Thursday, July 30, 2015

EGYPT: RESTING IN TABA AND MY HUSBAND'S CRAZY TRIP UP MOUNT SINAI

We arrived at our hotel in Taba in the late afternoon. Our tour company's plan was to give us some much needed down time the next morning, then get us on a flight to Aswan later in the day. If you have to sit around somewhere, the Sofitel Taba Heights is not a bad place to be.

We were welcomed with glasses of chilled hibiscus juice, a refreshing drink I grew to love while we were in Egypt:
Photo from here
The oculus in the hotel lobby:
Another shot of the lobby (photobombed by Stan):


Our room was also beautiful, and the art over our bed reminded me a lot of the work of my talented niece, an art professor in London who specializes in Islamic painting:


The hotel had a very extensive buffet with an unusual international theme. We were there on a Wednesday, so we got the French menu, although the food was not much like meals we've eaten in France:


The evening view from the balcony in our room was magnificent. It felt like being in a movie set:



It was a great spot for some rest and recuperation.

Unless you're Bob.

Bob doesn't know the meaning of R&R when we travel, and when he realized there would be TWO-THIRDS of a day of JUST SITTING AROUND, he starting scheming to fill the time and eventually devised a plan to climb Mount Sinai. He called ahead to our Taba hotel and made arrangements for a driver and guide, and then he somehow convinced two of the three other men traveling with us to go to bed early, get up at 11:45 PM, take a three-hour taxi ride to the base of the mountain, ride camels for part of the ascent, and hike the last hour to arrive at the summit in time to witness the sunrise. Here are a few of his pictures:
Bob on his camel
Kasey and Terry await the sun
When the sun came up, the pilgrims went down
View from Mount Sinai
Bob's little side-trip was not without drama. Just after he had gone to bed early (about 8:00), I got a frantic call from someone connected with the hotel saying that a person can't climb Mount Sinai and get on a plane on the same day. (We would be leaving for the airport shortly after the men returned from their climb.) The caller insisted that climbers must wait 24 hours to fly or risk serious health problems--something like what a scuba diver who surfaces too fast experiences. That was a new one for me, and it did freak me out a little bit. I told the caller that the Sinai trip had already been paid for and couldn't be cancelled, and I assured him that my husband was an experienced climber and that we weren't he wasn't worried about it.

The three men had a successful climb and no ill effects from getting on a plane later in the day. However, about a month later there were several car bombings at the checkpoints on Sinai's highways near where they had traveled, and the BBC noted that Sinai was becoming "an increasingly lawless place." Whew, glad we got out of there in one piece!

Back to Taba. While Bob, Terry, and Kasey were freezing and getting saddle sores from their camel ride, I was sitting on my balcony in my jammies reading a book and looking out at this:


There's a Palm Springs aura about this place:
It was nice to have a leisurely morning, but since Bob was gone, it was time to do some shopping. The hotel offered a shuttle to a nearby shopping area--not the mall we had seen on the way in, but an "authentic" shopping experience.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure this is a real bedouin tent:
. . . and I'm sure that this man who ambushed us and pulled us into the tent as we walked by had just come in from the desert:
His tent was quite spacious inside and had  some very interesting accoutrements, including several shisha pipes (what we know as hookah or water pipes here in California)--a way of smoking tobacco in which the smoke is cooled by passing through water and then is inhaled through a pipe connected to a long tube (or something like that). We saw men all over Egypt sitting in chairs at sidewalk cafes smoking these things.
Even more than Americans, they clearly don't pay much attention to these signs we saw posted in some of the windows at the mall:
We were extremely glad Stan had foregone the Mount Sinai trip and was there to guard us. I think our Arab host was looking for a new harem. Instead, he dressed Stan up as the Grand Poobah:
. . . and made Chris Mrs. Poobah, and then seated the rest of us around the two of them for a photo op.
As soon as we could get Chris and Stan out of those clothes and a tip into the man's hand, we were out of there and into the ghost town shopping center.
Our experience there was a little too much like being in an episode of The Twilight Zone. We would go in one shop and talk to the shopkeeper, then move to another shop and talk to . . . the SAME shopkeeper, then move to another shop and, yup, talk to the SAME GUY. There were either identical quintuplets there or someone was a very fast runner.

