All things considered, I had a pretty successful weekend! Three American girls, two American boys, four Egyptian friends, and I traveled to Sharm al-Sheikh (or “Sharm”, for short). We hopped on a large charter bus around midnight on Wednesday, arriving at around 7 AM Thursday. It wasn’t exactly the most pleasant 7 hours of my life (just think screaming babies, movies playing in Arabic with the sound on full blast, and rotten bread & cheese for a snack whether you wanted it or not), but it got us there. It was also the first time that I noticed the benefits of an American passport- we had to stop at least three times at checkpoints. The first time, they checked everyone’s names and passports, but the second and third times, all it took was a glance at the cover of mine and we were through.
Upon arrival, we were mobbed by taxi drivers desperate to take advantage of the obvious tourists on the bus. We luckily had Arabic-speaking Rabee there to diffuse the situation and settle us into a van. The other Egyptians didn’t arrive until a bit later, so we hung out at the pool and had “Dejeej Kentucky” (Kentucky Fried Chicken) for lunch. It was the last day of Ramadan (finally!), so literally nothing opened until at least 1 or 2 PM, not to mention the fact that it was approximately 9000 degrees outside. It’s a strange experience to walk out of the house anytime before around 4 pm and see empty streets and downtown areas. There’s no use in going outside in the heat- it’s uncomfortable and pointless. Everything comes alive after sundown (especially during Ramadan, when fasting Muslims tend to sleep all day), and even families stay out until 2 or 3 AM.
For dinner, we went to the “Old Market” area of Sharm for seafood, which was delicious and inexpensive due to our proximity to the water. Being right next to the Red Sea made for some strange landscapes. We were surrounded by desert, but could see the blue water along the horizon. After dinner, we were all exhausted after spending the previous night on the uncomfortable bus, so we welcomed sleep.
Sharm is composed of a strange mixture of influences. It has a busy downtown area ridden with tourist traps like “Ali Baba” and “Aladdin” restaurants. Shisha bars play old American pop music, while traditional Bedouin Whirling Dervishes dance nearby. It’s a cheap, popular vacation destination for Russian and Eastern European travelers. Despite its tacky elements, the area is notable for its prominent role in Middle Eastern politics. Israeli/Palestinian peace talks have taken place there, and Hillary Clinton will be there tomorrow for yet another one.
On our second day there, we didn’t even attempt to venture outside until around 2 PM, choosing instead to order food in for lunch. Food delivery is pretty popular here, I assume because it’s so hot that nobody wants to leave their air conditioning. A/C is also a major necessity- the machine in one of our rooms broke down, so we chose to cram 4 girls in one bed and have others sleep on the floor just to ensure air conditioning all night. It was unbearable to be in the A/C-less room for more than a few minutes.
We had dinner in Naama Bay, which is the main downtown area of Sharm. I literally almost walked into two separate camels on the way to dinner, but had to resist taking pictures to avoid paying for a ride. The main walkway was so crowded with people and bright lights that didn’t even notice large animals sitting in the middle of it all. That night, we checked out “Little Buddha”, which is a well-known club with a giant Buddha statue inside. House music is pretty popular here, and the club was full of European tourists, so that made for a pretty eccentric atmosphere. It was definitely a must-see. My travel book (Lonely Planet Egypt) mentions almost all of the places that we’ve visited so far, so it’s exciting (but weird!) to check things off as I encounter them.
On our last day there, we left for the beach at around 2 PM (bad idea- still too hot) and went to a seaside restaurant for lunch. I got a plate of grilled crab, which was amazing, and only $10! The instant that we paid the bill, we all ran the whole 10 feet to the water of the Red Sea to escape the sun. The water was perfect- not too cold, but still refreshing. Oh, and I finally saw a Burkini in action! One woman had a legitimate purple loose wetsuit-type outfit on, while others just swam in loose exercise pants and long shirts. We hung out there and on the sand for awhile before taking up an offer to go parasailing. I almost had a heart attack on the small boat ride to the larger parasailing boat, mostly because we were bouncing around so much that I was afraid to drop my camera into the water, but it survived the trek. We got a great view of the sunset over Sharm and a nice ending to the afternoon.
That night, we went to a David Guetta concert at a well-known club named Pasha. I had a ton of fun- we ended up standing front row center the entire time and the venue was thoroughly decorated. Guetta, a french House music DJ, even brought up some traditional Bedouin Whirling Dervishes as backup dancers, complete with bright Christmas lights laced through their skirts. It was a perfect way to wrap up the trip, as we re-boarded our buses at 9:30 the next morning. Obtaining bus tickets in the first place was pretty frustrating- we encountered slow-moving Egyptians when we had limited time, had taxis drop us off at the wrong location, and got stared at nonstop. I never expected to be saying this so soon, but it felt good to return to Cairo after the long weekend.
Most of Sunday was dedicated to long showers (we were limited to 3 liters of water between the 10 of us for the entire weekend in Sharm), food, homework, and rest. Today, students returned to class looking a little sun-worn, but armed with stories from their various trips. Popular destinations included Dahab, Cypress, Luxor/Aswan, and Sharm for international students, while most Egyptians returned home for Eid with their families. It was an exhausting weekend, but definitely worth it!