Dahab Adventures, Egypt, 2014.
Holly Anthony, Far and Ride.
“Want to go for a bit?” – Sam
In February 2014 I went out to visit our new partner stables in Dahab, Egypt, to learn more about the setup and sample the riding. Having already met one of the owners, Emma, back in December, I felt that I had a good grasp of the services they were offering and the sort of experience our clients should expect, but nothing is better than sampling it for one’s self! I flew into Sharm-el-Sheikh which is around an hour’s drive from Dahab Paradise, the hotel where I would be staying for the three nights of my trip. As well as based stays with hotels they also organise safaris/trails into Naqb National Park or to St Catherine’s Monastery, which include nights spent at Bedouin camps for an authentic experience. These are wonderful choices for experienced riders who also want to sample the wildlife and history of the Sinai Peninsula.
I had heard about the delights of Dahab from friends, who assured me it is a relaxed and welcoming town, famed for its peaceful atmosphere and incredible diving opportunities. Travelling in the midst of Egypt’s political troubles, I wasn’t too sure what impact this would have had on the area but I needn’t have worried – I felt perfectly safe from the moment our plane touched down in Sharm. I was picked up from the airport and we stopped off at the stables so that I could meet the other owners, Sam and Ali. They live on site, tending to the horses day and night, and I would soon learn that they are experienced horsemen and knowledgeable guides to boot. I would be riding with Sam during my stay but enjoyed many a conversation with Ali and it was evident that the care of both the horses and the guests is very important to him. I found the stables to be in excellent order, clean and tidy, with all of the horses happily munching away on their dinner. I couldn’t wait to see them all again in the daylight and to saddle up for some horseback exploring!
Upon reaching Dahab Paradise I was warmly greeted by the staff who couldn’t do enough for me, something which was apparent throughout my stay. My room was clean, comfortable and charming with a balcony overlooking the pool area and onwards to the ebbing waters of the sea. This hotel is one of two which we can combine with riding packages for our clients, the other being the Swiss Inn Resort which is located closer to the centre of town and arguably a better option for those who prefer to have everything on site. The more informal Dahab Paradise lies a short taxi drive outside of the main town in a peaceful area and provides affordable accommodation with top notch service. Dinner and drinks with Emma on my first evening was the perfect way to settle in and I slept very well listening to the waves crashing outside my window.
It had been agreed that my riding day would start at around 10am with a car sent to collect me. I enjoyed a great breakfast at the hotel including tea, juice, pancakes, fresh fruit, toast and honey… the perfect fuel for a day of riding. And what a day of riding it was! I met up with Sam at the stables who had selected Zack as my horse for the day. Zack seems to have become the “poster boy” for this destination due to his sensational good looks, his liver chestnut coat being so dark that he almost gleams black in the right light. He is a kind and sensitive soul but full of energy and stamina, perfect for a fantastic long day of riding through different landscapes. I loved following sandy paths between huge rock formations which towered over us, stopping at an oasis to enjoy traditional mint tea and a rest in the shade whilst admiring the palm trees. Once mounted up again Sam showed me the gears of these horses with a mind-blowing flat out gallop, the desert sand flying behind us. For experienced riders there is plenty of opportunity for fast, exciting riding as the horses are fit and capable, but equally there is time spent at a relaxed pace to enjoy the scenery and different terrains, as well as to ensure the wellbeing of the horses themselves. Less experienced riders can of course ride at a pace to suit them and Sam is an excellent judge, ensuring that the speed of the ride is safe but enjoyable for all participants.
