THE RED SEA FISHING GATEWAY
Explore an alternative side of Egypt which pays a tribute to the country's ancestors' past by putting fishing practices at the heart of how the locals connect with nature and honour its gifts
Words: Emily Georgieva
Photography: Mohammed Hassan, Ahmed Badaway, Mateo Lopez
16 June 2023
Dusty landscapes, cinematic cities and timeless temple sites - Egypt is a land of so much mystery and magic. It is difficult not to be taken back in awe by the remarkable essence of the African dreamland. Known for the incredible pyramids of Giza, the tombs near the Valley of the Kings and the ancient burial grounds of Saqqara and Dahshur, this sandy land is one of the most exotic and unique destinations on the continent. Millennia-old monuments, tales of powerful pharaohs and a vision of the Nile River come to mind as soon as Egypt is mentioned, but the essence of the country goes deeper than what travellers are often exposed to.
Egypt is a place of contradictions where opposites meet to shape its transcendental beauty. A desert that is known for its water basins and beautiful oasis spots, this is a place like no other. The country is favoured by not one, but two seas - the cool waters of the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the connection to the Red Sea in the east. The Nile Delta has created the perfect conditions for various representatives of the animal kingdom - from giraffes, monkeys, crocodiles and hippos to over 300 species of birds and 2000 species of fish, which all vary in shapes and sizes. Nature truly blossoms in the heart of this African paradise and the locals have learned to co-exist with its gifts.
Beyond the Great Sphinx of Giza, the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut and the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, Egypt belongs to the locals and its true colours are accentuated by their everyday life. The Egyptian civilisation was one of the very first to introduce fishing as a practice and today the inland waters and sea coasts are some of the most notorious locations for it.
Dating back to ancient Egypt, fishing has become so iconic for the country partially due to the Nile - one of the largest rivers in the world. The combination of fresh and seawater makes this uncanny destination ideal for exporting fish. Different types of fishing gear have been used ever since ancient times. Hooks, fish harpoons, dip and sine nets were all redesigned to better suit the fishing purpose of those who practiced the trade. Ancient Egyptians knew how to catch, dry and salt fish better than anyone. Fresh catfish, eel and mullet was preferred by many pharaohs, vouching for the importance of seafood in the civilisation's history. Over the years Egypt has become a favourite location for surfing and diving as well, but it is fishing that is at the heart of the country. It comes as no surprise that Egypt ranks at first place in fish farming for the whole of Africa and takes eight place on the global ranking.
‘‘The Egyptian civilisation was one of the very first to introduce fishing as a practice and today the inland waters and sea coasts are some of the most notorious locations for it.’’
Marine life needs to come first and always be prioritised. This is the primary principle that the fishermen follow when they head out to sea. The equipment is chosen carefully and timing is of essence to ensure that the impact on nature is the lowest possible. Fishermen put great care and attention into making sure that they are familiar with the sea creatures which inhabit the Red Sea and their life cycles. This is done to prevent throwing nets in areas where new fish has just arrived to lay their eggs. Ensuring that the eggs hatch in healthy environments and that fishing practices don't interfere with the food supply of the fishes is a top priority.
The easy accessibility to resources is an advantage that has aided the country into becoming a well-known fishing destination. However, the reason why the local fishermen chose this lifestyle is often to honour traditions. Fishing in the area started as a way to respect nature's gifts. The annual floods and the rich soil help the crops produce food, but the supplies from the river and its habitat are a generous source of livelihood for many. The traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next turning into a tradition that goes beyond the trade.
Fishing is about more than just providing the catch of the day to sell, export and consume. It is a whole ritual that demands patience, trust and a special kind of skill set. To get up early before the night gives way to the new day, to take a boat out at sea and watch as the sunrise washes the azure waters of the sea in soft ochre colours, to connect to the tranquility and silence of the young morning before the rest of the world awakens - that is just a small fraction of the magic of what this trade represents for those who spend their whole lives perfecting it.
To fish is not to take from the water, but rather to learn nature's forms and cycles, to have in-depth knowledge of what to give and what to leave in order to balance the scales. It is not about misusing the gifts of the sea, but about coexisting and connecting with nature. When done sustainably, this practice becomes an ode to the legacy of fishermen's ancestors and a way to keep century-old traditions alive.
‘‘Fishing is about more than just providing the catch of the day to sell, export and consume. It is a whole ritual that demands patience, trust and a special kind of skill set.’’
Where to go:
Lake Nasser - the reservoir is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. It is famously known as one of the largest man-made lakes when in the 1960s a dam built on the Nile flooded around 6,200 square kilometers of the Nile Valley.
Essentials to bring:
Don't forget to pack your sunscreen bottle, a pair of sunglasses and a camera to immortalise the beauty of this tucked-away gem.
When to go:
The lake is known as a fishing dream spot from the beginning of February to the end of July. This is when the weather is cooler and the Nile is at its lowest level so fishermen are not required to go in deep water to get the catch of the day.
Who you're most likely to bump into:
Foodies who are there to savour the fresh salty fish; wanderlust travellers who are seeking to take a safari trip in the picturesque reservoir; nomadic wanderers who want to camp under the desert starlit panoramic sky.
What to take back with you:
Just the memories of your unique stay and recipes by locals - they know the best-kept secrets of how to prepare the most tender, mouth-watering fresh water fish you will ever taste.
Don't forget to plan:
A boat safari is a must if you are in the area. It is the closest modern-day experience of an old style African safari where the boats are equipped with sleeping facilities and you can connect with nature by going fully remote for a day of traditional fishing experiences.
NOMADSofORIGIN is an independent annual publication with a focus on sustainable travelling and global cultural values. Each issue features interviews, engaging articles and photo guides, which take our nomadic readers through different destinations and introduce them to local people's perspectives.
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