwebs with my lit cigarette before heading back into our claustrophobic cell.

The boat’s engines finally started up and we pulled away from the dock (a half hour late). About fifteen minutes later the crew member came down and told us to leave our bags down here and go up onto the deck – he’d get our bags to us before we got off the boat. We climbed out of our dungeon into the sunlight and up onto the outdoor deck just in time to see mainland Egypt pulling away. We were so relieved to be out of that room, and now we were around other tourists. But, we’d done it – we’d actually gotten on the boat and foiled the plans of the Hurgurdah locals. We all laid out on the deck and read our books all day. Our crossing to the city of Sham-el-Shek took a little over six hours which was rather uneventful, but long towards the end. As we were nearing port the crew member who’d stowed us away went downstairs and passed us up our bags by lifting them above his head over the boats engine up the back of the boat to one of the three of us leaning over the edge trying to get a grip on the packs. I could just see one of our bags going toppling into the Red Sea if one of us let our grip slip. Once the bags were up on deck with us the Egyptian came up and told us he’d have to register us with the police upon arrival and asked us each for E£5 more. We’d already paid this guy enough so we told him we’d take care of it ourselves. He persisted and we finally got rid of him by telling him we’d give it to him when we got off the boat.

After he harassed us he went over to this other Western guy and I saw the guyhand him a E£5 note – evidently he’d also been stowed away somewhere else (God knows where). We disembarked at Sham-el-Shek and made sure to lose ourselves in the throngs of tourists exiting the boat, as not to be found my Mr. crew man who wanted more money from us. We ran out and jumped in the first available cab heading up the coast to the Bedouin village of Dahab. As we were sitting in the cab waiting to leave I could see the dude looking all around the port for us, but before he could spot us our driver fired up the engine and sped off into the Sinai desert.

Our cab driver was a total lunatic, seriously mentally deranged, and spoke like three words of English. As we were speeding along Rich noticed the guy had a couple of problems slowing the vehicle down. Rich leaned over to me and said “Brad, I don’t think this guy has any brakes.” Great – now I was going to be even more nervous than I already was for the remainder of the journey. I told Rich later that that belonged on the Things You Don’t Want to Know List, but that you’re only supposed to tell the other person about it after the fact, not during. We made it in one piece to the Bedouin village of Dahab a few hours later and checked into the Muhommed Aly camp, our most basic room yet. For E£4 per person a night our room had a window that opened out on to the beach behind, three mattresses on the floor, four walls and a door. No electricity – that was an extra £1 a night so we gave it a pass.

We got changed out of our grungy traveling clothes then went for a stroll through the village we’d be staying in. The first thing that struck me was that the street was lined with candles, and every restaurant was serving dinner by candlelight, giving the whole village a surreal, staged feeling; but it was real. The small cove the village sits on is covered by palm trees giving it that lush oasis feeling amid all the desert wasteland surrounding it. The palms lead down to the beach and each restaurant has seating under the palms. There aren’t any chairs, only mats and pillows on the ground, and they’ve constructed a long wall around each small table, each wall covered in padding and blankets for people to lean on while eating or relaxing. [A small table with a candle completed the scene.]

The buildings are all open fronts (no doors) and a few of them have palm trees growing up put of the tops of the buildings. Rich, Sarah and I vegged at this restaurant and had a nice dinner after a very long day of traveling. Once dinner was finished we walked a little then Rich headed off back to the room to go to sleep. Sarah and I went to one of the beach cafes and split some sheesha, to relax us, before heading to bed.

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