Lunch on this first day was at Baraka’s Restaurant by the sea – this makes for a captivating and comfortable rest stop with cushions and curios all around, beautiful shells and decorations to catch your eye. The horses were tied in the shade nearby and were well fed and watered to ensure that they were happy and rested for the way home. We enjoyed a feast of chicken and kebabs whilst watching the water sparkle in the sunshine and were able to take our time. You will never be rushed in Dahab, the rides can be adjusted to suit how you are feeling and there is always time to sit back and relax. After a good rest it was time to head back and we followed the coastline towards the stables, making it back in the early evening light. Whilst enjoying another tea I was able to watch as Sam washed off the horses before leading them into their stables for dinner and a well-deserved rest. I tried to tempt Zack with some horse treats I’d brought from the UK and he was more than willing to try, though not too sure about the taste. I like to think he appreciated the thought.
Over the next two days I rode with Sam to the Blue Hole, a famous dive site, and then to the Blue Lagoon where the colour of the water is just exquisite. Guests are welcome to combine riding with diving or snorkelling and during our break at the Blue Hole there was a variety of equipment to hire, many people already out in the sea enjoying the good weather and wondrous sea life. At every stop Sam was attentive to all of my needs ensuring that I was happy, comfortable and hydrated with time to stop in the shade and just admire the sights. Sam makes for a wonderful companion and I enjoyed his conversation but equally felt content to ride along quietly in his company. During our rides we passed all sorts of different things including camels, other riders, fishermen and women, swimmers or those just lying out in the sunshine. As the stables are based in town you will sometimes ride on the roads to get to where you’re headed. The horses didn’t so much as bat an eyelid at vehicles or anything else for that matter and I enjoyed meeting the locals and seeing their homes and businesses, even stopping to purchase a refreshing drink from small shops (whilst remaining on horseback of course!). Holidays here make for a wonderful cultural experience as well as an exciting horseback adventure.
On the third day I rode Ronaldo for our trip to the Lagoon. He is a beautiful chestnut stallion with a glossy coat and a handsome face, arguably more chilled out than Zack but still forward-going and keen with plenty of energy for the ride. The waters at the lagoon are like nothing I have seen before with patches of bright blue and turquoise as far as the eye can see. There were plenty of people enjoying themselves, with windsurfers dotted around us, and yet the beaches remained relatively empty and free for us to enjoy at our chosen pace. Ronaldo was happy to trot and canter sensibly along the water’s edge before we slowed our pace and walked to a higher point for superb views of the sea and some photo opportunities. As we made our way towards a Bedouin camp for a break, Sam turned to me and said “you want to go for a bit?”. This became my favourite line of the trip and meant it was time for an exhilarating gallop along the sandy trail! The horses were always walked to cool down before reaching our rest stop and I even noticed after each ride that the stable boys walked the horses up and down to ensure they were cool before being washed off and put away.
Although I was only in Dahab for a few days I soon became accustomed to the slower pace of life and was disappointed to return home to reality! The area offers a tranquil escape whilst still providing plenty of outdoor pursuits for those who want to stay busy. Aside from horse riding, the obvious choices are diving and snorkelling due to the magnificent waters in the area. Swimming with the horses or just riding them into the sea is an incredible experience for those who want to try it on a warm day (which is most days!) and quad biking in the testing desert landscapes provides an exhilarating alternative for the non-riding partner. Of course riding a camel is always a possibility here as well, there is no shortage of them and the hotels are very happy to help you book any of the available activities in the area.
I always enjoy partnering with new stables when they are clearly so passionate about their business. The team here are working hard to provide superb riding holidays for real riders, as opposed to tourists who are looking for short day rides on the beach. I saw several other horses during my time in Dahab but none were in as good condition as Zack, Ronaldo or the other members of their herd, kept so well by Sam and Ali. It’s not uncommon for horses in Egypt to be “street-sold”, walked or tethered out in the sunshine waiting for tourists to climb aboard, but the guys here are forging a better future for themselves and their horses. With knowledgable owners, clean, cool stables, good feed and a new turnout paddock on the way, things look very promising indeed. I just hope that one day I can come back to ride a trail to St Catherine’s and see Moses’ Mountain where Moses received The Ten Commandments!
Read more about the ride here: Dahab Adventures, Egypt.
To see more photos from Holly’s trip, you can check the photo album here on our Facebook page.