A Journey Through Time
Our Tour Egypt Visit to Egypt, Part V
by Jimmy Dunn
A nice view of Na'ma Bay at Sharm el-Sheikh
As our small tour left Luxor for Sharm el-Sheikh, the airport in Luxor was not nearly as crowded as the one in Cairo, but still there was a considerable number of people at the counters. Again, Misr Travel obtained our boarding passes for us, as we cleared through security, making the flight a little less tedious. Its really a short flight to Sharm el Sheikh, and we left at five in the afternoon, after our early morning balloon ride. To me, that was really great timing, because my favorite part of visiting Sharm is the nightlife. I love the animations, the singers and various other shows going on up and down the boardwalk (promenade).
The Movenpick has two hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh. The older of the two, where we stayed, is situated in a nice location about in the middle of the most prominent part of the promenade. Though thoroughly modern in design, it must be one of the oldest hotels in Sharm because of its location. The other Movenpick is the Golf hotel, located some distance away. Its golf course hosted the first professional tournament in Egypt. Both are excellent hotel complexes that include not only outstanding accommodations and amenities, but also fairly complete malls. The Movenpick where we stayed has a casino, as well as some of the best entertainment in this area of Sharm.
Though Soha was no longer with us, as we would require no guide in Sharm, Misr Travel picked us up and took care of our checking into the hotel. By then most of us were hungry and we headed to a fish restaurant just a bit north along the promenade. Actually, while most of the crew had some really good fish, I and a couple of the other men had some really bad hamburgers. Growing up in West Texas, I'm not much of a fish person, which I suppose, is my loss. Later we hung out at Seagulls, the Movenpick club where they had singers and dancers that evening and drank a few beers. That was about it for me and most of the others, but Tigger (Rachel) was just coming into her own at Sharm. Very much a people person, as is her cousin and our Florida manager, and both considerably younger than the rest of us, they hung out a while longer, visiting various clubs and restaurants along the beach. Soon, I doubt that there was an Egyptian along the promenade who did not know Tigger, and Tigger seemed to know everyone.
The next day seemed to pass rapidly, even though most of us did nothing except hang out on the beach and suntan (yes folks, in the dead middle of December). We shopped a bit, and several members of our party who were still somewhat sick discovered the modern pharmacies, where one could buy various medications including antibiotics over-the-counter. There was also codeine laced cough syrup, so everyone who was still sick doctored themselves up, even though there was a modern clinic with a doctor in the hotel mall. Tigger (Rachel) wanted to jet ski, but after visiting with some friends at South Sinai Divers, we discovered that this activity was no longer allowed, in respect to the local marine life. There were many other water activities, and Tigger eventually joined up with a group to go snorkeling. However, most of us simply walked about, laid about, did some reading and generally relaxed in this beach community so different than elsewhere in Egypt.
That night, I took a somewhat reluctant group to the Hard Rock Cafe. However, they were a little more ready for some American food than they had thought, and many of us ordered what turned out to be some fairly good Tex-Mex. That night, some of the crew visited the hotel casino, which by the way is only open from 8:00 pm to midnight. Most lost, but Darrell Young, one of our directors, did a little fleecing of his own. Those who were not gamblers among us once again caroused the promenade, looking for a little different entertainment. We went up and down the boardwalk, even taking a few pictures of each other posed next to a Santa with camels rather than reindeer (there were actually signs of Christmas throughout Egypt during our stay, including a belly dancing Santa in a store window in Zamalek).
The beach at the Movenpick in Sharm el-Sheikh
As the group thinned out, Tigger, Allen and I ended up in the Bedouin Cafe, just down the promenade from the Movenpick. I only stayed for a few minutes, before I too had to retire. The next morning we were going to St. Catherine's Monastery, and these day's I'm not much of a late night person anyway. However, Allen and Tigger stayed on. Tigger had taken very well to the Shesha pipe, and here, on carpets laid out on the sand, apparently was the perfect place to partake. I think they hung out until after 1:00 am, getting to know the locals (actually both of them are salespeople back home, and meeting new people just seemed to come naturally). Of course, they did not make it up the next morning for our visit to St Catherine's which was a pity, because that turned out to be another Egyptian adventure and one of the highlights of the tour.
Misr Travel offered us a guide for this trip into the southern central Sinai, but we declined this time around. Under the name, John Watson, I have written considerable material about this religious shrine, as it is a favorite topic of mine, and I expected to guide the group as well as could anyone, outside of the monks themselves.
Really, the trip to St. Catherine's Monastery is interesting and grand, moving through the rough, jagged mountains in this part of the Sinai. unfortunately some of the roads had been wiped out by flash floods sometime earlier, so the trip was also a bumpy one. The road twists and turns, coming only a short distance from Dahab, which we passed by without seeing, and within about thirty kilometers of Nuweiba, which I really wanted to visit as I have friends there that run the Habiba Hotel. That's a great place to have a bit of fresh seafood, but unfortunately, most of the group wanted to spend as little time as possible on the road.
