Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ain Sokhna, part 1

Since we left for our vacation on Friday after church, Friday was basically a travel day. We intended to leave at 3:00 PM, but the driver didn’t show up until around 4:30 PM. There was a mix-up and the transportation company thought we were leaving the day we wanted to come home. I’m just glad they got it straightened out because we invited the Masons to come along with us and we haven’t had great luck traveling with the Masons in the past.

We arrived a little later than we intended and were quite surprised at the amount of sand that can accumulate in a house left untended for six months. Granted, Ain Sokhna is basically in the middle of a barren desert and there is a lot of sand to blow through all the little cracks you didn’t know you had in your door jam and windows.

It took us quite a while to get everything swept up and in order.

And then Andrew turned on the water. Yikes!

A pipe in the master bathroom ruptured and water was gushing out, flooding the bathroom, and spraying the walls. He turned off the water after Melissa discovered where the water was coming from, but the water kept spraying all over the place. Luckily, we found a security guard nearby and he came in and shut off the water to only the sink so the rest of the bathroom would still be usable, and called a plumber for us.

It was an interesting way to start our vacation, but these things happen right?

By this time it was getting late, so we started on dinner. We brought the ingredients for a pancake dinner (Andrew’s favorite) and Andrew did most of the work while I laid down to rest.

Everyone, especially Andrew, was so nice about letting me rest whenever I wanted, which was great! Rachel isn’t so keen on letting me rest, but with Finn around to play with and no other distractions for Daddy, I got a lot of resting done. Sometimes a pregnant lady just needs to kick her feet up, I think. But I’m spoiled so I’m not sure how much my opinion counts.

We ate dinner, put the kiddos to bed, cleaned up, and played games until we wanted to go to bed. It was a very relaxing evening. For me. And I think everyone else enjoyed it as well.

Neither Rachel or Finn slept very well that night, so all the grown-ups were fairly groggy in the morning, but we decided to hit the beach, anyway.

The condo isn’t technically right on the beach and the resort is huge so it takes about a half hour to walk to the beach. Luckily there is a little bus that goes around to shuttle people to and from the beach. It’s open-air and had park benches instead of seats, but when a free ride is offered, you take it without complaint.

We were excited to finally get to the Red Sea. Truthfully, both of our previous Red Sea experiences (Aqaba and Hurghada) were a little lame. We were a little wary of what we would find so set our expectations rather low.

The great thing about setting low expectations is that they are easily exceeded. Ours definitely were. The beach was amazing!



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I was a little worried, at first, about all the jellyfish carcasses scattered on the beach but since we didn’t see any in the water I relaxed some. I still looked very carefully before I stepped anywhere or let Rachel down to play, which is probably a good thing because Patrick ended up stepping on a rather spiny shell and it got stuck in his foot.

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Still, I was nervous about meeting a jellyfish since most of the stories I’d heard about jellyfish encounters were somewhat dramatic. Mostly I’m recalling some story from the Reader’s Digest that I read years ago. Some species of jellyfish really can kill you, but since this was a private beach and no one else was concerned about the jellyfish I figured that I shouldn’t be, either. Plus, Melissa said she had been stung by several jellyfish and it hurts a little but it’s not too bad. Her parents used to bring meat tenderizer to the beach because that, apparently, helps relieve the sting. Who knew?

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I did end up being touched by a dead jellyfish that was washing up to shore during high tide later in the evening. And I survived and everything.

I spent a good part of the morning, however, munching on animal crackers instead of playing. Rachel and Finn were both rather afraid of the water, so they sat with me and ate crackers for a while.

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Eventually the water called to us, though, and we waded out. The tide was so low and Rachel and Finn were able to walk out several hundreds of feet without the water passing their bellybuttons. Or they would have, had they let us put them down.

There were big sandbars far off shore that we could play on. Rachel didn’t like the waves at all, but once Andrew showed her that she could play in the mud she was as happy as a clam.

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They built a mosque together. Rachel is fascinated with mosques and builds them all the time. Anytime she builds a block tower or a sand castle and you ask her what it is, chances are high that she’ll answer that it’s a mosque.

Their tower building soon gave way to mud flinging.

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And then this…

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I’m not sure who came up with this game, but they were both really into it. They’re pushing the sand/mud. And they found it thrilling. I guess it’s one of those things you just had to be there for because I don’t see the appeal. I was just the photographer.

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We had fun but we were all exhausted (from Rachel and Finn not sleeping very well) and headed back to the condo for lunch and naps. That’s a great thing about staying so close to the beach. You don’t have to feel guilty about leaving in the middle of the day to take a (much-needed) break.

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Rachel and Finn and I slept for about 3 hours. I think Melissa might have taken a nap as well, but I wasn’t keeping track of her. Andrew and Patrick went off on an adventure to get the new beach cards for 2009 since we had the beach cards from 2007 and essentially sneaked onto the beach. Oops.

