It’s 1 am and I’m stranded in the Sinai desert on the outskirts of the port town Suez. I’m not supposed to be here. In this area, there is a high threat from the Islamic State backed terrorists that operate in the North. I’m a British national, working at the Embassy in Cairo and I have strayed into the ‘red’ zone which the Foreign Office advises against all travel to.
I’ve not only strayed into the red zone but I am stranded in it.
I was returning to work after a weekend of diving in Dahab. It was a magnificent weekend of floating underwater at 30 metres, spotting the countless different types of fish and coral. Dahab is a beautiful, relaxed town with some of the best diving in the world.
To avoid the decompression sickness that can come after flying too soon after diving, I decided to take the 8-hour GoBus journey that follows the desert road along the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez. I thought it would be fine, as I had done this trip many times before.
How wrong I was.
At the crash, I heard a young woman speaking English to her small child that she was cradling in her arms. She was trying to calm her child down, to stop the baby from screaming. A wave of relief passed over me.
I’m not alone.
She told me that she had a flight to catch at 8 am from Cairo to Manchester. My concern switched from myself to concern for her and her young child.
Suddenly, six Bedouin tribesmen pulled up in a Toyota Hilux. They jumped out to investigate the scene at the crashed bus. I spot that they are carrying AK47’s. I pull the English woman away from the bus, into the darkness of the desert and tell her to sit down and not to speak. I sat next to her and pulled my hoodie over my bare legs as I was wearing shorts. Her baby was now quiet, almost as if it too understood what I had just said. There was no way to be sure if these men were peaceful Bedouins or if they were linked to the Wilayat Sinai group, an offshoot of the Islamic State. I had no interest in finding out.
After a while, they got back into the Hilux and drove off into the darkness. Had we got away with it? After a 3 hour wait in the cold, sandy emptiness, a replacement coach arrives.
I arrive back in Cairo at 6 am and get ready to start work at 7:30 am.
“How was your weekend?’ Alamir asks. Hiding my tiredness I reply “Good mate, how was yours?”.
I couldn’t tell him a thing. And I didn’t want to. It was my unexpected adventure, a random night in the sand. The woman got on her flight and nobody was hurt. Nobody needed to know.