Back in October, I decided to go on a spur of the moment holiday with the kids, since my partner had been unable to get time off during any of the school holidays (par for the course when you work in the airline industry). I managed to bag a good deal to stay near Hurghada, at The Grand Makadi, a supposedly 5 star hotel. I’d probably put it more at 4 stars personally, though it was much nicer than anything that was actually in Hurghada, which was about 30 minutes away by car. The hotel was nice enough, though it was on the coast rather than a beach as such. They had made a man-made beach, which looked nice from the pathway nearby, but less attractive when you got up close as it was quite rocky the moment you got into the sea. The Red Sea is a rich and diverse ecosystem. More than 1200 species of fish have been recorded in the Red Sea, and around 10% of these are found nowhere else! he Red Sea is considered one of the best places in the world to snorkel, and it did not disappoint… My eldest two LOVED the snorkelling. The very shallow, rocky access meant that flippers were essential in order not to cut our feet, and it took me a moment to remember that we needed to walk backwards to make life easier. My 9 year old son was also hesitant at first, and panicked with his breathing, but soon adjusted with a little coaching and calming on my part. It was wonderful to see their reactions to the fish being so close to their faces, and I felt like super-mum to be able to have given them the opportunity that put the look of wonder on their faces when they finally reached the reef. I still vividly remember my own feeling of amazement when I first went snorkelling (also in The Red Sea, but at Sharm-el-Sheikh, and not until I was 29 years old). Although my five year old daughter attempted snorkelling, she just couldn’t get on with the snorkel mask. It was too big for her face, and one glug of water through her snorkel tube left her choking and spluttering. I didn’t want to put her off, so we didn’t persist with it.
On our second night there, we ventured into Hurghada, This was lovely, and also slightly scary as a ‘lone’, blonde, female traveller. I definitely wouldn’t want to travel to non-touristy areas of Egypt alone. The taxi drivers are insane, and will rip you off given a chance. We were warned by the hotel to check the English side of the notes to ensure we were given change in pounds rather than piasteres. It was also fairly unpleasant being harassed by store and market vendors who approach you if you show even the faintest interest in looking at something. I remembered this from my visit to Sharm with my partner when I was pregnant, but it was significantly worse on my own. That said, I have to say, there were some lovely people too though, including one tour operator who took pity on me and gave us advice on how to avoid the worst areas, and even offered us a lift to avoid the taxis. He had three children himself and was concerned. He told me the best area to go for a meal and didn’t try to sell me a tour after I told him I had already booked ours. I only wish I hadn’t-he was cheaper than our hotel by more than half! We arrived in Egypt just at the end of their three day Eid celebrations, where they break their fast at the end of Ramadan. Fireworks were being let off in the street, and people were drawing in the pavement with what looked like shaving foam, then setting fire to it… Children were racing go-karts, and there was a general feeling on frivolity. In the area of town recommended to me by the nice tour operator, there were very few tourists. Women were clearly taken with my daughter, and many approached us to ask if they could take pictures of her with their camera phones, and offer her sweets and candy. It really was lovely to soak up the atmosphere and spirit of the celebrations, the spice stalls, the warmth, and the lively atmosphere of the place, and to feel that we were experiencing the Egypt that Egyptians live in, rather than the tourist hot spot. Egyptian Money There were about 10 Egyptian pounds to every English pound. According to our tour guide for the Karnak trip that I will write about in my next post; the average salary is very low in Egypt with teachers earning in the region of 650 egyptian pounds per month, and hotel managers earning somewhere in the region of 1200 Egyptian pounds per month… This really does make you realise why tourists get harassed so much. It’s quite shameful to think that a family holiday for a Brit to Egypt costs somewhere in the region of 2-3 years of an Egyptian salary!
Where is your husband?
I cannot remember how many times I was asked where my husband was, or how many times I had to fend off a sleazy advances from men; mainly waiters, porters and tour guides who did cotton onto the fact that I was travelling without my partner… It was one of the things that really brought home the cultural differences of Egypt to me. In our hotel, I only met one member of female staff, a masseuse. All of the receptionists, porters, waiting staff, bar staff, reps and tour guides were men. Egyptian men can take up to three wives. The masseuse who gave me a massage on my last day explained to me that she was surviving on three-five apples per day in order to try to lose her baby weight (she had an 18 month old) as her husband was talking of having another wife if she didn’t. I found that appalling to be honest, but I was also intrigued and asked her how she felt about it. She looked slightly lost and a little upset and shrugged at me with the words “What can I do?” except that it sounded like resignation to fate, rather than a question. To be honest, it took me by surprise, because I went to boarding school with an Egyptian boy, who I am still friends with now. He lives in the UK, has an English wife who he is devoted to, and is very anglicised. I guess I expected Egypt to be more cosmopolitan than it is. I Kissed a Cobra Our hotel, was linked to several other hotels within the same Red Sea group, Makadi Palace, Sunwing, and Sunwing Waterworld. All shared a restaurant village and entertainment. On one of the nights, we decided to watch a Snake Charmer show. We arrived half way through, just as the charmer made an announcement to the audience to ask for a female volunteer. I wasn’t overly aware of what would be involved. I have only seen one other snake show with a python, which was fairly tame-so I stuck my hand up. Mine was the only hand that went up, so I was called up. I would like to think of myself as pretty fearless, but I was fairly uneasy when I realised that he was asking me to get involved with cobras. Egyptian cobras are the most deadly of all cobras. I wondered if the cobras, three of them, were drugged, or venom less, but they seemed to be fairly reactive with him. I was sweating and felt slightly nauseous. He coiled them each up in a figure of 8 shape, and then told me to kiss one. I think he must have realised that I thought he looked mad when he asked me, because he quietly reassured me that my safety was of paramount importance and that I would come to no harm. He was also pressing down on the snake in the middle of the figure of 8, which led me to believe that perhaps he was preventing the snake from rearing its head up.
I’m not sure if it was trust or pride that forced me to swallow the lump in my throat, but I did it. WOOHOO! I survived! Thinking it was over I went to move, but he made me repeat it with the other two as well-I was literally shaking by the time it was over… Phew… Round of applause. I went to stand, but he asked me to stay in the middle of the stage and close my eyes. He then coiled one of the snakes around my head, and I am told the snakes head stood up over my own! NEW PANTS PLEASE! I got a massive round of applause and was extremely relieved to get off the stage, though not before he demonstrated to the audience that the snakes did have venom, by squeezing the back of it’s jaw so that it released a clear fluid into a cloth which he disposed of… YIKES! I still believe that the cobra wasn’t venomous and this was just some kind of saliva, or carrier fluid, as I’m certain no hotel group would take this kind of risk with it’s clientele! Unfortunately there are no pictures of me on stage with the snakes. Other posts you might Like: