Tuesday, December 9, 2008

SHARM EL- SHEIKH

SH

I have decided that Sharm El-Sheikh neither exists in Asia nor in Egypt. Neither does it exist on any map. I do not feel that there is any map in the world that can locate it to its exact likeness or true worth. In these pages, I decide that Sharm El-Sheikh exists in a place where my mind meets with enchantment. It is also the place that holds the Sinai Desert, at the tip of the Red Sea, where the Israelites got lost for 40 years.

I travel through Jordan Airport and saliently sail through the stares from the Arabs who either have never seen anyone black before or are not used to women showing their arms. Young children peer at me clinging to the safety of their mothers’ skirts lest I ‘eat them up.’ The braver passengers on the flight whisper to me how beautiful they think I am. I believe what they mean is how different I am from them and where on earth am I from?

Sharm El-Sheikh is a desert. It stretches from whichever point you are at to as far as you can bear the glare of the desert sun. The Airport is hardly occupied at the time of my arrival in June. My red suitcase sits forlorn on the static conveyor belt. A man in a white uniform ushers me to the immigration desk. A small line takes forever to clear. There is no hurry in Sharm. Finally, after a few questions about where I work, he stamps my passport.

One cab driver hurries to take my luggage to his car. Domina Coral Bay, South Sinai, is where we are headed. The desert looms ahead of me. A vast desert with one or two large unfinished buildings. The paved roads are my only link to home and within 10 minutes, I arrive at Domina Coral Bay. It looks like a Sultan’s Palace. Uganda’s state house can comfortably fit in the parking yard. I feel like Jack before the giant beanstalk, intimidated by the grandeur of the place. I pay the cab driver his 25 US dollars without thinking of how I have been cheated.

Domina Coral Bay is located in South Sinai and was officially opened in 1994. The resort extends across an entire coral bay of 1.8 kms and has the capacity to hold more than 5,000 guests. Two very kind gentlemen relieve me of my luggage as I check in. Despite being the only guest at the check in desk, it takes long to locate my name and get my room. That’s when I make up my mind that apart from the Latin languages, Arabic is also one of the most important languages that I must learn. There are about six sections of the resort at Domina Coral Bay which are all five star but even within the five star they are categorized from Standard to Deluxe. I feel filthy standing on the gleaming white tiles and next to the polished plants. I just smile politely at the staff and make up my mind to have a bath as soon as I get to the room. That is when I begin to conceive the concept of vastness. At Domina Coral Bay, you need to travel in a shuttle from the reception area to your room. The shuttles run at specific times and they have specific routes to cover all the sections of this magnificent resort. Tourists came walking past me in skimpy swimming suits and trunks with see through tops and sun hats. All the foreigners walking past me are clad in the bare minimum. I notice as I check in, a sign that says, it is forbidden to walk in wearing just a swimming costume. The sign obviously has little or no impact. Shuttle 2 arrives and I ride to my hotel room; and what a room! Oasis is supposed to be five star Standard. It should be called anything but standard. I itch to tear off my clothes and just bask in the view overlooking the Red Sea from the balcony. The heat slowly makes it way through my clothes and I take a cool shower. Sunglasses are not an option at Sharm El-Sheikh. Neither is sun cream or very light clothing. I look at the clothes in my suitcase which I have brought for the AU Summit which I will be attending. I lock the case again. Time to do some shopping.

Outside my room window, hundreds of tourists are milling at the diving center at the Red Sea. Lines of shops lie below me. They glitter with their ornaments and crafts and I can hardly wait to step outside again.

Unlike most five star hotels whose shops are obscenely expensive, I find Domina Corale Bay prices quite moderate. At Sharm El –Sheikh, contrary to the popular saying, “All that glitters is indeed gold.”

The shops are lined up just outside the reception area.

“Sister, sister,” the men from their shops call out to me.

So many trinkets, souvenirs, metals of all kinds and perfect clothes for the weather.

“Where are you from sister?”

Uganda,” I reply.

Uganda, oh is that Rwanda?”

“No, Rwanda borders Uganda. It is not Uganda,” is my firm response.

“Okay, you are very beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I answer with dignity.

I notice immediately that there are only men who work in the shops. There are actually only men at the concierge, men who carry the luggage, men who deliver the room service and also men who operate the telephone booths.

“Where are the women?” I ask.

“Oh, they are in entertainment,” is the response.

I look at the US dollars peeping out of my handbag, each dollar worth just over 5 Egyptian pounds. I look forward to changing my suitcase.

