Vacationing in Sharm El Sheikh

This October in the Muslim calendar was the Eid al-Adha holiday. This holiday honors  Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son to God as an act of submission. In Egypt it is celebrated with family feasts and celebrations, and a week off from school. Not being a Muslim, and having my family 3,000 miles away meant it was the perfect time to take a vacation.

My friend and co-worker Angelica, looked online and found some great deals on hotels at a nearby resort on the Sinai Peninsula. So one afternoon she and I sat in front of her laptop and looked over all of the available hotels for Sharm el Sheikh. To be honest, I had never heard of Sharm, but my friend K said it was lovely.

Angelica, the bargain hunter, found us a fantastic deal at a resort called Sunrise Arabian Beach Resort. For $500 a piece we got a week’s all-inclusive stay at a 5-star resort. This included all-you-can-eat for every meal plus (local) alcohol! It was fantastic.

On Friday we got up before dawn to catch the hour-long flight to Sharm el-Sheikh at 8 am. By 9:30 we were sitting in the hotel lobby sipping welcome cocktails and marveling at our luck. An hour after that we were laying on the beach basking in our good fortune.

The beach was beautiful, but we weren’t allowed more than two feet into the water, because it’s an active coral reef filled with colorful fish. There was a jetty right off the beach where swimmers could go snorkeling from sunup to sunset. On the second day I went out to go snorkeling I came out to the jetty and noticed that there were several people just standing around on the dock. “Is there a reason everyone’s standing on the dock?” I asked.

“Yeah, there’s a shark in the water,” said one of the other hotel guests.

“Good reason.” I replied. I quickly scanned the water and sure enough, there was a small fin poking up where the man was pointing. It was only a reef shark, but it was enough to give me pause. A few minutes later, the shark was gone and I was in the water swimming away.

One afternoon I was snorkeling and I was off a ways from other swimmers. I was really absorbed in watching the fish dart in and out of the reefs and the huge clams when I noticed a dark shadow out of the corner of my eye. Hmm, that’s a big fish, I thought to myself. All of the fish I’d seen so far were about the size of my hand or smaller, and this one seemed much bigger in my peripheral vision. As I turned my head to get a better look, the color of the fish came into focus, light gray. Oh shit! It’s a shark! Without a second glance or thought I turned around in the water and swam as fast as I could toward the jetty. I must have looked ridiculous and I felt kind of sheepish. I asked the lifeguard on duty about sharks, and he told me that what I saw wasn’t a shark. Sharks are at least one meter long, and what I saw was only about half  meter.

Every night the hotel had free entertainment shows that included everything from latin dancing to fire swallowing. On our second night the hotel had a Mr. Sunrise competition, where guests from the hotel competed to be the best Mr. Sunrise. Angelica and I were asked to be judges of this hilarious competition. The contest included push ups, muscle displays, belly dancing, and lots of laughter.

Resorts in Sharm are famous for their Animation teams, groups of college-age kids who are hired to make sure guests have a good time. They organize kids’ club, water-polo, darts, yoga, and evening entertainment. Every evening someone from the Animation team would gather the young and willing vacationers and bundle us into a taxi. They’d watch over us as we danced and drank our way through a local nightclub, and make sure we got back to the hotel in once piece. Angelica and I were very loyal customers of this service. Being teachers, we don’t have the opportunity to go out much, especially on weeknights.

The food was incredible. The hotel has 7 restaurants, plus a buffet. Not all of the restaurants are open on the same days, but Angelica and I managed to try them all.

I also got to do a lot of really fun things including snorkeling, a glass-bottomed boat tour, parasailing, and scuba diving.

Parasailing was wonderful, but the boat ride back got a little dramatic. The battery on the boat died, leaving 7 people floating in the water. Our driver tried prying open the battery to repair it, but no luck. He then tried to manually start the engine using rope, kind of like starting a lawn mower engine. Everyone on the boat (except me) spoke Arabic, so I was left in the dark about what was going on. I kept laughing to myself at the absurdity of the whole situation. The boats that pulled up to give us a hand weren’t very helpful. At one point I looked up to see the driver of the ‘rescue’ boat smoking a cigarrette. The gasoline fumes were so strong in the air that I was sure we were going to blow up.

Luckily, soon after that the guys gave up trying to manually restart the engine and simply towed us closer to shore where another boat picked us up and took us back to our hotels. All in all we were only left adrift for 20 minutes or so, but it sure seemed longer.

Overall my week’s holiday was fabulous. I probably gained 5 pounds from all of the food I ate and booze I drank, but when it’s all-inclusive it’s easy to over-indulge. If you’re in the market for a vacation destination, I would definitely recommend Sharm El-Sheikh.

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