One of my favorite shops was a drugstore that had wonderful products like this one:
The only thing I can figure out is that the soap gives you flesh-eating bacteria, thereby reducing your body size by 300%. I'm also intrigued by the many languages on the box. If one nationality won't get sucked in by this stuff, maybe another will.

There were all kinds of treasures in that shop:
I'm not sure what this one was for. Perhaps it gives the user ostrich-skin? Not so desirable, at least in my opinion.
I did buy some of the "Cracks foot cream," and it was not too bad. However, I don't think I'll try to track down a replacement jar.
I also bought some saffron and whole nutmeg, as well as a nice big bag of hibiscus blossoms for tea, which I've enjoyed so much that I DID replace it when I ran out. Gotta love Amazon.
The architecture of the mall was really quite charming.
Yes, that IS a Leather-R-Us store at the end of the tunnel.
We stopped at a perfume shop and fell for this guy's pitch about how his perfume was the best, how before tourism in Egypt plummeted a few years ago he was selling it in shops in Cairo to Rich and Famous People, how it was such high quality that a few drops would scent our skin for days.
There was a definite sense of desperation in the air. It was clear that there hadn't been a lot of tourists in the shop for a while:
He pulled out all the stop(per)s:
We escaped with one small bottle each, and by the time we got back to our hotel room, the scent we'd applied in the store had escaped as well. So much for "a few drops scenting our skin for days." Oh well, at least we got a cute bottle.

We returned to the hotel and were very relieved when Bob and the other two husbands showed up in time to join our group for the fifteen-minute drive to the Taba International Airport:
The first Taba Airport was built as a military base by the Israelis in 1972, five years after Israel won the Six-Day War, which had given them control of the Sinai peninsula. A new terminal building was added by Egypt in the 1990s a few years after they regained control of the Sinai.

The airport has just one gate and services primarily charter airlines, which is what we were flying on.
We were the only group in the terminal. Like the Taba shopping area, it felt like a ghost town. Wikipedia notes, "Since 2013 there has been a large decline in the number of airline flights to the [Taba] airport to the degree of which sources indicate that there is no airline activity." If I am interpreting that rather poorly written sentence correctly, tourism in Egypt has crashed.

Wikipedia further notes that tourism in Egypt peaked in 2010 with 14.7 million visitors, and because of unrest (Arab Spring began in Cairo in January 2011), there has been a steady decline, with number of tourists in 2014 coming in at only 4.4 million. I am sure 2015 numbers are even worse that that. We were told at one point by one of the guides that Egypt's tourism is down to 14% of what it once was. 

All things considered, the airport was well-maintained:
I must confess that it was a little scary to board this plane--I've never liked small planes--but the flight went well and within a very short time . . .
. . . we touched down in Aswan and headed to our cruise boat to get a good night's sleep before our next adventure.

3 comments:

  1. I must admit that the thought of shopping in a deserted shopping mall for ostrich cream, foot-crack cream and perfume does nothing for me. On the other hand, our no-sleep, check-point bonanza, camel ride/hike was quite a thrill.

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  2. Yeah, I think Bob and company had the more exciting adventure that morning. I'm so disappointed that no one bought the diet soap and gave us a report. At least we all got some 20 minute perfume from the shopping excursion.

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  3. Definately you chose the better part, staying at the hotel, and perhaps your story is an interesting as Bob's with the SAME shop owner in different shops (very creepy). Good to get pix of that hotel-but what an out of the way place, given the drop in tourist numbers. Pretty stark, if your life depends on the tourist trade.

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