My trips to Dahab invariably started in the midst of the cacophony that is Cairo, where I always shacked up at the Garden City House Hotel, not far from Tahrir Square.
This shabby hotel occupied the 3rd and 4th floors of a run down building, surrounded by fancy hotels like the Hilton and Sheraton. But what it lacked in cleanliness and luxury–which was a lot–it made up for in character.
To get up to it you could take the stairs, or, the take the lift that must have dated from around the ’40s, complete with manual sliding door.
The bedrooms were painted pink and if you made the mistake of jumping on the bed you paid for it–encountering a very hard mattress. Beside the bed stood a telephone dating back to the days of the lift.
In the evenings, the staff and a random assortment of characters would be huddled watching the lone television in the corner, following the fuzzy and flickering images of a football game.
Breakfast was included and a simple affair, brought out to your table by an old gentleman who never said a word while he took the items from his tray and elegantly laid them out on the table : a cup of tea, a croissant with a small dollop of marmalade and butter, and a hard-boiled egg.
The other guests sat at their tables spanned all ages and appearances and I used to try and guess who did what: archaeologist, travel writer, university professor, a widow out to explore the world. They tended to look an interesting, learned bunch.
If you got a room Nile-side, from the balcony you looked down on young couples walking hand-in-hand among the shadows by the riverbank. If you happened to get a room on the other side, you looked out onto another building’s wall a few meters away.
Once you turned the lights out, you lay there, listening to the never-ending Cairo traffic outside, trying to ignore how hard the mattress was. I rarely got a great night’s sleep.
But for all that, if I get back to Cairo and the Garden City House Hotel hasn’t fallen down, I’ll be checking in.