In search of ship-ships in Egypt

As we walked through the town under the veil of darkness, my hopes for finding ship-ships quickly evaporated.  Now and then the headlights of a passing car cast fleeting beams of light, just enough to give us a glimpse of the shops lining the street and outlines of people milling about in the shadows. I could see ship ships in the shops but there was no way I was going to enter without any light.  Our first foray into town left us feeling somewhat unnerved as half the town, the half we were in, was completely blacked out, apparently a common occurrence in El Quseir.   Ship ships, as flip flops are known in Egypt, would have to wait for another day.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself.  We arrived in Hurghada, Egypt last Thursday and promptly headed south about 150 km to a dive camp just outside of El Quseir.  Hurghada is a tourist mecca where hordes of Europeans flock to the many four and five star all-inclusive hotels.  While the all-inclusive deal is tempting, these hotels are so insulated from their surroundings, they could be anywhere.  We came to Egypt to experience the real thing, not be coddled in some Western style hotel.

So here we are in the middle of nowhere, spending nine days at Roots Camp which is a no-frills, back-to-basics camp that is a retreat for serious divers. (I know, we’re just beginner divers, but they let us stay anyways.)  We opted for the cheaper Eco Hut accommodations. Our hut has walls of stone and bamboo, a tiled floor and a straw roof. Should it rain, we would be in trouble, but considering the last time it rained was ten years ago, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.  We have a fan and two windows that provides a nice cross breeze.  We could have splurged on a room with air conditioning and an ensuite bathroom but we’re tightening our belts in this final leg of our adventure and figured we would be just fine in the hut.   And it has been fine.  It cools down at night so we sleep comfortably like babies. It is, however, quite intolerable during the day.

Our hut.  Notice our laundry in front. Steve and Claire generously let us use
their washing machine.  Clothes were dry within about 20 minutes. 

Our running route.

Enjoying our private beach…I think this was Monday morning.
What were you doing on Monday morning? 

The communal bathrooms are large, modern and clean.  There’s not many guests right now, and with only one other woman staying in a hut, we virtually have the bathrooms to ourselves.  There is a main lodge that is multi purpose, housing the kitchen, bar, dining room and a lounge area.  We are on a meal plan and have three meals per day, but nothing in between.  The food has been delicious for the most part, an eclectic mix of dishes created by the Egyptian chef.

The camp is about five years old and it continues to be a work in progress.  More rooms are currently under construction, there are plans for a swimming pool and more projects on the beach which is across the road, about 300m away.  The Pharaoh Dive Club is right on site making it really easy to organize your dives.  The camp is run by a friendly, down to earth British couple, Steve and Claire, who offered us a lot of insight into what it is like to live in Egypt.

Three of these rooms must be ready for guests arriving on Friday.
Will they make it in time? 

We have gone diving for two days so far and Chris has done a night dive too.  I passed on the night dive, some might even say I wimped out.  Call it what you wish, I just wasn’t interested in diving at night when I am still trying to get the hang of diving in the daytime.  We have seen beautiful coral reefs and lots of sea life.  We hope to dive another day or two before the week is over.

As you can imagine, it is incredibly hot and the sun is intense in the desert.  The heat is dry which I think is more bearable.  There is sand and dust everywhere.  Everything is coated in dust – clothes, shoes, towels.  There is just no escaping it.  I have not adjusted well to this new climate and country; I’ve had a headache and upset stomach every day since our arrival.  I think it’s a combination of the heat, the sun, and the food.  I feel even worse after each dive as I have had sea sickness each time.  It’s been windy all week which means rough sea conditions which equates to sea sickness for me, even though we are doing shore dives.  It hasn’t been fun.

BBQ on the beach, Egyptian style, after the night dive.

Claire and Steve, the camp managers, on the beach.

I must admit, we are experiencing some culture shock, much like we did when we arrived in South America.  The landscape is like none we have seen before – bare, hilly lands of sand and stone for as far as the eye can see, garbage everywhere, and the only vegetation is that which has been cultivated surrounding the hotels.  Men wear traditional gallibayas and women are covered head to toe in spite of the heat.  In El Quseir there is little evidence of Western influence as people live here much the same way as they did thousands of years ago.  We are definitely off the beaten track!

Christina watches as Claire demonstrates how to buy fabric.

I finally did get my ship-ships. We ventured into town yesterday afternoon and spent about an hour wandering about.  We were accosted every step of the way by children who wanted money, by men offering to give us a tour of the town, and by shopkeepers who insisted we come into their shop.  Neither of us enjoyed the harassment, but Chris especially found it unpleasant.  When we told Claire and Steve about our experience, they laughed at us, telling us to wait until we get to Luxor and Cairo where people are much more aggressive and persistent.  In spite of this, I did manage to find a pair of flip flops, but before I could purchase them, the shopkeeper insisted on demonstrating to me the various ways of wearing scarves.  He literally grabbed me, took off my hat and sun glasses, and then proceeded to wrap me up in scarves.  I was dying from the heat and kept saying no, I just want ship ships, but he was pretty persistent.  Finally, he gave up, and we proceeded to negotiate for my flip flops.  His opening price was 120 Egyptian Pounds which is about $20 CAD.  Ridiculous price for a cheap pair of plastic flip flops.  I said I didn’t want to spend more than 20.  I didn’t even realize we were negotiating because I thought we were so far apart that we would never find agreement.  Imagine my surprise when he agreed to 30 EGP, about 5 CAD.  Sold!


 Travel Tip:  Canadians must have a Tourist Visa before entering Egypt.  You can purchase the visa at the airport, but beware where you purchase it because prices can vary.  It should only cost $15 US or the equivalent in Egyptian Pounds.  At the Hurghada airport, you can purchase your Visa from one of several counters that are set up in the middle of the room.  One desk has a huge sign above it that says:  Visas $15 US.  There was a huge line up in front of this desk.  The other counters are travel agents who will sell you a Visa at a higher price; the one we went to wanted to charge us 20 Euro.  Or you can go to the bank counter which is on the wall at the back of the room.  It looks like this is for money changing only, but you can buy your Visa at any of the bank counters and it only costs $15US.


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