PLAYBOY CURRENCY IN THE DESERT
Chapter 21
From 'The Travels of the Lincot Man'



Playboy photos made good currency - worth their weight in gold, in fact - in the Sinai Desert when Sharm-el-Sheikh and Ras Muhammad were just names on a rather empty map. I discovered this during one of my many trips south from Yotvata in the Negev desert. I used to hitchhike down to Eilat at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, carrying my precious snorkelling gear in my little pack, a ground sheet to sleep on, and as much food as the kibbutz would give me, which, with care, allowed a week of frugal living.
Most of each day I hung my little white body above the most incredible coral reefs I'd ever seen, and not seen the like of since, and certainly will not see again due to the world-wide destruction caused by mismanagement, gelignite and cyanide fishing, and of course, the already very visible effects of global warming which causes coral bleaching.
I would hike south along the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula south of Eilat, to Nuweiba and Dahab
, and sleep under a sunshade at Sharm-el-Sheikh - two sunshades on the beach were the only sign of human habitation at that time. The Sinai was under Israeli occupation then, and apart from the odd army truck to hitch a ride on, I'd only see a few rather ragged Bedouin from time to time. They were as curious of me as I was of them. The first day I took my shirt off I must have caused snow-blindness with my ultra-white Irish skin dazzling them all!
One day I was suffering an unstoppable nosebleed from too much time underwater, and after bleeding into the sand all night, I was happy to see an army patrol drive up. They took me to a field hospital in a tent where they laid me on an operating table and stuffed so much wadding up my nose I thought it would start coming out my ears! That cured me, and next day I was able to continue my snorkelling.
On my second or third trip, I went further south than before, to go snorkelling out over the reef at
Ras-Muhammed (the Head of Muhammed) at the southern tip of the desert. It was one the most incredible sights I had ever seen - one of those rare experiences that changes your perception of reality, I would say; the reef dropped away to a bottomless infinity. It was like looking into outer space thru that incredible deep blue with a clarity that reminded me of the pictures taken from space modules looking back at Earth.
There were sharks circling about below the reef wall so I couldn't hang about too long; and
'hanging about' was more like the kind of thing I did then as opposed to real swimming. I've taught myself well since then, even advanced open-water scuba diving. I make a point of swimming in every lake, river and sea I come across in my travels and even had a swim in the filthy Suez Canal at that time. I can't explain why, guess it's a kind of respect for the unknown, getting under the skin of a place, like climbing a mountain because it's there; or not being able to rest until you've seen what's around the next corner. But that's another story, and in retrospect, not always a wise thing to do, but you just can't help yourself if you are afflicted by that disease - a disease more like an addiction to the hopeless traveller.
South of Suez I found food and drink in an abandoned cafe in a deserted town near Abu Rudeis. The population had fled before the advancing Israeli army. I slept on top of the counter that stormy night, and it was an eerie feeling to be the alone in that ghost town with the silhouettes of its anti-aircraft guns pointing to the empty but otherwise starlit sky - the Egyptian army and civilians had all run away to the north. During the night, the desert wind blew up, and the sound of the sand drumming like rain on the windows, combined with the creaking and groaning of tin and wood, was a bit creepy as I read my 'escape' book by candlelight.
Anyway, back to the
Playboy photos: In a land where female flesh is rarely seen, and after a few serious fights in the scrambles, I soon realised I was carrying pretty lethal stuff, with the womenfolk wondering what had gotten into their drooling, half crazed men. One day I bartered my last scrap - just a pair of legs - for a drink of water and a handful of couscous. My poor Irish mother would be wondering about me if I'd died without explaining this stuff in my pockets, and that worried me a bit!
After a couple of days walking east through that vast, deserted wilderness to the centre, towards Mount Sinai and the remote Greek Orthodox 4th century monastery of Santa Katarina, I fell in with a large group of Bedouins. They were several families with goats, donkeys and camels, trekking east along a
wadi, a dried up riverbed.  Paying my way for a drink of water, I realised I could easily barter the Playboy centrefold for a donkey, or secure long-term rental of a camel - like an 'Avis Rent-a-Camel' - but, before I could clinch the deal, there was a riot and bits-of-her-tits were leaving in all directions. One lucky Arab took off with the bottom half, hightailing it away over the sand dunes on his donkey.
He's probably blind by now!!