Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 90
Tuesday 10th June
Yesterday’s journal entry was cut short, as I was not feeling too well. After settling into our hotel yesterday morning, we all took a nap. Sandy and I went for a bit of a swim and spent most of the remainder of the morning sunbathing by the pool. Shortly after noon, we all took a walk down to the somewhat euphemistically named city centre, which is really nothing more than a collection of tourist bazaars and restaurants, much like all the other small towns here in Egypt. We were looking for a place to get a bite to eat but none of the places we walked by looked particularly appealing. We eventually decided on a place and went upstairs to sit. We had to have them switch on the air-conditioning (although most places have air-co., it’s almost always switched off) and our waiter took our order. He didn’t seem to speak much more than the odd word or two of English and although we did our best to make it clear what it was we were ordering, we never really got the impression that the waiter fully understood. This was confirmed after a half an hour or so when the food arrived and about half of it was not what was ordered. Still we made the best of it.
Whilst waiting for our food to arrive, I was starting to feel a bit queasy. At first, I thought it was just fatigue and the after-effects of the bumpy ferry crossing, but then it suddenly got much worse and I had to quickly excuse myself. Just a few moments later, I was regurgitating the contents of my stomach in the bathroom. I’ve had trouble with traveller’s diarrhoea since yesterday evening so we think it must be some kind of stomach bug or something. Several other people that we’ve been in contact with over the past few days have also had similar problems. I felt much better after returning from the bathroom but still didn’t feel quite 100% for the remainder of the day.
Our Australian friends have decided not to stay in Sharm El-Sheikh after all. They don’t have any SCUBA certification and so there is little here to keep them occupied. After lunch, they went into town to track down the bus station to see about getting a ticket to Dahab for later on today. Dahab has a much better choice of snorkelling options and so this is what they will do for the next couple of days. In the meantime, we tracked down a taxi that was willing to accept our E£5 offer for the two-minute ride back to the hotel. The third taxi that we asked finally accepted, albeit very reluctantly. All the taxi drivers try to tell you that Sharm El-Sheikh is a much more expensive place and so the fares are much higher. I suspect that there is a grain of truth to this but more than likely this is a ploy to convince you to pay more than you would elsewhere in the country, and I supposed this might work for most people.
Back at the hotel, we lounged around for the afternoon and even took a swim in the warm swimming pool. The hotel manager came over and chatted with us a bit. We had cause to ask the staff to fix a couple of things in our room earlier in the day and he wanted to make sure that everything was OK. He was a nice enough character and suggested that we go up onto the roof of the restaurant to admire the sunset over the mountains. He was looking for ways in which to improve the property and we talked about some of these with him. We told him that we were very pleased with the hotel and that it was one of the nicest that we’ve stayed in so far (which is quite true even though there are several things not quite right). We’ve found that simple little compliments like this tend to come back as rewards after the fact and it was quite fortunate that we had befriended him since later in the evening, he told us that he would reduce our bill at checkout time and that we were to ask for him when the time comes. This isn’t something that we were looking for but it just goes to show that being nice can and does has its rewards.
Just as it was starting to get dark, the two Australians emerged from their room and we all decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. It was ‘oriental’ again so there was little there for me to eat but this wasn’t a problem since my appetite was surely suppressed by my condition. In fact, I was even starting to feel some stomach pains.
Dinner was nice enough and we spent some time outside by the pool chatting afterwards, but my stomach pains were growing worse and I eventually had to excuse myself again to go and lie down after it got quite severe. We had previously talked about cracking open our emergency prescription of Cipro anti-biotics (which are especially for traveller’s diarrhoea). Since the headache tablet I took earlier was not helping much, we eventually decided that this bout of illness was severe enough to warrant taking the Cipro. We’ve always been very reluctant to take any of the prescription drugs, which we keep with us for emergencies in our medical kits, without the advice or supervision of a physician. Sandy was prescribed Cipro by the local doctor when we were in Knysna, South Africa (although they call it Orpic there – Cipro written in reverse), so that was fine but we had much more trust in the medical health care system there than we do here in Egypt. I took one tablet last night and one this morning and the stomach pains have subsided quite a bit already. The regiment requires two tablets per day, every twelve hours, for three days. The diarrhoea also seems to have been suppressed so far.
I’d like for us to get a good three days' worth of diving in whilst we are here in one of the diving capitals of the world. This means that we must start our diving tomorrow already and therefore must choose a diving club by the end of the day. Since it is already almost noon, this leaves us little time to make our choice. There are a plethora of diving outfits here in Sharm El-Sheikh but we must take care to choose one that we are satisfied has high standards and an impeccable safety record. After the drama of the missing snorkeler the other day in Hurghada, we are now particularly sensitive to these issues. I read through all the reviews in the Lonely Planet guide and settled on a dive club that I wanted to talk with further. I spoke with a Yorkshire lass from my chosen dive club for about thirty minutes or so and generally got a good feeling but I still felt the prices were a bit steep. Like many other operators here, they recently switched from Dollars to Euros as the currency of choice. The prices are still the same, just in Euros now. Since the Euro is much stronger than the Dollar at this time, this means that the effective price is quite a bit higher all of a sudden.
So, we spent the better part of the afternoon visiting Na’ama Bay and grabbing some KFC. The ride from Sharm to Na’ama should cost no more than E£1 per person on one of the private cars (minibuses) and I gave the chap three pounds once we arrived. He had the cheek to pester me for more, stating that the fare was five pounds, so I eventually, and reluctantly, gave him another pound just to shut him up. He seemed very pleased at this little victory and drove off with a smile. Everything in Na’ama is just as dead as it is here and the streets are largely empty. It does have a bit more atmosphere over there, however, and looks a bit like a dormant holiday town.
