Sheikhs and Freaks
The Rise and Fall and Exile and Triumphant Possible Return of Rod of Massachusetts to the Battle-Torn Bedouin Kingdom of Dahab
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BEFORE WE GET TO THE PART about my going nine days without shoes, or the part about Swami Rishimurti Saraswati, the Deep Diving Aquaman of the Blue Hole, or the Egyptian National Wrestling Team and the Five Bedouin Brothers of Dahab, or even to the part about Tintin and the High Noon Hotel Invasion (Part II), I have to tell you that this is only a real estate story.
In the end, the whole thing comes down to ten buildings in the Egyptian desert. Ten whitewashed, two-story buildings in a small boomtown called Dahab, on the South Sinai coast, far from everything except greed. To the east of these buildings—otherwise known as Club Red—palm trees frame a thatched restaurant inhabited by lounging fauxhemian backpackers, and Red Sea waves lap a pebble beach. To the west, visible from the hotel’s second-floor balconies, stretch the dry, tawny hills where Moses collected Commandments and communed with burning bushes.
Congratulations. You are now standing on the fault line between two continents and cultures, where desert and sea, First and Third Worlds, and ancient wanderers and modern seekers meet, with imperfect results. It’s a place where there is never a very compelling reason to leave, nor one to stay. Like many before you, you might become convinced that this odd fringe of the world—with its scorching daylight and soft black nights, its Bedouin and bikinis, its mountains above and hammerhead sharks below—is your own small heaven. Like the scuba divers and the hippies and the Euroslackers crowding into the three-dollar-a-night bungalow camps, you may just decide to stay for a while, or for as long as you can afford to, whichever comes first.
But the longer you stay, the longer you will straddle a rift broader than the simple space between Africa and Asia. A young dreamer of paradise named Rod Rotondi—Deep Diving Aquaman of the Blue Hole, proprietor of Club Red—thought he could stand across that divide, and for eight years he did. And then one day in January, Rod and his staff and his dreams were chased into the desert at the sharp end of a broken bottle.
THAT SHATTERED GLASSWARE, along with feet, fists, and boards, were wielded by local Bedouin, members of the powerful Mezzeineh clan that has dominated the South Sinai coast for centuries. They used to be nomads, shepherds, cultivators of the desert; some Bedouin still are, but others have settled in towns and are now nomads with cell phones, shepherding herds of pickups and Mercedes-Benzes and cultivating real estate empires. There are two things they despise: broken promises, and outsiders who try to control their land.
In 1967, during the Six-Day War, the Israeli Army took the Sinai peninsula, and in the years that followed, a puny Bedouin village called Dahab became something of a Middle Eastern Goa, a Red Sea Kathmandu, a tiny hippie hangout known for the easy availability of cheap oasis-grown marijuana and not much else. Israeli kibbutzniks and Scandinavian drifters loitered in Dahab because no one else would. The beach was flinty; there was no pavement, no electricity, no scuba divers with credit cards. Egypt regained the territory in 1982 after the 1979 Camp David accords and, to consolidate its hold on the region, settled many nomadic Bedouin onto land claims and encouraged a Sinai-wide boom in big hotels.
In 1988, Rod Rotondi stumbled onto this Eden, ripping into town on an Africa Twin motorcycle with UN plates. Twenty-seven years old, Rotondi had a freshly minted masters in diplomacy from Tufts and was working in the occupied West Bank, running development projects for Palestinians right in the middle of the Intifadah uprising. Dahab’s decadent vibe put a new twist on the idea of getting stoned.
At first Rotondi just went diving and then left, but by the early 1990s he was hooked. He had a little family money—his maternal grandfather was John A. Volpe, a construction magnate and three-term governor of Massachusetts—and so he quit his UN job to invest his cash and future in Dahab. He established residency and opened a scuba shop, and then later another scuba shop, and after that a third scuba shop. The last of these ventures was located in one of the aforementioned whitewashed buildings near the shores of the Red Sea. Rotondi leased the building and grounds from five Bedouin brothers, the Hameids, whose father had bought land in Dahab during the 1970s rush. A powerful family with jewelry stores and real estate holdings centered in the town of El Tûr, on the western Sinai coast, the Hameids were also Rotondi’s partners, and in the beginning it all went well enough. Rotondi called the place Club Red, a play on the name of the famously hedonistic resort chain Club Med, but also on the location and (perhaps) on the eye color of Dahab’s herb-happy denizens. Like other scuba outfits in town, Club Red’s first floor was crowded with air tanks and wetsuits and dive maps; the second floor had 12 hotel rooms. Rotondi made money lodging people upstairs, outfitting them downstairs, and guiding them around the fantastic dive sites being discovered every month. Underwater arches, eel gardens, reef walls, sharks, octopi—everything a diver could want, especially deep water close inshore. Dahab was, for divers, about that deep blue. Rotondi himself once scuba dived as deep as 430 feet—a “crazy and stupid” move, he says now.
