By Sabina Lohr
While visiting Egypt’s Sinai region, it was hard for me to believe there was unrest anywhere in the country. Small, quiet towns dot the coastline of the Gulf of Aqaba which runs all the way south to the Red Sea. I stopped in the southern Sinai town of Nuweiba, population 20,000, where I found a simple way of life playing out in a laid-back community with camels and goats lazily wandering about. But behind this relaxed atmosphere lies a passionate movement to preserve the environment and culture of the region.
Take Maged El Said and Sherif El Ghamrawy, owners of two environment friendly accommodations. A look into their eco-properties and green projects showed me that while Egyptians might be experiencing a dip in tourism, they are emerging strong in the area of sustainability. “Egypt is doing more than struggling post-revolution,” Maged says. “It is progressing.”
Three years ago Maged started an organic farm next to his Habiba Village, a small, colorful cluster of hotel rooms and huts on the water in the Wasit district of Nuweiba. On his farm, 120 olive trees grow alongside pomegranate, lemon, figs, basil, okra and zucchini. He operates his farm as did his ancestors, using skill and care, with no modern-day pesticides or hormones. Seeing his success and listening to his teachings, many other Nuweibans have followed in Maged’s footsteps, now nurturing their own permaculture farms.
Maintaining the region’s native lifestyle is the motivation behind another of Maged’s ventures– a camel riding school where guests learn from Bedouin instructors how to care for, feed and load goods on top of camels in addition to learning how to ride. In the south Sinai “We have nothing but camels and nature,” Maged says half jokingly, “so [the idea] came to me.” Guests can choose to take a 3-day course to earn a camel-riding license or go on a 3- to 10-day advanced camel trek across the Sinai desert.
Fellow Sinai environmental pioneer Sherif El Ghamrawy disallows diving in the waters in front of his Basata eco-lodge to protect the coral reef. Arabic for “simplicity,” Basata is comfortable group of small houses, huts and tents where the emphasis is on self-sufficiency, trust and tourism as it existed in days of yore when traveling inevitably meant immersion into local culture. Emphasis at his eco-lodge is on sustainability and authenticity. Sherif worked hard to use only local and natural materials in constructing his lodge, which was built to optimize wind patterns for cooling purposes. Guests will find organic and biodegradable materials throughout the lodge. Salt water is used for washing while an on-premises desalinization machine takes care of water needs.
Preserving local culture is equally important to Sherif. The lodge’s Islamic architecture and an on-site mosque are constant reminders of the country’s culture. The human race has become ignorant of and unfair to the environment and culture, Sherif says, and so at Basata he strives to bring visitors back in touch with these fundamentals of life.
While seismic political shifts may be deterring visitors to the country, Egyptians are investing in the care and concern for their environment, helping them move purposefully toward a sustainable future.
Go: Sinai is a mountainous, sparsely populated pennisula bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the north and the Red Sea on the south.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Getting There: From outside or within Egypt fly into Sharm el Sheikh International Airport; from Jordan take a ferry from Aqaba to Taba, Egypt; or from within Egypt take a bus or private transport to any point in the Sinai.
Read more from Sabina Lohr at Traveling the Middle East.
View Photos: Egypt After the Uprising from the September issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.