It was not the boardwalk at Keansburg or Wildwood. On the boardwalks in those Jersey Shore towns you won’t see a sign in the window of a hole in the wall shop that says “special, buy two bottles of Viagra, get one free. Genuine — illegally imported from the States.”
Of course it’s called the corniche, and not boardwalk, on Naama Bay at Sharm el Sheikh. It’s a bit more upscale than the boardwalk at Wildwood or Keansburg, but it has its share of shore dinners, pizza, postcards, and sunglasses. Along the streets leading to the corniche you can find t-shirts and beach towels. But the hotel names along the “walk” are a bit more upscale, Marriott, Hilton, Sofitel and the like. There IS an amusement park at one end of the walk.
The sounds along the corniche are a little more exotic than in Jersey. There is the pop music and the inevitable reggae that you find at any beach resort but also the beat of belly dance music (well, you get belly dance music and belly dancers on Coney Island too) and the sounds of a Bedouin flute playing for whirling dervishes (not a feature of either Coney or Jersey.) Dervishes whirl down the corniche from bar to restaurant to bar, beating out their rhythms. One of my favorite signs on the Naama Bay Corniche was for free wi-fi at an exotic spice stall. The corniche was decked out with Christmas decorations, seeing sleighs and reindeer on a sub-tropical beach backed by palm trees was a bit odd, but probably only because I have not been on a boardwalk in Southern California or Florida at Christmastide. The decorations were up on January 7th, Eastern Christmas, and overnight were gone.
The Conniche up the coast from Sharm el-Sheikh at Dahab is a bit more downscale than Sharm, more Coney Island than Newport. Dahab is a hippie windsurfing and snorkeling resort with skimpy bikinis worn by lots of young people from Western Europe and there is a lot of reggae. It looks over the Gulf of Aquba where the dawn comes up like thunder from a disapproving Saudi Arabia (9 miles) ‘cross the bay. The fault line that created the Gulf of Aqaba seems both symbolically and geologically tectonic. Dahab is more falafel and less Hilton than Sharm. The hotel closest to the center of action is Camp Alaska. It has rooms that are not air conditioned, not that you would need air conditioning this time of year. The air was about 70 degrees and the water was about 75. Other places along the walk are “”Moses Souvenirs,” “Trader Joe” and “Al Capone” (which could be Arabic, but I think not.)
I wrote this in a letter in January 2011 just a couple of weeks before the Arab Spring caught up with Egypt. I wonder how much of this you would see now. Have I caught a moment in time?