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Africa, Destinations, Middle East

The Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea

February 17, 2009 • By

Everyone has a different definition of paradise.  I found mine in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt on the Red Sea.  It’s funny since everyone told me to skip the Sinai Peninsula and head straight to Jordan.  When I heard it was warmer than Alexandria there was nothing to keep me away.  Sorry to say this but you see my body now finds 65 degrees FREEZING.

Where I last left you, I settled in Alexandria eating street food for $0.50.  The night before heading to Sharm I had a very sleepless night.  It’s clear the hotels in Egypt do not care if their customers die.  I smelled fire and called the manager on duty to report it (that is after I first talked to an operator and then a front desk person).  Instead of telling me someone would be right there, the manager asked me if I wanted to change rooms.  No (you idiot)!  I would like someone to come and figure out if the hotel is on fire because I prefer not to die.  Initially, he didn’t respond.  Then he said, “Yes, Mrs.Glynn (everyone calls me Mrs. here) we send someone right away.”  After 4 of us were sniffing the corridor and all agreed something was on fire, the manager suggested the maintenance people spray air freshener.  Again, I had to wonder how these people survive.  My blank face produced some results as the manager then said he would call the engineer.  Back in my room, I checked my windows for my exit plan and I tried to get some sleep.

The fun didn’t stop there since I forgot to set my alarm during the hoopla and therefore missed the 8 am train back to Cairo.  My travels never run smoothly but I figured I would still make my flight.  You see the hotel told me (and I listened) that the bus ride would only be 3 hours with buses leaving every 30 minutes.  Of course, Egyptians have an entirely different sense of time than I do. My 3 hour bus ride turned into 4 1/2 and I was within 45 minutes of take off and at the wrong terminal(courtesy of another local).  Having already yelled FUCK on the bus (when an Egyptian businessman told me I had another hour to go and that I should always add at least 2 hours traveling in Egypt), I now started getting huffy.  The security police didn’t seem to care and were not inclined to tell me which terminal my flight actually would be leaving from.  A crazy –and I do mean crazy– taxi driver who spoke English said he could get me to terminal 4 and assured me that after 20 years in this business I would not miss my flight.  He was right but it cost me.  He charged me $15 USD to go from one terminal to the next and let’s just say we defied all traffic laws.  What could I do?  I arrived to the check in counter sweating and completely deranged and ready to tell my story to anyone who would listen.  Apparently, it’s common knowledge that Egypt Airlines runs notoriously late so I wasn’t even the last to show.  There were several locals who strolled in right when the flight was due to depart.

Sharm el Sheikh is in a word beautiful.  It’s the French Riviera of Africa and home to deep red sand and red mountains.  At the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula, Sharmsits on the Red Sea parallel to Saudi Arabia and Hurghada on the Egyptian mainland.  A part of the mainland until the construction of the Suez Canal, it separates Africa from Asia.  It’s also home to Mt. Sinai where it’s believed Moses received the 10 Commandments from God.  I must admit the locals in Sharm are definitely less conservative than all of mainland Egypt.  It’s likely because there are an abundance of Russian, Italian and French tourists gambling and frolicking about wearing very little clothing.  There are bright lights and discotheques; malls and restaurants galore and the resorts are high-end including the Ritz and the Four Seasons.  People come here to relax on the beaches but mostly they come for the diving.  Off the coast, there are incredible coral reefs that even snorkelers will find worthwhile.

I tried snorkeling today but I only lasted about 20 minutes.  We were pretty far offshore where the waters are a bit colder.  After diving in the water, I really thought I might have a heart attack so I aborted my snorkeling mission and retreated to the warmth of the boat.  The few Egyptian men on board made me play figurehead of the Titanic with them.  Here I am freezing in my bikini – already feeling self-conscious as I’ve gained some thunder thighs- and these guys all want to take a picture with me spreading out my arms like Kate Winslet.  It was a bit insane but seeing that figurehead and Titanic were the only words they knew in English I had to go with it.  Yes I have pictures* to prove it.

I’m hiking Mt. Sinai tomorrow night and expect Moses will be guiding me to the top.  Should you wonder about my foot….Yes it is still injured but I must see the the burning bush and talk to God and all that jazz.

Oh and the belly dancing classes I’ve been taking prove one thing.  I won’t be a professional anytime soon and my hips move to the left much more than they move to the right.  In the event that I do master the moves, I have a very cute belly dancing outfit for my performance.

