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.
|Photo from here|
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:
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|
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:
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:
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:
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:
There were all kinds of treasures in that shop:
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.
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: