29 September, 2011

Ain Suhkna

Our second little escape, about two weeks ago, was also to a red sea beach resort, this one a mere 1.5 hr dessert drive away.  http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/ainsoukhna.htm

We went with our buds Gerry and Randy and their pup Bacus.  Scott rented a van and drove us.  He did a great job!  Getting to the highway is the hardest part and he managed well, honking to let cars in from know he was coming, averting near collisions, and remaining (at least on the surface) quite calm.  Once on the open road, it was like another planet.  Both in terms of traffic (none) and landscape (think moon or mars-ish appearance).  Nothing but brown as far as the eye could see.

We arrived at the resort and we're greeted by the gatekeeper who went to summon "The General" for us.  A friend of a friend who had set up this booking for us.  A very jovial, little-bit-o-English speaking fella came around to take us into what appeared to be a desserted ghost town.  Very pretty grounds with nice flowers and three pools, but dude where were the people?

It turns out that if peace and quiet are what you are after, this is the perfect weekend to get away (all the local kids were getting ready to go back to school for the year).

Well most of the massive resort settlement was privately owned townhome-style units, we stayed in the same villa rental section.  As far as we could tell, we were one of maybe two groups staying there.  We had to head back into the town itself for supper and enjoyed some delicious Egyptian cuisine.  We were probably the only tourists there at all!

We got up for breakfast the next morning and went to the small restaurant building on the grounds.  There was one other group in the place!  Our free breakfast included 6 rather unusual courses with no options to order, just received as they are placed before you:  1. wine glass of mango tang; 2. basket of toasted hamburger buns; 3. plate with 3 kinds of sliced cheese, sliced spam, and a wee bit of tomato and cucumber;  4. bowl of milk and cornflakes;  5. plain fried egg (scrambled); 6. bowl of fool (beans).  It was extremely filling and rather endearing actually.

Our short two days were leisurely and fun!  Again, the pools were not heated, but we braved them and had fun.  There was one desserted pool right by our place where we had a few races, there was another pool by the beach that we never entered, and then there was the PARTY POOL.  At 11:00 am, whether anyone was there or not, a bartender would come hangout at the swim up bar and crank (really, really) the tunes.  We could not resist and decided to have an early afternoon beer to give the guy some business.  Though we did ask him to TURN DOWN THE MUSIC.  PLEASE.

We also headed into town for supper again (this time Kazzu and her man drove down to join us.  We went to Chilis.  Not as good as back home.  Margaritas with no tequila.  Isn't that just a slurpie?  Salad with dirt in it.  Sometimes crunchy isn't a good thing.  After supper we headed into the mall nearby and enjoyed some of their marketing tactics like "healthy" cookies.  Only if you don't eat 'em.  We didn't eat them but did have three kinds of chocolate bars.  They weren't marked as healthy but they were delish!
I managed to fit in copious amounts of beach combing on this trip - two bags full of shells and rocks to take home as treasures.  There was tons of pieces of coral too!  Now I need to think of a craft project to use them up.  I welcome your thoughts...  

Hurghada (aka Her-gotta Lotta)

One of the fun things about living in Cairo is getting to decide how you want to escape it.  It is an exciting and living city tp be sure, but sometimes a girl just wants to be able to breath deeply without her lungs hurting or walk down a street without every taxi that passes by honking at you.  Their car horns are all on steroids here:  So LOUD!  Listen driver, I don't want a ride okay?  If I wanted a ride I would flag you down...

So Scott and I have "escaped" twice since we're been here.  Both quite different experiences.

The first trip was at the end of August.  We went to Hurghada which is a resort town on the red sea.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurghada

We flew with Egyptair there rather than tackle the 5hr drive.  It was a fine flight, the only weird thing was going through security a guy helped me with my bag and then persistently asked for a tip.  He was in a uniform, I thought he was supposed to take my bag from my arm and walk 1 foot to the conveyer and put it down.  I could have done that...

When we arrived in Hurghada, we had to catch a cab to our resort and had to barter our price.  Difficult considering we didn't know what the going rate was or how far away we had to go!  We had read it was about a 20 minute drive (which in Cairo could be about 10 LE) so when he suggested we pay 120 LE we walked away.  Being that we really didn't have any other way to get there, he lured us in and said he would give us the very fair fare of 100 LE.  We didn't like it, but we loaded up our bags and went with this guy.  I told him the price was CRAZY and I wasn't happy and spent the first few minutes sulking in the back seat.  This appeared to be a good tactic because he looked at me in the mirror and said "okay, fine - 80 LE".  This still seemed outlandish but was in the end what we paid for our return cab ride so I guess it is as good as it gets for tourists.

We arrive at the hotel, which had a pretty nice lobby; they look at our printed expedia reservation and disappear with it into the back for about 5 minutes.  When they come back they say that expedia never contacted them and for tonight we'd had to stay in the clubhouse across the highway.  Boo.  We thought we had booked a lovely all inclusive resort getaway and this is what we get: a dangerous run across the highway to what appears to be a vacant building - our room has a lovely view of the highway, a very hard mattress, a broken remote to a small tube tv, and a rather ugly bathroom.  Paradise.

The next morning we hit the breakfast buffet, which is actually quite good, and then go to stake our claim on some lawnchairs with some shade, pool access and a great view of the ocean.  Success on all fronts!  We do get more of a view than we bargained for and thus the title of this entry:  Hurghada is a destination holiday for a lot of europeans... a lot of very underdressed europeans.  Her-gotta lotta bum.  Barely anyone had fabric on their bottoms!  And lots of people were taking special precautions to not get bathingsuit tan lines on their tops either.  Scott and I made a sport of trying to pretend to pose for pictures while our actual subjects were in the background.

