Africa & Middle East, Egypt

no sphinx, just Sharm-ing

Bec / 29/05/2014

As far as Christmas gifts go, Julie played all her cards at once when she presented my final gift last year – a week all-inclusive at the Marriott in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in January. Everyone else knew about it since once I’d opened that, Marion gave us some Egyptian pounds that had been burning a hole in her purse. My gift-de-resistance was custom, handmade jewelry – a beautiful silver seahorse pendant from makemeonetoo. Stunning, thanks Katrina!

At a time that is far too early to repeat, we left home in the dark and arrived at the freezing, wet and windy Luton airport to join a plane load of other package-tourist-Brits on Monarch Airlines. As we rose above the clouds the sun announced its presence with no shame that it can’t ever seem to penetrate the almost-perpetual cloud cover here. The warm sunshine lulled everyone into that dozy slumber that comes with altitude and a constant hum rocking you to sleep. Plus, what else are you going to do for five hours?

Sharm is a mini Las Vegas at the bottom tip of the Sinai Peninsula. From here you can go scuba diving at Ras Mohammed, one of the world’s best dive sites if you believe the brochure, or take a bus trip to see the ‘Burning Bush’. We did neither. Could. Not. Leave. The. Pool. It may have been bound by soaring sand dunes and desert for miles but January in Sharm still makes it a big plus to have a heated pool. With the dearth of other tourists we could put our claims on just about the same sun loungers every day, with the last couple of days seeing the pool-boy lay out our towels before we had finished breakfast.

We spent the days lapping up the sunshine, reading books, playing scrabble, getting roped into the pool for “aqua-gym” and rather precariously playing darts when the board was brought around to our chairs. Something that I had never encountered before at a resort was the “Animation” crew – Lucy from Manchester who had arrived on holiday some seven months earlier and neglected to go home and Oops, a local boy who spoke Russian…as you do. I can think of two more different languages than Egyptian and Russian, let alone alphabets in which to communicate. But hey, to each their own. I can still hear both Lucy and Oops bellowing out “AQUA GYM, FIVE MINUTES” to try and “animate” the trifling few of us trying to relax in the sun. It is hard to look busy when the guests you’re supposed to be ensuring are having a wonderful time are more interested in lying comatose on a sun lounger and turning a decorators dream shade of lobster.

We enjoyed walks in the evening along the walkway between beach side resorts and the sand, dabbling occasionally in the water – clear but frigid, covertly inspecting the fridge magnet merchandise of the souvenir shops trying in vain to not be harassed by the chain smoking vendors. The beauty of the all-inclusive package meant we dined every night in the hotel, the different themed nights staving off monotony, live music – or at least live karaoke, and we quickly built a little charade with the waiters who knew we would need two bottles of water to go with our beers or wine. Another side is that we didn’t end up going out to eat and while we did walk past various shisha bars, nowhere really floated our boat for food – in a tourist trap area, you’re fairly well assured the views are supposed to make up for the mediocre food.

The week passed leisurely with only one tag-along, supposed uni-student who was very surprised we dumped him at the entrance to our hotel for the security guys to handle and that we didn’t want to buy him drinks all night. It was quite bizarre as he walked us all the way home with buddy, buddy chitchat. We still can’t work out what he really wanted from us.

In the only in Egypt file are the camels on road islands who charge to take their photos, the off-duty road island camels who help trim the hedge fencing of the hotel, their frankly-goofy, munching faces poking up above the foliage and blending in to the beige sand backdrop.

Sharm el Sheikh is quite a study in mass, organized tourism to the almost exclusion of any other industry. You don’t actually need the normal tourist visa if you promise not to stray further than St Catherine’s, if burning bushes are your thing. Easyjet even has its own terminal at the airport.

It was a lovely time to replenish the vitamin D stores, forget about the cold, short days back home, and enjoy quiet time in each others company. Next time, if we could please avoid the over-competitive Russians playing water polo, so I don’t get stars in my eyes the next time I’m brained by the ball lobbed square at my head by a lily-white Soviet with a crew-cut, that’d be grand.

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