“In the early days,” he recalls, “we definitely smoked way too much dope, drove fast motorcycles, dove too deep, and partied too hard.” Since then Rotondi, now 39, has replaced drugs and motorcycles with veganism and meditation, and has become serious enough about yoga to pick up an extra moniker—Swami Rishimurti Saraswati. And in the intervening years, he expanded Club Red. But he still looks back with nostalgia on that earlier Dahab. “It was idyllic,” he says. “Now it’s different.”
The town has indeed lost some of its rough edge, getting (some) pavement and (some) water and (overflowing) sewers; in recent years, the police have cracked down on (open) dope-smoking. The Goa days are largely gone, but the reputation lingers, and clusters of cruise-ship tourists periodically appear on Dahab’s main street to videotape the increasingly rare dreadlocked freaks. Rotondi complains, perhaps ungratefully, about the anesthetized lifestyle of kids who come here only to avoid being anywhere at all, and laments, perhaps romantically, the despoilation of the traditional culture that flourished in the desert for thousands of years.
Ten years ago, he recalls, the Bedouin used to be “so Zen, mellow, friendly, great.” Now, he says, it’s all about money. “The Bedouin kids in Dahab grow up on the beach, selling bracelets. They speak English by four and German by five.”
Maybe Dahab was perfect, once, but I doubt it. Westerners are always projecting Shangri-la onto some spot on this earth, papering over the cracks with money and optimism and an infatuation with the exotic, and then later recoiling from the changes their presence has wrought. I noticed that the only two books in evidence in Dahab—sticking out of battered backpacks or lying facedown on the cushions of Turkish restaurants—were the PADI dive manual and Alex Garland’s novel The Beach, both of which describe the many ways you can get in trouble while escaping solid ground.
ROTONDI’S OWN TROUBLES came to a head on January 23. At “high noon,” according to him, a group of 40 to 50 Mezzeineh carrying sticks and wearing traditional head scarves and ankle-length jalabiyyas, led by the Hameid brothers in two pickup trucks, stormed the resort and tossed Rotondi, his Egyptian partner, Walid Abu El Kir, and the small Club Red staff out of the main offices. Two of the staff were hospitalized after being cut in the face with broken bottles, Rotondi himself was punched, and Walid was tackled and beaten with a board—and according to one guest present at the time, local police stood by idly. Rotondi retreated to the original Club Red building as about two dozen panicked guests scattered from the restaurant. A few holdouts moved to rooms above the scuba shop, where Rotondi continued to try to make a stand, but the next day, after failing to rouse the police, Rotondi fled, landing 50 miles down the coast, on the Sinai’s far southern tip, in the heat and noise of the Miami Beach–like town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The hotel invasion was the final conflagration in a dispute that had been smoldering for some time, and had already turned violent. Short on payments from travel agencies, Rotondi had asked the Hameids to delay cashing his January rent check; but by mid-month Mohammed and Ahmed Hameid were at Club Red threatening to take it over. A desk was thrown out a window. Rotondi stopped his check. The situation escalated—the electricity cut off, a phone line slashed, a balcony mysteriously burned—until the full-scale High Noon Hotel Invasion (Part I).
The Hameids reopened Club Red as Club Red Sea—using Rotondi’s wetsuits, tanks, and gear. Rotondi hired an Egyptian lawyer. Throughout the spring he rallied family and friends (and me) with breathless e-mails recounting his triumphs in court. The deadline for taking back Club Red was always around the corner—tomorrow, two days from now, next week. But by June, I was increasingly skeptical that he would ever recover the resort.
TO VISIT ROTONDI in his exile, I drive down the Sinai coast and an hour through dry mountains until the concrete pyramids and the KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s of Sharm heave into view. Afraid to return to Dahab—he says that his life, as well as Walid’s and his lawyer’s, has been threatened repeatedly—Rotondi is living with friends, making endless appearances at the provincial court in El Tûr, calling his Egyptian pals in Dahab for updates on the Club, and writing letters to the American Embassy in Cairo that carefully mention his grandfather the ex-governor.
