Hurghada From sun and desert to snow and deserted…

24 Jan

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I’ve always had a desire to go to Hurghada, Egypt. So, when T won a bit of money recently, we took the opportunity to book a last minute deal to the desired destination.

On arrival at Hurghada airport, we had to pay the £13 GBP for the visa. It’s not like Sharm El Sheikh, said the Customs Officer, where you have a choice over there.
We made it through the security checks and passport control and were awaited by a man waving a placard with our names emblazoned on it. We were then introduced to our Egyptian Rep, who accompanied us to a small minibus, greeted by another British couple and we sat down and soon set off to our designated hotels.
We had booked the Elysees Hotel, a four star hotel about 3km outside of the main town of Hurghada. It was clean, pleasantly decorated and suitable for our needs.The Rep mentioned that our luggage had to be left at the entrance so the porter could carry it to our room. We thought we were on a different floor or some distance away from the reception/foyer but we were only about a 100 yards away on the same floor. So it came as a bit of a surprise when the Porter placed our suitcases in our room and expectantly waited for a tip. I only had £1 sterling on me and explained that I didn’t have any change. He suggested that I when I did manage to have adequate change, Egyptian or British, to hand it to him when possible! I was unimpressed by his direct approach and felt he had placed me in an awkward position. After he left, we unpacked and explored the town nearby.
It was chilly that evening, as were most of the evenings, but we managed to see the stores that offered the usual ware for the tourist- leatherware, brass goods, glass ornaments, Egyptian art on papyrus, counterfeit designerwear, bric a brac. Why do they still insist on producing this tat and do tourists/holidaymakers still buy into this cheap souvenir market? Obviously they do or else these businesses wouldn’t survive.

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The roads are wide, and I noted that there wasn’t any traffic lights, pedestrian or zebra crossings. It appeared that the motorist was truly the King of the Road and to cross the road was a task you undertook at your own peril. As well as the numerous black and orange taxis which drive up and down the main street on a very regular basis blowing their horns in order to gain attention or potential fares, large articulated lorries, trucks and buses would speed by and hardly consider the safety of the pedestrian.

Most of the hotels and buildings are modern looking and with the very heavy presence of Russian people in the hotels, it came as no surprise to learn that the majority of investors which are currently driving the coastal economy are Russians who are helping it to develop into a highly sought after destination favoured by their own people. The posters dotted around Hurghada proclaiming the good strong links between Egypt and Russia confirmed this special relationship.
On a different level, I observed how some Russians, chose to drink vodka and sprite, rum and coke or brandy and coke at any given time of day and night. In the Lucky Dolphin pub attached to the hotel it was from 8am until last orders!

We also learned that Hurghada as a coastal town does not have a centre as such. It is a large sprawling resort, if it can be called that, divided into three distinguishable areas. Where we stayed is or will be a predominantly hotel based area for holiday makers tourists, short term breaks etc. The surrounding shops and nightlife caters for such a client group.

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The main part of Hurghada again caters for the wealthy holiday makers and tourists. Hawkers, street vendors selling cheap cigarettes, watches, faux leather belts and “silver” chains and necklaces jostle for attention against the high street boutiques or cleaner looking stores, malls and bazaares. Sitting almost incongrously amongst them all would be a Pizza Hut, the ever almighty Golden Arch of Mcdonalds, Burger King and KFC. Faced with competition from the more local cafes or cuisine it came as no surprise that we didn’t try it as we happened to have seen a local seller hawk into his handkerchief and proceed to clean a serving dish with the same cloth! Then there were the unusually exotic smells of cooked foods, meats and sweets camouflaging the smell of burnt/singed meats and decaying flesh in some quarters. To see some of the meat was off putting to say the least but at the same time, I was shocked, impressed, in awe, disgusted, tempted and inquisitive about what the local food actually tasted like. In hindsight, I think I should’ve been brave enough to try it but don’t think my stomach would’ve been able to handle the side effect…

The third section of Hurghada was really the most exhilarating and exciting part of Hurghada. Known as El Hur or Dar Har , head towards the Elzohour Hotel, only about 30 Egyptian pounds (£3 GBP) from the main part of town. A “dustbowl of a community!” it catered for the indigenous population. A market place which is incredibly cheap and cheerful, the hustle and bustle stimulated my senses in more ways than one. At last I felt alive and realised that yes, here I was certainly experiencing something new and diverse. A culture still yielding up to traditions and customs. A predominantly male presence, a slightly agressive and menacing atmosphere in a community which did not allow me to take any photographs, that almost made me fearful that I maybe accosted or assaulted, robbed or romanticised, treated with respect or terrorised with request to buy, buy and buy. It really felt less superficial than the other parts of the town and the heart of Hurghada. It buzzed with the beat of traffic congestion, human consumerism, and you could almost feel the ancient vibe of mysticism and spirituality.

