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All inclusive in Marsa Alam

I was brought up to travel the rough way. My diapers were changed on sandy tent floors in Turkey, when I was less than a year old. My parents took us four kids on adventures no travel agency ever would offer - as a consequence, my siblings have developed the habit of relocating to remote corners of the world every few years. The endless kilometers of lonely bumpy roads covered in southern Africa still rock my memory, and the greatest summer of my life I spent beach bumming and island hopping in Croatia, living on a diet of raw fish and stolen cactus figs. It's a shared family value - different as we all have turned out to be, nothing seems more despicable than a journey where you already know where you will eat and sleep when getting up in the morning. Now, at thirty-three years of age, I am guilty of straying on the other side – for one week, I am an all-inclusiv- tourist at a beach resort on the Egyptian Red Sea Riviera. And, to be quite frank, there are some things I quite like about that.

A pensive moment on the resort terrasse...

For one, it's pretty cheap - and Germany's sorry excuse for spring just not to be endured anymore. There's almost no hassle, I just booked the package and off we went. There is sun and sea and sand, and the toilets are clean. But, trying to relax into the flow of things, and shutting off my poor over-worked brain, I cannot help comparing – and remembering other trips to Egypt... Back in the days, I'd catch a flight down to Sharm, haggle with the drivers of battered Peugeot 604s for an hour or so and then saunter off to Dahab to the sound of crackling Arab music and the smell of shisha tobacco emenating from under the back seat. I'd crash in one of those places where a concrete bunk with a mattress is called a bed and costs next to nothing, and pig out on falafel and foul, spending less than if I'd stayed at home. It was simple, it was rough, but it was all I needed to be happy. A few words of Egyptian got you smiles and handshakes, a t-shirt with 'I love Palestine' printed on it got you invitations to a free lunch. Back then, you could hitch up with a buddy, check out tanks, grab a Bedouin cabbie and go diving where you wanted. And afterwards you'd chill in the shade of a tent, where little beach girls tried to catch your attention and sell you a few handmade bracelets and the boys an odd gram of dope.

Now, it's different. The new airport at Marsa Alam is so clean and well organized, I had trouble beieving it was actually Egypt. You are chaperoned from front to finish, not even knowing customs procedures gets you an advantage over the crowd anymore. Buses wait for you, everybody knows you're coming, everybody speaks German. Checking in at the hotel: easy-peasy. There is a customer relationships officer from Belgium who can answer all questions in all languages. The bell boy delivers the luggage at our door step, our condo is clean, equipped with all amenities. I turn off the air-conditioning as soon as we cross the threshhold.

To be fair, the Three Corners Hotel at least seems to give it's pro-environment philosophy some credible efforts – we are in the desert, I read while sitting on the toilet, save water! The hotel features its' own sewage treatment, and re-uses the waste water for the thirsting gardens, we learn form the brochure, and they are quite strict about not walking unto the reef. There is an easy-entry jetty, and there are rules, rules, rules of what to do when and where. Most of which start to piss me off on the second day. No use of the pool or walking on the jetty after sunset. No diving without dive computers (what the...? Has it come to THIS?). No shorts for dinner. What's more? Well, in a nutshell, it just doesn't feel like being in Egypt. There is no local food (no foul, no falafel, no humus) at the buffet, but there is an Italian and Asian evening. There is no way of leaving the complex without a guard (sure he's friendly, oh yes, but you can tell he's there to keep you inside) shooing you back, there is no way to get a taxi or bus or donkey cart that is not organized through reception at scandalous prices.

It's for safety, security, enjoyment of the masses. You are herded to the beach, animated to do your exercises, we, the people of the cold, sun-starved North. Attendants usher and care for us lying fat from our consumer lives like giant white mother termites, we are massaged and tattood and entertained by trained staff to get us back in shape for more of the treadmill back home.

I don't mean to be ungrateful. This holiday has sun, beach volleyball, diving (and that is excellent, by the way). I am truly enjoying myself most of the time. The thing that's lacking is the freedom of doing the rough thing – the grit of the raw. But there will be more than enough of that in the year to come, I tell myself and feel the itch under the yellow plastic wrist band.


Lieschen said...
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Lieschen said...

Sounds like an interestung trip... I think it can be nice in a hotel without getting out there, sure, but it is even better to get out and get to know the country and culture (or at least the city around). for this reason I like it more to be in a holiday flat...however: have fun and enjoy the sun and the water =)