…and home

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Spiny anemone

Not a lot to write about for the final day. We checked out around midday and had a bit of an explore in the afternoon.

The beach near the hotel is fantastic and the stuff in the rock pools very interesting. Hermit crabs, brightly-coloured fish, black starfish, spiny anemones… Really cool. We also found the other pools we’d not spotted the entire week including the slides. D’oh!

Sharm el-Sheikh airport isn’t bad, but it’s very expensive. Definitely do your souvenir shopping elsewhere and also try to use the toilets at the hotel before you arrive. The ones are the airport are filthy. After a sleeping Little Mister pee’d down me in the security queue, we went to sort his nappy out. In the gents we went to, there wasn’t a single one he could sit on to go pee. Not

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Clam

one. The seats in each were so wobbly that he’d have fallen in. And that’s not to mention the faeces smeared on one, and the puddles of urine left on another by the man who was in before us. Oh, and don’t worry about flushing. You can’t. The mechanisms are missing, kicked backwards into the walls.

Our flight home, however, was a little early which was nice. Other than the really uncomfortable seats (Thomson, have you squeezed an extra row in somewhere and stolen that vital inch of legroom?), nothing to say really. Though will someone explain how a taxi to Glasgow Airport cost us about £8 on Saturday morning, but over £18 to get back home from on Sunday morning?

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Camels and dancing

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Sunset in the hills

We had some simple aims in the morning – go souvenir shopping and have food in the nearby(ish) KFC and McDonald’s. The latter was my fault. I try to get a meal in each of them in a new country if they have them. Egypt has both and as luck would have it there was a branch of each – next door to each other – a short drive from the hotel. Reception provided us with a bus for UK£6 return and we gave ourselves three hours to shop around.

Gillian proved herself to be quite the haggler after some hints from me. The first couple of shopkeepers were very pushy, one virtually demanding that she buy something before he would let her leave the shop. She bargained him down from around UK£10 to UK£1.50 for a little carved scarab.

Similarly to India and Thailand, the custom here is that the first sale of the day will break the “duck” and result in more sales coming in. Therefore, often a shopkeeper will be prepared to go much lower on that sale to encourage others. Given the current tourism situation i.e. the lack of it, this works well for the buyer as there aren’t many tourists around in some areas to make that first sale so you’re likely to be in a position to be that lucky duck-breaker.

We also encountered some much nicer salesmen on a street full of shops, including one guy who was playing Metallica very loudly as we approached. While we were browsing, he popped on some death metal (November Doom, I think they were called – I’ll check with him when I get home) and we got chatting. Gillian picked up a statue she loved and the price on it was “99.99”. We assumed this was in British Pounds or Euros. Gillian would have paid either, but was prepared to haggle it down a bit.

It was Egyptian Pounds. In other words, it was a tenner in UK money. No haggling required. Little Miss bought some bracelets and our new friend (I have his email address and facebook so we can swap band recommendations) gave Little Mister a free toy as a parting gift.

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Traditional Egyptian dance

McDonalds had a menu which nicely differed from the UK one, with all the portions larger at a smaller price. The kids’ meal comes with 6 nuggets instead of 4, and they also have the Mega-Mac (4 burger patties) on offer as well as a Chicken Big Mac. KFC, on the other hand, is much like it is back home with only the addition of two or three locally biased dishes.

We also picked up a couple of things from the shops within our resort as their prices were fair and the staff really nice.

At half four we headed out for our pre-booked camel trek which Gillian had really been looking forward to. Unfortunately, she was recovering from an overnight bout of Delhi Belly (or the local equivalent) and wasn’t sure if she was up to it. I cajoled her a little and I’m glad to say she didn’t regret it.

The camel ride was a pleasant enough experience, even with Little Mister in my arms the whole way. A word for anyone planning this who has a small child with them – the saddle is only big enough for one person. You can’t sit a child in front of you the way you would on, say, a 4×4. Make sure you’re fine with holding them tight for the duration.

