People coming to Hurghada usually expect it to be the land of sea. Those who cater for them are avid to make it the land of shops. Yet it is also the land of mountains and of miraculous air that disposes one to slumber and peaceful observations as the sun loiters about in its zenith before it abruptly allows itself to be overpowered by red-blazing dusk, which makes a perfect time for swimming — water warm, beaches languid and depopulated...
'Egypt, the mother of all lands, my hope and my ambition, to thee we give our lives for your sake1.'
It is the land of planes, too. Just as fish make the sea their home and people entrust themselves to the hospitality of hotels instead of their own hearth, the airport attracts and expels many a planeload of tourists. Day makes those minutes remarkable when you are free to gaze at the jumbo jets graciously skidding in the immovable air as they make their crossover to the seashore and disappear under the rooftops. Swimmers, when at sea, may orient themselves in time without fear of having to bring their watches to sunbeds and devising various ingenious hiding places for them. Planes take off and land regularly at five-minute intervals. At night the bustle of the airport contrasts the placidity of the outside world and the somnolence of the small hours, which would otherwise have impressed themselves on a man's mind. A tourist, expecting the long ride from the airport to the place they have chosen for their holiday, will be much astonished to find that no sooner does the bus leaves the airport than it screeches to a halt near one of many hotels that form the crescent of seaside buildings densely covering Hurghada Bay.
Also prepare to have your suitcases hauled up the roof of the bus in the spirit of true British Land-Rovering traditions. Buses of this sort are mostly in operation in Hurghada. One middle-aged lady, seeing how her bag was brutalised and dishonoured by such rough treatment, went in for the panicky jugular, the main cause of it being that she saw such a treatment of bags 'for the first time'. Many things happen for the first time, for variety is and should be the spice of life. Also figure in that travellers to Hurghada should reckon their first night to be sleepless, for such is the buzz of airplanes. But they will soon find themselves perfectly accommodated and at ease, listening to numerous amusing stories from naïve fellow tourists relating how they observed UFOs drifting through the night sky. Egypt has always been mysterious and the spell lasts for a long time. In short, Hurghada International Airport is the time and tide of the place.
Time and tide, as is known, wait for no man. This tenet was amply demonstrated by my family's experience. It so chanced that I, having other calls on my time, treated myself to only one November week in Hurghada, leaving others behind for a little longer. To my surprise, I found that on their return they had a hard time proving personal identities to airport officials, who due to an unaccountable glitch in the computer systems failed to retrieve their in-flight registrations and, in consequence, allow them into the airport insides. This accident for me serves as a symbolic embodiment of the hospitality of Egyptian people. Not every country will peremptorily refuse its visitors to go back home, thereby extending their holidays.
On arrival, one has a choice either to go for a celebratory bathe in the sea or get lost to the shops. Shopkeepers are always keen to appear jovial, yet nowhere else is this custom carried to such a great extreme and diversity. When you enter into a shop, try not to put on the mask of conscientious business-like consumerism. At best, it will work to your detriment. On my first day, I found myself willing to part with $30 for a (later to be found defective) hookah, which could have been bargained down to just $2. Prepared to stand my ground after such a vile swindle, I armed myself with a lengthy convoluted letter loaded with purchase transaction legalities 'under common law', rashly rolled out of an Internet café printer, and prepared myself for the tug-of-war with the shopkeeper, which actually took place next day — I dictated my conditions in a relaxed manner at first, with the opposite number pretending not to understand a word of English, and then with more determination and at length. When having remembered that the conventions of fair pricing define that the seller should be at arm's length, I approached to the said distance and swished my paper in front of his face which, at this juncture, made itself incomprehensibly calm. Soon afterwards, the agreement to swap the hookah for a better specimen of Egyptian gerry-building materialized out of the cloud of our confrontational postures, me remembering that comedy is tragedy interrupted. It was much fun, though it left me a bit disappointed. Not that I thought much of myself, but the stories that occurred in our hotel the night before left me yearning for more adventure.
The story in question was the story of one Russian tourist, who, having on his arrival fallen asleep (window left ajar in his hotel room) after the excited tension of dreams-to-come which bellies of southbound long-distance jets are only capable of producing, found himself haunted by another kind of dream, better classified as a passing nightmare. That is to say, he was stripped clean of his money and wallet. At length, the police were called by a hotel receptionist. Evidence was documented to the degree as it is possible to anticipate from the words of the person whose knowledge of Arabic is chiefly limited to the vocabulary that is daily thrown on us by hysteric post-9/11 media and assurances were exchanged on both sides. Away those uniformed man went, and good riddance... I don't think that the gentleman was worse off anyhow.
Similar calamity has also befallen another gentleman who, evidently thinking that cleanliness is next to godliness, had been taught a very instructive lesson at the hands of one deft shoe-shine urchin that cleanliness smells of money and sweat. That boy wangled out two £100 Egyptian notes ($35) as the gentleman was rummaging through the wad of his paper money, and made a dash down the street. Note: only two banknotes out of the whole pile; note also that the gentlemen was in the highest degree undiplomatic: not only did he make himself breathless after the unsuccessful chase, he also would have run the risk of getting lost in the unknown town were it not for the exceptionally good minibus service that covers the whole Hurghada region: passenger vans can be seen circulating through all the hours of the day in all conceivable directions. Vans bear no distinct sign-plates of their route, mainly because Hurghada is essentially one main drag that weaves its way across the shore, sided by hotels on either side, and collects numerous tributaries and by-streets while snaking through Sakala, Hurghada's centre. These vans, like planes, are always eager to attract the attention of passers-by, because of their numbers (vans and people, that is). Sekala seems to speak with one universal voice: restless street chatter, mingled with the modern clarion call of car horns.