Egypt is awesome! The people are incredibly friendly, and so happy to have us all here. Every shop I go into someone makes a point to say “Welcome to Egypt.” (It also helps that I look rather lost everywhere I go.)
This past weekend (Friday and Saturday in Muslim countries) the director of my school took me and some of the teachers I work with on a trip to the Red Sea. I think they were trying to make up for the fact that we can’t really tour the Pyramids and other famous tourist sites. Boy did they make up for it!
We hit the road at 9:30, after rushing around grabbing passports and turning off air conditioners, packing swimsuits, hats, and shorter hemlines. We were told that at a resort the conservative rules of dress would be a bit more relaxed. The bus ride to the resort town of Sukhna was uneventful. The miles and miles of empty desert flew by in about 90 minutes, in stark contrast to the carefully manicured patches of New Cairo and the resorts.
The Palmera Beach Resort is gorgeous and we were so ready to get into our suits and the ocean, but the Palmera was not ready for us. We would not be able to check in for another two hours, and the restaurant wouldn’t open for lunch for another hour either. So what did we do? We went to the beach, and grabbed a drink. Bliss. It was a little difficult to go down to the shore, dip our feet in the warm water and not dive right in, though.
After checking into our rooms and a quick change I finally got to put more than my toes in the Red Sea. By the way, it’s surprisingly salty. I recall asking my traveling companions if it was just me. It’s been several years since I’ve been to the ocean, and I didn’t remember it being that salty.
I did have to stop in to the resort’s tiny shop and buy some sunscreen. The choices were limited to 45 SPF sunblock or 95 SPF sunblock, and when I brought up the 45 SPF the salesman told me that it was for babies. “I have baby skin, so it’s okay.” I said. I slathered it on and spent as much time as I could in the clear water of the Red Sea.
The sand on the beach was extremely hot, and walking barefoot was dangerous! Walking in flip-flops just tossed the sand up onto the back of your legs, so it wasn’t much better. I felt bad for the staff, who I watched run on the sand, carrying trays of glasses, while wearing long black pants, socks, and shoes. (I brought socks to Egypt, but I doubt I’ll ever wear them.) The sea was so clear and shallow that 50 feet from the water line we were still only waist-deep in the water. Emily and Jose brought goggles out to the water and delighted us by diving for sand dollars and hermit crabs.
One of the stranger things to see on the beach was all of the women. Tourist season is mostly over, so we were the only foreigners there, meaning that we were the least conservatively dressed. When I say conservative, you get an image in your head of one-piece suits and beach towels wrapped around hips, right? Not so in Egypt. Women were wearing full-length, black burqas, on the beach! One woman even had gloves and socks on while her children (boys and girls) and husband ran around half-naked. It was strange. They looked like ninjas on the beach, particularly when going down to sit at the water’s edge. Like she was patiently waiting for her enemy to wash up on shore. Not every woman was so covered up, most just wore a black wetsuit and a waterproof head scarf. Still an odd sight at the beach, though. Did you know that burqinis are really a thing? At first I was very self-conscious in my simple black one-piece, but after a while the sight of covered women became almost normal and I stopped caring what people thought. Also, my friend Lindsey pointed out that usually at the beach there are a lot of people showing way too much skin making the rest of us uncomfortable. Both people with awesome beach bodies, and those without.
As the sun set we headed in to change and wash the salt residue off our skin. Some of us looked like we had graying hair there was so much salt crusted in it. Dinner was a buffet in the resort, and as much as we wanted to swim in the pool(s) afterwards, it seemed not to be in the cards. The resort had many signs warning against swimming after sunset. There seems to be a set schedule of fun at resorts: Check in at 2, swim until 6, eat dinner, chill in the courtyard and listen to the resort’s lounge singer, bed. So we followed the crowd, enjoying some sheesha (hookah) on the terrace and hoping desperately that the singer’s set would end sooner rather than later so we could hang out and chat.
On day two I was up early, ready to eat a quick breakfast and enjoy the beach as long as possible. Checkout was at 12, and the bus was leaving at 2; time sure flies when you’re enjoying the beach. Watching the tide come in as we swam in the sea was very cool. And, as we were swimming and relaxing in the sea, a school of fish decided we were all very interesting and kept nibbling at our toes. It sounds cute, but really it was a little disconcerting. (I don’t like being touched by things I can’t see.)
Checkout was uneventful, but came much too early. We still had a few hours to kill, so the majority of us decided to swim in the hotel pool. We checked out a volleyball and batted it around in the pool for a while. We provided some free entertainment for the other guests. They were very interested in the foreigners in our skimpy beach wear tossing a ball around. None of us, excepting Emily, are very good at water volleyball, and a few times the ball escaped the pool area to splash the women in full burqas sitting around the pool. A few dirty looks and abject apologies later we were back to concentrating on actually looking like we know what we’re doing.
Silly me, I didn’t remember to slather on my sunblock and managed to get lobster red. I spent hours upon hours in the red sea and only gained a little color. An hour in the pool and not only did I burn to a crisp, but all of my friends and co-workers managed to get a little pink too. Many jokes were made about how I glow on the beach, and I must be the whitest person for 1,000 miles. I tell everyone that I just try to neutralize the blue tone in my skin. On the way home it wasn’t so funny as the sting of an honest 1st degree burn started to make itself known. Serves me right for forgetting to lather up.
But, if a sunburn is the only price I have to pay for a free trip to the Red Sea, I think I can deal with the itching, peeling, and general discomfort.