Inside an airy stucco house, Rotondi is making lunch—pasta for me, raw vegetables for himself. (“REMEMBER,” he had e-mailed me, “COOKED FOOD IS POISON!”) He moves with a diver’s liquid presence, equal parts pranayama yoga and hydrodynamic habit. After the takeover, he began growing dreadlocks; five months later, they are still baby dreads, but as his exile lengthens, so do the tendrils. He shaved his temples for a big court appearance—”girding for battle,” he says—and so now he sometimes comes across as the world’s first Arabic-speaking cucumber-eating Pawnee-brave-on-the-warpath Rasta-Brahmin. Walid joins us, too, a tall Egyptian diver in beachwear, and over lunch the partners begin the byzantine story of their expulsion.
Club Red’s was an unlikely alliance—a Bostonian, an Egyptian, and five Bedouin. A former policeman, Walid had been in business with Nasser Hameid, but after a “falling out,” as Rotondi puts it, he signed on with the American in the Club Red deal. (There is little love lost between settled Egyptians like Walid and the formerly nomadic Bedouin: The Bedouin are “dirty and ignorant,” several Egyptians assured me; Egyptians are “dumb,” a few Bedouin told me, especially when compared to Israelis.) For four years the deal worked; Rotondi paid the rent by sharing profits with the Hameids. Then, in February 1999, he expanded, leasing nine more buildings for 50,000 Egyptian pounds per month—almost $15,000. Like the original building, these had been part of one of Dahab’s many cheap camps, and Rotondi embarked on a series of upgrades for which he believed the brothers would reimburse him. He expected to raise prices for the improved club but ended up being undercut by Dahab’s many cheaper accommodations. In January, the club’s rent went unpaid, and from there the story devolves into a sandstorm of accusation. “In Dahab,” Rotondi says heatedly, “it’s not the cream that floats to the top—it’s the shit.”
But Club Red isn’t the first scuba shop Rotondi has lost: By his own admission, he was pushed out of both of the previous shops he managed by his (Western) partners. And since the Club Red takeover, he almost lost his only remaining business, a small scuba school called the Dive Zone, when the landlord threatened to take it back. This time, Walid convinced some members of the Egyptian National Wrestling Team to ride up from Sharm el-Sheikh with him in a van. (“Friends of mine,” he explains.) He paraded them around the Dive Zone, and the argument was settled without the need for invasions or full nelsons.
Some anti-Bedouin Egyptian businessmen think Rotondi was in the wrong financially, but not morally. “Rod still owes me one thousand dollars,” claims Mr. Zido, owner of the Ghazala Supermarket, Dahab’s largest grocery store. But in the next breath he disparages the Hameids in typically Egyptian terms as “rich Bedouin, spoiled, greedy. Rod is not a bad man,” he continues. “He is a good man. The people, they all like him.” (Rotondi asserts that he is settling his accounts with Mr. Zido on a month-to-month basis). Another Egyptian, a dive master who knows Rotondi “from the beach,” says, “What happened to Rod, it’s common here. It’s Egypt.” He shakes his head angrily. “Nasser Hameid is a fucking asshole.”
Of course, every territorial conflict in the Sinai is rooted in ancient enmities, even one over a scuba shop. After millennia of land disputes, the Bedouin are intensely sensitive about their land, and their honor. Reached on his cell phone, Nasser Hameid immediately wails that Rod “fucked my feelings” and argues that he still owes him hundreds of thousands of Egyptian pounds for back rent, insurance, electricity, and telephone bills (which, Rotondi maintains, bank records show he has paid in full). But finances are secondary: Again and again Hameid returns to the word “promise.”
“He’s somebody who promised somebody something,” Hameid says, sounding at times on the verge of tears, “and if he change that promise, he is not an OK person. This is the way. This is my business, this is my heart, and he eat from it. This is all family, all Bedouin here, and he make money from it.”
Born in the desert, Nasser Hameid can sound as romantic as any foreign interloper when he idealizes the life of the Mezzeineh. “The Bedouin has a nice life,” he explains, “a good heart, never he think to give anybody shit.” And what’s more, he says, the Bedouin harbor no antipathy toward Westerners. “Here in Dahab,” he says, “you don’t have any problem with foreigners.” The real damage, according to him, has been to his family’s reputation: “Inshallah I can fix my life, but Rod hurt me too much, I trusted him too much, and I got a lot of shit from people. I promised them money and I didn’t pay them because Rod didn’t pay me. So what can I do?”
