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Getting around

Part 2: Sharm el-Sheikh, Sinai

02.01: Nuweiba -> Sharm El-Sheikh
03.01: Sharm El-Sheikh
04.01: Sharm El-Sheikh
05.01: Sharm El-Sheikh - St Catherine monastery
06.01: Sharm El-Sheikh
07.01: Sharm El-Sheikh -> Amman

02.01: Nuweiba -> Sharm El-Sheikh
Renaissance Golden View Beach Resort, Sharm El-Sheikh. 149 USD (first two nights, then 99USD/night) for a big nice double room. This is a Marriott hotel, but the room is not up to the usually high Marriott standards: very few A/C sockets, all used by some lamps, if you want to connect an electric device you can't use the lamp. No ironing board, the hairdryer in the toilet is a bit inadequate (and if you want to use yours you won't find a socket near the mirror. No tea making equipment with water boiler. The beds have good soft mattresses, but slide away if you are leaning against the back wall. Overall feel and look not at the same level as the Dead Sea Marriott. Internet access in the room available, but costs 32 LE for 1/2 hr, 60 LE for 1 hr (Docomo Intertouch). Very expensive if you calculate a few hours of Internet use per day (morning email and news check, evening email check + web browsing for news etc.). Good breakfast buffet, but not on same level as the breakfast buffet of the Dead Sea Marriott.
The hotel is not one big building, it consists in reality of a number of smaller units spread over the side of a hill. Own sea access with a small beach, diving school, several pools spread over the resort area. Here the main problem is that if you stay in one of the lower level units, you have to walk up a lot of staircases to make it to the breakfast buffet in the morning. Also, if you want to leave the hotel, you have to walk up the staircases, because there are no elevators. Complicated if you have a small kid and need a stroller, because then you have to carry the kid and the stroller up all those staircases.

Weather: Nice sunny day, blue sky. A bit warmer than in Aqaba. No rain.

At 8am Shirley wakes me up, we are in Nuweiba, people are waiting outside on the boat corridor. I hear we are only allowed to leave the boat by 10am. But hey, at least we got eight hours of sleep, which is very good, considering that we were expecting to get only three hours. We meet another couple of tourists (the only ones we've seen so far), who apparently didn't know that you can rent a cabin on this ship.

It's almost 10am when we finally are allowed to leave the ship. Again some walking under surreal conditions, then we stop briefly at a counter where they sell phone cards and purchase two SIM cards for our mobiles (Vodafone, 36 LE with 1 LE of calls on them and two 10 LE recharges).

More walking and another stop at a shop selling drinks, then into a big hall where all bags have to be scanned with a big X-ray scanner. Unbelievable scenes: people carrying huge bags, larger than people, probably goods which people want to sell.

I try to put our bags into the baggage scanner, but there are just too many people continuously coming and pushing their huge bags into this X-ray scanner. Finally with the help of somebody I manage to put the bags into the baggage scanner and we can proceed.

It's a short walk now to the exit where after the last passport check we are allowed to proceed to the taxis. Outside a guy greets us and offers a taxi. 400 LE to go to Sharm EL Sheikh, which was exactly what I was thinking of. We paid 200 LE in Egypt in 2003 for a trip of approx. the same distance, now the fuel is more expensive. Also, let these people earn some money for their work. I accept and we proceed to the car. This is a minibus, big enough for all of us and our luggage.

By 11am we are driving towards Sharm El Skeikh at high speed. Driving speed averages at 110km/h along this motorway-like road (two lanes per direction for a good part of the road, no sharp curves, no steep gradients). Outside desertlike, moon landscape with absolutely no vegetation.

We arrive in Sharm El-Sheikh around 12:30pm and are in the hotel by 1pm. The taxi driver insists that on top of the 400 LE I must give him a "tip" of 50 LE. We then check in the hotel and proceed to the room.

Shortly after 3pm we leave the hotel and get into town. Initially we walk a bit to a shop (price level even higher than in Germany), then we take a taxi.
The meter shows 13 LE, the taxi driver says "give me 20 LE, no problem". When I explain that the meter shows only 13 LE and I only give him 13 LE he makes a sad and angry face.

We are at the Mercato open air mall. This is a large cluster of shops and restaurants in an open area, offering western style food and products. Price level is high for Egyptian standards (it's more or less the same as in Germany). This place is modelled around European historical places, and contains models of Venetian and Parisian squares and monuments (there is a replica of place Vendome for instance). This place is obviously fake and artificial, but is nice and convenient for shopping and eating and spending some time with the kids.

