Saturday, 5 February 2011

Little Roman In Faded Vegas

Travel should delight the senses, and usually does. But something inside me died as our minibus pulled into Sharm El-Shit. The neon glow from the main strip was visible miles from the highway; likely from space. I'd been forewarned about the town, and the overabundance of divers, before organising the trip. But my good mate Nino had been inspired to learn to dive by my constant enthusing about the things I'd seen. It being Winter in England, Egypt and Malta were the only options; Egypt was cheaper and a little warmer.

The usual shenanigans were encountered at Immigration, the most amusing of these being the scrawny fellow sat atop a battered office chair beyond the booths, whose job it was to re-check your passport thirty seconds after it had been checked previously; waving you through, seemingly more interested in deep pulls on a reeking filterless cigarette.

We were joined in the minibus by an English couple in their sixties. After announcing that they were technical divers, they told me there'd still be good stuff for me to see. Thanks. I couldn't be bothered mentioning that I was Trimix-trained, myself; it's not a competition, is it? This was their fourth time in Sharm, and they enthused about its charms. Wife did most of the talking; it seemed Husband's job was to chip in with affirmations when required. Anyone who has seen The Fast Show will know the types.

Wife: "This your first time in Sharm, is it? Oh, you'll love it. Best place we've been...been back four times, haven't we, Mick?"
Husband: "Four times..."
Wife: "It's all here in Sharm. All you could want...you can get food from all over the world can't you, Mick?"
Husband: "All kinds of food..from everywhere..."
Wife: "We spend the winters here now...it's just like coming home to us. What it's like, Mick?"
Husband: "It's like coming home..."

Nino rolled his eyes at me. I stopped speaking, but it was no use: we were a captive audience. As we pulled up at the Camel Dive Centre, a quick glance around told me I was going to hate it here. The Best English Breakfast here! A Taste Of Germany! Real Italian Pizza! Tacky bars blasted out music, a competitive cacophony. Plastic palms lined the strip by the beach, and themed restaurants transported you to any corner of the world you wished: Mexico, Italy, France or the US. Is a bit of authentic Arab cuisine too much to ask for? It seemed you could get it, but the prices were higher than my local Turkish place in London Fields.

The place is full of arrogant Russians with money to burn. They strut around like they own the place. Nino convinced my one evening that Pascha would be a good idea. It wasn't a good idea. Probably up there with Hitler invading Poland. Overpriced drinks, and laughable roped-off VIP areas of various levels, policed by tuxedoed goons. Scantily-glad, sullen Russian and Polish beauties gyrated and pouted on the dancefloor while their rope-chain-clad boyfriends looked appreciatively on. I don't know what tune these girls were dancing to, but it certainly wasn't the one the DJ was playing. A diminutive Russian sat sprawled across a sofa, two muscled gorillas either side of him in tight tee-shirts. You can spot an east European a mile off: dodgy bleached jeans with lots of pockets and zips. They weren't kidding in the 80s when they said you coul pay for a trip there simply by filling your suitcase with Levis 501s. These lads hadn't secured a pair, obviously. Nino nicknamed the short one Little Roman, due to his resemblance to Chelsea's owner. Occasionally he'd give us a long, hard (he imagined) stare. I couldn't see his problem, but then Nino pointed out that Roman and his crew had been two tables away one night when he'd been doing his Borat impression for some Canadian divers: "I am liking to wear the jeans with zips...is nice, you like! In my country we are bleaching the trousers." Lighten up, Roman.

I've nothing more to add about Sharm. It's a tourist hellhole I never wish to visit again, notable only for having the worst Indian curry I have ever tasted; made, sadly, by an Indian.

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