Journal: Saturday 22 November 2003
I was up early this morning and before breakfast I walked along the sea front to a small fenced-in archaeological site with a notice board stating that it was a Nabatean port dating from the first to second centuries BC. Named el-Mashraba Hill, the site was excavated by the SCA in 1989 when it was discovered that there had been a lighthouse to guide ships through the Arabian Gulf.
After quite a lazy morning in Dahab, I was sad to be leaving this lovely little town to drive to Sharm el-Sheikh at the southern tip of Sinai, where we had planned to stay for three more days. There is only one problem with Dahab and that is the fact that the majority of the hotels don’t have fresh water, relying on sea water for washing facilities. Sam had warned me about this, claiming that she can only stand salty showers for two or three days. You can’t get clothes clean either and by the time we left we were both itching with the salt. The road to Sharm once more wound through a gorgeous mountainous landscape with occasional glimpses of the glittering Red Sea and I sat back to enjoy the scenery with Sam driving again. In two hours we arrived in Sharm and I immediately wished we had stayed in Dahab. Sharm el-Sheikh is a paradise for those who like beach holidays. The coast, consisting of Naama Bay, Shark Bay and Sharm Bay, is a continuous stretch of beautiful white beaches lined with hundreds of high-rise hotels interspersed with bars and nightclubs. Most people are attracted to Sharm by the beaches and the diving and water sports as well as the wide range of leisure activities loved by tourists, but this is not my kind of holiday. Give me temples any day!
Sam has stayed here before and we headed to her favourite hotel, the Sharm Reef. Unfortunately the room price has risen from 170 LE earlier this year to 480 LE a night. A little out of our price range, even with Abdul negotiating Egyptian prices for us all. We next called at the Uni Sharm, a large hotel situated high on a hill right next to Egypt’s ‘Disneyland’ – ‘Alf Leila wa Leila (1001 Nights), which looked intriguing. It is a huge complex of colourful oriental domes and towers, mixed with pseudo ancient Egyptian temples. There are many restaurants, clubs and oriental shows to entertain the tourists, but it looked to me like a copy of Las Vegas built on a low budget. I was not too disappointed that the Uni Sharm, though less expensive, could not give us the accommodation we needed. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving around dozens of hotels, some nice and some less salubrious, but there was no room for us anywhere. Because the Feast of Eid which signifies the end of Ramadan, is only three days away, it would seem that half of Egypt had come to spend the holiday in Sharm. We even had a look at a couple of apartments but decided against them for various reasons.
By late afternoon we were sitting despondently in a cafe in Naama Bay wondering what to do next. Everywhere we looked brighly-lit signs beckoned tourists into shops to buy pirate CDs, gaudy printed T-shirts and postcards galore. Loud music issued from every store-front in a cacophany of sound. This was an Egypt I hadn’t seen before and didn’t like. After a much-needed meal and a couple of cups of coffee, Sam voted to drive back to Cairo tonight and I readily agreed. I really hadn’t taken to Sharm at all and in preference would have rather gone back to Dahab, but we knew that the Sphinx hotel where we had been staying had no rooms vacant either. Leaving Sharm el-Sheikh around 8.00pm we set off for the long and uneventful drive up the west coast of Sinai, through the Ahmed Hamdy Tunnel and on towards Cairo. This was where the fun started. Around 1.00am we hit very dense fog and Sam could see nothing but whiteness through the car windscreen. She missed the turning off to the city and ended up on the 26th July corridor – not realising her mistake until we were half way to Alexandria. By the time we got back to Cairo and checked into the hotel we’d booked earlier this evening, it was 4.30am and Sam was exhausted. Sleep came easily for us all!