The Red Sea Mountain Trail is a community tourism initiative, created by Bedouin clansmen of the Khushmaan. It is managed by a tribal organisation headed by a Bedouin Sheikh - Sheikh Merayi Abu Musallem - and its operation is harnessed to community goals. As with its sister project, the Sinai Trail, the Red Sea Mountain Trail seeks to create economic support for marginalised Bedouin communities whilst preserving their endangered cultural heritage and to empower them to take a leading role in developing sustainable adventure tourism in their areas. We seek to develop the Red Sea Mountain Trail into a world-class hiking route putting one of the Middle East's most little-known wildernesses on the global travel map for the first time. We hope the trail will be a trusted way into a new region and a space for enriching exchange between the region's Bedouin community and visitors from around the world. We hope it will show the depth, wisdom and beauty of Bedouin heritage for the world, underlining its antiquity and the perils its survival faces in the contemporary world, encouraging our generation to do everything it can in finding ways to keep it alive, as perhaps the last that will really be able to. Over the coming years we hope the Red Sea Mountain Trail will be extended into a longer trail reaching other parts of the region and taking benefits to new clans and tribes.
Hurghada's tourism industry has been built mostly around hotels, diving and winter breaks in the sun and caters mostly to the European package holiday market. The Red Sea Mountains are a window view for most tourists and Bedouin communites remain sidelined on the margins of the industry. The Red Sea Mountain Trail is about opening a new form of tourism. We seek to build a strong, resilient economy based on trail tourism that can sustain itself long into the future and in which legitimate, fair paying jobs are available for the region's marginalised Bedouin communities. This project is about creating openings for Bedouin tribesmen to work as guides, cameleers and cooks and in other roles, such as camp owners and drivers. It is about identifying ways other demographics of the community, including Bedouin women, can be integrated. The Red Sea Mountain Trail is about diversifying a modern economy so age-old Bedouin knowledge and skills - often seen as a relic of the past - can be relevant within it and a part of our collective future.
Engaging a community
The Red Sea Mountain Trail seeks to open a new kind of tourism in which the Bedouin have a leading role. Today, few Bedouin are employed in Hurghada's mainstream tourism industry. Most remain on the edges, working in desert camps known as 'mahattas', catering to tour groups who arrive for lunch and perhaps a short walk or camel ride. We believe this form of tourism shows little of the depth or greatness of their ancient Arab culture and believe trail and adventure tourism can offer much more. This is exactly what the Red Sea Mountain Trail intends to do: it is putting one of the Middle East's greatest and most little-known wildernesses on the map and showing it through the Bedouin tribe which has lived here for centuries. Whilst the Bedouin are a passing sideshow in 'mahatta' tourism they are the leaders on the Red Sea Mountain Trail. They took the lead in developing the trail. They oversee its management. They will guide it. Their stories will bring it alive. The Bedouin are the heart of the Red Sea Mountain Trail and always will be.
The Bedouin of the Maaza migrated to Egypt several centuries ago, arriving from the Hejaz mountains of Arabia. They are mobile pastoralists who traditionally lived a semi-nomadic existence, moving with tents in search of water and grazing for their goats, sheep and camels. Today, only a few Bedouin families remain in the mountains. Most have left the nomadic life to settle in villages or bigger towns. As they shift to an urban way of life, traditional skills and knowledge once central to their survival is becoming irrelevant and forgottten. Today, few younger Bedouin know the ways, water sources, plants and animals, or the names, legends and history of the landscapes like their elders. The Red Sea Mountain Trail seeks to create a kind of work in which this knowledge stays relevant and alive today. It is about creating a space in which inter generational channels remain open and through which the region's nomadic heritage can be transmitted as it always has been; verbally, person-to-person. We believe Egypt's nomadic heritage is a cultural treasure for all humanity.
Sinai Trail: our big sister
The Sinai Trail is Egypt's first ever long distance hiking trail. It opened to the world as a 220km trail, taking 12 days to complete in 2015, and was managed by a cooperative of three Bedouin tribes working together. In 2018, it was extended into a much longer 550km trail and the cooperative grew to represent eight Bedouin tribes. For the first time in over a century, the Bedouin tribes of South Sinai united around a travelling route again. The Sinai Trail has created jobs and opportunities for Egypt's most marginalised communities and has been backed by Egypt's Ministry of Tourism. Its work inspired the Red Sea Mountain Trail and both exist as sister projects today. The tribal organisations managing both trails remain in close contact and work together to boost Egypt's adventure tourism and advocate the importance of initiatives that support Bedouin communities and their endangered cultural heritage. These trails will grow together and work to develop a tourism model that can be taken elsewhere in Egypt, the Middle East and the world.