Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to Egypt in June. Want to explore Egypt with me? Nab one of the last two spots on either my Red Sea Dive + Yoga Retreat or my Mainland Egypt Yoga + Ancient Adventure Retreat! Both rescheduled to new dates in 2021!
I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. I am writing often about our current global crisis — the impact it’s having on me personally, on the world of travel, and on the world at large — regularly on my social media channels, covering topics like wellness-focused practices, and giving away generously to charities helping those in need.
However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection.
When I spent three magical weeks in Egypt in 2018, I left knowing this would undoubtedly be the site of my next Wander Women Retreats. When we launched an epic Red Sea Dive + Yoga Retreat for September 2019 we sold out so quickly we added a second set of dates.
This trip was about shoring up the details for those retreats, a research jaunt I had planned for the previous year but had to cancel in light of my mom’s cancer treatments. Finally, I seized the opportunity to reschedule, and spent the week between Dahab and Cairo, planting the seeds for what I hoped would become a signature annual retreat to the Red Sea.
However I also did something even more magical — I remembered deep down in my bones what an awe-inspiring and truly special destination this is, and I just felt beside myself with gratitude that I’d soon have the privilege of showing it to not one but two groups of badass women. (And now, pinch me, we’re preparing for a third.)
There’s something ethereal here, in the blue waters of Dahab, and those ancient sites of Cairo. I feel it when I’m floating in the sea, I feel it when I’m standing in the shadows of the pyramids. Egypt always called to me. And now that I’ve been, I know why. It’s magnetic.
I can’t tell you how good it felt to walk over the border from Israel back into Egypt.
I’d booked myself five nights at Alf Leila, a small guesthouse near the dive shop I needed to coordinate with and lots of the restaurants I needed to research. While it was overflowing with character, it was eerily empty, a reminder that Egypt has struggled with tourism, on which so much of the local economy depends, and also that it can be an intimidating place for even women with significant travel experience traveling alone.
Both were exciting validations of the love and energy I was pouring into this epic retreat ahead.
I’d taken quite a leap — never before had I launched and sold a retreat for which I had so few details confirmed. And then um, sold that trip out and added a second. It wasn’t the way I preferred to do things, but schedule-wise, it was the only way I could move forward with my retreat goals and not spend another year with my business on-hold while I juggled my work and my mom’s care. I had to put a little trust in the universe.
And so I breathed an enormous sigh of relief when I finally laid eyes upon our accommodation for the first time in person, and it could not have been more perfect.
I excitedly ate my way through a list I’d compiled of restaurants I planned to use for the retreat, focusing as always on those with sustainable business models, healthy menu offerings, delicious takes on local cuisine, and that “wow” factor that makes a meal truly memorable.
Lucky for me, Dahab is packed with them!
I was also thrilled to finalize the details of our yoga program. The roof of our villas was perfect for the majority of our classes — surrounded by mountains and sea, and with a two second commute from bed.
However, I always do like to show off local studios, when we can. I’m a big fan of the work and spaces at Nour Wellness Center, and met with them about offering an aerial yoga class on their rooftop during the retreat. While aerial yoga is becoming popular all over the world, in many places the studios are small and there’s just a handful of swings per class. For our retreat, the solution we eventually planned was to hold two classes at Nour — with half the girls taking aerial yoga on the roof while the other half would shimmy through a bellydancing workshop with a professional dancer from Cairo who retired in Sinai.
It was here, talking to the director at Nour, that I realized one of the biggest challenges I had ahead: getting fourteen yoga mats to Egypt! Imports are a nightmare, and Sinai doesn’t exactly have a big box sporting goods store to default to.
And finally, one of the best parts of my week of retreat recon: getting to dive at Gabr El Bint for the first time!
I knew from my own research and from the advice of my Red Sea partners that a day onboard diving here was essential to the Dahab dive experience, but I like to have firsthand knowledge of all our major activities so I can tweak things as needed and best advise my guests on their upcoming trip of a lifetime (or just, you know, letting them know what’s likely to be for lunch, ha — which in this case is one of the best Egyptian buffets I’ve ever had.)
Those of you have read my previous Dahab dive coverage know that this is a destination best known for its incredible shore diving opportunities. But, Gabr El Bint is an exception. (Well technically, you can also reach Thistlegorm and Tiran from Dahab, but I’d prefer to do those by liveaboard from Sharm; and Ras Abu Galum, though I prefer to do that via camel.)
After a beautiful hour and a half boat ride along some of the most stunning scenery I’ve encountered in this world, the boat docked up for diving. Gabr El Bint offers two gorgeous wall dives: one to the right, and one to the left.
The dive to the right, facing the shore, is my favorite. The colorful forest of coral we encountered included one of the largest gorgonian fan corals I’ve ever seen. Crossing over the saddle into the shallows on the way back, we found rays, butterfly fish, flounders, and all sorts of beautiful soft corals that are quite rare for this region.
The dive to the left, facing the shore, is a dramatic dive with wild topography — overhangs, ravines, and underwater mountain-like structures.
It was the perfect note to wrap my time in Dahab on. With my notebook and my head overflowing with everything I needed to make our Wander Women Red Sea Retreat the trip of a lifetime, I was off to do the same with our Cairo extension (which for 2020 extended into a full Wander Women Egypt Retreat!)
I had just two nights in Cairo, so I checked straight into the extension hotel I’d chosen, the Le Meridien Pyramids I’d planned to meet with my retreat guides, learn the hotel inside and out, run around and do some restaurant research, and go to an offbeat museum I had aspirations of putting on the itinerary.
Well, funny story. I found myself not only straight up exhausted, but also suffering from a minor stomach bug I picked up in Dahab (ah, Egypt.) So I had little choice but to stick to the confines of my hotel, scrapping the latter two items on the list. But I’d be back. In the meantime I took advantage of the hotel’s dope gym (a rarity in the Middle East), amazing spa, payday views, and perfectly-equiped-for-meetings lobby.
I left Cairo more eager than ever to return with my two fantastic upcoming retreat groups.
The journey back home was a long one, full of reflection. I found myself experiencing such a complex mix of emotions after taking what was my longest trip in over a year.
I went to the British Isles to spend time with my Koh Tao family, the people I spent the last decade of my life sharing a little rock in Thailand with. The Spice Girls in Manchester, a weekend in Dublin with the crew, meeting friends’ new babies in Liverpool, a weekend at a country home in Wales, and finally a beautiful wedding in Ireland. I have not spent so much time with friends in over a year and wow, did I realize how much my soul was hungry for that.
Next, I arrived in Israel with full intentions to enjoy Pride and the beach, but otherwise use the time to get uninterrupted work done. Ha! Tel Aviv had other plans for me. I ran ALL over the city planting seeds for our future retreat in Israel and making connections for it, but aside from that, I took this time to blow off some steam and party like the Israelis do (which in case you didn’t know is very hard.)
Finally, I arrived in Egypt and spent a glorious week by myself, writing and prepping for our September retreats. I spent this chapter with the person who’s company I love the most: myself.
The year had been simultaneously very lonely and also involved little to no time to myself. I spent a lot of time in Egypt tearing up at the beach, just remembering how happy it makes me to be out alone in the world in an exotic place, working on a passion project, hearing my own voice in my head, answering to no one and getting lost, both physically and in my thoughts.
Travel has always been my why. This trip reminded me to keep asking.
Is Egypt on your bucket list yet?