We have some food in a Chinese restaurant around 5pm and head back to the hotel at 7pm.

03.01: Sharm El-Sheikh
Renaissance Golden View Beach Resort, Sharm El-Sheikh.
Weather: Sunny day, blue sky. Thin layer of clouds in the sky, a bit more fresh than yesterday, a bit more windy.

We have breakfast at 9:45am, then while Shirley brings the children to the kids station, I head back to the room. Still a bit sick, in fact I will spend most of the day resting in the room. Outside it's a beautiful sunny day. This place is ideal for spending a holiday during the winter. Warm enough and not too far away from Europe.

Shirley comes back at noon, leaves Natasha in the room for her noon sleep and heads into town for some shopping. When she is back around 4pm she tells a story of a taxi driver who asked for more than twice the price shown on the meter. She had an argument with him about this and in the end only paid the amount shown on the meter.

We spend some time in the room and get out again around 6pm. This time we walk to the Mercato mall, which is not too far away. There we have dinner and walk around until after 9pm, then head back to the hotel.

Once in the lobby I ask for an Internet card for one hour. Should be 60 LE according to the hotel web page. The guy asks for 76 LE (almost 10 Euro!), claiming that the price shown on the hotel web page is without tax. I don't buy the card and back in the room check again the hotel web page. There it says that the access rate for one hour is 60 LE and mentions nothing about a tax to add. Besides, if the price with tax were 76, the tax would be a whopping 27%, which is unlikely. It rather looks that they like to cheat people in this hotel. Besides, a price of 10 Euro for one hour of Internet use is absurd.

04.01: Sharm El-Sheikh
Renaissance Golden View Beach Resort, Sharm El-Sheikh. The beach of the hotel is in reality a system of terraced beaches, because the coast around the hotel is too steep for accommodating a beach of any kind.
Weather: Sunny day, blue sky. Very windy after sunset.

In the morning after breakfast I check with the lobby if they know of a car rental. I need a car to go to the St. Catherine monastery. They send me initially to the concierge, who sends me to the guy who sells car+driver trips. This guy tries initially to sell me a car+driver for the equivalent of 125 Euro, but a small compact car should not cost more than 30 Euro for one day. I insist that a small car without driver is sufficient.

Guy asks, do you have an international drivers licence. Yes, I do. Do you know how to get to the St Catherine monastery. Yes, drive to Dahab, then turn left. He's not happy that I'd like to drive on my own. Finally he offers a compact Daewoo for about 90 Euro, which is three times what a compact car should cost. The discussion ends here. The hotel staff has not been helpful. Instead of giving me the contact details of a car rental, they send me to this sticky guy who only tries to rent overpriced cars.

We spend the rest of the day in the hotel. I'm most of the time in the room, still not 100% fit, Shirley and the kids alternate between the room, the pool and the kids corner.

At 5 something pm we walk to the Mercato mall. I'm carrying the notebook PC with me, hoping to find a WLAN hotspot. We initially have dinner, again in this Chinese restaurant, then I start looking for a WLAN hotspot. McDonald's has none, after some effort I find one in the Cilentro restaurant. Finally I'm able to download and process my emails.

I also search for a car rental in Sharm El-Sheikh. Despite lots of efforts, I can't find the contact details of the Sharm El-Sheikh offices. All Google delivers are booking pages in Germany, the UK or USA, of German, British or US portals which allow car bookings. No (local) telephone numbers of car rentals in Sharm El-Sheikh (can't go through these booking sites, because I need the car tomorrow or after tomorrow at the latest).

Finally out of desperation I enter "sharm el sheikh avis" into Google and manage to find the telephone number of the local Avis office. After some waiting in the line I manage to talk to an Avis sales guy. He tells me the price of a small car is 50 USD which includes 100km, extra km cost 0.25 Euro. But I need to go to the St Catherine monastery, 250km one way, 500km return. Ah, like this the car will cost 150 USD. Thanks, but no thanks.

Then I start wondering if I should rent a taxi for the whole trip. Might be the easier thing to do, since it's difficult to rent a car on short notice here in Sharm and the two offers I have so far are expensive. I wonder how much it would cost and guess that for about 80 Euro (~600 LE) people might be willing to do it. That includes 20 Euro for the fuel (guesstimate of about 40 litres of petrol at 50c/l for the 500km trip), about 10 Euro/hour for driving for the driver (should be a total of 5-6 hours of driving) and something for the car. Not cheap, but I have no alternative at the moment.

