I could feel the nerves running through my veins. Welcome to Egypt. It was my first time crossing the border since moving to Israel in 2010. I had heard that Israelis adored Sinai, yet the rumors quickly shifted in 2011 after an uptick of violence, spurred by terrorists whose aim was to create destruction of peace, and tourism, in the modern-day paradise.
Situated along the Red Sea, the first 70 kilometers of Sinai lead to Nuweibba, and is dedicated to resorts, hotels and bungalows ready and waiting for hundreds of thousands of tourists; except that since 2011, tourism has seen a serious halt, and so has much of the construction. Hundreds of potentially stunning buildings remain unfinished and tragically empty, waiting for tourists that may never come.
Despite the spots of violence from terrorists, today it seems that Israelis have reclaimed the beloved city as a tourist destination, and are warmly welcomed by those running businesses and camps in Sinai, whose economy thrives on tourism alone. Since 2017, the border has remained clear, protected by brave Bedouins, and ever since, Israelis began to return to Sinai safely. At its height in 2010, Sinai saw 14.7 million tourists. Last year, the flourishing numbers are returning with 11.7 million visitors. Over 100,000 Israelis visited Sinai during Passover alone in 2019.
While the media may commonly show the fragile relationship between Israel and Egypt, my experience at the Taba Border Crossing and staying in Sinai was full of friendship and warmth. Crossing the actual border was comparable to a vision quest, full of missions with no rhyme, reason, or effective communication. The comical episode saw an Egyptian border guard questioning the board games in the backseat, one jamming to popular Israeli music while greeting us at his desk underneath a tree, and many who attempted to welcome us in Hebrew with a “shalom” and occasional well meaning “mazel tov.”
It took about 90 minutes to get through the border, and we entered Egypt, landing in camp Al Magarra, a heaven of a home, with over a dozen beautiful natural bungalows built in a front row of the sea. Built with love by Misho and Rana, a husband and wife pair, the hospitality shown proves that our Egyptians cousins share the same Mediterranean roots in terms of their sweet warmth, delicious meals, brotherly kindness, and deep desire to live in peace.
With one visit to Sinai, it is clear to see why Israelis love to swarm its shores every season. It fulfills the need for nature, space, silence, affordable vacationing, and moments of zen. It’s unfortunate that many travelers feel a sense of fear given its history, yet today it seems the only thing to fear are the mosquitoes which boldly buzz once the sun sets. Sinai and its inhabitants are begging for visitors, to care for, and to come enjoy the paradise of potential that Sinai is waiting to build.