Where: Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt
Plate of food: You will have to forgive me, but the best food I had in Sharm-el-Sheikh was at Rangoli, an Indian restaurant on-site at our hotel. Keep in mind that this was at the end of a wonderful 3 week trip through Egypt, and once in a while you need a slight departure from the local cuisine (as tasty as it is). This was not your average take-away curry; not in flavour, nor in price. This was exquisite, refined Indian food. And it needed to be great because the view was so incredible that I may have ignored my plate completely if not for such complex flavours enticing me. We sat outside in the balmy evening air with views out across the dark waters of Naama Bay, the twinkling lights of the city centre, and the dusky hills beyond. Stunning. Oh, and the samosas? Yum.
The best: Snorkeling in the Red Sea. We could walk directly from our room down the hill to one of the hotel’s private beaches, which is about as far as I wanted to walk in that Egyptian heat. The cool water was a huge relief, but that first glimpse of the coral reef just off the beach was extraordinary.
We would swim a short distance over the top of the reef, its ragged top making my tender knees nervous, until we would swim right off the edge of the reef plateau. There we would station ourselves with our backs to the open sea (probably not sound advice with regards to shark attacks), facing the wall of the reef as it plunged to the sandy sea floor.
In contrast to the dull top of the reef, the wall was a riot of colour and movement. With water so perfectly clear, we watched spellbound as small bright fish darted about, larger fish lazily looped past, and broad sea fans slowly swayed in the current. Everywhere we looked there was another colour, size, or pattern of fish. They were all the lovely tropical ones I had seen in my dentist’s waiting room fish tank….only, well, better.
The deeper water was cool, though, and eventually we would reluctantly return to the beach to warm up (that only took approximately 4.5 seconds). A few more pages of our books or a few moments gazing at the one cloud floating past, then back into the inviting waters we would go. I never tired of it.
Story that needs to be told: 2 things that you never want to happen when you are flying (other than the obvious…):
- Hear the pilot begin his announcement with “Well, if any of you are religious….” Turns out he was just breaking the news that Pope John Paul II had died, but – SHEESH – there were some nervous moments wondering why we would need to pray.
- Find out that your plane traveled from Cairo completely devoid of ANY luggage.
Both of these things happened on our way to Sharm-el-Sheikh for the final few days of our Egyptian adventure. The second one was a bit of a bother.
We waited in the Sharm-el-Sheikh airport while the luggage conveyor belt silently circled. For a really long time. Eventually we were told that no luggage was loaded onto the plane before it departed Cairo. Huh.
I like to imagine what those baggage handlers in Sharm-el-Sheikh thought when they opened the hold to find it completely empty. Not just missing a few bags, but empty. I also like to imagine what prevented the baggage handlers in Cairo from doing their sole task. Forgot? Couldn’t be bothered? Thought we all overpacked anyway?
Two airline officials turned up with clipboards to start filling in lost baggage claim forms for every passenger. The foreigners dutifully queued up to wait.
And strangely never move ahead in the queue. That’s because the locals would shrewdly step in at the front of the queue. Never had I felt so hobbled and let down by my good Canadian manners.
When it was our turn to fill in the form, the official seemed fairly laidback with regards to critical contact information. That is to say, he neglected to take the name of our hotel or a contact phone number. We suggested that those details would be helpful in reuniting us with our bags. He reluctantly scribbled it down and told us to expect our bags later that night.
We never received a call, and our calls to the airline went unanswered, so in the morning (with the same clothes on because that always makes you feel like a million bucks…) we took a taxi back to the airport. Our plan was to force people to deal with our plight by looking them straight in the eye rather than down a dodgy phone line.
Security is tight at the airport, though. Or rather, security is rampant at the airport, but not particularly tight. Armed with baksheesh – small bills for
bribing tipping – we effortlessly sailed through security check points, metal detectors, and even customs. It was hard to feel triumphant without feeling seriously unsettled.
Once on the “other side”, an official from the lost baggage office seemed perplexed by our complaints that no one had called us about our bags. With a bored expression, he led us through the terminal until we reached a large pile of luggage heaped on the floor. He gestured toward it.
Suddenly it dawned on us that our bags were somewhere in that pile. Disposed of. In the middle of the airport. Unattended. With no hope or intention of ever being reunited with any passenger.
In fact, if you were on that flight in 2005, your bags are still there if you want to pick them up.
With relief we spotted our bags and hauled them out of there. We asked the guy if he would have ever called us or delivered our bags to the hotel, to which he just shrugged his shoulders. And then extended his hand and asked “Baksheesh?”
“Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering;
the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.” Regina Nadelson