Are we still in Egypt?

It’s not as if my life isn’t surreal enough right now, but finding myself staring out at the clear bright blue water of the Gulf of Suez which feeds into the Red Sea, with silky sand beneath my feet, while a cool breeze blew and a young waiter asked if he could bring me anything, I felt as if I’d leapt into another yet another dimension of surreality.

This past weekend we went with some friends to Ain Sukhna, and stayed at the Stella Di Mare resort. The resort was beautiful (see photos of the lobby areas, beach, pool, etc.). We did find though, that almost all of the rooms had two twin beds. We paid a little bakshish (tip) to have our beds moved next to each other. It was our first attempt at sleeping in twin beds pushed together, and essentially resulted in us staying as far away from each other and the growing crack between the beds. But regardless, our room was nice, with a balcony overlooking the back of the resort, and our front door opening out to a view of the pool.

So our weekend was spent relaxing between the huge resort pool, complete with waterfall, (which was particularly beautiful at night) and the Gulf of Suez beach. The beach was very shallow and we did walk out quite a distance before the clear water (with only a few small fish, thank goodness – still working on my fish-phobias) reached our waist. It was actually a little too cold to do a lot of swimming, so we relaxed on the beach on our cushioned lounge chairs and read and people-watched.

One sight that made me smile was a group of four people sitting on the beach under a shade tent – two men with two women in full abayas – it’s obvious that clothing encumberments don’t deter those who enjoy the beach. In terms of swimwear it truly ran the gamut – from some string bikinis, to full abayas, to spandex-like full-covering bodysuits. Regardless, for those who wanted to partake of the water, they did so. I just think that it would be mildly uncomfortable to be fully dressed (arms and legs covered), covered with a floor-length “dress,” all soaking wet. But that’s their choice and I was glad to see that they didn’t let it interfere with their enjoyment of the beach.

Periodically we peeled ourselves up from our cushioned loungers for one of the most amazing buffets I’ve ever seen. Breakfast and dinner buffets were included in the room price, and each one was vast but varied from the last one. Dinners had pasta bars, pizza bars, all varieties of meats (if you so chose, blech), several varieties of humus, tabbouleh, tahini, fresh vegetables (oh, can I mention here that there is something magical and delightful about Egyptian cucumbers – they’re delicate and tasty and by far the best I’ve ever had – close to English cukes, but even better), rice dishes, Chinese noodles, and an entire table laden with all types of bread. The dessert table was a feast for all the senses as well, transporting you into a Wonka-like experience. By the second day I had to actively remind myself that despite it being a buffet, that did not mean I had to eat until I was in pain and couldn’t bend. There is something about feeling the need to “get your fill” at a buffet – truly dangerous.

I was able to try my first dish of fuul here – a traditional Egyptian breakfast dish made of fava beans. I can’t say it looks appealing, rather like a pile of brown mush, but I watched a few people “concoct” theirs so I copied them and added a drizzle of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, sea salt, thyme and some slightly spicy spice. You eat it with bread and it was delicious! As a vegan/vegetarian I have to say that breakfast eaten out is typically just varying forms of bread-stuffs, so it was wonderful to have some tasty protein to start the day with, along with all the fresh fruit they offer (also tried a fresh date for the first time – slightly plastic-y exterior, but not bad).

Our first evening Ron and I walked down to the beach, where we were alone except for an exuberant group of Egyptians down the way. We sat in beach chairs looking out over the Gulf of Suez towards the Sinai Peninsula and Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia beyond that. And for the first time since arriving in Egypt we saw the stars and for a while a very clear picture of the Milky Way. I had to remind myself that I was just a little girl, raised in Ohio, staring at an area of the world I never dreamed of seeing. At one point I said to Ron, “Thank you for marrying me.” He replied, “Thank you for marrying me.” We sat there for quite a while in our happy silence.

The second night, the group of us took the one child amongst us, Carly who’s a very precocious and delightful 6-year-old, to the “Baby Disco” event after dinner. I think it was really called something else, but Ron dubbed it “Baby Disco” and it stuck. We had thought it was going to be a musical-chairs-type game, with disco ball and strobe light, and Ron was plotting all through dinner how he’d shove out the competition – namely by taking up two chairs at once. He was a tad disappointed to find out that the musical chairs were replaced with a string of Hokey-Pokey-type interactive songs, including Y-M-C-A. It was actually quite entertaining to watch all the kids, from about two to ten, following along. After this we decided to go see the free “Fire Show” which turned out to be a poorly-choreographed, horribly-Dj’d, show, with sterno cans holding up sticks covered in kerosene-soaked rags around the stage. In all fairness, there were two “acts” that were exceptional, but the remaining several were a study in patience. Plus, the kerosene was giving off clouds of thick black smoke, at times completely obscuring the performers. But again, we were in an outdoor amphitheater, in Egypt on the beach, with the stars above us (somewhere behind the throat-choking kerosene haze). Can’t complain.

To Ron’s growing concern, the resort far exceeded my expectations and continued to raise them. I told him that if he were smart, he would not be continually taking me to posh resorts, cities with jewelry shops on every corner, where a manicurist will come to your house and it’s fully possible to hire a housekeeper, nanny and personal chef, all the while not requiring me to work. Unfortunately, he has set the bar high, poor thing. Overall we both absolutely loved Ain Sukhna and the fact that it’s only an hour-and-a-half from Cairo leads me to believe that we’ll be back – hopefully often.