Thursday, July 10, 2008

What North Coast?

I admit, though I try to do all things Egyptian, there's one trend I haven't gotten caught up in: the ritual summer pilgrimage to the North Coast. Egyptians are blessed in having two waterfronts, and Cairenes are quite stubborn about the seasonality of each. As a rule, Egyptians spend their summers up on the Mediterranean in the north and their free time in the winter on the Sinai or along the east coast at the Red Sea. 
Every summer, like clockwork, the city's wealthy flock to a string of high-end resort towns, mostly to the west of Alexandria. Here's one you can check out; it's called Marina. They turn down the Red Sea cost mostly due to the scorching temperatures and social duties up in the north. 
I've never been able to bring myself to spend much time up there, though. I'm still enraptured with the authentic Egyptian culture, and going to these places seems like a cop-out. Don't get me wrong, I've tried it all out, but sitting on even the most elite of beaches, drinking beer with five-thousand of my most high-end Egyptian friends does not add up to a good time for me. Instead, I elicit eye-rolls from every Egyptian I tell this to and head to the Sinai on a regular basis for 115 degree low-key weekends. I usually go either to a hippie town called Dahab or a quiet little Bedouin camp called Ras Shaitan.
Ras Shaitan (meaning, literally, "Devil's Head") is the best because it sits empty most of the year, and we arrive to a beach all our own, great meals, and personal cabins....all for $10 per night! It turns out that the place is practically devoid of tourists except for about five holiday weekends per year when Israelis (yes, Israelis!) seep over the border for a little r&r by the seaside. Ras Shaitan is at its best once the sun goes down. By tradition, I, along with whatever friends I've brought along, pull lounge chairs to the seaside, drink beers, and enjoy the unobstructed view of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel. There is little better in life.
Each time we go to the Sinai, we make a trip up to the north end, mere miles from the heavily fortified Israeli border, for dinner at a place called Castle Zaman. It's a re-created castle, where they pride themselves on their method of slow cooking (meaning three hours) their meals. We typically get a tremendous platter of seafood or an entire leg of lamb. Not bad.
I'll move on, though, for risk of sounding like a travel writer. 
There's another summer phenomenon, though, that drives Egyptians away from Cairo for the summer: the arrival of the dreaded "Gulfies." Many upper-middle class Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Emiratis, descend on Cairo for the summer. In oil rich countries, these people may be fairly middle of the road, but they come to Cairo where they're suddenly some of the country's wealthiest. I dare you to find me an Egyptian that does not bristle at the term "Khaligi," which is Arabic for Gulfie. They're rude, obnoxious, Egyptians would tell me. At first, I thought this was all a little over the top, but I've had a few run-ins myself ... and not one has been pleasant. I'm still waiting to see the huge influx that I saw two summers ago, but I'm assured by many Egyptians, that it's coming.
So maybe I ought to get with it, join the ranks of Egyptians, and head north. In the meantime, though, I'll do my part to avoid the Gulfies ... but I'll do so with a massive sun-burn, staring out over the sea, keeping an eye on Saudi Arabia.
(Note to the technologically impaired: any word that appears in a lighter shade is a link. You can click on it and it'll take you to the homepage of whatever it is I'm talking about).

1 comment:

Peggy said...

Theo, I'm with you--I'd take Dahab anyday! Any photos from you of Ras Shaitan? Sounds wonderful.