Sunday, April 16, 2006

Egyptian Hierogliphes

So we've just got back from our 1 week "relaxing" break in Egypt and what a bloody experience that was. Apparantely Egyptian hospitality is world famous (according to the Egyption tourism department anyway), I think they've definately mixed up robbery and hospitality.

Within minutes of landing at Sharm el-Sheikh airport (which by the way has all the life of Ronaldsway on a miserable winter evening) we were being hassled, harrased and ultimately ripped off. We wanted visas which "should cost" £15 each, the Egyption "official" wanted 450 Egyption pound (ie from now on) which is not £45, close but still more. Pass through passport control and a baggage trolley is thrown in front of you, very nice you think except when the hand comes out and the bloke is demanding tips in English. He has cornered all the trolleys in the airport and this is the only way to get one. This is not a friendly happy experience but an aggressive, imtimidating really fucking annoying one. It's worth noting that there are literally dozens of security around at this point, all of them giving each other piggy backs and monkey scrubs! Anyhoo, we finally got outside of the airport and face the gauntlet of making our way to the coach. It's about 200 yards uphill to the coach park and the pavement is lined with people wanting to push your trolley. Will they take no thanks for an answer, will they bollacks, if you are elderly or struggling you may need a hand, we were fine but still the trolley was grabbed away from me twice and money was demanded. The only way to get rid of them is to say you have no money. One bloke even wanted money for stopping the coaches while we crossed the road, this road was a one way track with not a bloddy coach (you wouldn't even be able to get one down it) in sight yet still he stood there wanting "tips in English". By this point fuck off was about all I could manage. We got to the coach and I put the cases away, our rep is talking to some bloke who I presume is the driver, just as i'm finishing putting the hand luggage on he picks up S's bag and puts it on the cases, can you guess what is coming next? "Tips in English". Presuming this bloke was the driver (after all the rep was hugging and seemed very friendly with him), I gave him a pound, he then moved onto the next coach, hmmm I gues he wasn't the driver then? We've probably been in Egypt less than an hour at this point, we've not been left alone without people wanting money for maybe more than 1 minute. Everybody from the officials, security, and reps who are supposed to be there to welcome and look afetr you are on the make. That was our welcome to Egypt. I should mention that I was mentally prepared for Egypt (thanks to reading some guide books and websites) but with it all being quite friendly and good natured, it's really not. The pasengers on our coach all appeared a bit dazed and confused at what had just happened. I just had the red mist firmly in place and was ready to twat someone.

You can tell what a friendly place this is when you get to your hotel (the Cleopatra Tsokkos in our case), each is basically like a fort with high walls and security at each entrance. Outside of the few built up areas it is impossible to feel safe walking anywhere, even if you do risk it as we did a taxi will stop every thirty seconds meaning that it takes ages to get even a hundred yards down the road. Even though we had booked 2 rooms the hotel tried to offer us one room with 3 beds in it, we didn't realise that you had to barter for the accomodation you had paid for, "Welcome To Egypt!"

On our second day we ventured into Naama Bay with a ride in the hotel taxi. It later turned out that we were dropped of right in the outskirts of the actual tourist area we wanted to visit. We never made it that far. Within a few minutes we had been grabbed and taken into a little shop selling "authentic" Egyptian papyrus. There were people sleeping on the floor, clothes hanging up and Hassim the owner was really keen to lock the door get us some drinks and show us his art (yes he had hand drawn all this pictures). THREE HOURS later after we had gone through the picturs one by one twice, he had taken us to the cash point, we'd had free drinks we left with 2 pictures and a hole in our pocket for 450 ie (about £47). His starting offer was 2000ie for each picture so going by the tourist guide of one third of the starting price we thought we'd done ok (I guess the locals have also started reading these books). He did seem very nice and was certainly friendly enough even phoning the taxi to come and take us back to the hotel, still we knew we had been done but had no idea how much, boy we would find out later. One of the things he did say though was that Sharm el-Sheikh is only for tourists, there are no women, children or old people around. Young men come here to work and send money home. It is basically one great big tourist trap and has as much in common with Egyptian life as Douglas does. Another scary thing was that one of the blokes sleeping on his shop floor is studying at Cambridge, of all things bio-chemistry, now I wonder what that could be used for?

We spent most of the holiday by the pool really, there's not a lot I can say about the Hotel, if I started I could go on and on (it deserves a website all of it's own, like this - Sharm el Sheikh, Cleopatra Hotel) but lets just say we weren't overly impressed. Probably one thing worth saying is about the "mini-market" you see advertised in all the travel brochures, every hotel has one. This is not a shop to buy some bread, drinks and a packet of crisps as you might expect but is instead more shops selling papyrus and fake perfume actually attached to the hotel. The people running these are really aggressive (as I later found out they have to pay a premium to have their shops right in the tourists front yard). Our perfume seller was particularly nasty and a bit of a coont, he was trying to sell small jars of fake Channel for £30 a bottle! He got really upset when anybody said no to him and we heard from a few people who had bought just to escape his shop. On the way home we got talking to an irish couple who were followed back to their hotel room by one of the sellers in their hotel demanding that they give him money. They have a nasty habit of locking doors behind you in Egypt and it takes real skill to get out of there without buying something (or beiing ripped of as it should be called), fortunately S has a way with words and we were actually thrown out of our perfume shop, result! About the mini-markets, we have always travelled on the basis that what you forget you can get there, don't even think of doing this in Egypt unless of course you have forgotten cheap printed art and fake perfume.

There is one thing that Sharm has going for it, the coral reef. The Red Sea is well known as being a great diving area but the snorkelling from the beach is unbelievable. Tropical fish everywhere, this made the whole trip for us. That and L learning to swim out of her depth. I'll never forget S's face when she swam over the drop-off, where the reef meets the open sea. One second you are in water that would barely cover your knees if you stood up (100 yards from shore), the next you looking down at the sea floor 50 feet away. I guess this is what will keep people coming to Sharm and allow the locals to exploit and rip-off till their hearts content. Personally I think this place will fall on it's arse, everybody who we spoke to in the hotel, airport had been ripped of badly. I doubt if anybody we spoke to would ever go back, even with the fantastic reefs.

Nearly forgot, on our last day we went to a market to get some souvenires, it was a nice little shop that even had prices on things. We found papyrus art at the back, £2 a picture, we'd been done to the tune of £43 by our friend Hassim. Robbing b'stard coooonts!

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