By Islam El Shazly
It’s 14:30 on a Friday, time to hit the road for our family’s summer vacation: A week in Marsa Matrouh, 550km away from all the chaos that is Cairo. Crystal clear, all-shades-of-blue water, white sandy beaches, the perfect detox to the stress of day-to-day life.
My first visit to Marsa Matrouh was back around 1984, I was 10 years old, and the very first thing I did within a day of our 1 week vacation was attempt to get on a moving swing; it had two benches and a wood platform underneath. It was not a successful attempt. I got 13 stitches to the back of my head as a reward for my effort. My vacation ended before it even started.
I wouldn’t make it back to Matrouh until 2009, this time with family of my own, and trying very hard and praying that none of them would get hurt while playing and have a repeat of my misfortune.
2 years later, we’re back in Matrouh and we can’t get enough of it.
We happen to be members of the Heliopolis Sporting Club and they have a great 30-chalet resort at the Cleopatra beach area in Matrouh, it’s private and it’s on a little bay that is shielded from the open waters by a lot of natural rock barriers so there are no waves to speak of; perfect for children who are still developing their courage around open water.
Day 1, Friday: Arrival
Travelling with three children means lots of packing, including bicycles, that meant fiddling with installing a bike rack and securing it to the trunk (boot). In the end it took the combined effort of myself, my wife, and our building security guard to install the thing while being treated to Na’a na’a Al-Jeneina (The Mint of the Garden) from the car parked next to us.
We took the Ring Road and exited to the first section of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, and once we got through the toll station our vacation has officially begun.
Unlike a lot of the stories being passed around as facts, the road is fairly safe to travel; this is the second time we travelled since the ouster of Mubarak back in February. We passed right next to the walls of a massive prison complex and through several construction zones on the highway with no incident whatsoever. It was a very pleasant drive.
Our first stop was at Master, the children got to run around and stretch their legs, grabbed some snacks and sandwiches, then we were off again. Every time we pass through here the place seems to be getting bigger with more snack shops and lots of greenery.
One of the problems this highway had was the U-turns. Someone thought it was a good idea to have U-turns in the fast lane, and that caused lots of accidents, now the road is getting an upgrade in the form of over-passes that will eliminate the havoc caused by U-turns, and this road will officially be a free-way insha’Allah.
We arrived at the resort right in time for dinner then it was off to bed.
Day 2, Saturday: The Beach
Next morning early in the day we were off to breakfast , and convincing the kids they need to eat before they play was a feat of endurance, all they wanted to do was play in the sand and splash in the water.
Bathing suits on, beach toys in hand, and for the next three hours, we bake in the sun, splash in the water, a failed kayaking attempt, and a short ride on a paddle boat; the children are having a blast, and things couldn’t be better.
I realize in the evening that I burned myself, and the air-conditioned chalet is my friend for the next couple of days. The sun was blazing but there was a cool breeze, and I didn’t feel the sunburn until it was too late.
Lunch and a nap later, and we’re off to the beach again. Later we took one bicycle to get fixed, did some shopping at our favourite little Bedouin market, then back to the resort again.
The kids played with their bikes, then went for a round in the playground before dinner. After dinner we went downtown for some supplies, then back to the resort again, we all need the rest so we can repeat it all again the next day.
Day 3, Sunday: Souq Libya
Since I was unable to go to the beach due to my sunburn, I went and finished some work that needed my attention; the main hall is the only place that has WiFi in the resort. The children went to the beach with their mum and I joined them fully dressed later – white linen shirt is best – and kept myself in the shade.
After lunch we took the bus to Souq Libya (Libya Market). A labyrinth of shops and stalls that mostly sell spices and herbs (including herbs for every personal need!), a lot of knock-offs, and cosmetics. The market used sell a lot of nice products from Italy and Turkey that came through Libya, but recently and because of the uprising in Libya, we are left with the cheap made-in-china knock-offs.
Dinner at eight, and by 10pm the little ones were passed out. Bliss.
Day 4, Monday: Cleopatra’s Baths
After breakfast we headed out to the other side of our bay, we went to the actual Cleopatra Beach, it’s a 3 minute drive from where we were staying and out in the open.
There’s no swimming allowed there, the entire area is riddled with jagged rocks, and the sandy stretch is separated from the water by a rocky area that has been smoothed out over millennia and is very slippery.
The scenery, however, is stunning. Clear blue waters, all shades of blue and awe inspiring rock formations. The highlight of the visit is the Cleopatra Baths, more about it here.
The kids went crazy; we had them in their swimsuits and water shoes. They ran all over the place, climbed rocks, got knocked over by waves and fell flat on their behinds, they jumped and splashed and had a blast.
The place can be a bit hazardous if you’re not careful so you have to watch the children and make sure they don’t get over excited while having fun.
Later in the day the children played with their bicycles, hunted for sea shells, we played some beach volley with our newly found friends, and in the evening we had dinner in the open air, a feast of Gulf-style food.
Day 5, Tuesday: Ajeeba
Wondrous as its name means in English, Ajeeba has caverns and caves throughout the cliff faces that surround the little beach. You don’t go there to swim; you go there to stand in awe of the gorgeous caverns and rock formations and what thousands of years of waves, rain, and wind have done to the cliffs. Brilliant sculptures!
It’s a long descend down to the beach, and after an hour of exploration and picture taking, a daunting trek up to where the car was parked.
After dinner, the staff built a Bedouin tent on the beach and put seats outside. It was for a birthday party for one of the children in the resort. We had roasted corn and Bedouin tea that has been steeping on charcoal for a while. All the kids in the resort got gifts and cake and played in the playground till they dropped.
Day 6, Wednesday: Ships Ahoy
Another lazy day at the beach with lots of sea shell hunting and swimming, later in the afternoon we boarded a little yacht that took us for a nice 2 hour ride outside of our little enclave. We sailed along the shore all the way to Rommel’s beach and Hideout-turned-museum.
We stopped for a short swim in the crystal clear water, sadly we couldn’t stay longer. In the evening it was open air dinner again, this time it was a mixed grill feast. Yummy!
Day 7, Thursday: The Beach and Other Matters
We were going to go check out Rommel’s Hideout, instead we ended up at the mechanic! The car broke down. The rest of the day was spent just being as lazy as possible, it was our last day by the sea, and we weren’t going to let the car spoil it for us.
I picked up the car in the evening with a friend then we returned just in time for dinner.
Day 8, Friday: The Long Way Home
It was time to go home and say good bye to the Mediterranean; we drove off and 115km out of Matrouh the engine died on us. A lot of people stopped and tried to help, they were all Bedouins, they called their friends and tried to find a tow truck, until a truck driver who was going to Cairo stopped and offered to tow us. It would take 11 hours for us to get home, but Alhamdulillah none of us were hurt, and we now have a story to tell for a very long time insha’Allah.Tags: Ajeeba, bath, beach, Bedouin, Cleopatra, Hideout, Matrouh, Mediterranean, North Coast, Rommel, Shell, Volley, Wondrous