[Camera & Egypt photos finally safely returned to me and updated (14/02/09) ...although of little use in aiding this entry as Sharm el Sheikh was certainly one of the more aesthetically avoidable stops on my journey :) ]
I'll be honest. Sharm el-Sheikh has always been very low on the list of places I'd like to visit before I die. In fact it kind of hovers somewhere in the bottom 10 probably. I have low expectations. Panicky visions of a godless, cultureless, souless neon light and sun tan cream orgy of spiritual inertia and aesthetic nothingness assail my mind as Pierre-marc and I cruise across the Red Sea on the Hurghada to Sharm cattermeran. Pierre has other things on his mind I think. Like trying not to barf.
Why then Sharm, Sharm a place of no charm? Well my particular diving institution (The British Sub Aqua Club) only have qualified instructors here and in Nuweiba and somewhere else I've never heard of.
Some tacky waterfall-phoniness at the 'old market' in Sharm.
.. so I plumped for the easy, the popular option. I'm here to do a specific qualification (Sports Diver, diving to 35 metres, loads more theory and rescue skills so in theory I can help y'all out if ever you find yourself in trouble beneath the waves) so my unforunately protracted time in Sharm (a week or so) is purely functional. Test dives. Pool tuition. Theory lessons, evenings of soporiphic revision and tests. Pretty mundane but encompassing some beautiful dives and dive sites along the way.
To encapsulate my time in Sharm it is necessary for me to look at my experiences through two wholly separate prisms. The astonishing beauty, colour, wealth and diversity of the marine life and coral reef environs to be enjoyed whilst diving. Some of the most fascinating 'landscapes' and visions of my life to date.
But above water, the extreme dullness and occasional ugliness of the tourist trap atmosphere of Sharm above water.
I guess I'll get the bad and the ugly off my chest first. A minor blog exorcism.
Nothing is particularly cheap in Sharm, particularly accommodation and food stuffs; the one place in all the guides that sounded vaguely affordable and possessed of a pleasant vibe (The Pigeon House) has apparently been knocked down, although their phones been ringing out on me, still connected for the last 2 weeks. After a long sweaty morning and afternoon trudging around with all my gear from end to end of Naama Bay looking for this place or other affordable accommodation I am directed to the clifftop area above Old Sharm called Hardaba for cheaper options.
The overpriced room at the Sun Rise Hotel where I tortured myself with self-catered food and diving revision for a week or more
Cheaper still meaning $32 a night for a dirty room, with a mega dirty bathroom (a growling, seething mass of a pubic-clipping monster around the base of the toilet a particular treat), hot taps that don't work, water that runs brown, a TV that plays 2 snowstorm drenched Russian and 1 arabic channel for the first evening and then stops working all together, a fridge that works so enthusiastically that it freezes everything (my precious, expensive vegetables and fruit) even on the lowest setting, my first and only Egyptian mosquitoes and the same over-loud, repetetive Euro-techno-pop every evening to cater to the 5 Russians that comprise the remaining inhabitants of this crumhole. Hilariously when I ask after their laundery services, emphasising that I need things cheap and no frills, no ironing etc my clothes are later returned to me individually ironed, pressed, tagged, dry-cleaned and cellophane wrapped with the logo of the Ritz Carlton Sharm el-Sheikh printed on the baggies.
The pool at this ghost town hotel that would have been all mine to use alone had I not (thankfully) been diving every day.
.. even my crummy, frayed cotton slips and socks! LOL Expensive at EGP120 (!!!) but just about worth it for the anecdote. Morons! Taxi drivers 'pip - pip - piiiiip'
at you to get your attention every 5 seconds of your life here even in designated 'no horn' zones at 6.00am. Tacky shops. Tacky food. Tacky buildings, bars and restaurants. Up here, away from 'the action' above Naama and Old Sharm, a desert dust-plateau strewn with broken signage and dusty relics of abandonned over-develpoment projects and infrastructure and punctuated by mini-kart tracks, 'supermarkets' with nothing you want to eat in them and the occasional neon retail mecca. on my final morning, relieved to be getting the heck out of here, the final straw. Asked to take me to the bus station to get my connection to Dahab
the taxi driver for reasons I still cannot fathom drops me at what looks like the place, but is in fact the old, no longer serviced bus station.
