Sunday, March 17, 2013

Egyptian journey to Charming Sharm

Bored of snow and low temperatures we have packed our swimsuits and moved out to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, land of pyramids, deserts and the Red sea. It will be 10 days of summer and during Russian winter.
Looks like summer

Arabs and Russians

Arabs are everywhere. I mean, if your want to see real Egyptians – you have chosen a bad time: in the 6th century Egypt was invaded by Arabs so now there are only 5% of real “ancient” Egyptians in Egypt called Copts. But I guess, now after 15 centuries, there is no big difference between them. Ahmed and Muhammad are the most common names here. Maybe every second person here I have met had these names. So if forget the name of your guide, use Ahmed instead, you won’t be wrong.
Duty free seller

Now I’ll tell the main problem that we encountered here: street sellers. Yeah, they are Arabs – nomads and sellers at their best. To say they are annoying is to say nothing, in Sharm el-Sheikh they are world champions in harassment. If you pass them closer than 5 meters away be sure to hear their marketing lines, asking where you are from, what your name is and introducing to his superb shop, where everything is for $1. After a couple of days you’ll definitely be immune to such marketing because the only way to get through – is by replying “No, thanks” to any their question.

They have one more cool skill – 100% accurate nationality guessing. A bit later I realized it was not so difficult here in Sharm el-Sheikh to tell where you are from. There are 4 points: skin color, age, bracelets and other sellers. Russians are rather white than Europeans and much-much younger. Most of the Europeans we met here were 35 and older; a lot of pensioners from UK were in our hotel. Moreover, different language groups have bracelets of different color (Arabs, Russians and Europeans), so sellers have learnt that. In our hotel there were three colors of all-inclusive bracelets: blue for Arabs, purple for Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians and beige for Europeans.
Purple bracelet

Color difference tells barmen, waiters and other servicemen your booze aspect: Arabs are not allowed to drink any alcohol, Europeans and Russians can have any. The reason why Europeans and Russians have different colors in my opinion is the language barrier: majority of Russians don’t speak English at all. So servicemen here had to learn some basic Russian in order to please so numerous ex-USSR tourists. When we were here speaking English, at least three different persons were wondering why we were speaking English instead of Russian.

Once we were walking down the street when one seller started his routine, asking where we were from in Russian. I replied standard “no thanks”, following by later questioning: “German? English?”. I was stone cold with my “no thanks” line. After that another nearby seller helped his fellow saying that they were Russians. Then in plain Russian: “Why you no speak Russian? Russians are bad men.” OK.
Local transportation

Even every taxi driver honks you while you walk in the sidewalk. After a while we simply started to ignore all those “Arabs vs tourists” things but nevertheless I think it’s a major problem here in a fine Egyptian resort. For example, if you are a woman and don’t have a fellow around – it’s a definite problem to walk outside your hotel.

And one more thing about bracelets. Once after the evening show I was contacted in poor English by one man:
-          Can you have a wine for me?
-          Wine?
-          Yes, one wine.
I was a bit confused. Usually grown up guys offer you a drink but not ask. At first I thought he was offering me a wine, but I didn’t see any. One Polish guy nearby saved the situation and agreed to bring this Egyptian a drink. One second later I realized that wine was actually a taboo for him.  They say you cannot buy any alcohol in Sharm el-Shiekh outside hotels and airport.

One of the reasons I have chosen Tropicana Azure Club Hotel was the number of English speakers here: Internet said the majority of visitors here are from Europe and especially UK. It was true: by my skeptical observation the first place is won by UK and the second goes to Russia. It was my hobby here to guess where people are from not looking at their bracelets. I enjoyed doing that during our meals and must say you can clearly tell Russians from Europeans: there is something different in their faces that cannot be described by words.
Elder brother "Tropicana Grand Azure" hotel

The animation team was international (2 from UK, 3 from Russia and Ukraine, 1 from Tunisia and 2 from Egypt) and all of their shows were in English with constant Russian remarks for those who don’t understand anything. But actually words were not necessary.

Two words about room service: Arabic boys and towel figures. I think you already know what it means: young man knocks at your door, asks if everything is ok, offers to take the thrash out, asks our names, country and age, offers to take a photo of a crocodile he has made before, asks how we are doing every time we see him. I guess it’s just being polite in Egypt, but too familiar for me.
Towel figures

All staff at the hotel is male, except for the animation crew. They say it is because tourism sphere is exclusively for men. But actually I have not seen any woman at work here at all; maybe they just stay at home and bring up children.


National currency here is dirty Egyptian pound. Yeah, they are always dirty and crumpled like a hundred years old piece of toilet paper. The second point is: they are not needed here. You got me right: don’t take Egyptian pounds when you go to Egypt, take US dollars. All prices around tourists are in US dollars, street shops, souvenirs, excursions and other and when you say that you have EGP they will make an easy conversion: multiplying the price by 10 instead of a real rate of 6.7.

