Sharm Al-Sheikh

This weekend we went to Sharm Al-Sheikh, a beach resort city on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula on the Red Sea in Egypt. According to our bus drivers, it’s in Asia, but I’m not quite so sure about that.

Getting to Sharm is a hefty car ride. We shoved 14 people (12 of us and 2 drivers) into a 15 passenger mini-bus and drove 8 hours to get there. Apparently there is a tourism law in Egypt that if you are hiring a bus to go more than 400km, you have to have 2 drivers. The greatest thing is that only 1 of the drivers actually drove the bus most of the way (about 14 of 16 hours). The other driver made sketchy conversation with our professor and whichever student was nearest him. He also attempted to take photos of some of the females on the bus with his camera phone. I was not a fan.

Aside from the 16 hours of driving to and from Sharm, the trip was amazing! We stayed in the Novotel Hotel, which was a tropical paradise. We had a deal through the American University in Cairo that got us small villa-style hotel rooms in the most beautiful resort I have ever seen. The resort was on the beach and there were coral reefs just off of the beach. We used snorkels and explored the reefs for hours. It was just breath-taking! I felt like I was swimming in my dad’s aquarium, only a million times bigger. I saw coral, sea urchins, fish, and even rays. This morning I saw 3 rays chasing each other around the sea floor for about 15 minutes. It was simply surreal. And… There were rainbow fish! I mean, actual, honest to gosh rainbow fish! There were even different kinds of rainbow fish. I nearly swallowed half the sea when I saw one for the first time.

Which, while I’m on the topic of swallowing sea water, let me tell you about some salty water. The Red Sea was formed when Arabia split from the African continent and so it has no rivers feeding it and it is only barely fed by the Indian Ocean. Why do we care? Because that makes for some REALLY salty water. According to Wikipedia, the salinity is 3.6-3.8% (whatever that means). Anyway, I learned the hard way that if you get some of that water up your nose or in your mouth, it is extremely unpleasant. My nose burned and my mouth just puckered. It was intense but oh so worth it. Just as a side note, the Red Sea should really be named the Blue Sea. The water in it is very clear and yet as you go out deeper into the water it is as blue as a sapphire.

On Saturday, a few of us went parasailing. I was a wee bit terrified of the height of it, but it was worth it. I felt like I could see my house from that height. The price of parasailing in Sharm is apparently extremely cheap compared to the prices in the US.

We ate by far the best food in Sharm that I have eaten since I left the US. We went to Buddha Bar one night and I got red snapper with cilantro rice and steamed vegetables. When I got my bill at the end of dinner, it had my name at the top of the receipt: Peke. Apparently I’ve been misspelling my name for years and I had no idea! At the hotel in the mornings we had the greatest continental breakfast known to man. There was a made-to-order omelette and pancake station and tables upon tables of pastries, fruit, cereal, fresh juices, etc. There was even a Nescafe cappuccino machine. Saturday morning we spent an hour gorging ourselves at breakfast. I ate so much that I was not even hungry until dinner 12 hours later. We had delicious Thai and Indian food for dinner. I had some Tom Yum soup, Beef Panang with steamed rice, and fresh strawberry juice. I was so full that I couldn’t eat more than a few bites of the panang and had to get it takeaway. (Everyone calls it ‘takeaway’ in English and Arabic. Nobody knows ‘to go’ or ‘doggie bag’.) Today, we had a plan. We got up early and spent a full 2 hours at breakfast eating as much as we could. I very quickly became aware that my stomach must have shrunk recently because I really couldn’t pack in much food. A few from our group even brought plastic bags with them and filled them with bread, croissants and jam packages.

One of the most interesting things about being in Sharm Al-Sheikh is that it is a resort community that caters mainly to foreigners. There is a lot of security surrounding the area presumably to keep the tourists safe, but more practically to keep Egyptians out. This community is nothing like the rest of Egypt that I’ve seen. It is like a Western resort community. European tourists flock here (except not much right now due to the ‘unbearably hot’ temperature… which is still cooler than Cairo). Being in a resort area with Europeans definitely changes the rules for appropriate attire. In Cairo, I get scandalous looks for wearing short sleeved shirts with pants. In Sharm, I saw women in the shortest shorts and things that I can barely consider shirts. I went from feeling like the harlot of Cairo to the prude of Sharm. I had the absolute pleasure of wearing a dress without a long-sleeve undershirts and leggings. I even got to wear shorts! That was the most amazing feeling in the world! I did notice that when I put on my shorts that I bought right before leaving the US no longer fit me well. I think I should be Jared on an Egyptian Subway commercial. I’ve got a good inch or two of extra space in my shorts. It’s slightly concerning, given my terrible diet and lack of exercise here.

Anyway, I got to break in the SPF 45 this weekend. Having been a satisfied user of SPF 15 for probably 20 years or so, I was weary of this so-called stronger stuff. I have converted from 15 to 45. I lathered myself up and reapplied that elixir of the gods the whole weekend and I am thankful that I did. The only place I missed on my body (the backs of my legs) are a cheery shade of pink while the rest of my body has a golden, but non-cancer-inducing, glow.

I think this is about all I have to say on the subject of my weekend. It was magnificent, a well-needed break from the daily grind of Cairo. I urge anyone and everyone to go to Sharm Al-Sheikh! It is gorgeous, relaxing, and very inexpensive for what you get. It’s just the vacation of a lifetime!

PS: Since originally posting this blog an hour or so ago, I have discovered that our refrigerator is once again broken. So all of my safe-to-eat frozen hot dogs, yogurt, juice, and mozzarella cheese is wasted. Gotta love Cairo. -B