Raj and I took off to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for my birthday this past weekend. Unlike ALL of the other trips I’ve ever planned, this trip was booked through a travel agent–yes, they still have them here and to get any type of deal, you have to use one. We booked the trip a few weeks ago, shortly after I arrived, at a local travel agency in a nearby mall. Normally, I’m our travel agent, scouring through multiple travel guides, seeking out TripAdvisor ratings and points of interest, so this was all very new and scary to me–to leave our vacation in the hands of an agent–the only agent at the travel agency who spoke English. The agent handed us a leaflet of options, most of the writing was in Arabic, so all I could read were the names of the hotels, and with the exception of Marriott and Hilton, the rest were unfamiliar. We chose the Marriott, but they were booked. Next down the list was Sonesta. I’ve never heard of it, but it was similarly priced to the Marriott, so I figured it would be comparable. We paid for the trip: airfare, transfers, hotel, taxes, etc. in full and were told to come back to pick up the tickets three days before the trip. Fast forward to three days before the trip: Raj goes to pick up the tickets and is told to come back the day before the flight. Raj was busy working the day before the flight so I was the lucky one who got to go back and pick up the tickets. Much to our relief, we were given confirmation and were all set to go.
The flight was uneventful. We arrived on time and were directed by representatives of the travel agency to board a bus that would drop us off at the hotel (apparently, EVERYONE uses this same travel agency, so they all knew what to do). We arrived at the hotel and it looked nothing like the pictures. I’m sure my face said it all because the front desk clerk was very concerned that I was not happy. We were shown to our room, which was quite lovely, and then I got over it. We settled in, booked a couple of outings for snorkeling and St. Catherine’s monastery, and then relaxed by the pool.
We scheduled a snorkeling trip for Friday. We were picked up at our hotel by the tour company and whisked off to Naama Bay. We didn’t bring any of our equipment and had to rent it at the dock. As you can see in the pictures, this place was a mess. Throngs of people were waiting alongside of us to get onto their boat. It was a strange mix of people too: scantily clad Europeans next to fully covered women and children.
After waiting for about an hour in the extreme heat (it was at least 105 degrees F) and feeling unsure of what to expect, our guide corralled us through the security checkpoint and onto the boat. As we were boarding, I mentioned to Raj that this was definitely not the party boat. We were one of two western couples, the rest being Arab families FULLY clothed. All of the women and children went onto the upper level and we chose to lay out on the sun deck in the bow. We cruised out of the bay and up the shoreline for about an hour until we arrived at our first of two snorkeling sites. Our guide informed us that we would be ‘drift snorkeling,’ essentially just following his lead. The first site was on a coral reef that holds the remains of a huge ship (see below). There were about forty people on board, but only seven of us (Raj and myself included) got into the water (six men and me, the one infidel in the bikini–talk about making you feel awkward). Of the seven snorkelers, two of the men held onto an inner tube that the guide was pulling. The reef was beautiful, but there wasn’t as much sea life as I expected.
We spent about thirty minutes in the water and then headed to our next site for lunch. We were served a typical Egyptian meal of tahini, rice, pita, fish, and falafel and were told we could swim a bit more before heading off to our last stop. We spent far too long waiting around after lunch and eventually made it to our final snorkeling stop and spent thirty more minutes in the water. This spot was the same. It was beautiful, but not teaming with sea life.
After an entire day on the water, we were exhausted (from doing little more than laying out and swimming). We were dropped back off at the hotel, ate dinner and crashed in anticipation of our next day’s adventures to the monastery of St. Catherine’s.