Deep in the southeastern Sinai, hidden between barren, craggy massifs cut with narrow canyons half buried in sand, is the tiny oasis of Ain Khudara. Along with my German friends, Nadja, Leonie and Magda, we reached its circle of date palms just before dark.
Sitting across from us at a typical Bedouin-style Dahab cafe the day before was another German whose name I could never remember. Finding three girls from his motherland, he pulled out a pillow to join us on the floor, and in minutes he'd begun planning our trip together, up the coast, down the coast and into the desert to some magical oasis in the heart of Sinai. It all sounded fantastic enough, but sadly he wouldn't be joining us the next morning.
After a couple idyllic days of exploring the familiar stretch of Red Sea Coast north of Dahab, all of it jagged, desolate mountains fringed with deep blue and turquoise lagoons, we jumped in the car with Abdoul. He promised to drop us at the trailhead for Ain Khudara, the mystery oasis that had been mentioned the night before. One of the girls drove half the way there, passing only a handful of other cars on the lonely desert road past the turnoff to Nuweiba. Abdoul finally dropped us off on the edge of the highway about an hour from Dahab and pointed north at some dunes. It was late in the afternoon. "That's it," he said. "Just walk that way."
And with full faith we did, trekking into the nothingness without so much as a foot path to lead the way. Dunes turned to rocks which rose into mountains, narrowing our way ahead, until finally at the top of the ridge we admitted to being lost.
A couple hours later and about 6km west of Abdoul's made-up trailhead along the highway (thanks to a kind Bedouin named Said and his pickup) we reached the actual trailhead. From the rim of a wide canyon filled with sand we spotted the oasis ahead. The sun had dropped behind the mountains, leaving the tiny palm grove dark, a mysterious, alluring dot on the barren, sweeping landscape. We made our descent in high spirits, crossing the dunes to wind quietly into the sleepy village. Nadja led us to our camp, a few palms and a patch of sand belonging to an old Bedouin woman named Radia.
For the next couple days we lived off Radia's old well, setting off under the sun before returning to the shade of the palms. We explored the valley on foot, climbing the empty mountains to the west and the chalky white canyons to the east. In true Bedouin fashion, Radia took us in as her children, cooking soup, stew, rice, flat bread and tahina at night and serving it on the sand under a full moon.
Before climbing back up the canyon rim, reaching the empty highway and hitching back to the coast we thanked Radia and said our goodbyes. I thanked all four Germans involved in getting us to Ain Khudara.