Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Sharm-el-Sheikh


View to Tiran Island from the hotel
For the past week I've been in Sharm-el-Sheikh.  It was my first visit and it's a lovely place.  The Red Sea is beautiful whether you look at it from the shore or dive into it off the jetties that jut out in front of the many seaside resorts or from one of the boating operations that will take you on snorkeling or scuba trips.  You can almost forget that there are issues in Egypt while swanning around this place.

My invitation to Sharm was from a Saudi women whose husband was not happy that she would be travelling to Egypt because, one, Egypt is dangerous, and two, she'd be travelling alone.  I was her compromise - the role model companion who would keep her out of trouble.  Uh huh!

We landed on a blue sky beautiful day and within half an hour were at our hotel.  Everything was ticking along nicely and then I got a lesson in why Saudi people are not particularly loved in other Gulf countries as tourists.  It took us nine hours, yes nine hours, to find a room in a hotel my companion was happy with.  Nine!  We traipsed from room to room in two hotels, (she checked us out of the first one while I was out trying to find an internet connection) each one dismissed for various reasons - too dirty, too old, no view, too much view, too far apart from each other, only one bathroom for two people, too smelly, too small...and on it went.  By 10p.m. I was exhausted.  She told me she and her sister do this every time they go on holiday.  They basically kick up a stink and make demands until they get the best possible deal they can.  I tell ya, though I wasn't really that impressed with the carry on, the room I got in the end was fab!

Beach Cabana's in front of the hotel
She was actually going to Sharm for a tourism workshop and we decided there would be no harm in me just tagging along because the topic was internet marketing strategies which sounded kind of interesting to me.  She pulled the plug on the workshop within an hour of our arrival to the conference center because the bloke in charge insulted her (I have no idea what he said because I can't keep up with heated Arabic debates), so she decided to focus on the second reason for the trip - networking with tour operators and hotels.  So, we met a few marketing peeps, and spoke with a load of operating types about how they could cater to our target market.  Plus we went out on few trips to assess their professionalism and so we could provide hands-on feedback to future clients.  It turns out the tour operators in Sharm have quite smooth operations.  We were both surprised.

I had no idea Sharm-el-Sheikh was such a touristy spot, nor how many resorts are stretched along it's coastline.  There's a whole bunch of water based activities you can do from snorkeling to kite surfing, there are bars and nightclubs and loads of spas if you fancy some body pampering.  And of course you can sunbathe to your hearts content in your skimpiest bikini (and nope, I don't have one of those).

Beads at the Old Market
From my observations there are a few distinct areas for hanging out .   Naama Bay is the happening hotspot where you can sit out on the street in an open sheesha cafe of an evening and enjoy the vibe.   Hadaba is a quiet spot for enjoying the sunset from a cliff top seat.  The Old Market has that small vendor bargaining ambiance that you expect from an Egyptian market and it also has some tasty places to eat, while Soho Square is your upmarket shopping and entertainment area.  Nabq is a little further up the coast and struck me as the place for rich peeps to hang out.  Given we were only there for 10 minutes, this impression may have been completely wrong.

Snorkelers out near Tiran
And then of course you have the ocean.  Ras Mohammad which has been designated a national park marine reserve is a great draw card for divers and snorkelers.  We went out on two boat trips while in Sharm.  The VIP Ras Mohammad and the VIP Tiran.  We had to see what each had to offer, didn't we and, naturally, Saudi women would only want VIP treatment.  Both were well run.  My friend preferred the boat trip to Ras Mohammad because it's slightly closer to reach.  Personally, I preferred Tiran because more of the coral is alive, hence there is more fish, and not only is the water deeper but it's a beautiful color.  It's also the trip where we saw a load of dolphins.

I asked if there were any culture and history tours in Sharm.  For the culture we were directed to Alf Leila Wa Leil or 1001 Nights Arabian Show and Dinner.  The place is huge with a beautiful water featured walkway as its entrance.  Through the doors is an inner courtyard with souvenir shops and seating around a central stage for one of the night shows.  Our dinner was in the Moroccan restaurant and included belly dancing and a snake charmer show.  Further on from here is the amphitheater with huge replica's of Egyptian monuments used a backdrop for the sound and light show and an arena for the horse show.  The only draw back is the shows run from 10p.m. - 1a.m., so if you are usually an early sleeper, get in a sly afternoon nap so you can stay awake for the night.

Memorial to Flight 604
In terms of history tours, I was informed there is no history in Sharm.
Righty ho then.
Someone ought to Google on Wikipedia!
The only tour of any historical context is to Saint Katrine.  We didn't do this tour but it sounds interesting given it's in the mountains and the information regarding the Monastery dates back to Roman times and, of course, it sits at the base of Mt Sinai.  The only local history information I received was when our taxi driver stopped beside the memorial to the passengers lost on Flight 604, and when he pointed out the now empty buildings on a hill top that the Israeli's occupied during one of their takeovers of the country.  All other conversations on the history and development of Sharm-El-Sheik were peppered with the word 'corruption'.

New mosque in the Old Town seen from the water.
Perhaps I've been in Saudi too long, but I thought Sharm gave the impression of snubbing its nose at the rest of Egypt.  Although tourism numbers are down slightly, (50% according to the hotel we stayed at), due to Egypts issues, numerous Western and European tourists roam the streets in their shorty shorts and sexy tops that barely hide the bikini's beneath.  If it weren't for the many police check-points along the roads, you wouldn't think you were in an Arab country where the majority of the people are Muslim.  I managed to console myself on the issue (it didn't take long) by deciding a couple of things - the Egyptian economy needs tourism right now, and Sharm has obviously been developed to cater to the needs of one of the country's minority religous groups.


I have to say, Sharm appealed to me more than Bahrain or Dubai do.  Perhaps it's because the ocean is so near, perhaps it's because the local people we came across are so pleasant and professional, or maybe it's the normal-ness of the place.  Whatever the reason, I liked Sharm-El-Sheikh.  I liked it a lot.


Ka Kite,
Kiwi




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