It takes about three hours to reach the Monastery of St. Catherine from Sharm, and after arrival in the bus area, we immediately set out for the monastery itself. Its actually several kilometers, so we paid a rather huge amount for a cab to carry us up the small hill. Several of our members were not yet fully recovered from their colds, and the twenty pounds we paid for a two kilometer ride was worth it to them.
The Monastery, one of the most famous in the world and operated by the Greek Orthodox Church, had been closed for several days due to religious festivals, and the place now was completely packed with tourists. We had almost to fight our way in to the Katholikon, the main church, through shoulder to shoulder tourists. After visiting it, we walked around the path to the traditional location of Mosses' burning bush. Upstairs, there was also the new Icon Gallery and Museum, which was an additional charge, but several of our members decided to visit it too. However, this appeared to be all that could be seen in the Monastery, and I was somewhat disappointed. Before, when I had visited, one could wonder around much more of the facility. Of course, there was also more to see outside.
However, while some visited he Museum, I went to look for a specific Monk who is working on the website for the Monastery. He is from the US, and I knew of his existence earlier official visits to the monastery when I was working on the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism Website, but on each occasion, he had been away on monastery business so I had never met him. I got lucky this time. Father Justin was indeed in residence, and he even offered to provide my small group with a private tour of St. Catherine's Monastery, and of course he knows much more about the monastery and its contents than I do.
Several of our members had decided not to visit the new museum, where some of the most important icons are located, mainly because they were having trouble with stairs. However, lead by Father Justin, they all decided to make the one story climb, and were glad that they did. Even those who had already gone through the museum went through again, this time with the Monk acting as a guide.
Frankly, visiting the Monastery of St. Catherine without touring the museum would be like entering the National Gallery of Art's foyer but not its galleries. One could always return home and tell their friends that they visited the National Gallery of Art, but the experience would be missing. Here, in this small, well planned museum, are astounding works of art produced by true masters without rival. Were they secular in nature, doubtless they would grace the galleries of the world's most famous museums. Within the first room were world renowned icons such as Christ Pantocrator, St. Peter the Apostle, the "Ladder to Heaven" and the Hagiologion Calendar. I had seen some of these icons on previous visits, but only from afar, where they were hung on various walls not particularly suitable for good viewing. But now in the museum, they are very well displayed so that details I had never seen before were visible. And with Father Justin acting as guide, the icons came to life with meaning. Other rooms within the museum contained other treasured icons, some of the monastery's most important ancient manuscripts, and other artifacts such as ancient crosses and textiles. We spent some time in the museum, and I must admit that I could have gone through it again and again. Of course, none of our group was Greek Orthodox, but that did not seem to diminish the the awe in which they viewed these religious relics.
After visiting the Museum, we went up into the monastery, where surprisingly little of the mayhem of tourism penetrates, we were able to walk about, and get a good feel for this part of the monastery that few tourists see. We met several of the more prominent monks, including the head of finance for the monastery and the head of the library, both impressive men, but I think all were taken by Father Justin, who seemed to radiate peace and tranquility in this sanctuary of the Sinai. This was all a real treat, and one that those of our group who visited the monastery will never forget. We were the last of the tourists through the gate of the monastery, which had to be reopened for us, and on the way back to Sharm, the trip seemed somehow shorter as most reflected on a special moment in time.
That evening we returned to the hotel in time for dinner, and I believe most of the group joined up in the very nice Italian restaurant at the Movenpick. Not only was the food good but so was the view. It is situated on the second level of the hotel, not far from Seagulls, their nightclub. On one side it overlooks the beautifully lit pool, while the other side has a commanding view straight down one of Na'ma Bay's main avenues. It has both inside and outside seating, though this time of year we chose indoor seating, as the nights can be somewhat chilly.
The next day we were scheduled to fly back to Cairo, so most of the group took to their rooms after dinner, while Allen, Tigger, my wife and I made a visit to Seagulls, catching the entire show. That was enough for my wife and I, but not for Allen and young Tigger. They had taken a real liking to the Bedouin Cafe, and particularly the people who work there, just up the promenade, and decided on a return visit, just a quick one of course.
That quick visit turned into an all nighter. While the rest of us slept, Allen and Tigger got well acquainted with the natives Egyptians. By now, Tigger (Rachel) was actually using some conversational Arabic. They all shared a meal, but as the evening, and early morning wore on, apparently things became more lively. One of the reasons I now refer to Rachel as Tigger is that she actually climbed the ropes that dangled down from a central post in this open air restaurant, and later, she was invited by the locals to dawn the outfit of an employee. She helped with the food preparation, waited on tables and even acted as barker, bringing in customers off the promenade. She apparently outlasted her cousin, Allen, finally watching the sun rise, not wasting a moment of her time in Sharm el-Sheikh. All of us therefore left Sharm the next morning with some special memories, but doubtless we left some Egyptians behind with some memories of their own, of fun loving and congenial Americans.
As always, the Misr Travel bus was prompt that final morning in Sharm, and we were whisked away, and pampered at the airport by their representative, who made arrangement for our boarding passes and our luggage. Even though the US has many fine beach resorts, the visit to Sharm would latter be recounted by many among us as their favorite part of the Tour.
Last Updated: June 9th, 2011
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