AfricaMisc

Hurghada

posted by Stu 0 comments

Hurghada has been attracting divers from across the globe for years, and as a result it is probably the most over developed place I have ever been. More overdeveloped than its adversary ‘Sharm’ and that is saying something.

The name Hurghada is a bit misleading to be honest, consider it to be more the name of an area, rather than a place. For instance, at the far south end of the coastline is the Resort strip, home to all the posh places like the Oberoi, then further North is Sigala, a bit like Russian central and then Ad Dahr at the north end which is like Islamabad in Egypt. With about 20km separating the three areas and then flanked on one side by the Red Sea and a desert in the other, Hurghada for many is a slice of paradise that is currently basking in about 27 degree temperatures. It is now one of the cheaper places in Egypt due to the fact most regulars have bailed to Sharm and most divers have headed to Dahab, and even the issues in the Sinai have not brought the masses back to this one bustling holiday town. Now, Hurghada looks like a tired, overgrown, sand blasted collective of concrete buildings and sandy streets. It genuinely looks like investment dried up in the 80’s and the lines of desperation show in most people’s faces trying to make a living of the hardcore tourists, (predominantly Russian) that still make it to this little haven.

The flight landed on time and within no time we had our visa and was outside the front of the terminal looking to change cash. Naturally we had walked past the only currency exchange and wasn’t allowed back in (I only had USD) I managed to find a shady guard who was happy to give me a good rate and we looked for a ride into town. Now, I have always been confident when it comes to bargaining, and have faced some real hardcore bargain veterans, these pale into insignificance to the cartel running at the airport. The price started at LE£150 and eventually, after a heated few minutes settled on LE£60, but even this was a scam as I knew full well the price should have been more like LE£25. In hindsight, and certainly if I had had Charlie and Abi with me, we’d have walked out of the airport and hopped in a taxi on the main rd. But honestly, it never occurred to me at the time.

The taxi took around 25 minutes, and it wasn’t long before the bright lights and odd English word became sand blasted Arabic signs, mosques started to appear, and Levi’s and a T Shirt became traditional Arabic dress. Anywhere else in the Arab world and I’d have felt a kidnap coming on, but Egyptians have such a welcoming manner it’s hard to feel threatened. Sure enough it wasn’t long before we pulled up outside our hotel and were greeted by the manager – Mohammed (which i know is no surprise)

We were in Ad Dahr which could be any Islamic city across the Middle East in any country, it is budget central and rooms can be found for about a fiver per person per night. It’s actually funny, a taxi from Ad Dahr to Sigala some 6km away costs LE£10 no problem. Yet a taxi from Sigala? Bargaining starts at LE£50. There are a few tourists in Ad Dahr, but mainly the are Egyptians coming from elsewhere in the country. Prices reflect this and are probably amongst the cheapest for a tourist in Egypt. This is great for us, and so we started our day trying to hunt down an aquarium.

The issue for me with Hurghada is that during the boom, every piece of coastal real estate was bought and built on. In order to protect each others investment vast concrete piers were built out to sea meaning not just parts of beach were lost, but the coral that was the very basis of the tourism diminished. Additionally, the sea might be a clear turqoise, the sand red and amenities everywhere. But it’s not hard to be reminded you are in some fettered, false charade that could so easily have been paradise. I imagine the divers who came to Hurghada in the 70’s talk about a hideaway that once was – Now nothing more than a concrete strip of occasionally used buildings outnumbered by wrecks of projects that never took off.

We found the aquarium and so began a calamity of trying to change a LE£200 note for the LE£15 admission. In comparison LE£200 is like a £19 note. But times are hard and people are skint. When it did eventually get split we headed downstairs and were happily surprised at the fish on show. It was quite large and well looked after and Jack was loving it. We were the only ones in there and so we managed to have some real father and son time. And so we laughed, played hide and seek, and for the 45 minutes or so we we down there forgot about everything and just enjoyed life. I needed it.

The afternoon was spent lazing on a beach, since every beach is hotel owned and there are no laws prohibiting privatisation you either stand and watch from afar, or pay a hotel to let you use their beach. I was moaning to Mohammed about this and it just so happens he knows a hotel along the front. He made a call and away we went towel in hand.

We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach and using the pool.

The weather was good, the beach near deserted and so we had an afternoon of Jack and Dad time 🙂

We swam in the sea.

Tried our hand at fishing on dodgy piers.

Felt sorry for the crabs that might get washed up to shore and so built them crab houses.

Helped catch an octopus.

Tried nicking a boat.

Licked a cactus.

And booked our quad for the morning 🙂

The reality is we made a great day out of nothing and despite us being prime targets for ‘spot the white guys’ we never felt threatened and slipped right into life. Yet again I failed and managed to sort a hotel next door to the bloke who blasts out a 5am prayer across the city, and so the whole Islamic feel has been full on. Rules are tighter for women and typically Middle Eastern, Jack was adored. Everyone has asked his name and since we stick out like a sore thumb, calls of “Mr Jack” ring out when we walk local. We have been afforded nothing but gratitude and friendship and its sad that I feel Hurghada is simply hanging on, waiting for the last flight to land. I remember in Samui some years back people were saying it was nothing like it used to be, and I guess in many ways Hurghada is an example of a place that has gone the distance. It has gone from being a small fishing village to being the epicentre of beach bound tourism in Egypt and now is almost a ghost town, the product of overdevelopment, over investment with no return, and a tourism industry always looking for that bit more.
Shame.
Next stop Cairo.
 
 

 

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