So far the Egyptian courts have consistently upheld Rotondi’s claims to Club Red. But Walid cautions me over the lunch table that the real law in Egypt is that of influence, of powerful wastas who broker deals over tiny cups of Turkish coffee. Mohammed, the eldest Hameid brother, sits in Dahab’s chamber of commerce, and the family has the town’s biggest wasta on their side: Sheikh Salem, the nine-fingered Mezzeineh ancestral leader who sits on the city council. Even Dahab’s white-suited tourist police, Walid claims, answer to the sheikh. He mutters a political aphorism in Arabic, which Rotondi translates: “If you have a strong back, then no one will attack you from the front.”
Meanwhile, Rotondi tries to maintain a yogic calm. After his “living” lunch of greens, he shows me a rusted shepherd’s flute that he found in a Bedouin oasis a few days before. He toots out a few notes, more sincere and hopeful than competent. “If I clean it,” he says with a wry smile, “maybe a genie will come out and I’ll get Club Red back.”
HALF AN HOUR LATER, we are floating on our backs in the Red Sea. “Freediving was my first reason for coming to Dahab,” Rotondi gasps happily, recovering from a 45-foot plunge. “I thought I would just get this other stuff going, then I could concentrate on freediving.”
We had driven about five minutes from the house, donned wetsuits, masks, and extra-long fins, and fallen into the sea. The reef dropped away immediately, a wall of flourishing coral, covered with bizarre legions of brightly colored, inexplicable creatures and huge goddamn fish. Now, clouds of pulsing jellyfish are all around us, but Rotondi quickly proves they are harmless by flinging one at me.
Even in Sharm, freediving is the balm to Rotondi’s problems: “The scion of dah dah dah,” as he mocks his Boston pedigree, he has an old water rat inside him; he first tried scuba at 12. Each time he descends, he takes a single breath and then powers straight down, slowly and steadily, 25 feet, 35, 45 feet, dolphin-kicking like Aquaman or Kevin Costner in Waterworld, chased by shafts of light from the noon sun.
In a few minutes Rotondi teaches me the basics—how to duck-dive, how to conserve energy and therefore oxygen and therefore seconds. In moments I descend to depths I would have assumed impossible without scuba gear. I choose a head of coral and shoot past it on the third try. On the fourth attempt I make it to 40 feet—no record, except for me. And then I float back up through a living ocean, utterly calm, passing a school of wide-eyed scuba divers at 30 feet and popping into the air with a grin. I tread water, panting, until I can shout a goofy “Wow!”
“Uh-oh,” Rotondi says, heaving another jellyfish my way, “now you’re hooked.”
He’s right. As I drive north that night, the moon lights a fantastic landscape of crumbling ridges and twisting canyons. The brassy casinos and discos of Sharm are forgotten in the cool and quiet of the desert, and when I enter Dahab I realize how easily a place like this can break your heart. The main street is mostly dirt, even if they are filling it in with bricks, slowly. It’s closed to cars, most of the time, and regular Bedouin men still pass by, sometimes on their own camels or on frisky Arabian stallions. There are no ATMs, no FedEx boxes, and it’s hard to make a phone call, so you don’t.
For $300, I sign up for a class at the Dive Zone, Rotondi’s last toehold in Dahab. As a non-diver, I’m naturally concerned about safety standards at a bargain-basement dive shop in a fly-by-night town in the Third World run from afar by a Massachusetts swami defaulting on his grocery bills, but I want to see Sinai business Rotondi-style.
The Dive Zone, it turns out, is busy and well run, with a knowledgeable staff of Egyptian and Western dive masters. My two classmates are young backpackers bumming through the Middle East on dollars a day, and the three of us put in a couple of cruel 12-hour classroom days. The Icelander is a burr-headed kid; of the lovely Swede, the less said the better.
Our instructor is a lean, browned South African who has made more than 3,000 dives and seems perfectly credible saying things like “I held my breath for six minutes and thirty-two seconds,” or “I dated Miss South Africa for five years.” By day we go diving—along the eel garden, where hundreds of the whip-thin creatures sway in the current like seaweed, or eventually into the dangerous and alluring Blue Hole itself, an astounding, deep cenote just offshore that seems to be drilled right through the reef. By night we lounge in the interchangeable seaside restaurants, where the service is criminal, the food insipid, and the setting sublime. The only way to choose among them is to wander up and down listening to their sound tracks, either hippie-residual bursts of Marley and Pink Floyd or the latest European thump.
