Egypt's version of Cancun without all the fun

Trip Start Dec 25, 2012
Trip End Mar 27, 2013

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Flag of Egypt  , Red Sea and Sinai,
Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sharm el Sheikh is a city that basically didn't exist 30 years ago.  Built exclusively for tourists, this place is a little different from Cairo (and looks a lot like the outskirts of Vegas, just off the strip - with trash littering the streets next to the relatively new and strikingly white buildings).  We didn't know what to expect, but we booked our flights here for the world renowned Scuba diving we had read/heard about for years.  Let me start with the flight from Cairo on Egypt's monopoly airline - Egypt Air - the only way to get here domestically...unless you want to risk a 16 hour bus journey across the desert.  Anyway, Egypt Air Express (aka sarcophagus express) limits all your luggage to 70 pounds in ONE bag only...and this is only if you buy a business class ticket (economy is half the luggage allowance - and still ONE bag, with no option to pay extra).  Carrying our Scuba equipment, we didn't have a choice but to go for the business ticket (double the price).  This was the first business class ticket I ever purchased in my life, but we were promised exclusive lounge access and priority boarding for paying the premium rate.  Let's just say, this wasn't the Delta Airline's business class experience we've been accustomed to.  I've been in better doctor office waiting rooms than their business class lounge (which served instant coffee and no alcohol to prepare you for the experience yet to come).  But heck, it's we didn't expect much....but the price of the airline ticket was exuberant for a 45 minute plane ride.  The plane, itself, looked relatively safe, but was covered in so much sand, you couldn't see out the windows at all.  The interior wasn't much cleaner.  We'll have to video record the 15 second "safety" briefing on the way back, because there are definitely no restrictions on the use of electronics during take off and landing.  The "safety" briefing comprised of telling us how to use our seat belts, and that's about it.  Airport security wasn't much tighter either, with domestic flights providing very little screening.  I guess they're not worried about terrorists over here.

Anyway, 45 minutes and a few prayers to Allah later, we arrived at our destination....and that's when the real "adventure" began....

Despite booking our hotel 7 months earlier, and even confirming via phone call a week before our arrival, the hotel turned out to be a fiasco.   At first it seemed to be a normal seamless check-in, with the bell hop taking our bags to our room while the desk clerk checked us in.  We even paid for the full week in cash.  But just as we were about to be shown to our room (where our luggage was already taken), the general manager came out of his office and starting yelling at the desk clerk in Arabic. The conversation became quite "heated", and we were told to have a seat while this conversation was taking place.  A few moments later the desk clerk came up to us and told us the hotel did not have a "contract" with the Internet site we booked the hotel on, and consequently, we were to be moved down the street to their "sister" hotel, which he assured us was the same.  Not wanting to be the "ugly Americans" we only protested slightly when they assured us it would only be a minor inconvenience, and all amenities and accommodations would be exactly the same.  We didn't receive any further explanation or even an apology...but we didn't push it.   We were in Egypt on vacation after all, and you learn to take the good with the bad in these types of situations. 

The room turned out to be "okay" (supposedly a VIP room by the pool), but beyond that things have gone downhill each and everyday since our arrival.  I won't use this forum to complain too much about the hotel details, but suffice to say, it's not what we paid for and expected.  Still it was only $210 for 8 days accommodation, with breakfast, so could have done much worse. Besides, it's 77 degrees and sunny in January! Can't complain about that either.

Went diving yesterday.  It was great...but not THAT great compared to some of the other places we've been.  Same with the beach, which we went to today.  A lot of rocky shores...and not a lot of uninterrupted coastline to walk around in the sand.  We haven't seen any other Americans.  A lot of Russians and Europeans.  A few British....but everyone seems to be surprised when we say we're  American.

The people are really friendly, but they are extremely poor since the overturn of their dictator two years ago.  It's every man (don't see women working) for himself here, as they learn to deal with democracy and trying to earn a living in an uncertain enviornoment with tourism down.  The best way we can describe it is like when your teenager grows up and leaves the house - no supervision, and they're still immature.  That's the feeling here - everything is inconsistant, and it turns out that things like our hotel experience are par for the course here.  The people are over the top aggressive trying to get any tourist money, and it's part of the Muslim culture to tip for EVERYTHING - even the slightest gesture like holding open a door for someone.  This isn't a tourist thing, as we've seen Egyptians tip each other as well.  However, it's much worse here than in Cairo, due to the prevalence of tourists (and money).  Also, since it's a Muslim country, alcohol is hard to come by....which makes the whole beach experience a little somber (or sober) for those of us who like a Corona or Pina Colada on the beach.  We did find a resort selling alcoholic drinks, but drinks were priced at $14 USD each (without the tip, of course).

All in all, it's not a bad experience.  It feels safe here, and we are having a good time.  We are looking forward to Thailand next week (and our adventure on Oman Air), but in the meantime, we still have several more days here in the absolute beautiful weather and Scuba diving.  Happy New Year everyone - sending some warmth your way....
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