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As it was approximately 30 degrees nearly every day, we spent the days sunbathing on Dream Beach, a private beach allocated to Elysee Hotel. Most hotels have their own private beach and if you were to venture further, there was a small fee or charge of 20 L.E or more (approx. £2 GBP) for the privilege of sitting on another beach. At Dream Beach, we listened to old classic standards, “chilled out/House/ambient music” with the imam calling the community to prayer in the background, watched the sunset over the Red Sea and on two occasions at approximately 4pm, we witnessed two flying fish skim the waters and veer to the left before disappearing from view under the pier. We waited for this to occur again for the third time but it did not happen. But just when we were about to come to terms with our disappointment, we saw two dolphins diving in and out of the waters! A serene and majestic sight indeed!

The sea water was cool and refreshing and you are surrounded by all manner of tropical fish…The irony of it is that although the Government of the Red Sea claim to conserve the Coral Reef and surrounding bays, pleading with the world to save the area, with the amount of tourism building up and boat trips offered, wouldn’t the amount of pollution going into the water be killing it off? Oils, effluence, a number of fish restaurants, lots of fish tanks on display in shops and restaurants, fish spa treatments, pieces of coral on display for sale…

Streetlife at nightime offered more charm and glamour I suppose, and any other opportunities that may have arisen were quietly rejected or declined.
Three times we searched for Hurghada Marina but we could not find it. Although it is clearly marked with blue lettering “MARINA” and a large red arrow on a large, orange beacon in the middle of the main road, we still found it difficult to find. On the second occasion, we walked down a dirt road and chanced on small workshops which were reminisce of old world charm. Young men sitting on their haunches sewing blankets, old gnarled men smoking tobacco and sheesha working with iron to make gates, trendy lads selling fabrics, young shoeless children playing in the dirt and running after kittens and cats, rummaging in rubbish tips and boxes, men gathered discussing the design of handmade upholstered furniture and sofas, greasy, dark skinned men sitting at tables with sore, blackened hands working with oil and various car parts, electricians sitting in dirt ridden units, waiting for their next customer. The craftsmanship and attention to detail and work was inspirational. It is such a shame that in the Western world, this is an art form that is slowly dying…

We eventually managed to find the Marina at our third attempt. It is near to the road full of small workshops but it is a gated community geared for the rich and affluent. Yachts, fancy restaurants, designer labels and wealth in sharp contrast to the outside world of dusty cars, dirt road tracks, poorly paid staff and illiterate children. Locals are not allowed in and it does make one wonder how the poor within the surrounding areas feel about this exclusive and elite domain.

One thing to remember about Hurghada – Dust fills the air and permeates most items in shops, stores, clothes, nostrils and mouth but that is to be expected as we are in desertland. So don’t expect it all to be pristine pretty and clean.

EL GOUNA

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A purpose built luxurious village which catered for the more discerning clientele. About 40 minutes away from Hurghada, it costs approximately anything between 50 – 70 LE (about £5-7 GBP) to get there. It all depends on how well you negotiate or barter with your taxi driver! The brochure stated that this was an experience not to be missed and declared that “there is nothing like it in the Red Sea”. We decided to spend a day there and found that the brochure was not wrong! It reminded me of several things : The Stepford Wives, because it was so clean and carefully planned out, a luxurious holiday village in Gambia (not that we’ve ever been there) and something quite futuristic in that there were small tuk-tuks driving up and down, the heat made it appear surreal and the lack of people in the area provided an air of solitude, isolation and sheer indulgence. Small Islands with villas that had individually numbered designated seating areas on the beach, sunbeds and parasols, surrounded by lagoons and a beach which meandered around. It was an oasis of calm and brilliance!

The Marina was full of yachts and we likened it to St Tropez (not that we’ve ever been there either!) But we could imagine parts of it to be very similar!

I am fascinated by Egypt and all that it has to offer: the customs, traditions, artefacts, history…as one road sign in Luxor reads “It is where Ancient Civilisation began”. I would loved to have been there for the dawn of the Millenium period.

One day, I would like to be a passenger on one of those ships that cruise along the Nile…

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We returned to Birmingham after 7 nights away. The contrast in weather conditions was truly unbelievable. Within 8 hours, we were transported from hot sunshine and desert to freezing cold.Snow blanketed the UK overnight and left the streets deserted.

The Learned Kat

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