Ain Khodra Oasis and the Coloured Canyons

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Friday, March 3, 2006

After Blue Hole adventures yesterday I was pretty keen to get down to Ras Mohammed and the wreck on the southern tip of Sinai, but Penguin Dive told me there wouldn't be a trip leaving until late on the 4th, which meant I had some time to kill. Boo.

Being a restless type I was concerned. Anxious to start Jordanian adventures and tiring of excess loafing around Dahab, something needed to be done.

"New adventures man!" I exclaimed to reception whilst gesticulating wildly, so they packed me in a 4WD the next morning to see the canyons. I'd planned to do it anyway out of Nuweiba, so why not save a day and do it now?

Off we headed down the road to St Katherine's (see previous entry), eight of us and guide 'Bob' - a young local who's been doing this tour for three years. Nationalities represented included Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and little ol' Australia, so very multicultural indeed. Guns and ammo passed at checkpoints but no passports required, off the road we finally ventured and into Sinai unknown. Nice one bruv'!

First stop was the White Canyon. Formed by primordial earthquake and subsequent flash-floodings, it was an adventure to get into and a pleasant walk once on the sandy canyon floor. Limestone, sandstone and later granite rock formations feature along its length which takes an hour or so to walk.

The limestone makes it easy for morons to inscribe their names into the walls, which often reach heights of up to 50 metres, but I suppose the wind and water will eventually taketh away what has been given after the time of humans has passed. Maybe Moses walked up here at one time (and etched his name into the wall too), but the spectacular results of this particular erosion process have definitely been around for a lot longer than that.

After a while you end up at the top of a five metre cliff, so have to climb out onto a plateau and then back down into a wider part of the canyon to circumvent it. Ain Khodra oasis beckons in the distance and the contrasting mixture of granite and sandstone formations make for a pretty landscape as you head there.

Growing out of what's more obviously a dry riverbed, sad-looking shrubs start to appear. It might rain once a year in these parts - around the end of October - dumping a huge amount of water on the parched countryside that eventually flows through the canyons at a height of around two metres. This single source of water maintains plants and all forms of desert critters through to the next downpour. Everything clings onto life here, so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the poor beleaguered shrubbery.

Ain Khodra is almost the oasis of my dreams (finally). Small and surrounded by sand, with only a few semi-permanent structures, it's a palm lover's heaven. Bedouin have moved in to service the tourists but it still retains most of its dignity despite the litter and a failed and decaying attempt at piping to irrigate a small date orchard. However my presence, along with others, contributes to this degradation so I can't complain...

After lunch with the local cat population we loaded up in the 4WD again and headed down a broad wady (valley) until reaching an unusual sandstone structure called The Mushroom. Am sure I've seen something like it elsewhere in these travels but my photographic memory fails me. Must have run out of film. Anyway, milennia of water and wind have formed bizarre pockmarked tendrils that overhang the smoothed, yellow rock precariously balanced below. Glare beams off it light a spotlight so we retreated to the cabin for a bumpy two hour ride entirely off-road to the Coloured Canyon.

This place is pretty grand, although probably not on the same scale as the Grand Canyon in the USA (haven't seen it yet). Various minerals have permeated the rock and left their impressions in mysterious ways, and small green bushes grow from cracks in the stone that punctuate the walls at regular intervals.

Reds, yellows, browns and the occasional blue. You can really see the impact of the wind in this canyon - the upper walls are worn smoothly rounded and the course resembles a slithering snake where wind and water has bounced off the walls on its inevitable path downwards. I don't think I'd want to be here after a big rain, but it must be a magnificent sight to watch!

This trip wasn't as good as the Mt Sinai expedition but if you have time then is worth bumping through the wilds to see.

Next entry -> I've just found out that they can't tell me when the next Ras Mohammed/Thistlegorm expedition will definitely be and my camera is still busted for proper underwater use, so I'm going to leave it until next time and move onwards to Jordan. A shame - so close and so far - but plenty more to see before reaching Turkey by April...

Technotrekker Travel Technologies - Dictionary Software

Probably the handiest app I downloaded before heading off was this great little dictionary called Wordweb by Antony Lewis (the database is by Princeton University). Nothing came close in terms of ease of use and broadness of language.

I haven't found a word not included in it yet (except ones of my own invention ;-) and it provides every contextual definition you could imagine for the words you look up. Surfable synonyms come standard and you can select/copy/paste definitions if needs be.

A small download (less than 1Mb I think) and free for personal use too.

Brilliant! Get it if you like words (preferably English ones)...
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