Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ain Soukhna

This past weekend, the international students traveled to the resort town of Ain Soukhna for off-campus orientation. The resort is located on the western coastline of the Gulf of Suez about 50 miles south of the canal. Personally I’m not a fan of fancy resorts and beach-front hotels, but I must admit I enjoyed the all-you-can eat buffets and the two-day escape from the palpable Cairo smog that I rinse from my body each night before bed.

Interestingly, the best part of the trip for me was the drive across the eastern desert spanning the territory between the Nile and the Red Sea. The rugged landscape of sand and stone mimicked views of the Badlands with its rapidly-changing scenery and dramatic topographic undulations. The desert was like a Salvador Dalí painting: the longer you stare at it, the more sophisticated it becomes. Variations in mineral concentrations or lighting angles bring out a subtle rainbow of colors. The wide swaths of unpopulated terrain reminded me of the national parks back home in America because the land truly defines qualities and characteristics of Egypt otherwise inexpressible. The rugged landscape reveals a certain authenticity about Egypt that you can’t find in Ain Soukhna. The desert remains undeveloped and pure despite thousands of years of history, and therefore it provides a special link to ancient times from the Pharaohs to the Greco-Romans to the Islamic expansion.

The desert was such a relaxing escape from modernity. To me, Cairo embodies too many negative qualities of contemporary cities: crowdedness, pollution, unemployment, poverty, and McDonald’s. And Ain Soukhna, well, it’s just fake, exclusive, and ugly. Prices are given in Euros, not Egyptian pounds, because Egyptians don’t go there. Europeans and Americans do.

My experience this past weekend was important because it provided a brief survey of everything Egypt has to offer, and I have refocused my interests for sightseeing. My top priority is to get out to the White and Black Desert in western Egypt to see the wind-carved rock formations and life-breathing oases. Sharm El-Sheikh and other resort meccas can wait, and maybe if I have time and money, I’ll see them too. But right now, I need to find some dinner. It won’t be McDonald’s.

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