July 2010


27/05/2010 – The Last Day of my Youth.

On the penultimate night of my youth, and after a very tiring but spectacular trip, I finally had a really, really good night’s sleep. Which, was timely, as the next couple of days would be filled with a hefty amount of very tiring awesomeness.

The last day of my youth was spent lazing by one pool or another. We checked out the facilities at our sister hotel and hung out by the much more lively pool there for a while, helped along by some lovely cool drinks that the bartenders slosh into your glass with the giddy abandon of, ‘it’s not my money’. We had lunch there and then sauntered down to our own pool, where the drinks still flowed and the conversation with it.

As it drew in towards evening, the hottest wind I have ever experienced came blasting out of the desert, hitting our bare (and a little sunburned) backs like a furnace. We were later to learn that this was the product of a sandstorm inland, evidenced by the usually clear and bright sky giving off something of a hazy, sandy glow. Still I stayed out drinking and chatting and marveling at the hot wind, I made many a friend that lasted the holiday on that particular afternoon.

When the bar finally shut and there was nothing left to stay outside for, we returned to the room to shower and change for the evening, the winds were still blowing and raising the temperature as we retired early to our lovely air conditioned room to try and fit in a few hours sleep before our ridiculously early start for Cairo in the morning.

Advertisements

26/05/2010 – Sinai by Starlight.

I have given up trying to decipher my note-book and will try to write this from memory.

The first trip that we booked was one that had been recommended to us by a friend. A trip out into the desert to sample the Bedouin way of life and look at the stars in the clear night sky and through a telescope.

I awoke early, after a much better night’s sleep and headed straight to the pool for an early morning swim and to snag some decent sunbeds. After breakfast we lounged around by the pool until it was time for our afternoon trip.

We set off at around 3pm on a lovely big air-conditioned coach. As we approached the coach, having had our passports checked by the tour rep (a tourist visa is not required if you are remaining in the Sharm area only, if you are travelling outside of the town, you need a visa), we noticed a man with a huge camera on his shoulder filming us getting onto the coach. We later learned that the whole trip was being filmed for the purpose of making a souvenir DVD which you could then purchase. We did, and for the life in me I can’t remember what I have done with it, having only now remembered I own it.

After several stops at other pickups we set off out into the desert for real, into the complete and utter nothing but sand and mountains. Absolutely stunning. If you haven’t gathered by now, you will by the end of this journey, I love the desert, I love mountains and I love sunsets. All are in abundance in Egypt.

After about three hours journey we stopped right at the corner of no and where, where there just happened to be a whole bunch of camels and small children waiting for us. Now, I have ridden a camel before, and find them to be quite accommodating beasts. At least the lovely tourist ones in Tunisia where. These guys, not so much. Saddled in the Bedouin style, a bit of wood with a small pole at each end, covered in various rugs, doesn’t make for the most comfortable of seats, which was proven by the huge bruise on my back from the rear pole the next morning. Carl, on the other hand, sneakily watched our tour guide expertly perched cross-legged on his beast, copied him and was off. My camel, I called him Digory, seemed more concerned with biting the ass of the camel in front than carrying me in a dignified manner.

Just as I thought I could take no more of the back battering, we reached our destination and, after clinging on for dear life as Digory tried to launch me over his head, we were led to our Bedouin tents, where we were greeted with some welcome tea and a hubbly bubbly pipe.

As we relaxed, sipped the rather lovely tea (a bag of which I purchased later) and the swaying motion subsided, we were introduced to the Sheikh and our guide told us a little of Bedouin history and lifestyle.

The Bedouin people live out in the desert that covers 80% of Egypt. For most of their history they have roamed from place to place, following the water, settling only for as long as the water lasted. Needing only food and shelter and a good few camels to survive. Camels are their bank accounts, one is worth around £1,000 and if you can breed them you have WAY better interest than Santander are currently offering.

These days, the tourist industry has brought them reasons to take root. The men make money as taxi drivers in Sharm, selling their handmade goods to tourists, or playing host to ‘Bedouin nights’ like this one. Some are even building brick houses and the government are building schools for the children. The simplicity of their lifestyle remains pretty much the same for now, though for how long, can only be guessed.

Once we had rested, we were shown how to make Bedouin bread which is similar to a chappati. We watched as the chef took the dough, made with just water, flour and salt, rolled it out flat and then expertly flipped it from hand to hand in the manner of a Pizza chefs. Once sufficiently stretched out, the dough is draped over an inverted bowl shaped ‘oven’ and baked for few minutes. Then it was our turn.

After watching a couple of “volunteers” have a go, I decided to take the plunge and get my hands all floury myself. The chef smiled and nodded and pointed and gestured while probably inwardly rolling his eyes and wondering what they make girls out of in England. I had fun though, kneeling down, rolling the dough out using the tube from a kitchen roll and then “expertly” slapping it from hand to hand to make a “perfectly” round shape to throw onto the “oven”. OK, I had a little help, it was my first time, they were being gentle.

Once everyone who wanted had had a go, and the warm bread had been passed around and devoured, it was time for more tea and hubbly bubbly while our hosts prepared our dinner.

Dinner was various barbecued meats, salads, rice and more of the bread, which was not nearly as nice when it was cold, and there was more than plenty for everyone. Once we had feasted, and gone back for seconds, we clambered up the mountain to watch the sunset. Remember what I said about sunsets and mountains? Yep, many, many pictures of the sun at various stages of setting as it vanished behind the mountains leaving a glorious glow of reds, oranges and purples. When I turned around, it had suddenly become dark and a glorious almost full moon was adorning the sky.

