Whether you’re an Egyptian national or an expat who’s been here for a while, you may think you know Egypt pretty well. Having seen the pyramids of Giza, or Alexandria’s beaches, or gazed out over the Red Sea, you perhaps think you’ve got the place figured out.
But every so often, one is shocked to find a new location that has slipped under the radar, to the extent that most Egyptians haven’t even heard of it.
Wadi al-Weshwashy near Nuweiba is certainly one of these places. And certainly, it was this mysterious exclusivity that attracted amateur photographer, Beshoy Fayez, who is seeking to document the hidden and beautiful spots of Egypt using a super-wide fish-eye lens.
Named after the sound of the wind rushing over the surface of a lake (weshshshshshshsh), Wadi al-Weshwashy (Valley of the Weshwashy) is buried deep into the mountains of South Sinai, near the Ras Shitan camp about 15 km from Nuweiba. In the middle of the mountains that surround the valley there is a little lake, formed after centuries of rain collecting in the folds of the mountains.
It is a hidden gem, and the Bedouins would sit and listen to the wind rushing over its surface as it blew through the mountains, no doubt taking the occasional swim too.
But such beauty does not come free of charge, says Fayez after his trip to the remote spot. Getting to the lake, which nestles among the mountains, requires about 90 minutes of hardcore hiking. This is preceded by a bumpy jeep ride from Nuweiba to the valley. There are no direct roads to the valley, meaning the route would be hard to find for anyone but the most experienced. It sounds like a story spun by Scheherazade.
The journey to Wadi al- Weshwashy involves a 90-minute hike.
Trips to and from the valley are generally arranged by the Bedouins who live in the area and maintain it. The Ministry of Tourism has done an abysmal job of making the existence of the valley common knowledge, which is quite fortunate, says Fayez, because the very small number of visitors means the lake and valley are still unspoiled.
Bedouins from the area organize jeep rides to the valley; nobody else could find the way there and back. Fayez says the tour guides are generally respectable and helpful people, making for a safe and enjoyable journey.
Day trips cost about LE100 per person, and there is no option for an overnight stay. Fayez says it’s a perfect spot for anyone staying on the coast and seeking to see something different or just kill time. While the hike is demanding, it’s not such a long journey, and the LE100 price tag is very reasonable, says the photographer.
Best of all, those who take the trip can count themselves among the ranks of the gloriously tiny minority who have seen the beauty of the valley. For a photographer like Fayez, it’s also a great opportunity to capture some of the area’s rugged beauty, and a few lucky people soaking it up.
There are no amenities in the valley; it’s just you and nature in all its raw power. So visitors should at least pack a lunch.
The main swimming lake, filled with warm water and embraced by rocks
The lake is divided into three parts. Day trippers hike to the first location, but the two other areas of the lake are only accessible by swimming through the first section.
The lake is surrounded by steep mountain sides, rising 150m above the water, which is pretty deep. The more reckless readers may already be envisioning themselves flying through the air as they dive into the lake. And they would not be disappointed on a trip to Wadi al-Weshwashy, since diving into the lake from up high is relatively safe, says Fayez, and many people do it.
The water remains warm because the surrounding mountains contain granite, which absorbs the sun’s heat during the day. Fayez says the Bedouins are not sure why the lake doesn’t evaporate, bearing in mind the heat of the Sinai sun. However, it seems the granite simply warms the water, making nature’s very own hot-tub.
Al-Weshwashy is part of a bigger valley called Wadi al-Malha, comprised of two passages. One leads to the lake, and the other leads to a beautiful oasis in the middle of the mountains with palm trees that thrive on the area’s abundant water.
A shady spot among the palm trees, which thrive on the abundant mountain water
Visitors can sit under the palm trees and soak up the view while the Bedouins brew a special tea with herbs grown in the mountains. The tea cleanses the liver and detoxes the body, making for a cuppa that’s both tasty and healthy, says Fayez. Those who live in Cairo, and have smog for breakfast, lunch and dinner, may find a little holiday detox hits the spot.
Living the busy, chaotic life of an Egyptian city-dweller, it’s easy to lose touch with the beauty of nature, says Fayez. Unspoilt spots such as Wadi al-Weshwashy help remind us of what we’ve been missing.