The Blue Bus
The bus was paradoxical.
Sat around the small fire where the blackened pot heated the water for tea I could see the distant haze of cloud and the far peaks of the mountains of Saudi Arabia offset by the rusting yellow and blue bus. The window frames were still intact but the glass was gone, replaced with light wooden shutters beyond which a thin gauze stood in place to protect the tourists from the many mosquitoes that called this small camp on the western shores of the Red sea, home.
There were four of us, a young German cyclist tanned a blotchy red by the harsh sun, all of twenty one years old and on his own particular adventure along the desolate roads of The Sinai Peninsula. Ahmed, the camp owner sat beside us with his legs folded. With his dark ageing face to the warm air he looked about fifty but had a very youthful presence about him. I sat next to him, a twenty year old Englishman with a face of freckles and short fair hair bleached much blonder since I'd been in the Middle East for a good few months. Then there was Tracey, she was from Christchurch, the South Island of New Zealand. I'd met her in the hostel in Tel Aviv where the world seemed to collide and bring an international contingent together in a huddle of eager feeling and youthful dreams with the discovery of new worlds at their fingertips.
On the bus journey down to Eilat, the resort city at the Southern edge of Israel, I'd held her hand briefly in an accepted communication of shared excitement. Tracey was a pretty twenty three year old woman, a dark haired tomboy type with a wide smile and light green eyes that seemed to transfix ones' own when she elaborated her words and feelings through them. It was an eight hour journey from Tel Aviv to Eilat travelling on the night bus where we'd slept with our heads resting together, separated only by a thin soft fleece jacket that smelled of Lavender. As the unseen desert flew past us I dreamed of mysterious destinations that awaited in the biblical barrenness of the Sinai. God's holy mountain stood there defiantly in its aching red hues of sandstone and ancient granite. The mystical Mount Sinai from where Moses had returned with The Ten Commandments and the Judaic Covenant between God and a chosen people. They were motioned dreams of wonderment and urgency and my spirit soared as I drifted in between sleep.
As the morning sun was coming up the bus entered Eilat and once we had stepped onto solid ground we stretched our limbs like sleepy limbering cats and laughed in happiness. We drank bottled water and munched on broken biscuits while sitting on a bus station bench and then caught an early morning bus headed for the border control and crossed over on foot into The Sinai Peninsula and Egypt. We were not the only eager explorers of this new world, many backpackers were on the journey down from Tel Aviv and other origins. It was good to be travelling with Tracey though, she had a chatty charming way about her, she was fun to be around. It was her idea to head away from the typical places, the more renowned spots that travellers sought out as their first choice once in The Sinai. There was a small camp on the coast by the name of 'Nuweiba', it sounded intriguing as it wasn't mentioned in the travel guide book she had with her and she'd found out about it through word of mouth back in the hostel in Tel Aviv.
I thanked her in my heart as we sat around the fire. Ahmed the camp owner got up and tended to the water, eventually pouring tea in small clear glasses, it was sweet and with mint. The year was 1994, a time still before mobile phones and internet.
A different world.
Four people drinking tea by the shores of The Red Sea, the fierce blue sky hovering above us, the sound of the surf in the distance reminding us of eternity. The blue bus stood at the edge of the small camp, conspicuous, mysterious, and odd. I broke the silence.
"Ahmed, how did you end up with the bus?"
"Aah the bus" he said smiling a quite handsome yet toothless grin.
He held his glass of tea carefully in both hands as he seemed to concentrate on his next words.
"The bus is because of Beatles."
Tracey and Erik the German looked at him.
Tracey said "What, you mean there's bugs in the camp so you sleep in the bus?"
Ahmed burst out laughing, some of his tea spilled
"No no, Beatles, magical mystery tour, you know it?"
We all laughed, apart from Erik who looked slightly confused.
Ahmed had seen the film 'The Magical Mystery Tour' and decided that he would like to travel around on a bus but to make it a type of restaurant too, where he could be the perfect host, chef and driver.
Tracey and I looked at one another and grinned like cheeky children. It was a beautiful time at Nuweiba with Ahmed. We stayed for a week, for five blissful days we had the camp to ourselves after Erik left. We snorkelled and ate freshly caught fish. Ahmed fussed over us and at night I laid next to Tracey like an intimate friend.
There was no rain.
We ate dinner every evening in the blue bus and talked of our future, what we would do with our lives. The clear brilliant stars each night seemed to add flavour to our food and Nuweiba became an iconic time to remember. Like ones' first happy childhood recollection or a first love. It was to become a vivid memory etched in the few precious and undiluted moments that filtered through the unforgiving realms of time.