Having heard, read and imagined so many things about the Red Sea, it was hard to envisage that it was just within a walking distance. I could not have been more wrong. Domina Coral Bay is as vast as a small city anywhere. The temperature was at 48 degrees and the heat just consumed me. So while the Red Sea seemed near, it was a struggle to get through the heat. It was as if someone’s hot fingers were resting on my head adding a burden to my walk. The walk to the Sea however was worth it.

It was like clean bathing water with blue shower gel. I could see all the way to the bottom of the coral reef. I could see the fish teasing each other and manoeuvering in between the bare legs of some of the tourists who had gone snorkeling. Parts of the Red Sea had been demarcated to make swimming pools. It was really something else. I got enough pleasure from just staring right down into the aqua depths of turquoise colour. I waded through; battling the coral rocks at the start and then I plunged right into its magnificence and began to glide along just as I had seen the other tourists do. I hoped at this moment that God would not decide to part it again like He did in biblical times because I felt heroic just knowing that I was at the place of the miracle. Unlike the Indian Ocean however, whose salt is good for the skin, as soon as I stood up I felt cuts all over my body. It felt uncomfortable after a while with the heat beating down on me and so I backed out of the water from my million dollar aquatic experience.

Each day I spend at Sharm El-Sheikh, I keep reminding myself that this is the Sinai Desert. And so every carving, plant and building is from imported material. Part of the place looks like it is unfinished and that an oasis could pop up any time. The other part looks like a city of lights; a dream world. One such place is Neeama Bay, an artificial city that sleeps only during the day. It only makes sense that some places are only active from 8:00pm to the wee hours of the morning. The heat dictates so. From the entrance of Neeama Bay to its end, there is glamour on every side. All kinds of food restaurants from Italian, Greek, seafood, Macdonalds and so many more that it is hard to make a choice. Dancing dummies parade over the rooftops, swinging palms knock against each other in the night, neon lights illuminate the body of black sleek limousines for hire, couples open their mouths to let the humidity sprays gush into them and for my four friends and I, we try to allow it all to seep in.

Many tourists have been checking in everyday since my arrival at Domina Coral Bay. I now know that this is where everyone ends up. The Italian food is delightful. Even the service fee that is part of the bill is not a bother. It is a clever way of making the frugal leave a tip. Arabs enjoy space and colour. In many of the shops, different colours keep blinking back at me. From the shawls, hats, bags, shoes, key holders and statuettes to the pictures on papyrus, colours combine into a mélange. At this place, time waits for everyone. There is no end to the activity.

At Domina Coral Bay Hotel, I do not necessarily feel any sense of crowdedness. It is only at the Coral Restaurant, where we have breakfast. Thankfully it is always easy to locate my friends because all I have to look for is similar skin colour to mine. The Restaurant is just as far as any other place. While the people directing you make it seem near, it is actually downhill, across a hot plain and then downhill again. The breakfast is a large spread of all types of sweets, beverages and pastries. My favourites are the chocolate croissants and Spanish omelette. I also took a liking to the coffee. Egyptian coffee, they say, is supposed to be very good. A particular fruit which is best described as a green watermelon is popular amongst the crowd too. I usually down at least four slices a day. Breakfast is always a desired part of the day for me especially when it is already paid for.

During the evening of the first day of the workshop, I saw two types of entertainment that completely dazzled me. The first was of an Egyptian dancer who wore many puffed up coloured skirts with yellow sleeves and black dancing boots. He used huge rattles to spin round and round until he worked himself into a frenzy while his skirts billowed out like a failed parachute. And as the skirts billowed, they covered his head and all we could see were coloured balloons dancing round and round. Quite spectacular. The next was of a belly dancer. Her movements at first appeared easy and tame until she too slipped out of her sanity to lure us into a hypnotic state of awe as she wiggled her belly this way and that.

It is not enough to keep describing the different scenes of Sharm El-Sheikh. The language of the city is encrypted for everyone to decipher in their own way. I was not sad to leave. I was only humbled to have been part of such an immense existence. At the airport, the wonders did not cease. After ordering a sandwich from there, once again I noted that there were no female staff. That was not until I entered the ladies’ room. Seated on an overturned bucket, I was given some tissue paper and then told to leave some money behind. I did not know if the money was for her or for maintenance. In every perfect place, there is a flaw and I found that the lack of female staff in many places at Sharm El-Sheikh; one of the greatest imperfections.

Fondly known as Sharm, I can only wait to take my family there. It is the least I can do.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am liking this place. Idea for a getaway.

Traveller said...

Traveling is my idea of fun. How different is Sharm el sheikh from Cairo?

Luxury Traveler said...

I think it would be great to spend some time at Le Touessrok Mauritius for this summer.

luxury sharm el sheikh holidays said...

Four Seasons Sharm el Sheikh is said to a really great place to spend holidays.