April 5, 2022 92°F/34°C
I had never heard of Sharm El-Sheikh (“bay of the sheik”) until last December, when new acquaintances told us about their experiences viewing the incredible coral reefs located here.
In the heat and unrelenting sun, we opted not to spend the day at the waterfront or on the included 2 hour glass-bottomed boat ride, instead doing a 6 hour optional excursion called “Highlights of Sharm El-Sheik”. Any longer today and we’d be too exhausted for tomorrow’s 13 hour adventure!
While Egypt is around 90% Muslim, that’s not why I chose to wear my light-coloured abaya today. It’s simply that long, loose, and breathable is so much more comfortable than being slathered with SPF50, and the pale headscarf stays on better than a hat in the wind (and doesn’t require being carried when it’s off, since it simply drapes over the shoulders). We may consider these styles religious garb today, but the desert people were covering up long before the prophet Muhammed lived.
What to wear tomorrow when it is even hotter in the desert will be a challenge. Taking lots of the bottled water offered at the gangway every time we leave the ship is a given.
Our day started with passport control: retrieving our passports from Viking so that they could be stamped into Egypt, and carrying them with us. Leaving the port, and returning at day’s end, passports were spot-checked (2 people on our bus), but otherwise we were not asked for them. It was interesting though that before entering the hotel at lunch, upon entering and exiting the souk (market), and upon entering the mosque in the afternoon we had to go through metal detectors.
Our first stop of the day was at Ulm el-Sid, where we saw the El Fanar memorial to the victims of crash of Boeing 737 aircraft Flight 604, which crashed into the Red Sea in 2004. The memorial consists of 113 white doves, one for each casualty of the crash, and is juxtaposed against the gorgeous Red Sea waters.
From there we went to lunch at the 5 star Renaissance Sharm El-Sheik hotel, where in addition to an incredible selection of Egyptian salads, entrees, grilled chicken and kofta skewers, and desserts, we were treated to music and fabulous dance performances.
From the hotel, we proceeded to Naama Bay, the tourist beach resort area. It was interesting to note that if the shop and hotel signs had not been in Arabic/English/Russian we could have just as easily been in a beach resort area in Florida or South Carolina, except that the waters here are so incredibly clear. The vibe of the commercial area reminded Ted and me of Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls Ontario – lots of t-shirt vendors and souvenir shops.
Next we stopped at the Al-Mustafa Mosque, the largest in Sharm El-Sheikh, completed in 2008 and featuring two towering 72 m (236 ft) tall minarets and a mammoth dome. We were not able to enter the mosque, since Covid protocols are still being observed that see the mosque closed between prayer times. We did learn something interesting though: Mustafa, Mahmoud, Ahmed, Hamid, and Mohd are all versions of Mohammed.
We learned that before each of the 5 daily prayer times, worshippers must “purify” themselves by washing their face and neck, hands and arms up to the elbow, and feet. There is a place designed specifically for doing this adjacent to the mosque.
As a contrast to the architecture of the mosque, we were next taken to Heavenly Cathedral, Sharm el-Sheikh’s largest coptic church, completed in 2010. The church is absolutely filled with colour; frescoes, paintings, carvings, and enormous stained glass windows.
We were fascinated by the lion and lamb sculptures outside the side entry doors; neither of us have ever seen the lamb portrayed quite this way.
Our last stop of the afternoon was at the Ottoman-style Al Sahaba mosque, around which a vibrant retail sector has been built. Those of us prepared with head coverings were allowed to enter the mosque, removing our shoes in all carpeted prayer areas.
Sharm El-Sheikh is a much more modern, touristy city than any others we’ve visited, but what it lacked in historic sites it made up for in luxury. It would be a great place for a 5-star beach holiday experience.
We returned to the ship hot and tired, but after cool showers joined two other couples to experience the delicious new Chef’s Table Sri Lankan menu. Every single bite was perfection.
Yet another amazing day!