I’m sure it had been billed as a 40-minute ride, but it felt like nearer 15. However, with the heat and the marginal discomfort (mainly due to the 15-ish kg of child I was holding), I don’t have an issue with that. The fact that I can say I’ve ridden on a camel through the desert is fine by me!

The place we stopped at promised music, dancing, food and stargazing. We enjoyed all four as well as good company from the others in our group: another couple from Newcastle and a couple who live about 2 miles away from us! Little Mister made himself the centre of attention with his groovy dancing, and by taking photos of people when we climbed a nearby hill to see the sunset. They took photos of him taking photos of them. Then when they showed him the pictures on the back of their cameras, he took photos of them!

The food was excellent and the dancing was pretty impressive as well. Certainly no complaints on either score. Within the dining area, the stargazing wasn’t brilliant as there were too many lights, but outside after the meal we found a handful of very expensive-looking telescopes had been set up. We saw Saturn (rings and everything) through one, and the Moon through another. Fortunately for us it was a full moon as well, so we got a great view. One of the people on our bus managed to get her camera to “see” down the telescope (check out here telescope for kids) and captured a perfect photograph.

Overall a great excursion and a fitting end to our holiday. With just the daytime to kill before our flight tomorrow evening, I think we’re all looking forward to getting home and relaxing! Oh, and no pictures of actual camels at present. As I was carrying Little Mister in my arms, I couldn’t get to my camera so I’m waiting for my dad to email me some.

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1000th POST! And diving the Red Sea again

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Gillian's first boat dive

[More pics of the diving can be found in my Egypt Flickr set]

Wow. I just spotted this as I was editing my drafts before posting and this is the thousandth post on this blog, after starting way back in January 2006! Thanks to everyone for reading what I’ve put up and – even more appreciated – the comments and responses I’ve had. I know the blog’s a little stale these days since I’ve come back to the UK but I will keep updating it with every holiday!

Anyway.

Another early start, but not as bad as the day before. We dropped the kids over with my folks at 7:00 and hopped on the transfer bus back to Emperor Divers where we kitted up and I went through some of the paperwork for my Nitrox course. I’d just about managed to stay awake the night before to get through the DVD and reading, so just the knowledge review to finish off before we headed to the boat.

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Diving in Egypt

We’d opted for the local dive sites as these would be Gillian’s first as a qualified diver. Up to this point, she’d only been in open water six times and all near to the shore for skills tests. Her main concern was her buoyancy, as she’s apt to get excited when she sees something new and ascend rather rapidly as a result! It turned out her main concern should have been checking her kit before leaving the dive shop as it seemed someone else has borrowed the wetsuit that was meant to be in her basket. Fortunately one of the crew had a spare which just fitted her.

In two dives, the only time her buoyancy didn’t look so good was when another diver unexpectedly swam under her. This happens from time to time and it is something that can freak you out at first! Otherwise, she did really well.

They were a great couple of dives with some excellent sightings including a “crown of thorns”, a very large spiky starfish which actually eats coral. Gillian completed her Boat Dive cert and I passed my Nitrox with flying colours despite the exam having some ridiculously vague questions on it.

Upon return, we found that the kids had been great all day (of course) and we had a nice relaxing evening. More food, more drinks, chilling out. You know – what holidays are about.

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Day trip to Luxor

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Luxor International Airport

[More pics, including a fair few more from Karnak, in my Egypt Flickr set]

Really early start (5am pickup) for the Luxor trip. We booked this before we left via a company called Sharm Club and I’d be happy to recommend them based on the day we had. Their prices were very competitive also, and definitely cheaper than booking with pretty much anyone once on-resort.

The hotel provided us with a breakfast bag each with some water and what seemed to be bread from last night’s dinner. We ate what we could on the bus and in the airport while we waited for our delayed flight. The plane was a 48-seat charter from Memphis Air with two nice propellors. The man in front of us on the shuttle bus crossed himself when he saw it. Wuss. It was much bigger than the 18-seat Buddha Air flight I’d taken in Nepal.

