Unless you're immune to all forms of advertising or you’ve been living in the proverbial cave, you can't help but notice the sheer volume of marketing perpetrated by the Egyptian tourism board. One can scarcely avert one's eyes quickly enough to avoid being broadsided by a big red bus touting the Red Sea, Pyramids or some such other ancient national treasure of the great nation of Egypt. So, when Laura H mentioned she had a week off between jobs and nothing to do around the same time my own vacation plans had fallen through, a plan was hatched to occupy the time in some kind of 5 star luxury accommodation filled with days of all kinds of hedonistic activities. A few ideas were bandied about but eventually we both settled upon Egypt, probably due in no small part to the aforementioned relentless broadsiding. A planning meeting (viz. dinner with lots of wine) was duly held, tickets booked and a few weeks later we were winging our way to the Steigenberger Al Dau beach resort in Hurghada.
Upon arrival in Hurghada, we were relieved to find the resort checked all the boxes for 5 star luxury; marble everywhere, a huge room with a huge balcony and a pool which never seemed to end (no, not an infinity pool, just a big one) complete with a pool-bar and all the other usual trappings. We immediately opened some cold beers and toasted our success before going to the hotel restaurant for dinner, floating down the marble staircase on the scent of barbequed crab.
The following morning we showed up for our PADI Open Water diving course and spent the next three days with the very capable (and good-looking, some of us thought) Reda, a local, ex professional football player, dive instructor and all-round nice guy who patiently took us through the course, first in the never-ending pool and then in the clear blue, beautiful warm Mediterranean sea. I'm proud to say both Laura and I are now Open Water certified. Dive holiday invites welcome.
Walking along “the strip” at night, looking for bars and restaurants, it’s almost impossible to imagine being approached as many time as we were approached by people asking “hey, what is your name my friend?” or “where you from?” or frequently together. We quickly learned that both questions essentially mean one of two possible things, either “come into my store” or “where is my tip?”. One quickly starts to ignore, to the ire of those who presumably really do want to know where you are from, or really do want you to come into their store.
In all, we spent five days in Hurghada, three spent diving and two (dire) days spent dealing with the obligatory travellers stomach bug (blamed on the Hard Rock Cafe) and some sort of cold virus. After suffering badly, I eventually capitulated and went to the hotel doctor for some medication. Vitamin-C, 3 anti-biotic pills and 6 anti-bacterial pills were prescribed and quickly followed by a bill for £90. When I balked at this massive bill, the good doctor exclaimed it was the hotel’s prices, not his, but immediately reduced the bill to £30 and then added warmly “where you from?”
After five days we moved on to Cairo to check out the Sphinx and Pyramids in this most ancient of cities. Again the hotel did not disappoint, indeed it used to be a palace of some kind and was built using the other half of all the marble in Egypt, but that is about where the opulence ended. For all the beauty of the majestic Nile and old-world treasures touted on billboards and featured in movies the world over, Cairo is by all accounts, a bit of a dump. There’s trash and stray dogs everywhere, the roads are outright carnage and the air filled with smoke and the sweet stench of decay. What you don’t see on the glossy billboards and sides of buses is the washing line on the balcony of a derelict apartment building across the street from the Sphinx, you don’t see the Coca-Cola cans strewn all over the ground and you don’t see the street vendors touting the most unbelievable junk to tourists too fatigued by harassment to refuse. It is however not my intention to bash the place and if anybody from the Egyptian tourism board is reading this, I would appreciate it if you would not bar any future entry to Egypt, thank you.
In all, we had a great time in Egypt. There were moments of genuine wonderment and beauty amongst the ruin and decay. Would I go back? Probably not right away, but maybe some day.