Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
 

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

Salaam!

Egypt is a developing nation, with all that comes with that status. Some people think it is more authentic, I don't. (I find it pretty sad, really.) Electricity is variable - while writing one section of this entry I've had two blackouts.

Attractions

Diving, diving and more diving! It's the reason Sharm is more than some bedouin tents, and it's absolutely fantastic. Go with Colona Divers[a] and you'll have no problems.

That's it. If you're not diving, don't bother going here. If you are diving, don't bother planning any "days off" except to avoid getting the bends when you fly out.

Some people list the colored canyon and Mt. Moses as attractions. I never got to try them out, as my travel agent scammed me for the Mt. Moses trip. That put a damper on buying further excursions.

The beaches all suck. The shoreline consists of a five-meter rock drop, so they're cramped little things that cost from 10 to 20 EGP. Go diving instead.

Traffic

Traffic is very middle of the road. As in "these guys drive straight down the centerline". Bigger roads have a central barrier, which doesn't prevent bicyclists and pedestrians from walking down the road, the former going the wrong way and the latter ignoring the perfectly useful, two-meter wide sidewalk. The barrier blocks left turns in T-crossings. This means that after exiting the T-crossing, you may find yourself going the opposite way. No problem, the barrier is broken up by U-turn places. So often when taken somewhere, the cab or bus will drive the wrong way for a couple of hundred meters and then do a U and come back the right way.

Safety belts are optional, not functioning and/or absent.

Egypt also has the most road fatalities per mile of road in the world. This is not a coincidence.

2007-05-27 15:53

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-29 15:37

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-06-04 19:04

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

Construction

Sharm el Sheikh is growing. I count five hotels being built just in the area where Amar Sina[b] is. (There may be more, but for some you can't tell if they're being built up or being torn down.)

2007-05-25 14:43

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-25 15:12

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-31 20:50

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-06-02 22:50

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-06-04 19:05

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-06-04 19:10

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-06-04 19:14

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

Women

You are unlikely to meet or interact with any Egyptian women as a tourist. Waiters, hotel personnel, boat crews, bus or cab drivers, police, checkout counters at supermarkets, cafes, the dorks sitting on the sidewalk trying to make you pay 5 EGP for taking photos of their street - you name it, they will all be men.

While this can be explained with women being housewives, you normally meet them at least as waitresses or receptionists, even in societies were the proportion of women in the workforce is lower than in for example Sweden, such as the US.

2007-06-02 18:52

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

You don't see them in the streets much either - occasionally, a veiled one can be seen, almost always accompanied by a man. (This picture was taken at El Mercato[c].)

The one I met - the wife of a diving instructor who joined us on the diving boat along with their child - couldn't swim and did not speak any English. It should in fairness be noted that swimming in the by modesty required full-length jeans and shirt would have been difficult for anybody, and that besides the English-speakers there are a lot of Germans and Russians coming to Sharm, so being quadrilingual (Arabic, German, Russian and English) is perhaps setting the bar a bit high, but on the other hand the UN report on human development list Arabic women as being one of the least developed groups of people in the world:

Indeed, more than half of Arab women are illiterate; the region's infant mortality rate is twice as high as in Latin America and the Caribbean. Over the past 20 years, income growth per capita has also been extremely low.

Human Development Reports[d]

Foreign Currency

One thing you'll notice is that many prices (especially the diving clubs's prices) are in euro. Dollar is also seen, but only occasionally. I suspect this is because all diving equipment must be imported. The other thing I suspect is that because of the prices of diving equipment, a lot of the money being spent by tourists and divers leave the country and end up in Europe and the US - fact is that most of the locals appear to be living in poverty, despite the incredible number of divers coming here and the hotels being built.

With a Visa card you can only get Egyptian Pounds, (EGP). This is a problem for you, if you're going diving, because you will be presented with a bill in EUR. For example, one day diving plus equipment equals EUR 100.

Since you pay with Visa, you have to pay the equivalent in EGP, plus the currency conversion fees, which means you'll have to withdraw 100 x (EUR to EGP + fees) = EGP 800 (approx).

But since your Visa account probably is denominated in some other currency, you are hit with a second currency conversion, including fees, meaning that you pay 800 x (EGP to EUR + fees) = EUR 110 (approx).

And if you pay at the diving center you get a 3% credit card fee on top. (Use the ATM and pay with a drug-dealer wad of cash instead, if you must.)

So if you can, bring crispy euro bills to pay in cash. 10-12% doesn't sound much, but it hurts when you realize you're paying the bank man a nice dinner for two for a worthless EUR to EGP back to EUR conversion. I wouldn't have minded paying the diving center the price with additions as I got a lot of fun diving out of it, but paying the bank? No way.

Note: I think Nordea's Visa debit card gave me a slightly better exchange rate than my Bank Austria Visa. Neither of these of course could get at the big problem: The initial EUR to EGP conversion by the diving center.

Shopping

Everyone has heard stories about the tactics used by shopkeepers to get customers into their stores. Some people find this charming, again, I don't. What you need to do is get in touch with your inner bastard. Not so that it is in charge all the time, but keep the little bastich on standby, ready to go in a millisecond. To mis-quote Dogbert of "Dilbert", things are much easier when you realize that everyone you meet deserve to die[e].

Egyptian Culture

Well, my travel agent representative scammed me. His "replacement" tried to scam me. Just about every cab driver and shop owner and even some random guys on the street (!) tried blatant scams. The only safe places were the made-for-westerners cafes and fast food places at El Mercato[f]. (Where you pay about western standard rates, so no scamming needed.) I'm not talking about haggling over prices here - I'm talking about blatant lies and broken promises. Not all Egyptians are con men, not even most of them, far from it, but enough of them to poison the experience a bit. Again, some people find this a charming challenge; I find it neither.

More Pictures

2007-06-02 12:03

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-06-06 13:29

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-25 19:19

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-27 15:42

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-27 19:52

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-27 19:59

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-27 20:10

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-27 20:18

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-27 20:45

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-05-27 20:46

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007

2007-06-04 17:25

Sharm el Sheikh, Sharm el Sheikh 2007