The only place with EGP prices was a local supermarket with extremely low prices comparing to regular street sellers. But they actually had two cash registers: for dollars and pounds. So it’s ok to have dollars here. We actually exchanged all our dollars at the airport bank, because it’s an ordinary procedure in other touristic places and I felt a bit of regret with all those forthcoming conversions. To tell the truth there is not many places where you can spend your money especially if you don’t like regular touristic souvenirs like magnets and stuff.
Don’t know where to spend money? Why not KFC?

There was even one more money problem we have encountered here. The last day we were here I decided to exchange my 700 EGP ($127) back to dollars. Not this time buddy: our lobby currency exchange man send me to the bank across the street, but it was already closed at 14:30, because they work till 14:00. Short business day, isn’t? Ok, I can exchange it at the airport the next morning. Sure? The bank at the airport wasn’t working at all. So I brought 300 EGP as a souvenir because I didn’t want to spend money for all those duty-free regular stuff.

Weather and sea

It is still northern hemisphere so it is still winter during winter. I mean: +25C, no rain, sometimes windy – sounds like winter, yeah. Nevertheless, when it is windy it’s getting cold – you can’t just lie sunbathing in a swimsuit by the pool, you need a T-shirt. And when the sun sets down, about 6 p.m. you need a sweatshirt or even a jacket (as locals do), especially during an hour long evening show.
Evening illumination

But anyway, there was some problem with that winter sun – we didn’t even sunburnt, although we tried, tanning almost every day (comparing to Thailand when we got burnt twice, during their winter season).
Winter wind here gets its full force in the sea – don’t mind to take a jacket and Thai hat for the voyage.
At the sea with a hat

Although, still got cold during the diving session in a wet diving suit.
You know, Sharm el-Sheikh is actually located in the desert so there are no rains here. But one morning we found wet pathways outside. First, I thought that they were washed, but then realized that it was just a small rain right before. You know that feeling when you look at the sea and all those palm trees and realize that tomorrow it will be all snow and frozen land, you can’t believe yourself. Experience tells you that actually autumn comes after summer but not winter. Not this time. Do not want winter! Do want summer!
Do want summer!

The main tourist attraction here is the Red sea. To tell the truth late January is not the right season for swimming – it is very windy and sea temperature is not high. Nevertheless we have swum 3 times: at the beach, dived with scuba diving and snorkeled. Two words about scuba diving: another world. You move another way, breathe another way and feel very distant from regular world and from your life. The first thing that is strange is your breathing: on land you don’t think about it, you just do it in a regular way, underwater you really have to remember to breathe, because you do it with your mouth. Several times I tried to inhale with my nose with no success and then had to restore to normal.
Scuba divers

Your senses here all go wrong – all you hear is air hissing trough tubes to a mouth, all you see is a restricted view of a sea life with objects seeming closer than they are, touching things is not appreciated and you smell or taste nothing. During a 15 minute journey I felt lost a couple of times, felt like I was moving the wrong direction, so I had to look back to see my instructor and understand that everything was OK. Nice thing is you don’t have to work hard with your hands or legs – diving suit keeps you on the desired level controlled by instructor.
The Red sea

The fish and a riff itself didn’t really impress me because my senses were busy with the new environment accommodation and this experience was the most impressive during the whole trip. I highly recommend trying this.


To open your room door and turn on the light you need a key card with magnetic strip, it’s quite common now in the hotels around the world. Right after our first dinner we couldn’t get in our room – the card didn’t work, so I went to lobby and changed it. The next day after some successful tries it broke up again and again the next day. So for three days in a row I was going to lobby and changing key cards, I felt that something was wrong. Why was this magnetic strip demagnetized so often? Why was it so week?

Finally I got it – my neck purse had a magnetic lock and I kept a key card in that purse. Suddenly I realized that I also was keeping my plastic card here, (it was working OK though) I removed it to a safe box. After that, key card was working smoothly all the way.
One of the 14 buildings

Now some fails about the hotel (Tropicana Azure Club 4*). No bath tub, only a shower. No gym, just a closet. No kidding: one day I thought it would be real nice to go to the gym and have some exercises, first of all it’s really a hard task to find it – it has no sign, so I had to ask at the bar if there was any. Finally I got there:
-          Hi, is this a gym?
-          Hi, yes, - answered a woman sitting here. – You have to wear sneakers for the training.
I was wearing shorts and slippers. I looked around and found a small room, rather smaller than ours, with 3 (three) pieces of equipment: exercise bike, treadmill and a butterfly machine.
-          OK, – said I, leaving.

700 meter long jetty

And finally one the most important fail here is the sea, specifically its depth. Hotel is located at Nabq Bay to the north from the center, and here is located rather big riff. It starts right at the shore and goes in to the sea. This means two points: you have to wear shoes not to hurt your feet and you have to walk 700m in to the sea if you want swim. For that purpose a jetty is used. So prepare to walk around 12 minutes to make a swim. I guess it was the reason because I did it just once. However there is another jetty at the neighbor hotel twice as short as ours that I used once, although it was forbidden.
To the pyramids!

Farewell, Sharm el-Sheikh, thanks for the summer. Anyway have to return to Egypt in future to see the pyramids, because of the cancelled excursion.