One night, our class waddles down this aural promenade decked in a hundred pounds of scuba gear, passing dazed divers and red-necked backpackers and Bedouin women amused to see foreigners also veiled in black. We wade out into a bioluminescent sea and float there for a minute, adjusting our buoyancy, watching the glowing lanterns of the waterfront. Then one by one the South African, the Swede, and the Icelander drop down into the black. Just before I slip under the surface, I hear the cry of the muzzein drifting across the water, calling the faithful to one final prayer.
After a few days the three of us get seriously blissed-out. For the Scandinavians, it’s the sunburn. For me, it’s the impossibility of receiving a phone call. I think of a reason to stay a few more days, and then a few more. I forget my PIN number. I go nine days without donning shoes. At night, I practice holding my breath and contemplate becoming a dive master myself, staying on the beach, getting lean and brown, maybe dating Miss Botswana. I begin to like Dahab, too much.
One night, after a particularly fine dive in the Blue Hole, we dine overlooking the Red Sea, the darkness and the breeze soothing our parched skin. Right before you climb into the turquoise water above the Hole, you pass plaques lining the beach for all the divers killed there over the years, one just three weeks before our arrival. The Red Sea is a particularly dangerous place to dive. It gets so deep so quickly, and inexperienced divers trust inexperienced operators to take them deeper than they should go; it feels thrilling and even spiritual to descend to a hundred feet and feel the ocean still falling away. The Hole seems twice as beautiful in the face of its fatalities, just as Dahab seems precious precisely because it is flawed.
The Icelander isn’t as dumb as he looks; he destroys me at chess, and then the Swede leaves, and we sit there, missing her. We stare out over the water. Three boys on camels race up and down the beach, hooting. The moon rises like a pumpkin over Saudi Arabia.
“Man,” the Icelander says, as blunt as always. “If you had a chick, this place would be perfect.”
IF YOU HAD YOUR own piece of real estate, too, Dahab might be perfect, as an increasing number of parties seem to think. Around 4 p.m. the next afternoon, I stumble into Club Red and find it crawling with Egyptian troops—45 soldiers in brown uniforms, toting AK-47s, bayonets fixed. Two camouflage trucks sit inside the entrance; also two jeeps. Five officers bedecked in brass rest on chairs in the shade, sipping Turkish coffee, as the troops wander at random. Some of the soldiers are hissing at a pair of English girls in bikinis.
The soldiers are about 18 years old, dirt-poor conscripts from isolated villages, drafted into Egypt’s paramilitary national police force and trucked across the Sinai to a republic of Northern European women wearing butt-floss, ragtag stoners from the four points of the compass, and slumming trustafarians with 200-dive hobbies and healthy credit cards. At first, it looks like the national troops have come to help Rotondi reclaim Club Red. As it turns out, they are really here to help themselves to a piece of land.
The Mezzeineh clan has reacted, of course. There are already ten shouting Bedouin in the courtyard; seven minutes later, there are ten more in the same space. Half are shouting into cell phones; most are dressed in spotless white or gray jalabiyyas, with red kufiyya head scarves carefully affixed using traditional goat-hair rope. Their sandals are nice; many sprout long pinkie nails, a traditional signal of wealth.
I snap off a couple of photos from my hip and head for the front desk. Three panicked Bedouin cut me off, waving their arms and shouting “No! No!” I had been conducting careful research on the history of the Sinai by reading The Adventures of Tintin: The Red Sea Sharks, so I think what my hero, the Belgian boy reporter and veteran of a thousand cartoon adventures, would say at this point.
“I’d like a room,” I try.
The Bedouin immediately lead me inside; business continues, it appears, even in the midst of an invasion. I go through an absurd charade of inquiring after rooms—Blistering barnacles, Tintin, I must have a phone, and what do you mean there are no rooms left with air-conditioning—and then ask what all the soldiers are doing.
“Is no problem,” I am told. And: “Their trucks break down. They come to fix their trucks. Going soon.”
Meanwhile the soldiers are unloading four huge rolls of wire fencing, and they shut the front gate. A couple of guests wander past. “That’s a bit frightening with all those soldiers,” an American woman says calmly.