Wow! Beautiful retails therapy opportunities in wooonderful upper Sharm
Talking to other travellers later it turns out they (the taxi drivers) are doing this same thing all the time (!?!). I get the feeling the new station may not be too far away but flag down another taxi. Despite the obvious distress/ irritation I'm expressing about Egyptian customer service (an oxymoron if ever there was one) this guy still also deceives me. When I ask him to just point out where it is he explains that it's many, many streets away. In reality he just drives about a further 400 walkable yards down the same road and turns into the entrance of the now apparent station for EGP10!
"I can't believe it. That was practically over the road!". "It's ok sir. Money not a problem. You pay only what you want". "Fine, here's 5 pound, shukran.
One of the... errr?... many attractive road curves to be admired in culture rich Sharm el Sheikh.
" "No sir, you pay only what you wish. 10 pound."
What the f**k?! "Ok, I am paying what I want, here's 5 pounds." "Thank you sir, 10 pounds. you pay what you wish only. Only 10 pounds."
"Yeah, what I wish. What you deserve. I hear ya. 5 frickin' pounds cos you lied to me." "NO SIR! You pay what YOU want. GIVE ME 10 POUNDS!"
Oh f**k you and f**k off! Here's ya money. Man, Egypt can bring the worst out in me. So after all this, to get the 2-3 kms from my hotel to the real bus station costs me 4 x the ticket to travel the nearly 90 kms by coach to Dahab... but boy am I glad to be on my way at any cost. Hey folks, This Is Egypt.
Rule number one.
My individually dry cleaned, ironed & folded travel clothes from the Sharm el Sheikh Ritz Carlton...yes those are shrink-wrapped pants on the right :O
Relax Steve. Be calm. Take deep breaths. Yes. Breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Yes. That's good. Deeeeep breaths. In. Out. Nice and slow. Soft. Deep. Repeat. Relax. Close your eyes. Forget The Sun Rise. Let the neon burn of countless fast food restaurants fade from your retinas. Breathe. Relax. Relax. Deep calm breaths. Let the visions of endless shops containing infinite iterations of cheap crappy tourist trinkets, souvenirs, crummy romance novels, over priced tabloids and clothes slip from your conciousness. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. Let the visions of countless bronzed, long-legged Russian sun godesses fade from mem.
Nothing but 5 Star travel for Stevie :)
"Oh ah, ahem? could I possibly hold on to that particular thought?!... please?"
...okay okay. What ever. Shut up. Keep those eyes closed. Gently now. Relax. Breeeeeathe. In. And breathe out. You are floating. Floating. Floating high up. Maybe you are a cloud. Floating above the beautiful craggy Sinai mountainscape. "Maybe I'm a cloudzzzz...." Yes. You are a cloud. High above Egypt. You are above Egypt. Floating. Keep brea...
"Hang on a sec?! A cloud? I haven't seen a flippin'cloud the entire time I've been here. How can I be a Sinai floatin'cloud if there aren't any?!"
..okay, OKAY. You are not a cloud. "I am not a cloudzzzz..."
But you are floating. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly. Relax. Egypt is your friend. "Egypt is my friendzzzz...."
You are still floating. Eyes closed. Drifting. "I am still....zzz...a shifty-eyed... zzz...drifter...what?"
Oh Steve would you please
concentrate harder. HARDER on relaxing. Aaaaand
relax. Keep breathing. In. Aaaand
out. Slow. Softly. Deeply breathing. You are floating. A bubble. Floating. Waters rush in over your head. Keep breathing now. Water all around. Comforting blue. Serene.
Package holiday tourist sun-chasing schmucks do 'exercise' at the Hilton beach strip in Sharm.
. You are a bubble. "I am a bobble..."
You are a bubble. "I am a bauble..."
! "I am bubblezzz...."
Floating. There is water all around you. Calm. A bubble floating. "Bubbles are great!"
Breathe in. And. Breathe ou... "Bubbles are great!"
Relax. Relax. You are beneath Egypt's waves. Brea... "Bubbles are grea..."
Yes-yes-yes. Bubbles are great. Fantastic. Shut up. Relax. The waves are far above you now. You are floating. Eyes closed. Gently sinking. There are no taxis down here.
The usual fare you can expect for eateries in Sharm
Breathe in. Breathe out. Reeelax
. Everything is blue. Everything is calm. Everything is blue. Blue. Cool. Silence. Beauty. You are floating. In control. Sinking away from Egypt Up There. Sinking. Back in control. Blue. Blue. Keep breathing. Rule number one. You are floating. You are happy. Everything is beautiful down here. Breathing. Floating. Sinking and swimming. You are happy. You are diving