Monday Jan 31, 2011
Easy and carefree times at the Stella Di Mare resort, here in Sharm El Sheikh. Guests mill about, planning excursions, sunning pale white skin and gather in mass at buffets. Hard to believe that this peaceful oasis exists while the rest of the country is being torn apart by protests and heavy handed government reaction. Serenity, as the rest of the country's tension grows, like a branch being bent, closer and closer to the point of fracture.
This face of benevolence is deliberate and self preserving. Truths are bent and lies are told (Everything in the country will be restored to normal in 2 days; There are no more protests in Cairo) so that tourists will stay and continue to spend their vacation money. Without them, the economy would collapse here. In a bit of hysteria and only minimal exaggeration, a shop keeper told T that if we left early his family would starve. In truth though, Sharm is peaceful. Rumors broadcast on CNN and BBC of protests here and tanks prowling the streets have turned out to be false.
Our fear here wasn't safety, but being stranded. Cairo's airport was reportedly closed, and
the near miss of being stuck in Luxor's airport was fresh in my mind. I spent the morning on the phone and on the internet, when it was working, plotting our exodus out of Egypt. Another call to the US Embassy: the US was evacuating it's citizens to Europe (Greece, Turkey) out of Cairo airport at 1600 that afternoon. I told the embassy worker, an Egyptian, that getting to Cairo was impossible and dangerous for us and the flight wouldn't do us any good. He was apologetic, but told me that he was risking his life everyday just by going to work. Point taken....for us, this was simply an inconvenience. His country was on the verge of collapse.
After 4 hours, I found a flight out of Sharm (EasyJet Airlines) to London Gatwick. Overnight in London (5 hours) and fly out of Heathrow to Paris on AirFrance. Paris to Salt Lake City on Delta. 2 days, 5 different airports. I wonder if it will work?
A few words about Sharm. It sits on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula which juts from the north, splitting the Red Sea. The Sinai Peninsula and Sharm El Sheikh were occupied
by Israel twice, in 1956, then in 1967. Israel returned it to Egypt in 1982 following the 1979 peace treaty. As with any proper seaside resort town, Sharm's history starts pastorally: "Once a sleepy fishing village...."
The Israelis first brought commercial development to the largely barren coast. Egypt continued.
In it's current incarnation, Sharm exists solely for tourists. Lots of Russians and Greeks, by the language on the signs. The coast is lined with resorts, shops, clubs and resturants. Their penetrance inland is minimal. Within half a mile or less the glistening resorts give way to flat, barren desert. Not far in the distance, severe, knifelike brown mountains stab aggressively upward from the surrounding desert. It looks like what I imaging Phoenix looked like before the city gobbled up the desert. That's not quite true; the Sonoran Desert is rich with vegetation. No such evidence of life is apparent here.
Our resort is huge, gleaming and pretty. There is nothing Egyptian about it, though, other than it's employees. It's the same glitzy, all-inclusive behemoth that I've seen in Cancun and Jamaica, but really it could be anywhere in the world. It provides escape, a ready-made vacation in
The "Red" Sea
Beautiful water, but unaccessible because of recent shark attacks
unremarkable vanillaness. It is safe, though and comfortable and appointed well enough, excepting for the food, which is awful. Considering the turmoil that boils to the west of us, it's not a bad place to be right now.
There is one odd thing that I've noticed here. Throughout our trip, whether it be Cairo, Giza, Luxor or the Valley of the Kings, the soundtrack to our travels has been the muezzin's call to prayer, replaying itself 5 times each day. It is a sound that has been haunting and exotic to me. Curiously, this vital part of Islam is conspicuously absent here. In fact, I don't recall seeing a single mosque.
Our resort is directly underneath the airport's approaching flight path, something that wasn't mentioned in the TripAdvisor reviews. Overflights of jets would typically not be pleasant, but for T and I it is the sweet sound of a functioning airport.
Tuesday, February 1- Wednesday February 3
Somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea....
We left Sharm El Sheikh today (Tuesday). BBC is reporting of a call for 1 million protesters to gather in Tahrir Square today. The military has reportedly said that they would not use
Sharm El Sheikh
View from our resort
force or fire on the protesters. Watching the news before we left the hotel, hundreds of thousands of people were gathering in the square. It is peaceful, almost festive. We aren't scheduled to leave Egypt until Thursday. I'm doubting my decision a bit, wondering if I've been to cautious in scheduling our departure early. Things are peaceful here and maybe we should have just stayed in Sharm through Thursday.
Regardless, we boarded our flight and left Sharm El Sheikh nearly on time at 1730. The airline is EasyJet, an entirely no-frills airline that serves Europe. The plane is new, but the seats are epically uncomfortable. None of them recline; I assume eliminating reclining mechanisms saves the airline money. We will arrive in London at Gatwick airport after a five hour flight, at 2300.
We landed in London, gathered our bags and hailed a cab to our hotel at Heathrow, where our flight departs tomorrow. Our cabbie loaded our bags and us into the minivan taxi, then shot off into the night, plowing through famously dense London fog at insane speeds. Normally, I might ask the driver to slow down, but we are exhausted, so I
Planes flying over our resort
A happy sound....the airport is still open
just close my eyes and surrender myself in a very Arabesque way that we may arrive at our hotel Inshallah
Our sleep is ridiculously brief, 4 hours for me, at best. Virtually none for T because I snore in her ear all night. We awake to headlines that Mubarak is promising not to run for another term after his finishes in September. More window dressing it seems. It also seems that Mubarak is biding time, hoping to appease the protesters, all the while waiting for this all to blow over.
Detroit, MI. USA
It has been quite a time getting this far and we're not quite home yet. We suffered a mechanical delay trying to leave London, causing us to miss our flight in Paris to SLC. After much wrangling, we were able to get a flight from Paris to Detroit (a four hour delay because of a massive winter storm passing through the Midwest). We have a couple of hours here, then fly to Salt Lake City, arriving in midnight. At least we're on US soil, finally.
There are giant TV's impressively occupying wall space in Detroit's gleaming airport. A contrasting show of glitz
and modernity in a city that is dying. The news from Egypt is grim. Presumably pro-Mubarak supporters rode camels and horses in Tahrir Square. Violence broke out with rocks and molitav cocktails thrown, gunfire erupting. Reported 5 dead, greater than 800 wounded. Western journalists have been targeted, harassed and beaten. I'm feeling a little better about the decision to leave.
Salt Lake City
It is Thursday morning. We arrived on time at midnight in SLC, gathered our things and took a taxi to home. We were greeted by 12*F weather and a missing key. Locked out of our house, completely exhausted after 41 hours of travel. T's sister was our savior, bringing her spare key in the middle of the night and granting us access to warmth and a bed.
Cairo is calmer today, but very tense, so the news reports. Meanwhile, demonstrations have been called for in Jordan and Yemen. Crazy times. T and I were affected by it all pretty minimally, looking at the big picture. The closest we came to protests was in Luxor. The Egyptians were always very friendly to us and concerned for our welfare. Otherwise, disrupted plans and waits in airports
Stella Di Mare
View from our room
were only inconveniences. A day or two later in our plans, and our story might have been a lot different. Then we could have been stranded in a country that may be heading into anarchy. We were fortunate.
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