Although there were several options for day excursions including fishing trips, snorkeling, windsurfing, and kitesurfing, we had come on this little getaway with the goal of relaxation.  Relax we did!

We read, swam in the ocean (while I did, Scott walked in a little, but the imminent shark attacks kept him from going in too far), tried to swim in the pool (freezing!), and ate what turned out to be some really delicious food.

At 2:00 pm on the dot, we returned to the front desk to see if they could switch us to the beach side of the resort.  This had been what they promised to try to do after they saw our sad faces about having to stay across the highway.  It did not bode well that at least three other couples appeared to be gathering there for the same purpose.  But we were victorious!  I am taking full credit here as I have apparently mastered the disapproving gaze (you know, the one that got our cab fare lowered...)

So we got to move into our new room, which turned out to be just as "nice" as the one across the highway, but hey, at least we were on the same side as the beach!  The rest of our trip was pretty fine.  A couples' spa treatment involving total exfoliation, mud masks, massage, and jacuzzi.  Amazing!  And some lovely dinners with a lovely man.  Okay, the other guests were kind of unthoughtful and rather undressed; okay, the customer service was iffy and there was a serious shortage on rose wine... what was my point again?  Oh yeah - good food, gorgeous beach, great guy!

19 September, 2011

Yup, I Saw 'Em

Well first of all, some serious apologies are in order.  To all five of my followers, I truly apologize for letting you down.  Did I ever drop the ball on this one, being that it is 1 MONTH and 2 DAYS since my last post.  I had pictured my coupla' years in Egypt a certain way involving a fair amount of leisure; let me tell you that I had not anticipated being too busy to talk about myself for a few minutes everyday...

Busy with what you ask?  Well I had an inventory project that I was working on for a little while (okay - a freaky, friggita, fleep of a long while actually... I'm a slow counter), plus I was getting set to teach some dance classes.  Not to mention all of the good times to be had - seriously getting in the way of my on-line recording duties.

But as a result, I have some real catching up to do with y'all.  All 5 of youse.

Yes, I saw the pyramids of Giza.  That's right, the oldest and only remaining of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Built around 2560 BC... Is it just me or does anyone else find that INSANE?!  It really was truly surreal to be there.  Scott and I went with another couple who had just arrived in Cairo a few days earlier.  They shall forever after here be referred to as Randy and Gerry.  And yes, due to me excessive tardiness, this adventure was a whole month ago!

Getting in the front gate of the pyramids was an experience in itself.  We couldn't help but feel a bit concerned when our cab driver let us out on the other side of the street and said "this is as far as I will go." The level of persistence of the people trying to sell us something or be out tour guide or give us some kind of deal was something the cab driver had no interest in dealing with.

Once safely inside the front gate, we paid for our admission tickets and passed through the token metal detector.  (Those things are everywhere and no one seems too concerned about a follow-up-wand-swipe-and-pat-down if you have the 1 in 2 fortune of setting it off).  We get in and an older gentleman (sans teeth) takes our tickets and starts walking in with us and telling us some factoids about the  pyramids.  I, the trusting soul that I am, just thought he was doing his job and telling us the lowdown before setting us free to explore.  Everyone else was a bit more savvy and realized that this guy was trying to poach us, be our tour guide, and expect some serious tips at the end of it all.
So we demanded our tickets back from his clutches and thanked him, but we didn't want a tour guide...  Honestly, we found out that we actually did need a tour guide since there was no signage, no little brochures, or really anything at all to let us know what we were looking at beyong some really old, cool stuff.  We tried hijacking an official looking tour group going on ahead of us to maybe hear a bit about what we were seeing... unfortunately, closer observation led us to realize that this tour group would not have helped us to be any better informed: They were speaking German!

The first great thing we got to check out was the sphinx.  Again at this point we were aggressively approached by the tourist-hungry vendors.  We could easily turn down little knick knacks and trinkets being sold, but were not able to say no to the kids that were standing next to a good view of the sphinx ready to take our pictures.
There were about 4 of them, all about 10 yrs old or less, and they would  grab you as you pass by and start posing you for pictures with your own camera.  My photographer was maybe 9 yrs olds and was AMAZING.  She could be a professional photographer like right now, anywhere.  She directed me and physically manoevred me into about 10 different poses (kissing the sphinx, being kissed by the sphinx, leaning on him, etc).  She was so confident and authoritative and the whole thing took about 2 minutes.  What a bizarre but humbling experience to be out grownup-ed by a 9 year old.

We had a little success trailing behind a private tour for a few moments and listening to what we were looking at as we entered the tomb of a doctor.  We saw a carved out rock basin used to prepare the bodies and after a steep, cave-like climb/crawl down some steps we got to peek inside where the actual vessel where the doctor had once rested.  The only signage we saw anywhere was inside the entrance to every structure on a plain piece of white laminated paper saying "no photos inside please".  Right beside each of these signs was a dude that would tell you that you could absolutely take pictures as long as you gave him a tip.
The thing that struck me most (besides the offensive poo smell from all the horses and camels that they kept trying to get us to ride) was that there were no areas off limits, nothing behind fences or glass.  I got to actually put my hands on everything, including pictures carved inside of the structures we entered.  We felt lucky to be so free to explore and experience but on the same token, if people are allowed to do this for hundreds of years more, the damage will be truly shameful.

If I were in charge, which let's face it is just a matter of time, I would have a set walking tour, complete with a map depicting what we are looking at.  I would have actual enforcement of what should be touched and what shoudn't; and there would be a single gift shop at the end, rather than random trinkets and their vendors scattered throughout the site.  But first and foremost, I would hire someone to pick up all that gosh-darn camel poo.