We (Kelly, Sanam, Tony, and me) left Cairo early Thursday morning, second class train from Ramsis station, cost about $5 for the 2.5 hour trip. I'd like to say that the scenery on the way over was beautiful, but I can't--I slept through the entire ride. When we arrived we decided that it was too early to check into our hotel, so we walked to an old Roman amphitheater near the train station. We sat down on the steps and gave each other awed expressions and made cliched comments about how we could just feel the history there; and then we realized that we were sitting on a bunch of cinder blocks set up by the Egyptian government, and the real amphitheater was a ways off to the side. It was being invaded by an Eastern European tour group. After the group leader waved his big flag and shouted something vaguely Slavic-sounding to herd his ducklings away, we had our chance to play. In the center of the amphitheater was a stone marking a sort of half-magical microphone created by the architecture of the place--you could speak normally there and people in the very top row of the amphitheater could hear you clearly. A police officer came up to us and gave us an unasked for tour. I don't know whether anything he told us was true, but we gave him a little baksheesh anyway.
Then we started off in the direction of our hotel. We stopped by a little restaurant by the coast that tried and failed to be fancy. Everyone said the food was terrible; I was fasting, so I didn't try any. The water was fine. We walked a couple more blocks to the Hotel Crillon, our home for the next two nights. It had the world's most charming elevator--a rickety sort of open cage that let you see through the bars every floor you passed as you went up and down. If you stuck your arm through the bars, you would lose it. Our rooms were nothing special, but the beds were comfortable enough. They gave us a couple of big blue blankets that we commandeered for the beach.
We took a taxi to a private beach, since our guidebook had no great words of praise for the public places. There was a big faux castle gate to keep the peasants out (subtlety is not Egypt's strong point). There was a massive green park behind the gate, full of trees and flowers and picnic tables and the occasional tower. We kept stumbling upon the coast and we kept not finding a beach there. Nothing but rocks and angry security guards. We walked by another castle that we later learned belonged to Mubarak. After walking from one end of the park to the other we came upon a little strip of sand that looked like it just might promise greater things soon. It narrowed behind a group of houses, and then there came a break in the houses and--finally!--an actual beach.
We walked through the gap in the houses and ignored whatever a couple of security guards mumbled to us and walked out onto the sand. The beach was nearly deserted. Then we looked off to our right and saw a much more crowded beach and realized that that was the one we were looking for. Somehow we had stumbled upon an ultra-private beach--one where we had absolutely no right to be. Maybe we should have paid attention to those security guards. We decided that we would just wade over to the proper beach and forget any of this ever happened. But just as we were pulling our pantlegs up and stepping into the water, an Egyptian man came up to us and said we couldn't do that. And just as we began to worry that we were losing our precious long-sought beach, he offered to let us stay for twenty pounds (about $4), which was the same entry fee as the normal beach. As near as we could tell, he was just some guy with a house there looking to make a buck by renting his beach to a few foreigners. So we got to keep our ultra-private beach for a pittance. Not bad.
Kelly and Tony and I went for a swim in the Mediterranean. It was blue and beautiful and felt absolutely amazing, except when you got a nose full of salt, which happened more than a few times. We saw a big green island off on the horizon and decided to swim there. We swam and we swam and just as we could hardly swim any more we hit a rope barrier barring us from the island. But we could see a black bridge connecting the private-but-not-super-private beach to the island, so we swam to that beach. And then we saw that there was a rock wall about eight feet high separating the beach from the bridge. Tony and I climbed it, but Kelly wasn't tall enough. Just as we were about to give up hope of her ever making it up, an Egyptian man waltzed up to the wall bearing a rickety brown wooden ladder and he propped it up against the stones. He smiled and gestured at Kelly to climb it. Thank you kindly, random old Egyptian man.
The island was nothing special, so we hopped back down the wall and swam back to our beach. We watched the sun set. Right after I snapped one shot, my camera died. But at least I got the one. I'd try to describe the sunset, but I couldn't do it justice--picture soon. After dark we walked down the road a little ways to a Chili's. Out front there was a glowing yellow sign proclaiming "No one does Iftar like Chili's." I guess you can't argue with that.
I'm getting tired, but I'll finish this soon. With pictures. Really. I promise.