The airport was a mess when Andreas and I arrived there Thursday night. Heavy security was in place in anticipation of the anniversary of the January 25th Revolution and traffic was snarled for miles by the new checkpoints. Some people were trying to get out of Cairo because of the possibility of violence over the weekend. Other people (including us) were just trying to get out because it’s a holiday. We were stuck in traffic inside the airport gates for more than half an hour.
To make matters worse, the X-ray machines at the airport stopped working. Egyptians are not known either for their patience or for their ability to queue up in an orderly fashion, and pretty soon it looked like people were going to storm the gates. With the heightened terrorism alert, this could have led to some unfortunate situations. Luckily the conveyor belts suddenly lurched back into service and Andreas and I managed to squeeze through the metal detector without being crushed in the process. More drama ensued at the ticket counter, where passengers who’d been delayed at the entrance were jumping the line and shouting to be served before they missed their planes.
We finally got to our gate, where we met up with our friends Jeff and Joy, who also work at AIS West.
We landed in Hurghada and found a taxi to drive us to El Gouna, a smaller town several miles up the coast where we had booked rooms at the Captain’s Inn on the marina.
El Gouna (which means “the lagoon” in Arabic) is a upscale tourist resort. Everything is shiny and new and designed for visitors. Manmade canals winding throughout the development ensure that everyone is close to the water.
Luxury yachts line the harbor.
Even now in the off-season the town would normally be bustling with Russian, British, and German tourists. However, since the terrorist attack on a Russian plane in October, the number of international visitors arriving by air has dropped to almost zero. Russian flights have stopped completely. These are very hard times for the tourist industry in Egypt. It did make a quiet and crowd-free weekend for us.
Although the average January temperature in El Gouna is slightly above 70F, a cold snap was predicted for the weekend. The weather was sunny but a bit cool and windy the next day. We walked along the deserted beach but it was too cold to go in the water without a wetsuit.
We didn’t let the weather spoil our time. Over the weekend we enjoyed walks around the harbor, a visit to the “downtown” area, and several excellent meals.
Andreas, Jeff, and Joy went horseback riding on the beach one afternoon. In need of some introvert-time, I read my book instead.
On our last day we went into Hurghada early so we could look around a bit before we had to be at the airport.
Unlike El Gouna, Hurghada is a real town with a working harbor and a busy fish market.
Hurghada also has a tourist-oriented marina with bars and restaurants now offering great deals to try to lure in some of the sparse visitors. We enjoyed a delicious Thai lunch at the White Elephant.