Journal: Tuesday 14 – Thursday 16 October 1997
An Australian couple from our hotel were going to Hurghada so we arranged that I would share a taxi with them for the journey. Apparently the road was still intact after yesterday’s rain, which sometimes can make it impassable, so we left Luxor with a long line of other taxis and coaches on the 5.30am convoy. By the time we were a few kilometres south of Luxor, the convoy of vehicles was quite spread out and it was an almost leisurely drive through the Nile valley as far as Qena. There, the convoy split up, some going to Dendera, some to Assyut, but the majority to Safaga on the Red Sea coast. We turned right towards the coast and suddenly we were in an entirely different landscape, now desert, with the long straight road enclosed on each side by high, strange-looking jagged mountains, bisected by deeply cut wadis. Although the rain hadn’t affected the road, it did disappear for a few kilometres where a new section was being constructed and we bumped along over a rough sandy track, deeply pitted from the huge wheels of bulldozers, the sand swirling up around us in the wind. We could see the old road running alongside, the tarmac broken up into large black chunks as it does, I was told, every five years or so. We had seen no habitation of any sort – no evidence of life at all apart from the odd straggling acacia tree for an hour or more. Suddenly there was a cafeteria, little more than a wooden shack, where the convoy stopped for a break and as I drank a most welcome cup of Turkish coffee I wondered how they get water out here in the middle of nowhere. By 10.00am we were on the outskirts of Hurghada, known as el-Ghadaga to Egyptians and to the rest of the world as the ‘Las Vegas of Egypt’. There were miles and miles of half-built holiday villages, seemingly self-contained in their own little world. I marvelled at the extent of this rash of construction work, much of which seemed to consist of little more than large heaps of rubble, as we drove down the wide new road into the town. I hadn’t booked a hotel and I was looking for something very cheap as I hadn’t budgeted for this trip. After looking at a few bleak and run-down hostels in the area of the Old Town I settled for a small Egyptian hotel near the beach, little better than the hostels but only LE25 a night.
Hurghada was at one time a small fishing village that has been taken over by tourism in the past few decades. I spent the afternoon looking around the old town, though as far as I was concerned, all it had to offer were cafeterias and souvenir shops. I had a look in the Aquarium which contained some very weird fish. In the evening I met my Australian friends and we ate in a fish restaurant – the Red Sea is famous for its wonderful fish. Being vegetarian I don’t eat fish but it seemed that this was all there was on offer. I settled for a plate of plain rice feeling rather gloomy and already ‘homesick’ for Luxor. The clear jade water and coral reefs of the Red Sea and the teaming marine life found there has made Hurghada into a tourist paradise, a popular destination for divers and beach-lovers from all over the world, but the only beach I saw was covered in concrete blocks and oil drums and didn’t look at all inviting. I was desperately missing the ancient monuments and Hurghada had little to interest me. I was just as gloomy back at the hotel. My room was sparsely furnished with a lumpy double bed, one blanket covering the mattress and a grubby uncovered bolster pillow, which felt like sleeping on a stone door lintel. In the bathroom down the hall, someone had been unpleasantly ill and it wasn’t any better the next morning as there was no water for a shower. I decided to go back to Luxor on the bus later that afternoon.
I didn’t bother with breakfast, but went into town where I met my Australian friends and together we arranged a trip to a coral island on a glass-bottomed boat through a local agent. This at least was a pleasant interlude. I was told that we would see dolphins and sharks, though there were none about. My friends loved to swim, so we borrowed some equipment and went snorkelling off the island where the clear, warm water was like blue-tinted glass sparking in the mid-day sun. Shoals of tiny colourful fish caressed my face and legs as I floated on the surface and swam over the coral. I’m not a natural ‘water-baby’ but I enjoyed it as another ‘experience’, another side of Egypt.
I had to rush back to the hotel to collect my bag to be at the bus station by 2.30pm, though the bus was late and didn’t leave until 5.00pm. I took the ‘Kul’, or Superjet, the air-conditioned bus, but it was very crowded and Egyptian videos played on overhead screens at full volume as we drove back through Safaga and out on the desert road to Qena. Still, the five and a half hour journey cost me only LE15, so I couldn’t really complain. The relief and joy at being back in Luxor, even though it was late at night and I was very tired, made me forget why I had ever wanted to leave.