Weekend at the Red Sea

The beach has always been a generous refuge after stressful weeks, so when my flatmates suggested two days in Ain Sokhna, I happily accepted. Nothing calms the nerves quite like the natural ebb of the tide or a briny breeze on your sunburnt cheeks.

I was very content to be hurtling down the long, unwinding ribbon of desert road at 80 km/hr Thursday morning. The van – an accidental upgrade as our driver wrecked the car after colliding with a donkey cart earlier – was a spacious little shuttle, barreling through potholes and over speedbumps as we turned onto a snaking curve of road that hugged the craggy coastline.

We hopped out in the parking lot of the Porto Sokhna hotel, the wind viciously whipping my hair about. Despite the blazing sun overhead, it was chilly, quite the paradox for a place whose name translates to “hot eye.”

The hotel itself wasn’t too bad, and Susannah and I wasted no time checking out our room. I was impressed for the most part.

rooftop pool

Then we got locked in our room and couldn’t get out.

While Susannah phoned for help, I managed to pick the lock with a spoon handle, but the dye was cast. This was that hotel, a haven for teetotalers and table tennis enthusiasts who think grungy tub drains and stained linens build ‘character.’ (My suspicions were confirmed when I was informed that this was the Egyptian hotel of Ain Sokhna, mainly reserved for Egyptians looking for a few days out of Cairo.)

I have to say, I was a bit disappointed by the small portion of beach that had been meted out for us. A glorified sandbox, this reclusive slab of shoreline boasted a small army of beach chairs and a slim rectangle of swimming space in the Red Sea cordoned off with buoys. (And a flimsy, bowed thatch fence separating us from the roadside and the voyeuristic truck driver parked there ogling us.)

it WAS pretty though

An ambitious jetskiier flew back and forth for a good five minutes in his partitioned area before he grew bored and beached the vehicle in favor of some more liberally doled out waters. Or a virgin vodka club, perhaps.

After a walk along my allotted stretch of pebbled coastline – a grand three minutes – I decided to head over to the Stella di Mare where Ashley and Blanca were sipping cocktails poolside.

Unfortunately, this was not possible.

“One hour and a half,” the man at the front desk assured me. “A car comes from [insert name of town here], will take you to Stella. Stella is thirty minutes from here.”

“Thirty minutes??”

“Yes.”

“How much?”

“400 LE.”

Crestfallen – and unwilling to pay $50 or so -, I retreated to the rooftop pool and resolved to make the best of things. Ashley tried to get her hotel to get me a cab, and though they claimed to be only fifteen minutes down the road, they could only provide a ride for 35 euro. No thank you.

I knew my most reasonable option would be to hitchhike and truthfully, I wasn’t afraid to try. We’d done it from Hacienda to Moon Beach, but I’d been with Simon, who was a man and who knew where he was going.

No worries, I told myself, I’ll grab a mojito later.

We relaxed by the pool until the sun dipped below the towering hotel, bathing us in unwelcome shade. There wasn’t much to do, so we took a gondola ride up the mountain. The view was enviable: the Red Sea; sprawling, beachside real estate sprinkling the rocky mountains in shades of pomegranate, turquoise, and lime; a partially completed golf course; the scaffolding against an exoskeleton of a new mosque. We snapped a series of similar shots of the hazy, tumbling sea while a restaurant employee served us some sort of chilled hibiscus tea.

We gondola-d it back down after ten minutes.

Hoping to find a drink before dinner, we scoured the nearby shops and cafes only to discover that we somehow landed at the only dry resort in Ain Sokhna.

Alcohol? How about a vanilla milkshack instead?

I settled for a nutella cafe, coffee in a glass whose rim was smeared in vanilla Duncan Hines icing, the nutella resting in a saccharine glob in the belly of the glass. At dinner, which was included in the price, we piled our plates with food and ate happily, pausing only to tell the inquisitive waitstaff where we were from. All seemed acceptable.

Then, Shannon found a lipstick stain on her linen. The ambiance shattered with that, and its dissolution was complete when I sampled an orange mousse dessert that sat atop a pile of stale Trix.

silly expat! trix are for kids

With nothing else to do – no booze, no tourists aside from Egyptian men, many of whom toted babies around Hangover-style – we called it a night. At 8:30.

This wasn’t my idea of a fun weekend away, but with good company, all the curious mishaps were laughable. As I lay in bed writing in the almost-dark – we had two functioning lamps working at about 30% – a small baby was being brutally murdered in the hallway. Or at least that’s what it sounded like.

At the end of the day, this was better than Cairo and its cacophony of horns, palatable dusty air – the kind laced with pollution that settles in the back of your throat, snug as a scarf on your uvula – and the tortured cries of mangy cats.

a better view than my cairo balcony

Ian suggested I view the trip as a detox weekend, and I tried.

But what I wouldn’t give for a heady brew, a warm wind, a blanket on the sand, and a group of learned astronomers identifying obscure constellations overhead while the moon culls its inky tide at our feet.

(OK, I spoke too soon. The Egyptian techno music blaring over Africa’s unofficial anthem – Shakira’s “Waka Waka” – makes horns and stray cats bearable. But relaxing at the sea all day? Worth it.)

can you really complain?

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