Saturday, April 03, 2010

Sinai Adventure Days 1 - 4

Before I begin, I should explain recent history of the Sinai has been volatile. The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt as part of the Camp David Peace Accord back in 1979 and still hosts foreign observers. Out in the desert, unexploded ordinance lurks and the tourist coast suffered from three separate terrorist attacks -- Taba, Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh. The authorities do not take chances and security is high. Each hotel has its own security checkpoints and you do get screened, bags checked etc. No one can drive up to the hotel reception. If you travel outside the Sharm El Sheikh area, you do need a full visa (obtainable when you arrive at the airport) and you do have to carry your passport. There are army checkpoints that you travel through and passports are checked. The soldiers all carry weapons. In many ways, it is very reassuring and certainly, the area is safe.

To get to Sharm, the plane travelled through a sandstorm during the last part of the journey over the mountains where the light suddenly went brown. Rather disconcerting. But we arrived as the sun set, turning the desert into wonderful colours.

Because we had booked our holiday through Classic Collections, the airport arrival was a breeze. We were met off the plane, and the representative had the visas. He also made certain that we cleared passport control quickly. Given the huge crowds milling about, waiting to get visas and then clear passport control, we were very grateful as the whole process was over in a matter of minutes. After getting our luggage, we had a private transfer to the resort -- Hilton Sharm Waterfalls.

We opted for an all inclusive package as all inclusive includes drinks. And in a hot climate, one needs to keep fluids up. If one wanted, one could eat 24 hours a day. The buffets were ever changing and did have lots of wonderful things to eat. I enjoyed the Arabic breakfasts of falfel, ful (fava beans cooked with onion and lemon), feta, tahina and pita bread. The rest of the family went for more conventional English or American breakfasts.

Our rooms were next door to each other and had a sea view. The seating areas meant that it was quite easy to pop back and forth.

The biggest problem with the hotel, and if you listen to the guides is the number of Russians who visit, many of whom have never really travelled. Russians can seem abrupt in their dealing with staff. It can be very difficult to watch. The pool has to close at sunset because of the problems with the Russians getting drunk on vodka and fighting. But basically, as we were not staff and they were speaking a different language, they were easy to ignore. There were relatively few English speaking people at the resort. Various members of the staff mentioned how much they liked the English who were always polite and always smiled.

The vast majority of the workers in the tourism industry in Egypt are male. In Sharm, the cost of living means that the families live elsewhere and the staff live in company provided accommodation. The women staff in charge of the various classes tended to be Russian or German. Apparently a clash of cultures can happen when the Russian/German women marry Egyptian men without really understanding the culture. The guide we had at St Catherine's said that because he does speak several languages, he can get called in when the women show up at the Tourist Antiquities complaining about not having papers etc.

The cleaner was very kind and kept doing towel art. I think I liked the swans best. My youngest now claims that he can make them.

We spent the first three full days at the resort swimming and lazing in the sun. The resort has its own private coral reef. So if you want to go in the sea, you do have to walk out in pontoon. Walking over the coral is a good way to get cut as my youngest found out on the first day. Luckily the cut was not too deep. Later we saw a Russian woman whose heel was bandaged.

The swimming pool's water was salt, rather than fresh. The air is incredibly dry and the sun hot -- just what we needed after a cold winter. The staff were very helpful, getting towels and finding sun loungers and umbrellas and moving them to where you wanted to be. They operated a no blocking the sun bed policy and did remove unattended towels etc. This caused much dismay to some Italians who had tried to bribe one attendant. But we found there were more than enough sun loungers for everyone and the sun warm and the water wonderful where ever. Up at the lobby pool, there were hammocks but we preferred the main pool near the beach and our room. Life is far too short to exercised by where your sun lounger is.

On the third day, I convinced my daughter that we should take a belly dancing class. After all, the tiny Russian woman who organised it seemed very friendly. She may have been but she also possessed an inner core of steel. Things were done her way and she was apt to stop the class with a wag of her finger and a No, no, this way, and did not accept that it was my first time. Everything needed to be done properly and relaxed. There are reasons why Russians are good at dance. Discipline. However, belly dancing is tremendous fun. Unfortunately there was only time for the one lesson as we started to do our excursions.

Tomorrow's post -- visiting St Catherine's.


Nell Dixon said...

Sounds like quite an experience - I'm enjoying living vicariously as I don't think it would be my cup of tea, but an amazing place by your report.

Anne McAllister said...

Thanks for reporting your trip so thoroughly, Michelle. Like Nell, I'm enjoying the vicarious journey because chances are I will never be able to do it in person.