Imagine you are going on holiday to Disneyland – a man-made paradise for adults and children alike. You’ve seen the pictures and are anticipating this dreamland up until the moment you arrive. You take in the exciting atmosphere, but something is off, something’s not right. Suddenly it occurs to you – Disneyland is deserted, completely empty. There aren’t people, no tourists, and the energy that you anticipated doesn’t exist. What happened here? Why is this paradise a ghost town, a shell of what it once was and has the potential to be?
Welcome to Sharm El Sheikh. A deserted paradise at the Southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. Various shades of brown sand and rock meet the stunning expanse of the Red Sea (not actually red). Empty mansions line the vacant streets as I make my way to the edge of the sea. Saudi Arabia is mysteriously visible in the distance as I gaze out over the unending coastline. Pink and orange fish catch my attention – I become aware of another world beneath me. Perfectly clear water reveals magnificent coral and intricate schools of sea creatures.
It takes all of 10 seconds for a local to peg us as Americans and invite us out to dinner, which we happily accept. We are led through a maze of shops and bazaars in town, through an ally, into an unassuming fish shop that transforms into a nice restaurant as we ascend up the stairs. Food is ordered for us, plates start being produced from somewhere and don’t stop coming for some time – delicious eggplant, hummus, pita, and fish of all kinds appear. Same with the stray cats, which are sprayed away from us with a bottle containing watered down dish soap.
We are pleasantly full, but the meal isn’t over. Our good-humored waiter creatively feeds us the remnants of lobster until our plates are finally empty. In somewhat of a food coma, we retreat to a hookah lounge to smoke and digest the force-fed meal. Watermelon shisha is ordered and finally the question comes up – what happened here? Where are all the people? A Russian plane went down over the Sinai peninsula in 2015 after departing Sharm and ever since the tourism industry is non-existent. Meaning that people are struggling to survive in this alluring city as its economy is largely dependent on tourism. We smoke shisha, drink fruit smoothies, and talk into the early morning.
I need to see more. I slip out of our mansion silently and walk to the sea, following it along the perimeter of Sharm. I pass deserted luxury hotels, buffets full of food overlooking the water with no consumers, half-built mansions, frozen in time. It’s as if someone was running a marathon and just stopped abruptly halfway through. I retreat to a boulder overlooking the sea at dusk to watch nature do its thing, despite the lack of appreciative eyes to witness the spectacular pink picture above the Red Sea. I’m fascinated by this place. The sun drops behind the line of the water, leaving a trail of orange, pink, purple. I sit until the colors fade away, darkness rests on the water and surrounds me as I navigate the beautiful emptiness.