***You will never see these photos.

Africa, Destinations, Middle East

Happy Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2009 • By

I’ve have traveled from one end of Africa to the other arriving safely in Alexandria, Egypt.  A city that sits directly on the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria is an interesting mix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman culture.  The city is U-shaped around the water and the buildings are a mix of Ancient Egyptian culture with a flair of Greek and Roman.  Alexander the Great founded the city and the people still honor him today.  It’s a very diverse city and I can see it in the faces of the people.  Some people have blue eyes and reddish, brown hair and they tend to be a shade lighter than their Egyptian counterparts in Cairo.  The city is home to ancient ruins such as the Roman Theater and Pompey’s Pillar.  The Roman columns still standing paying homage to the settlers long gone.

Alexandria is quieter, cleaner and more cultural(in some ways) than Cairo.  The people seem a little more reserved yet slightly European.  On my first day sightseeing, I must have had my picture taken by 18 people.  Primarily teenage girls but also several fathers with their children.  It was definitely noticeable to me that the covered women were either not allowed to be in the photos or did not want to be in them.  Let’s just say my own camera didn’t get a workout but I am confident I am in no less than 20 other pictures and multiple cell phones.  It was a great ego boost but after awhile the allure of it wore off and I realized how celebrities must despise having their photo taken all the time.

Since Friday is the Muslim holy day and no one works it seemed everywhere I walked I was cornered by groups of people on the sidewalks or streets praying.  Many stores and cafes placed carpets on the ground and I watched men bowing up and down and then kneeling for what seemed like an hours.  The men were together on the carpets but the women were no where near them.  In fact, I noticed most women didn’t even stop walking.  The loud speakers were again blaring as the followers of Islam listened to the Koran’s prayers.  Even more fascinating to watch were the cars and buses completely stopped during the 12:00 prayer time.  People on the buses hung their heads out the window to listen to the prayers.  When the prayer ended, people filled the streets shopping and eating like a huge celebration.

Later, I somehow landed at a strip mall type of place to see a movie (Bride Wars – I do love my chick flicks).  It quickly became clear to me that if Muslim’s cannot hang out drinking Friday nights they are going to patronage two types of places:  movie theaters and coffee shops.  Keep in mind the coffee shops are primarily for men so that leaves young couples, families and women walking around the stores or seeing a movie.  I waited in line to purchase my ticket and no less than 5 men and about 5 women steamrolled me to get their tickets first.  It didn’t make any sense to me until I finally got to the window.  The seats are assigned here in Egypt.  I picked what looked like a nice seat and made my way to the theater.  Once inside, I realized my ticket was in Arabic and I couldn’t remember what seat I selected on the woman’s screen (when I bought my ticket).  The funny part was that the seats in the theater were labeled in English.  I sat and decided to see if someone would move me.  Sure enough about 8 previews in the flashlight guy moved me 5 rows back.  I figured I made a pretty good guess considering I know 3 words in Arabic.  The film started and I looked around.  There was not one adult man in the entire theater but there were plenty of mother’s with children and teenage couples.  When I left the show and walked around to check out the action, I found all the men.  They are like the cops hanging out in the donut shops….but in the coffee shops smoking hookah and watching sports.  I guess it’s the same in every country.

As far as the V-Day is concerned, it’s a sea of red and not the one your thinking.  Remarkably, the hallmark holiday has arrived in Egypt alive and well.  The Chinese caught on quickly to this willing market because the red furry bears are a huge export for them.  I’m a little scared to share with you that from an outsider’s perspective it  seems to be all about the red scarves, the lingerie and 3 foot red bears.  There are some balloons and flowers but those pale in comparison to the bears and naughty nighties.  I am beginning to believe my new friend Eheb’s theory on the covered women.  If these provocative shops are not in tourist areas, then the locals must be buying this merchandise.  Let me add, the window displays are equally outrageous…not  conservative by any means.  It’s really intriguing as I’m picturing these women putting on sex shows at home.  I just cannot figure out the contrast in the public persona versus home.  The couples strolled the sidewalks in full force today and most women were dressed in red and carrying bears or I love you bags.  Every man I walked past either at the hotel or on the street or in the stores wished me a Happy Valentine’s Day.  The newspapers even displayed ads for Valentine’s specials and most retailers expected lucrative sales.  Egyptian style Valentine’s Day is here to stay.

I’m off to the other RED SEA and Mt. Sinai tomorrow.  From there I am heading to Jordan and then Israel.  Stay tuned for my Egypt 101 in the next day.

Happy Valentine’s Day and remember there’s no such thing as the lonely hearts club.