This edition of Hello from… comes from Sharm El Sheik, where my friend Denise Winston (you’ve probably read the previous interviews I did with her titled ‘An American Abroad’) recently visited.
So was the trip spur of the moment or planned?
I started planning this trip in May. A friend suggested I go to Sharm El Sheikh because it was a tourist city and reasonably safe. I found this to be true. Sharm El Sheikh is called the City of Peace because of all the international peace summits that have been held there. Everything from the flight to the hotel to the tours I took while visiting were thoroughly enjoyable. I had the best time!
What was the first thing you did once you arrive in country? How was the atmosphere compared to Ha’il?
The first thing I did when I arrived was get a visa. Americans travelling to Egypt do not have to procure a visa beforehand. You fill out an information card, pay 25 USD and just like that you have a 30-day tourist visa. It was the easiest visa process I’ve ever encountered.
The atmosphere in Sharm El Sheikh differed from Ha’il in many ways but three were most noticeable. First, temperature wise, it was cooler than in Saudi but still pretty hot, however, the heat was different. In Saudi the air is very dry. Having a humidifier is a must and nosebleeds are quite common. In Sharm the air was very humid, even more so than in the South United States during the summer. I was sweating like never before but my skin never looked so good! (wink wink!) Next there was the fact that I didn’t have to wear an abaya or headscarf or otherwise cover myself. In Saudi women must wear an abaya and a headscarf in public. No one really gets to see what outfit you’re sporting as the abaya covers everything from neck to ankles. I found myself dressing up for every outing.
The last most noticeable difference was that in the atmosphere in Sharm El Sheikh there was a feeling of liberty. In Saudi, in Ha’il specifically, there is an acute awareness, especially for women, that one is not free. Whether it is about how you dress or your inability to drive or casually speak to someone of the opposite sex in public without drawing negative attention or worse, the attention of the Mutawa (the morality police who have the authority to arrest). In Egypt none of these were concerns and you could definitely feel it.
Your picture of the Sharm El Sheik and the view of the Red Sea looks amazing?
Did you have the chance to get in the water at all while you were there? I was blown away by how beautiful and blue the Red Sea was. I didn’t expect it to be blue. I know that seems an elementary observation but I didn’t. This was the most beautiful body of water I’ve ever seen. I was able to wade around in it and while doing so I got a glimpse of some very lively and colorful sea life. Everything about the Red Sea was amazing. I am definitely planning a return trip to Egypt to see more sights and when I go back I’ll take a full on swim. The water is temperately cool but warm enough not to startle the senses.
Did you try any typical Egyptian cuisine while you were there?
I did not try any typical Egyptian cuisine while in Sharm. I’d had way too much local food in Saudi. I was ready for some sushi and wine, which Egypt had in abundance. There were at least two great sushi restaurants in town – one in the Na’ama Bay area called Little Buddha. This place has ambience and two floors to service their patrons. It’s a bit pricey but the sushi is good. Also, it turns into a hopping nightclub after hours. The other is a newer sushi restaurant in Soho Square next to an iron bull that looks like it came off Wall Street. I liked this restaurant better. They also made a killer Long Island iced tea.
How was it seeing the sunrise over Mount Sinai?
Seeing the sunrise over Mount Sinai was incredible. The presence of God is definitely there, not just on the mountain itself but also in the space around the mountain. To see the sunrise you must travel to Mount Sinai at night and bring a flashlight to see your way. The trail is sandy and rocky and steep. But I stopped to take notice of the night sky during the hike. I had no idea there were that many stars in the sky! It was beyond description. I saw at least six shooting stars (I stopped counting after six) and the Milky Way. It looked as if God took sparkly chalk, turned it on its side and rubbed it across the heavens. When no one was talking and no camels were going past there was a thick reverential silence over the whole mountain range. You can see my view of the sunrise in the pictures. I will never forget it.
Was this your first time riding a camel?
I didn’t actually ride a camel. I sat on one, he stood up and I was like, “Um, NO!” and promptly got off. Here’s the thing: in high school I was horseback riding when a bee came along and scared the horse and I got thrown off into a ditch. That painful experience really put me off riding big animals. Camels are bigger than horses- at least height wise. I’m a good 5’ 10” tall. When I stood next to these camels I came to about the middle of their side. So when I ventured to ride one and it stood with me on its back and I’m almost 12 feet in the air, on a mountain, it was just a bit much. I’m not a fearful person but I just wasn’t going to do that. They were rather cheeky animals though. It’s like they know when they are being photographed and they pose for you! I’m so not kidding. One stood still until he heard my camera snap! They were friendly and all but at that height on that mountain I just wasn’t comfortable. Maybe on flat land sometime in the future… Maybe.
What emotions did you have as you saw the site of the burning bush @ St. Katherine’s Monastery?
The only emotion I had when I saw the burning bush was surprise that it wasn’t a bush at all but a mid-size tree. There was a barricade around it so that you could only see it at a distance. For me it was just cool to go to the place where God spoke to Moses. The whole experience was walking in the places where the same God I’ve read about my whole life spoke and is still speaking today.
What was your favorite part about the trip?
My favorite part of visiting Egypt was going to Mount Sinai. My experience there was beyond what I ever thought it would be. I also enjoyed touring St. Katherine’s Monastery, which is said to be one of the oldest working monasteries in the world. Being in the chapel at the monastery was something else; the artwork, the furniture and the lamps that hung from the ceiling were all so ornate with intricate detailing. I only wish we were allowed to take pictures inside. Alas, we were not. I just have to remember it well.
For those visiting Sharm El Sheik for the first time, what would you suggest they see first?
For those visiting Sharm El Sheikh for the first time I recommend taking a tour of the city first. That way you’ll get an overall view of Sharm and the landscape around it. This vacation destination is definitely a must for anyone traveling to Egypt.
Do you think you’ll return to Egypt?
I have plans to return to Egypt next year, this time to see the sights in Cairo and possibly Alexandria and Luxor. Thanks for letting me share!
Looking forward to hearing about your return trip!