|The Ballards - Egypt Sharm and The Valley of the Kings|
"Foreign types at the hookah pipe...."
Everyone knows the song, so so do they really "walk
like an Egyptian"?
The Sinai desert is hot, barren and mountainous, not
entirely unlike Oman. Sharm el Sheikh, at it's southern tip, was just
barren desert until the Israelis invaded the peninsula in 1967 and established
a military camp in this strategically important area.
You do feel you're in a security bubble: the Tourist
Police are all armed with sub-machine guns and pistols, and whilst you
can see that they are not hugely well-trained a gun is a gun and no less
lethal for that fact.
The security services come in three flavours:
The Traffic Police were spectacularly uninterested in flagrant traffic violations such as speeding, driving without lights, overloading, unroadworthy vehicles or dangerous manoeuvres and were hugely more interested in stop and search, ogling the pretty girls and looking cool in mirror shades.
The populace seem inured to all this unnecessary security, but the economic drag of keeping this many men trained and hanging around street corners is helping to keep Egypt a desperately poor country; probably not what the anti-Government forces had in mind.....
There is no history of Freedom of Expression in this Moslem country and women are absent from business life in all but a very few areas. Even the cleaners in the hotel were all blokes, and we saw no Egyptian women anywhere without headscarves (we saw very few Egyptian women).
But the Internet is changing all that. Western tourists are bringing the demand for free information, and broadband is available. So common Egyptians are discovering a different world and questioning why their Government has to be so unbending and autocratic.
Difficult times lie ahead for Egypt. All Egyptian life
revolves around tips, bargaining and baksheesh.
As someone brought up on Western values where the price is posted and
you pay it; and tipping is reserved for extra special favours only (despite
what Americans may think), this takes a little getting used to.
We did a day trip to Luxor by plane, which was interesting.
Our trip to see the antiquities (not just the aeroplanes...)
was interesting, except that the guide talked too much, and we ended up
thinking "Oh, not Another Bloody Temple....".
Ancient Egyptian culture has been copied like crazy by
popular culture, especially Hollywood, but it's more interesting to see
The Policemen were as much in evidence in Luxor as they
were in Sharm el Sheikh, but disturbingly their equipment looked more
relevant to calming riots than preventing bombers.
The various tombs and temples were incredible: they would rank well amongst modern civil engineering feats, but they were built 3,000 years ago with no electricity, no hydraulics, no internal combustion engines, no slide rules, just unimaginable quantities of sweaty labour.
It begs the question: if they were that advanced 3,000 years ago why aren't the Egyptians leading the world now? I look around and all I see is a low-tech 3rd World country. What have they been all been doing for the past 3,000 years?
It is very noticeable that the Eastern Europeans (collecitvely
regarded and despised as "Russians" by all the locals) are increasingly
taking foreign i.e. outside the USSR holidays, and Egypt is a favourite.
There were many in the resort and it was felt that they were rude, money-pinching
Conversely, the Egyptians seem to like the Brits; I suppose because Egypt is far enough away (and not alcoholically attractive enough) to avoid the lager louts the sort of English they get to see are the Middle classes who are polite, tip and don't get rude and drunk
As in all Arab countries (except, it seems, Oman) "maintenance"
is a word that doesn't appear to translate in to the local culture: things
are built, used until they break then abandoned.
Egyptian roads are terrible:
The fish underwater in Sharm el Sheikh were fabulous: the diving really is as good as they say it is. One of those rare occasions when somewhere really does live up to the hype. Recommended.
I did notice one thing; the Egyptians have a strange habit: they put pepper in the pot with one hole and salt in the pot with many holes; the complete reversal of the common custom. Very odd.
We were left with the overriding impression of a country
overmanned to a standstill; where labour is cheap and everyone is poor
and desperate for a little extra cash; where the Government directs everything
and there is very little private initiative.
It will be interesting to compare with India.