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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

European Vacation: Sharm el-Sheikh

EGYPT | Friday, 10 August 2007 | Views [2499]

We haven't yet had the experience of being at a beach-resort destination during high season, that happens to be a hot spot for European summer vacationers. Summer is the time when it seems the Euro-corporate world shuts down to join their children on school holidays. Many Europeans flock to warm beach destinations, especially Sharm El-Sheikh. Sharm is one of those spots that's been designed exclusively for the "holiday-ing" European. We saw loads of tourists from the UK, France, Italy, Spain, and some from Germany. The few Americans we met were actually young kids working as dive instructors at the dive shops. Everywhere we look, we see crispy burnt bodies of tourists lounging around in speedos (on men), and bottoms-only bathing attire for topless women. They're slicking up their bodies with SPF 2 or 4 oil. Coming from the modest "US" beach attire culture (aside from the few beaches of Southern CA where women with plastic body parts are clad with tiny Brazilian cut bikinis), this just looks a bit odd to us... However, after a day or two, we tend to see right past the old, overweight men in way too tiny speedos, and the G-string's dividing flabby butt-cheeks and bare boobs. I can only imagine how the local Egyptians find this scantily clad scene, those who may come to Sharm for a bit of rest and relaxation, away from the crowded and conservatively dressed cities. We had set our driver up in a nice beach front hotel so he could enjoy a little rest and relaxation, and later we discovered that he didn't leave his room at all on the first day because he couldn't handle seeing all the scantily clad tourists... it's offensive to those who live such a conservative lifestyle and strong cultural values and behaviors.
The beaches are crystal clear and the streets of Sharm are spotless and Mc Donald's sponsors trash bins all over the streets... Helsinki, take note and learn a valuable lesson here! The economy of Sharm is driven off the Euro, and everything is priced sky high, to soak up the highly valued currency. You can't get a hotel room under $100/night. Food and drink at restaurants are equally as pricey, and they have a captive market here that will pay the price... the laws of supply and demand prevail. We ate Mc Donald's for the first time on our trip for lunch, as it was the only affordable meal option for us, and even that, for 2 people, came to $15... and that's sharing a drink and fries! The social cafe scene is huge here. Coffee, beer, sheesha are the main offerings, and the cafes pack either side of all the streets. I think there are literally hundreds of options, to sit outdoors on a pillow-lined magic carpet seat, and gulp down a cold beer and smoke fruity tobacco from a sheesha. It's such a mainstream activity, you even see Egyptian women sitting with their husbands indulging in a sheesha - what a cool sight to see. The seafood here is caught fresh each day, and we enjoy our grilled fish at one of the many open air restaurants on the beach. During the evenings, restaurants convert the once golden sandy beach into a red carpeted lounge, covering the sand with carpets and setting up candlelit tables. We enjoyed a beautiful seafood dinner with tasty Egyptian appetizers under a moon-lit sky.
The weather here in Sharm is hot, near 40 degrees celsius. Shop owners keep their places somewhat closed up and are siesta'ing during the mid-day heat, but start to assemble rows upon rows of outdoor stalls, boldly displaying their merchandise for the wealthy tourists to consume. There are belly dancing costumes and sheesha pipes galore; carpets and colorful glass and metal lamps that are very arabic. There's a mystique to everything you can buy here, and the Egyptians have their hard selling approach. Mostly they yell out to me in Italian, "Ciao bella, ciao bella!" "Scuzzi!" They speak a few words of each language. If I don't respond to their first calls, they switch to French, and then a battery of greetings in other languages, hoping to get my attention. They break down and in their good English, resort at last to the universal phrase we hear in most countries we travel through, "what country you from?" They then bust out their very Egyptian lines, "You look Egyptian... I have seen you before." I say, "no, I don't think so." And they come back with, "must have been in my dreams!" Ah, they're all such smooth talkers! Most of them, however, think that I'm Italian, which is an accurate guess on their part. If we really want to be left alone, we say we're here from Mexico, or Costa Rica... their Spanish vocabulary beyond the congenial "hola, and hasta la vista," is very limited, so their sales approach dries up quickly. If we want a special price or deal, we let them know we're American. The consistent response we get is a big smile, and the phrase, "America #1, Very Strong, We Love Americans, We give you special price!" And perhaps it's all just a line, but on the side they tell us they like Americans because we're friendly, ice, and we take the time to stop and chat with them. They say the other tourists are not as friendly and don't take the time to stop and talk. A pretty generalizing statement by many of them, however, we're just thrilled to be in a Muslim country where the locals are so welcoming and warm to Americans. They do say they dislike Bush, but that they don't hold their dislike for him against the American people.
Besides the Europeans populating the beaches, we also met some very wealthy Saudi Arabians on a quick holiday jaunt. Sharm is also a very popular destination for Saudis. One man I chatted with in the jacuzzi was proud to have sent his one son to a private English language school in London for the past four years, and was looking forward to sending his other two sons once they turn 14 years old. He believes they will only be successful in life if they are fluent in English. He also has three daughters. I asked if his eldest daughter went to the school in London as well, and he quickly stomped out the conversation, stating that girls learn English words for conversation during their school years in Saudi. Definitely difference in treatment and opportunity for women in this Saudi family, and this man emphasized that his sons were priority. Chatting later with his elder daughter, she dreams of honing and developing her English skills and one day hopes to work as a teacher, but she's not sure she'll be allowed to be a professional female, as she says it now depends upon what her father allows her to do, and later on, what her husband would allow her to do. I've found a similar theme speaking with local Egyptian girls who have graduated from a local university and are not allowed to seek employment because they have an overly restrictive father who doesn't allow it to happen. Somehow the young women I've spoken with seem to have "accepted" their lot in life as dictated by male figureheads in their families, despite the dreams of being self sufficient and educated.
Despite being overly commercialized, we soak up the sun, seafood and underwater sights in Sharm, and look forward to one day returning to this seaside dream.

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