harm El Sheikh
January 13-19, 2002
We didn't plan on coming to Sharm-El-Sheikh. After all, we had been here during our 1985 trip to Egypt and had visited St Catherine's monastery and had sampled the beaches of the Sinai further north. Why come here again. The simple answer of course is money. A roundtrip flight to Sharm-El-Sheikh, seven nights in a hotel with breakfast, and all transfers would cost us less than a regular one-way flight to Israel. So the real question was, why not?More to Come
The flight was a charter, of course, and very, very crowded and uncomfortable but the airport was large, modern, and well-organized. We aren't sure how old the tourist development is here, but we're fairly sure there was nothing like this when we visited this part of the world seventeen years ago. There are actually two tourist "villages" here. One, centered on Sharm-El-Sheikh, the old Egyptian town, is less exclusive than the newer resort to the north, called Na'ama Bay. Tony Blair and his wife Cherie have vacationed at Na'ama. Built from scratch, it is a completely modern and very western style resort.
Our hotel was small, maybe 30 rooms at most, built around a very nice looking kidney-shaped pool. It was on a rather dusty street (well, this is the desert) about a ten-minute walk from the old town with its restaurants, services, and beach. Our twin-bedded room had a private bathroom and was nicely if simply furnished.
We twice visited Na'ama Bay, the first time just to look around and get our bearings and the second time to venture into the ocean and try out the snorkel equipment we had bought on our first visit. We snorkeled right off the beach and were surprised to find quite a few fish. We were also surprised at the cool temperature of the water. It was so cold we couldn't stay in the water for more than ten minutes at a time. On both of our visits we ate lunch at the Hilton hotel's beachfront coffee shop. We are not ones to patronize such high-class establishments, but for some reason this place was great value for money. Who knows why?
On our last but one day, we learned to our chagrin that the ferry we wanted to take from Sharm to Hurgadah on the west side of the Red Sea only ran on Saturdays, meaning that to take it we would have to give up our last day and night at the resort. It wasn't a difficult decision as the money had already been spent and if we missed the ferry we would have to change all of our plans again.
So that same day, we took a cab from the hotel to the ferry port, and there bought our tickets without any difficulty for $40 each and then sat and read while waiting to embark. Security arrangements before emarkation were annoying as we had to haul our bags up a filght of stairs to put them on an x-ray machine and then haul them down a flight of stairs. At least then we could put them on a large trolley and did not have to carry them the hundred meters or so to the ship. The unfortunate consequence of this was that Gerry felt he had to maintain close watch to make sure that our bags got on the ship. They did, but only a few minutes before departure.
The ship was a very modern catamaran, built by Kvaerner. The ride was a bit choppy so Jan couldn’t read, but Gerry happily read through the whole trip, which was about 90 minutes. When we got off the boat and through another security check, we quickly found a man to take us to the bus station for 10 LE. As we were walking to his taxi, he was hailed by two policemen and asked what nationality we were. When he said, “American”, we wondered what was up. They had a short discussion and then waved us on our way. We soon learned, however, that the police planned to give us an escort to the bus staiton and on arrival found another policeman there to watch over us. They were obviously concerned about tourist security — as we were later to have confirmed many times over.
When we arrived at the bus station, another man, called Ali, glommed onto us. He was a hotel keeper, or said so — he really wanted to sell us a room in the Hurgadah hotel or a Luxor hotel or a hotel anywhere — and invited us into the bus station coffee shop and even sent out for some kureish for us to eat. He took Gerry for a walk through the streets of Hurgadah and generally helped us pass the time (about two hours) until our bus arrived. In the end he served us well and in return got to change some money for us and get a small commission. On the bus, we managed to get the front seats, which seemed empty to us, but from unhappy noises we found out later might have been occupied. We offered to give them up but then were told no. The offer seemed to calm the situation.
The beginning of the ride was most interesting to us because it confirmed us in our impression that Hurgadah had grown enormously since our first visit 17 years ago, when we had arrived here by bus from Luxor. The small fishing town had become an enormous city and the one or two five-star resorts out of town had mushroomed to dozens. Furthermore, the road from Hurgadah to Luxor was no longer a two-lane gravelled road across the desert wasteland, but a good quality two lane highway with lights much of the way. Perhaps the only negative factor was the outside temperature which felt much colder to us than that in Sharm. However, we were never out of doors there at one or two o’clock in the morning.