Our guide, Ahmed, met us at Luxor Airport – a lovely building which looks like it’s been carved out of a single block of polished granite. He introduced us to our driver, Ahmed. It seems Ahmed is a very common name out this way. Ahmed, as it happens, turned out to be one of the best guides I’ve ever had on a day trip. My parent said the same and they’ve done more of these type of trips than I have. A great sense of humour, excellent English and an incredibly thorough knowledge of the sites we visited. This was to be expected given his university qualifications in Egyptian History.

Without going through the whole historical detail, the sites we got to visit were the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut and the temple complex of Karnak. We also swung by an alabaster “factory”, had lunch in a nice restaurant and stopped by the Nile for a quick photo session.

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Temple of Hatshepsut

At the Valley of the Kings, we got a 3-tomb-ticket. Using this, you can visit any of the tombs currently open to the public with the exception of Tutenkahmun’s which requires a separate ticket due to obvious demand. Each tour guide will have their personal recommendation of which three tombs to visit which, helpfully, spreads the tourists across those which are available. We were pointed towards KV8, KV6 and KV7 (Merenptah, Ramesses IX and Ramesses II) which provided a good bit of variety as they were different sizes and designs.

Points to watch when here – the sales people are pushy, and just like India (in particular) won’t take “no” for an answer. Nor will they take being ignored. They’re all over you. Thankfully, it wasn’t too busy and I don’t think many of them were up for it. After my dad had our group sat together and shouting “NO!” at someone after a count of three, Little Mister took to doing it himself. The look of shock on some hawker’s face when he was pwned by a three year old was priceless.

Even inside the tombs there are people who will offer to guide you round and show you things. It’s possible to go within the guard rails and see things by torchlight under their supervision, but they will expect a tip. However, even spare coins are accepted happily and the first men we met – in KV8 – were brilliant with Little Mister, happily letting him swing a torch around by himself inside the sarcophagus.

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Karnak Temple Complex

A point to note: As of a year or so ago, you can no longer take photographs anywhere within the Valley of the Kings. I don’t know the official reasoning (means more postcard sales, damage to paintings by flash, whatever) but you must leave cameras on your tour bus. End of. The fine if you’re caught isn’t worth it.

It was hot, though. Little Miss sat out the temple of Hatshepsut along with my mum and by the time we got to Karnak, my dad was chilling out in the visitor centre with them. The only other people on our tour, a couple from Bishop Auckland, made it right through with myself, Gillian and – amazingly – Little Mister, who despite the heat enjoyed a very fast-paced game of chase amongst the 134 pillars at Karnak.

Everywhere was fantastic, and not too busy as we’d come during the hot season. Despite this, both our guide and the chap from Bish told us that it was uncommonly quiet, probably due to the unrest earlier in the year. Please believe me when I say that, certainly where we went, Egypt is as safe as it ever was before stuff kicked off.

After a short stop to see the Colossi of Memnon, we drove over to the east bank. Late lunch in the restaurant was more than passable. Gillian and I tried the Egyptian meal which was essentially a vegetable/lamb stew with a little bit of spice. Everyone else opted for chicken which was, by all accounts, very well done and rather tasty.

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Karnak Temple Complex

We had a couple of hours at the aforementioned Karnak temple complex before being driven to the airport. We were lucky and got squeezed onto the earlier flight back to Sharm as some people hadn’t checked in early enough. Unfortunately, there were some people on our flight for whom “manners” were things other people were cursed with. It was free seating on the plane, and one “gentleman” in particular decided he wanted to get onto the plane first, despite being halfway along the bus. This involved shoving rudely past two pensioners (my parents) and almost knocking one three year old (Little Mister) spinning.

I saw red.