On the way back to the hotel we ask a taxi driver how much he would charge for a return trip to the St Catherine monastery and, surprise surprise, he comes out exactly with this 600 LE figure. We agree that I'll give him a call tomorrow morning if I'm interested in doing the trip. The guy by the way, makes a good impression. Doesn't look like somebody who tries to cheat.

05.01: Sharm El-Sheikh - St Catherine monastery
Renaissance Golden View Beach Resort, Sharm El-Sheikh. Whenever you take a shower, the bathroom gets always flooded, because of the way the shower cabin is built.
Weather: Sunny day, spotless blue sky.

Day trip to the St Catherine monastery. While Shirley rests with the kids I go by taxi to the St Catherine monastery with the taxi driver we met yesterday. Very high speed drive on the road until after Dahab (two lanes, here the driver drives at up to 140km/h even if the speed limit is 90km/h). Somewhere between Dahab and Nuweiba you take the road left to the St Catherine monastery.

Lots of checkpoints - probably at least 7-8 before reaching the monastery. Even the last part of the road, between the junction on the road Dahab-Nuweiba is quite smooth and straight, few sharp curves. Here the taxi driver drives up to 120km/h.

Was expecting more rugged terrain in the interior, instead we drive most of the time on a high plain with very moderate gradients and not so striking geological features. The area around Petra in Jordan was much more impressive.

Photography not allowed at the checkpoints. I pull out the camera to take a photo of an old scenic building with the desert background, a soldier stops me. Turns out that this old scenic building is a military installation.

Having left the hotel at 10am we arrive at the St Catherine monastery (entry fee 3 USD) at about 12:50pm. From the parking it's a 10 minutes walk to the monastery. Surprise, surprise the monastery is closed. It closes every day at 1pm, and I arrive just in time for the closing. Should have left the hotel one hour earlier. Never mind, I climb the mountain walls surrounding the monastery for some views from above.

From the monastery it's a two hours walk to Mt Sinai. The monastery lies at about 1400m altitude, the Mt Sinai summit at about 2200m. Since I have no time (it's already 1pm), I don't do the climb.

I'm back at the parking shortly before 3pm. We search for a spot from which there is a view of Mt Sinai but can't find one. We are told by a guide that you have to walk for one hour towards Mt Sinai, only then you can get a glimpse of it.

So at 3:10pm we start driving back. The driver drives at full speed (top speed in the last part of the road is above 140km/h) and manages to be back to the hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh at 5:35pm. Amazing time for 250km on mountain roads. In the evening we have a dinner in the Mercato mall then head back to the hotel.

06.01: Sharm El-Sheikh
Renaissance Golden View Beach Resort, Sharm El-Sheikh.
Weather: Sunny day, spotless blue sky.

Day spent not doing much. In the afternoon at 4pm we take a taxi to Naama Bay (30 LE) and discover the place. This is basically the Khaosan road of Sharm El-Sheikh. Huge concentration of shops, restaurants, hotels and entertainment places. We are there until about 8:30pm, then head back to the hotel.

07.01: Sharm El-Sheikh -> Amman
Hotel Ibis, Amman. This time the room costs 58 JOD (Internet rate), breakfast not included.
Weather: Sunny day, spotless blue sky. Very warm in the morning, warmer than yesterday. Not cold in Amman (temperatures above 20C).

We check out of the hotel shortly before 12pm, then check how to get to the airport. By hotel limousine it's 140 LE, but the limousine is too small for all our luggage. Otherwise there is the minivan, which however costs 200 LE, very expensive considering that we paid 400 LE to get here from Nuweiba (170 Km and it's just 10km to the airport).

The taxis outside also have a too small boot (max. two suitcases and we have three + a baby stroller). When I talk to the taxi drivers outside about this, they say no problem, they can put some luggage on the roof. This is Egypt and they do it every day. Aha, problem solved.

Leaving around 12:30pm for 100 LE the taxi brings us to the airport (short trip, takes around 20 minutes). There we check in at the gate. Lots of Russian or other Slavic languages speaking tourists at the airport. No money changers in the gates area, so I can't change the remaining Egyptian pounds.

The Royal Jordanian plane takes off ahead of time at 2:45pm and lands in Amman before 4pm. Then things go quite fast: we get the new Jordan visas, change the remaining Egyptian pounds into JOD, retrieve our luggage and proceed to the exit in about 20 minutes. We take a taxi to the hotel and check in the hotel by 5pm (trip from the Queen Alia airport to the Ibis hotel in West Amman taking about 35 minutes, moderate traffic on the streets).

In the evening we have dinner in the Amman mall and do some shopping.

Copyright 2010 Alfred Molon