Outside, the main street of Dahab is blocked by two more jeeps and another six Egyptian GIs with AK-47s, with a circle of blocked pickup trucks and taxis honking their horns, and a crowd of another 30 spectators. The Club Red scuba shop is empty, but a few guests still lounge on cushions in the open-air restaurant, a typical Dahab construction of palm trees and lashed thatching, normally used as a groove zone for milkshake-nursing foreigners with sunburns. I take a seat and count about 30 angry Bedouin milling around now. Despite the noise and shouting, which give some idea of what the original January 23 high-noon invasion must have been like, they’ve established a kind of order, and several older men talk into their phones while the soldiers and Mezzeineh eye each other aggressively.
I get out the camera again but am busted at once. Three Bedouin rush over. I try to Tintin my way out of it, but I’ve underestimated them. “Please do not think we are stupid,” a handsome young Bedouin with crusader-gray eyes tells me. “We see you taking pictures and making notes. We know what reporter is.”
He is dressed like a Saudi prince, with the long pinkie nail. He learned his almost perfect English “in the streets of Dahab and in school,” he says. He also has 195 dives in his logbook, and the same dream as every other young man in Dahab (“I start my Dive Master next week!”).
We do things Bedouin-style. He orders tea and a much older, much less well dressed Bedouin goes off to get it, while he explains that a small strip of the courtyard was once, ten years ago, police property. The soldiers are simply reclaiming that tiny piece of land, so that no matter who wins in the Club Red legal dispute, their asset is protected. More important, he wishes to know, how much do pickup trucks cost in America?
The standoff lasts several hours. At one point a couple of Australian guests wander right through the sea of AK-47s, oblivious in the best Club Red tradition, locked in argument over the merits of diving naked.
“Fuck yeah,” one of them explains to the other, “you’d need less weights!”
WHEN I COME back that night, the soldiers are gone, replaced by a crowd of fat men with pistols who announce they are Dahab police. “Is no problem,” I’m told. “Nothing happen. You go away.”
By morning it’s all over town: The Mezzeineh will keep the land in the courtyard, but the police get an equal-size piece of a parking lot just down the street. The whole thing has been settled by wastas on cell phones in a few hours. Down in Sharm, Rotondi protests to the Egyptian government and the U.S. Embassy that the national police should be restoring Club Red to him, as the court rulings require, but the national police solve that one by simply denying they ever set foot in the place.
By summer—high season in Dahab—the dispute has settled into a kind of routine. Every week or two, Rotondi gets fresh reason for hope. There is a steady stream of favorable court rulings, based largely on his record of successful rent payments, but none is enforced. The U.S. Embassy slowly rallies to his cause, and at one point a consular official flies to the Sinai and convoys to Dahab with Rotondi and a troop of police officers, who chicken out after a few hours of bureaucratic chess with the Mezzeineh. The whole drama is repeated a few weeks later, with the same non-result. Eventually, after a dozen feverish e-mails announcing imminent victory for “the conquering heroes,” Rotondi, his Egyptian lawyer, and his staff are finally, triumphantly reinstated in the resort with the help of almost a hundred policemen dressed in riot gear, who shut down much of Dahab for an entire day and preemptively arrest nine “troublemakers” from the Mezzeineh clan. Rotondi spends a single night in possession of the resort. The very next day, after the police have gone, the Hameids and a group of Mezzeineh chase him right out of the resort again, and his exile is renewed.
FOR NOW, ROTONDI waits for his future, and for his past, in the decidedly non-idyllic environ of Cairo. He’s been back to Boston once, to England for a bit, and has finally ended up there. There’s no freediving, but he can meditate and avoid cooked food. At times our Aquaman speaks wistfully of leaving Egypt altogether, of letting go, but in truth he can’t shake Dahab’s choke-hold on his life. He might pick up some freelance writing, maybe do some modeling—or, he says in passing, perhaps he’ll develop a new scuba resort elsewhere on the Red Sea, a piece of the same Dahab dream but somewhere far from the Mezzeineh. He’s eight years in, and he isn’t going home. This is home.
Back in Dahab, the season is picking up. More and more European tourists are arriving. Club Red is busy with hipsters in board shorts and bikinis, and Rotondi’s Dive Zone is booked solid.
Business is good. There is a real estate boom in Dahab. You could come here yourself, and stay awhile.
Patrick Symmes, the author of Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend, last reported for Outside from New Zealand.