Much to my mother’s suprise, as well as Gillian’s, I just ran after him. By the time I reached him, he’d elbowed his way (literally – jabbed his elbows into people) past a few other passengers. Then it got ugly. I had a go at him for pushing past a three year old and he blamed other people. Not “Sorry, but I was being pushed” but “F*ck off – there was a mad crush”. Which was a lie. Not happy with shoving old people and children out of his way, he wasn’t even prepared to admit what he’d done or apologise. Then he started trying to push me about.

That was the stage when one or two people grabbed me and quite a few (including his wife) grabbed him. Now, I don’t know what kind of knuckle-draggers we’re still breeding back home (he was English), but I won’t have any of them pushing a small child around, especially if he’s one in my charge. I am not a fighter. I never have been. But when I started going out with Gillian I promised that I would do anything to protect her and the children. I really thought I meant it at the time. I felt like I did.

Well, now I know.

I didn’t think. I acted. I’d do it again. I’d likely end up with my face punched to a pulp, but I’d do it again. At the end of the day, there were 48 people on that flight, plus crew and staff. All of them (except his wife, it seems) watched him shove my parents, two children and several other people out of the way and then me accost him. He would have thrown the first punch. I would have taken him to court for damages and won.

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Luxor International Airport

Hell, even if we didn’t get that far someone has to show apemen like that up in public for the filth they are or they’ll just keep on doing it to other people. The next little child they push may well fall down the steps of the bus they’re on. I only hope the next time he does it, their dad is a Hell’s Angel and tears his face off. I’m not the type of person to do that.

Sorry. This is a travel blog. That was a rant. Here’s a travel hint: wherever you are – be polite, don’t be a dick. People will appreciate that.

Other than that, the trip back was fine. Hot and sweaty (the aircon in the plane seemed to be knackered), pins and needly (Little Mister fell asleep on my arm) and bumpy (turbulence as we came in to land) but uneventful. After a very brief dinner, we crashed out at barely 8:30pm.

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Quad biking in the sand dunes

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Dad and me

Today was Little Miss’s turn to come down with sunburn and she didn’t react as well to it as her brother, likely as she’s old enough to contextualise it and panic about it. We had quad biking booked for the afternoon which she was really looking forward to – probably more than anything else in the week – but sadly she missed out. We’ll make it up to her when we get home.

The trip was OK, but we didn’t get to go very fast. Some wonderful scenery, and a few stops for refreshments (not included – take water!) and they seemed to be refusing to let us on the quads unless we had a headscarf. Obviously, this meant buying one from them… It wasn’t a bad trip, but not brilliant. We stopped a few times for photos, to try and create an echo at “echo canyon” and so on. The scenery was lovely and the sunset was gorgeous. Overall, we were out for around 3 hours, I reckon. Some more freedom (they were very strict on us going single file) and a bit more speed would have made it that bit better.

Definitely, as I said, take your own water if you do this trip. If you have some kind of headscarf then bring it, although in honesty I never felt like I needed mine once we were underway. Sunglasses are recommended, but if you have some other type of eye protection then I’d consider it as sunglasses and post-sunset deserts don’t make for very good visibility. Do note that the bikes aren’t meant to be ridden by under-16’s but I can see those rules being flouted a bit. The accelerator is a very stiff thumb-activated one and my hand was cramped to hell by the time we reached each stop, so again perhaps not ideal for younger riders.

Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Quad-biking trip

Also, try not to get in the same group as a Russian dick who’s trying to show off to his partner and keeps stealing other people’s quads as his isn’t fast enough. And who then demands one of the staff’s faster bikes, proving as a result that he would be better off on a limited one as he can’t bloody control a proper bike. Prat.

The bus ride back was somewhat spoiled by a group of Fat Slags (seriously – real life versions of the Viz characters, right down to the boob tubes and screechy accent) “singing” a shitty Egyptian dance track. Over and over. At ear-splitting volume while joking that everyone else on the bus thought they were nuts. No, we thought they were bloody selfish idiots and should shut the hell up.

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