We tried one of the local Internet cafés but the guy there tried to feed me the same line about Sharm El-Sheikh being more expensive than anywhere else in Egypt and asked a significantly higher rate than the going norm so we didn’t bother. He also tried to tell me that it would be even more expensive than the listed price to hook-up the laptop – the cheek of it.
With nothing in Na’ama to keep us there, we left, after buying a scoop of ice cream, to head back to Sharm. This time we got into a public car with several other passengers at the same time. Shortly after getting under way, the driver mumbled something in Arabic and everyone took a one-pound note out of their pockets and started handing them forward. We followed suit. This was further confirmation that the previous driver was just trying to scam us.
We arrived back at Sharm and got out of the minibus, this time with no objections or drama from the driver. The plan was to walk to the dive club that I had phoned earlier and check them out in person. However, since I had rather inconveniently forgot to bring the guidebook, we had no idea which direction we should take. After wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes, we eventually stopped in at one of the hundreds of hotels in the area to ask for directions. The guy at the door seemed interested only in directing us to the hotel’s affiliated dive club but the receptionist was a bit more helpful and actually phoned them. I spoke to the Yorkshire woman again and she informed that they were actually located in Na’ama Bay, much to our annoyance. Neither of us fancied another trip back there again as it is very hard work trying to move about in this heat and humidity. I told the woman about the inconvenience of their prices now being in Euros and asked if she could shave a bit off the overall price. Even after she conferred with the manager, she wouldn’t budge an inch with the price. If there is anything I can’t stand, it’s inflexibility in pricing – particularly so in a country where negotiation is the name of the game. Already a little aggravated by the heat and events of the day, I decided that this inflexible policy of theirs would cost them our business and we cancelled our plans to dive with them - their loss, not ours.
We trundled back up the hill to the hotel in the heat of the afternoon and this did nothing to improve my mood or irritability. I spent the next hour or so calling all the other dive clubs listed in the guidebook but was never quite able to strike a good deal with any of them. Things might have been a bit different if I was in a better mood but, again, I hate to be on the losing end of a financial negotiation and pretty much all of the dive clubs were inflexible with their pricing. With the clock ticking and no still no diving arranged, things were starting to get a bit depressing. Our hotel receptionist had given me the price list for their affiliated dive club earlier in the day. I took it from him but only to appease him since I was not too keen on going with a hotel recommended dive club. There are so many dive clubs here and I was somehow convinced that a hotel recommended one would be of dubious reputability. Since I was running out of options, I thought I would give the hotel’s recommendation a call anyway, just for the fun of it. What could I lose?
As it turns out, the guy that answered the phone was a Dutchman and seemed like a really nice, up-front guy. We talked, in Dutch, for a while and discussed the prices and things. The price list that I had been given listed everything in Dollars but he told me that they, too, had just recently converted over to Euros. I explained to him our situation and the fact that we had been given a pricelist in Dollars and, to my pleasant surprise, he was quite happy to honour the Dollar rate – bonus! Additionally, his prices were very much better than all the Lonely Planet guidebook listed dive clubs – another bonus! When I asked him where they were physically located, he told me that they were just a hundred yards or so from our hotel – yet another bonus! One of my stipulations with the dive clubs that I had spoken with earlier on the phone was that we wanted a private dive master (I was more than willing to pay the extra premium for this) and that I wanted to speak with the dive master in person to make sure that I was happy with them. I asked this same question to the Dutchman and this was not a problem. In fact, their boat had just returned from sea and the divers and dive masters were now on their way back to base so it was OK for us to just swing by. After all the trials and tribulations of the day, things were finally starting to look up.
We walked over to the dive club, which is located in the second hotel up from where we are and spoke with Henk, the Dutchman, and our dive master. Everything just seemed to click and we got a very good feeling about them and their operation. After we chatted for a while about the ins and outs of our plan for diving over the next few days, our dive master slid an indemnity form in front of us. Now, ordinarily, I would give a big sigh (internally) each time I’m hit with one of these. They have rapidly become an everyday part of life and almost nobody will let you participate in any activity with just the slightest hint of danger without first making sure that you sign away any right to hold them even vaguely responsible. I was actually very pleased in this case, however. With the events of the missing snorkeler still fresh in my mind, it was refreshing to see that this dive club was at least making sure that we were certified and free of any illnesses that might affect our ability to dive, etc. It was a good sign.
We stayed at the other hotel for a couple of hours and talked at length with Henk about his business and life in Egypt in general. He let me hook up my laptop to his network (which is connected to the Internet) and I tried to solve some problems on his computer in return. When we finally left, he didn’t want any payment in advance and he sent us on our way with some recommendations for where to get a good meal.
We tried to find some batteries for the digital underwater camera but could only find the same, useless, low energy kind that we bought the other day in Hurghada. They last for all of about five or six photos in the underwater camera before giving up altogether. The best we could find was a no-name brand that did not indicate that they were anything other than the same, low-powered, alkaline batteries. They would probably also be worthless but I asked the shopkeeper what the price was nevertheless. His initial response was five pounds per battery (it was a pack of four). Since we had only paid one pound per battery previously, I felt this to be ridiculous but the lowest he would go was to twelve pounds for the packet. I wasn’t going to pay more than ten so we left empty handed. Perhaps this was one of those situations where stepping back and looking at the broader picture was in order. After all, twelve pounds is only two Dollars. It wasn’t the ‘high price’ that I had a hard time with, it’s just that I can’t abide paying more for something than it should cost. A lot of merchants here see us as walking Dollar signs and it irks me to capitulate to this.
The events of today have lead me to conclude that we are, perhaps, too reliant on our guidebook. After a lot of pain and irritation of sifting through all the recommended dive clubs from the book, we ultimately choose one just next door for less money that isn’t listed – go figure.