Hiking in El Gouna
Hiking in El Gouna with the El Gouna Mountain Goats – El Gouna is named according to a lagoon. Our province is The Red Sea Governate. Big sports here include diving, snorkelling, boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding and kiteboarding. So what happens if you turn your head 180° from the Red Sea and head the other way? You end up in a vast, silent and beautiful wilderness that is only understood once you enter into it. To some, it’s just the desert. An endless wilderness of dunes, heat and nothingness. But to those who see it that way, I urge you to take on one of Sytze Boomsma’s trips as I did.
If you look in the opposite direction from the beach, you will see some low hills. This, to me personally, feels like a border between us and the vast Sahara. From the hills, you can see the whole of El Gouna and hear the traffic as each vehicle travels its purposeful route between Cairo and Safaga. But there is an invisible line you cross where you suddenly feel completely separated from the modern world. And it is truly beautiful. Romanticised in films, song and pictures of camels crossing the desert, it is also a cruel killer and is not to be taken on lightly at all.
My journey started outside Bestway supermarket where I was picked up by Sytze and his companion Hamada Mansour in a well used Landrover. We picked up some guests along the way who all turned out to be Dutch. Sytze, being of Dutch origin, laughed as he noted how I was outnumbered 11 to 1. Fortunately for me, everybody’s English was outstanding and I was welcomed into the group.
Hiking in El Gouna – Into the desert
Leaving civilization behind us as drove up to Wadi Hamada which is in the Abu Sha’ar Mountains. These hills are named after the general area and I discovered that there are a number of places bearing the name within the name such as the coral reef that fronts El Gouna. It fascinates me that the ground is very flat all the way up to the hills where, without warning, the rocky ground rises 200 meters above sea level. We, therefore, drove until we could drive no more and were abandoned in the desert by our driver until the agreed time of 5:30 when he would pick us up again at the same spot.
At the mouth of Wadi Hamada, we were already flanked by enormous cliffs on both sides and soon the valley quickly narrowed into a very rocky channel filled with boulders. There is no doubt as to the amount of water that flows down these valleys. Although completely dry, it makes up for lost time when it floods and the water rearranges everything in its path. Sytze told me about a researcher named Ahmed Hadidi who was looking to find a way to capture the water that flows down these wadis in flood. The idea was to provide Gouna with more water. But because evaporation rates are so enormous in the desert, this goal could only be achieved by creating subterranean reservoirs – a very, very expensive undertaking indeed. Ask Sytze to tell you Ahmed’s full story. It is worth listening too.
Without a doubt, the most fascinating aspect of the entire experience was the multitude of fossilised sea life embedded in the rocks. Mostly remnants of coral, there were traces of tube worm trails and we picked up a fossilised shell. This shell had all the makeup of a stone, but the hinge was clear as well as the mouth. Sytze explained how this area was all under water during the Miocene era, some 23 – 5 million years ago. There is no shortage of fossilised remains on this reef plateau. The loose rocks don’t carry much, but the larger, immovable boulders carry shell imprints and coral shapes in plenty.
At the early stages of the hike, there were plenty of boulders to climb and little gaps to climb through. This kept it fun for little Tom, a 7-year-old boy who made the most of every climbable obstacle. But, fortunately, there was usually more than one route to take. Sytze knows the difficulty of each one and was quick to judge the skill and strength of each hiker and point them in the right direction. Sytze, although young in years, reminded me of a wise old man of the desert. He knows the routes backwards, can identify just about everything and has a spiritual connection with the desert. He certainly loves it and this, in turn, adds to everybody’s enjoyment.
Still in the valley, we rounded one of the hills where the riverbed opened up into an extremely wide, sandy plain where you feel you could just carry on walking forever. But we turned left, up the rocky hillside on a fairly steep climb to the top. From here, the world opens up into a 360° vista that is breathtaking. The vast valley below, the jagged peaks in the far west and rolling hills on either side are simply marvellous.
We continued east toward the coast where we were rewarded with a complete view of El Gouna, the coast to the north and the south – all the way to Hurghada. Turning around, we watched the sun disappear behind the mountains in a flurry of purples, oranges, blues and yellows. As soon as the sun was hidden from us, Sytze had us on our feet for the descent. I soon realised why the haste was needed. The closer you are to the equator, the shorter the twilight. Coupled with this, we headed down an east facing slope which was already in shadow. Our last steps down were in complete darkness which, although unexpected, was a delight to us adventurers.
We arrived at that place where the hills meet the flat sand, happy to be on even ground and fulfilled by the satisfaction of a completed challenge. Our final reward though was arriving at a small reed shack where we had a taste of a true Bedouin evening. It was without bellydancers or music and was simply coffee and tea around a small fire in the quiet of a desert night and a sky full of stars. As if this was not enough, the moon rose is full blood-orange in the east. Like a ball of lava it gave us the cherry on top of a perfect day out.
To experience this first hand, contact Sytze at the Mountain Goats WhatsApp number: +201012618910
Hiking In El Gouna