We scrambled back down the mountain in time to be regaled by the Bedouin men with some campfire dancing, some of us joining in, making a huge circle around the fire and doing some kind of weird hokey cokey that amused the Bedouin greatly. The chief dancer shook and shivered, cavorted and contorted his body in ways only people with little else to do in a large desert can, before pretending to run off with one of the younger girls as his latest bride.

At last it was fully dark, or, wait, it should have been fully dark, I had expected pitch blackery, there being little in the way of street lighting in the desert. But there was the moon, in almost her full glory, shining down and lighting the desert up.

The astronomer took us down to what he called the Stargate (I’m telling you, we’ve been completely lied to by American television, it looks totally different in real life, and not a Go’ould or Jaffar in sight!) and pointed out some stars to us. Due to the luminescence or her mooness the stars were not nearly as bright or visible as they could have been. The North Star was there twinkling away, not nearly so bright as it is over England, and in fact, hard to spot if it hadn’t been pointed out, Venus shone brightly and even Mars could be seen, in it’s red dead glowly glory.

Once the galaxy had been explored with the naked eye, we moved to the telescopes. Three of them, huge things operated by satellite. Yes, out there in the desert, corner of no and where, they had remote controls which hooked up to satellites and focused the telescopes directly on the object of choice.

First up was the moon, shining so bright it almost blinded you, but beautiful, which all it’s nooks and crannies plain to see. Next up was Saturn, a spec in the night sky, circled with it’s rings of rock and ice, and finally Venus, not much to see but a big fiery blob. Once we’d all seen enough, we trooped back to the coach, full, blind and tired.

If you ever find yourself in the Sharm way, I heartily recommend this trip, it was certainly a full, fun and educational day. Spectacular.

25/05/2010

The BeachAfter dinner we decided to take a stroll down to the beach. This involves walking across the dual carriageway outside the hotel, avoiding taxi drivers and heading through the Hilton Hotel to the beach road, dodging the chap selling the English newspapers for £6.00. £6.00? I won’t pay 50p for that trash at home, I’m certainly not going to start when I’m on holiday!

Naama Bay, where we were staying, is an up and coming holiday resort. The place comes alive at night, as it is too hot during the day to do anything much. The bay is buzzing with shops, bars and nightclubs, which include a TGI Fridays and Pacsha. The beach road is alive with bars and restaurants, each one clamouring for your custom and offering their own ‘happy hour’ to lure you in. The BeachIt’s a very different scene during the day.

Sharm El Sheikh is located on the Red Sea at the southern tip of Sinai, which is actually in Asia, rather than Africa along with rest of Egypt. It reminds me a lot of Las Vegas, a strange connection, I know, but here it lies, a small oasis in a large desert, luxurious hotels surrounded by looming, silent mountains, a neon hustle and bustle in the centre of absolutely nowhere. They even have casinos attached to many of the hotels, although I feel that some of the more risqué Vegas shows would not be accepted here, and there are few sightings of Elvis.

There’s a small population of around 35,000 in Sharm (compared to the 20 million who live in Cairo), mostly tourist industry workers who originate from the more populated areas of Cairo and Luxor. The working day is a long 14 hours, 7 days a week, in the blistering 40 plus degree heat every day with no breaks and little remuneration, the threat of losing your job over the trivialist of matters, is a real one. It certainly puts our moans and groans over the latest European employment laws into perspective, and gives you a huge appreciation for what you have got, that you take for granted every day.

For the most part, the Egyptian people are very friendly, welcoming people. There’s plenty out there that will try to surreptitiously part you from your money, but many more that are genuine honest folk just trying to earn a living. Keep your wits about you, and take the care you would anywhere else, and you’ll be fine. The markets are alive with shouts of “cheaper than Asda price” “lovely jubbly” and “no hassle” in an attempt to lure the unsuspecting British tourist into their particular shop full of the same trinkets you saw in the shop next door. Haggling is a way of life here, and if you don’t participate then you’re going to pay way over the odds for your souvenirs. Fortunately, I love haggling and often try it in the local Sainsburies to the bemusement of the 16 year old cashier.

Tipping is also a way of life, and often expected, though not mandatory. Our rule is to give it to those who don’t ask and are deserving. Our two favorite hotel staff (Nour the barman and Ayman the chef) had to be coerced into receiving what is really a pittance in our eyes. These are the deserving people, those that give great service without the expectation of greater reward than their regular pay. Nour, in particular, was a great inspiration to me. He lived in a small apartment, shared with 7 other people, worked long hours outdoors in blistering heat for the equivalent of £80 a month, most of which was sent back home to his mother in Cairo, and still managed to keep a smile on his face and had a friendly word for everyone. I wouldn’t last a week.

Finally, before we get to the more interesting blogs where I go places and that, I’ll mention our hotel in a little more detail. As I said before the Tropicana Rosetta Hotel is not a 5* hotel by any means, it is basic and clean, but not swish. The staff, however, are wonderful (with the exception of one cleaner who stole some small change before heading back to Cairo), the food was good and there was a variety to suit all tastes, the pool was just heaven (there were several but we stuck to the one nearest our room) and we met some lovely folks there.

Sparrows and wood pigeons were in abundance around the pool, tamely hopping along the edge indulging in a drink and a bath, despite the hordes of tourists. One cheeky sparrow even hopped around my legs as it chased a moth, completely unphased. HawkI also spotted this hawk, perching on one of the balconies. An awesome array of colourful beetles were around if you looked closely and I have never seen such huge moths in my life. I certainly felt very much at home there and could easily have extended my stay for several weeks.

CocktailsBack to the day then, and after learning what there was to discover along the beach road, we headed back to our hotel, stopping for cocktails on the way, and to bed, in preparation for our Sinai by Starlight trip the next day.