All I’ve ever heard anyone say about Gouna is that it’s “man-made.” It lacks the natural beachiness of Dahab and is just a little too clean for some people’s taste.
“Even the jellyfish are probably manufactured,” a friend of mine once told me.
Undeterred, I joined Jamie on a quick three-day trip that really ought to have been longer.
We arrived on a Wednesday, fresh off a jolting flight, to find no airport transportation. We’d booked a room at the Sheraton, so I hadn’t anticipated getting stranded at the airport. A Sheraton driver explained that we’d have to wait for some delayed passengers if we wanted to take the shuttle we’d booked, or he could arrange a cab for us at 175LE, cheaper than the hotel shuttle. We opted for the cab, which spirited us across vast, rocky plains of burnt sienna until suddenly, there was Gouna. The Red Sea was barely visible from beyond the compound walls, a thin blue stripe in the distance. But the Sheraton planted us right on the beach, with blue views and Popsicle stick umbrellas.
It was late and we were famished. The hotel had informed us that they could arrange shuttle transport into town, for a cost. (Everything was for a cost at the Sheraton. It was 20 LE to play pool for 30 minutes and they kept trying to bill me for the shuttle we didn’t take from the airport. You’d think a ritzy hotel chain wouldn’t need to pick its guests pockets. Yeesh.)
The shuttle dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, downtown. We were looking for the aquarium, which was near the restaurant I’d reserved for dinner, but the driver didn’t seem to know.
“Aquarium?” I asked, miming fish gills on my cheeks.
“Yes, here,” he’d replied, gesturing to the empty parking lot we stood in.
Luckily, Gouna’s downtown is small, so we quickly found the aquarium and Puddle Duck, our dining facilities for the evening, just where it promised it would be. It was small, cozy, and expensive, but worth it. It didn’t help that we each had a three-course meal, but might as well go all out on vacation, right?
Gouna’s downtown isn’t thumping clubs and throngs of drunks. Its bars lined a very open pedestrian street and offered ample seating, beers, and twinkling lights. It reminded me of Mykonos. Jamie and I played pool on a hexagon table at a nearby Irish pub, which proved difficult for me. Jamie excelled, as usual.
We ended the evening at a sports bar with a real pool table, where we gained an audience of two young Egyptian boys who enjoyed watching me win – as they should. Normally, unsupervised children bother me, but these kids were totally into playing a game of pool, so we suggested doubles. They didn’t quite understand, so we gave over the table and watched them play. They were actually pretty good. A few times, the manager came over and scolded them.
“Please,” he’d said to me, gesturing that we were able to use the table if we wanted to. We both declined, because sometimes good conversation over an interesting match of pool is more fun than actually playing the game. The better boy should’ve won, but he scratched on the 8. Jamie tried to explain this to him, but he wasn’t having it.
“I win!” he’d cry, throwing his hands up in the air.
“No, your friend won,” Jamie told him. “You lost.”
The friend, a littler boy, was very pleased.
On the following night, we journeyed to the Marina to check out those bars and restaurants, and spent a good deal of time at a place called Bartender, watching two very skilled men juggle liquor bottles a la Coyote Ugly. We drank a few cocktails there and watched a NatGeo special on crocodiles before venturing off to Le Garage, a garage-themed bar that required its staff to wear mechanic coveralls. Here, we sipped beers and talked about Shakespeare until it was time to take a tuktuk back to the Sheraton. (And if you visit Gouna, I’d recommend tuktuks over hotel shuttle service. Cheaper and open-air.)
We ended the trip much like the way we started. Out of sunblock but hoping for a final day on the beach, I’d gone into one of the hotel shops and plucked a bottle of SPF 30 off the shelf.
“How much?” I’d asked.
“130 LE.” (Close to $20.)
“What?? That’s ridiculous!”
“OK, OK. 115.”
“No way. You can get it cheaper on Road 9,” I concluded to his blank stare.
I marched out self-righteously. I shouldn’t have to haggle over sunscreen on my vacation, I reasoned. If the price had been marked somewhere, I probably wouldn’t have minded, but it seemed very likely that the man was just making things up.
In the end, we resorted to scraping the insides of Jamie’s sunscreen bottle.
“I’ll sacrifice myself for you,” he said, rubbing the last of it on my back. What a guy.
And then, wading out into the quiet lagoon, I didn’t really feel like I could complain about something so trivial.