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Rachel slept on a cot for about half of the night (each night), as well as all through her (singular) nap. I was impressed that she didn’t fall off the bed once. I put towels down on the ground to soften the blow in the event of a fall, but she never did. She did wake up and demand to join us in our bed, but she never fell. I think that’s thanks to how deeply the cot dips toward the center.

After naptime we blew bubbles until our daddies came back to the condo with the new beach cards. Then we struck off for the beach again.

Rachel and Finn were even more concerned about the water this time. The tide had come in and swallowed our sandbars and the waves were much more violent than they had been that morning (though still pretty mild).

Andrew and Patrick built a little wall to keep out the sea and invited Rachel to play behind the wall so that she would be safe.

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We coaxed her off the dry sand onto the wet sand and she sat, observing the wall for a few minutes.

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Finn and Daddy were on the other side of the wall, though, and it was soon breached.

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Rachel had such a fun time playing with her daddy, even though she was still grumpy about the water. She probably would have been more pleased if we took her to a giant sandbox; she’s so used to living in the desert. Essentially it is a giant sandbox…just a little wet.

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She wore Andrew out! He could hardly keep his eyes open while we were sitting in the beach chairs to dry off.

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As I said, the beach is nice. It’s private and so the beach chairs and umbrellas were free for our use, especially in the morning when we were practically alone on the beach. Arabs, as a general rule, are not early risers.

There was quite the array of swimwear, too, and so I didn’t feel embarrassed at all to be wearing a Western bathing suit. Girls were dressed in swimsuits ranging from burkinis to bikinis, so I fell in modest middle-ground. Boys, likewise, could be found wearing anything from skimpy European Speedos to board shorts.

That was nice, because I did feel out of place while swimming in Aqaba. But not so at the Dead Sea (see here, here, or here). I suppose the difference is that at Aqaba we swam at a cheap, somewhat-public beach, while at both the Dead Sea and the Red Sea we used resorts. More expats and rich Arabs are prone to use resorts, rather than use cheap or free beaches. Expats wear what they would wear at home and rich Arabs (dare I generalize this boldly) tend to allow more freedom from tradition.

That’s not to say that all rich Arabs dress scandalously at the beach. Several girls were fully veiled/covered while swimming, which was fine with me. And there were a few girls in bikinis, though not nearly as many as you would find in Europe or North America or South America or probably anywhere else in the world.

I saw a little girl, probably around 8, wearing a bikini and being tended by her older sisters, who were fully veiled. I thought that was an interesting thing. I dress Rachel according to my modesty standards, so she doesn’t wear bikinis, even though she’s not of age and could have run around stark naked and no one on the beach would have batted an eye. But this family, that apparently encouraged older girls to veil, felt it appropriate for their younger girls to be, in my mind, dressed immodestly. I won’t say that’s wrong, but it certainly surprised me!

One of Melissa’s favorite things were these, for lack of a better word, thugs dressed in matching tank tops. They hung around the gate to the beach all day so we’re pretty sure they were bouncers of sorts, and they did look fairly tough, so that’s possible.

They rode the shuttle with us for a little ways and Melissa couldn’t stop laughing. And she wasn’t silently snickering, either. She was laughing out loud, uncontrollably.

The biggest guy, you see, was wearing a skin-tight, black-and-white striped wife-beater. He was huge. His arms were probably almost as big around as my waist and fully tattooed. And his pecks were absolutely bulging. Pure muscle.

His shirt was decaled with a scripty English font reading, “Softball.”

His cronies, meanwhile, were dressed similarly in black wife-beaters striped in green, orange, purple, and turquoise. They lacked the softball emblem and the tattoos and a lot of the bulk, but they were all rather intimidating.

The mere idea of this burly, tattooed bouncer on a softball team, however, was cracking Melissa up. She laughed the whole ride and they knew she was laughing at them, too. Every time one of them would look at her she’d burst out laughing again.

I thought for sure they were going to follow us home and beat us up or something, but they didn’t. When we saw them again hanging around the gate at the beach the next day we were led to the theory that they were employed by the resort to maintain peace and order, or something along those lines, so beating up the residents probably wouldn’t be very good job security for them.

When we got home we all rinsed off in the showers and the Masons made a wonderful spaghetti dinner. We played more games and read books until we decided to go to bed. And we had sufficiently worn out the children so we actually go a decent night’s rest!

1 comment:

  1. Let's see, what was I going to say?

    Oh yeah,
    I agree with you on the kids and modesty thing. I know it's probably not a huge deal, but I only dress Sunshine in things that I'd be able to wear too. I figure it's just one less thing for us to fight about when she gets older. If she can't wear sleeveless now, then it won't even be a question later, ya know what I mean? Plus, with regaurds to the swimming suits, aren't the little swim shirts the cutest things you've ever seen anyway? Who wouldn't want their baby to sport one of those?

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