3 - 9 August 2000
Issue No. 493
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Features Travel Living Sports Profile People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons
Lost horizon foundBy Nevine El-Aref
Hurghada had been impressed upon our agenda for many months, through word of mouth and media. When my friends and I finally made it to the country's southeastern coast, the idyllic scene exceeded our expectations -- albeit, for a short while. It was not long before we folded up our towels and craved for something more stimulating. There was only so much ball play, diving, snorkeling and parasailing one could tolerate. What else was left to do on sand and water? A chance encounter changed the course of our holiday-making.
Can't bare to miss out on Al-Giftun island! photos: Ayman Ibrahim
As I walked along the beach one afternoon to ponder our predicament, I stumbled upon a former classmate, Karim, who had settled in Hurghada as a diving instructor. A brief chitchat about where our respective lives had taken us somehow led to my confessing the source of my ennui. "What to do, where to go?" I sighed. "Paradise" was his answer. In a scene reminiscent of the latest Leonardo DiCaprio flick, The Beach, Karim whispered the details of a hideaway island, now declared a natural protectorate. He piqued my curiosity, and that of my travel mates when I later reported this exchange to them. "Trips are now organised to Al-Giftun island where people can spend the entire day, from sunrise to sunset. There is also a tourist camp where you can get all your needs: food, drinks, as well as diving and snorkeling equipment," Karim had told me.
There was no need to think twice. We decided to embark on the adventure -- a quest for novelty. Bright and early the very next morning, we found our way to the dock and waited for a boat. We chose to spend the day in a tourist camp called Mahmeya, run by Al-Alia touristic development company. Six or seven boats run to and from this camp every day and cost LE35 per person.
The trip to Al-Giftun island takes about 40 minutes. Along the way to the island, we beheld magnificent coral reefs and several species of brightly coloured fish that we were able to recognise in the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea.
As we neared our destination, we spotted on the horizon hilly ground bathed in the golden rays of the sun. Suddenly, the roaring engines of the boat stopped and we anchored on one of the seven buoys attached to the island. We disembarked and headed towards the tourist camp that turned out to be a very simple resort, but included all the necessary facilities like restaurants, diving centre and bathrooms. Remarkably, none of these facilities affected the natural environment. The traveler could still bask in the glory of an island surrounded by pure, unadulterated nature.
Not even in my most fantastic dreams could I have ever imagined such an image; a vast area undisturbed by man, surrounded by water gently rippling in tune with the breeze and hills so picturesque they seem to be rolling in the background. A locale of unmatched serenity in all of Egypt. I had heard of such hideaway islands in Hawaii, Japan, Cyprus and Greece, but I never expected to discover one in Egypt.
The resort's design draws inspiration from the locale's natural assets: parasols are made of Casuarine and palm trees, and the steps are modelled from local stones collected while clearing the site. Even the bridge connecting one area to another in the island is made of Casuarine tree stalk. Towards the highest point of the resort is a tree trunk engraved with the name Mahmeya .
The resort was built by an engineer who took great care to respect the environment and worked under the supervision of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA). To avoid any concrete building in the resort, the architect built the kitchen and the bathroom on a 20-centimetre high timber platform.
"Our main goal was to build a special kind of resort, which would be different from what we've become used to seeing in Hurghada," said Mohamed El-Husseini, the resort's architect. "Water supply and drainage systems utilise PVC pipes buried in the sand. Using the natural slope of the land, waste water flows down and is collected in a large container," he said.
He added that a tanker comes every day from Hurghada to collect the waste and at the same time, pump fresh and pure water into reservoirs located uphill. "The tanks carry about 20 tons of sweet water and take 12 tons of waste water," he said.
"This way nothing filters through the ground, no waste, no water and no construction. Our motto here is: Take nothing with you, leave nothing behind," El-Husseini explained.
All visitors on the island must follow strict conservation rules. Everyone on the island is impelled to behave in an environmentally friendly manner.
As I strolled around the premises, the island seemed to me an impressive natural amphitheatre offering that special relaxing feeling of a paradise one finds only in literature and films. Wherever you are on the island, whether on the shore or up the hill, you can admire the breathtaking nature. There is also a slew of activities in which the traveler can partake on the island such as diving, snorkeling, playing racket or handball. Restaurants provide open buffets, offering sea food and à la carte menus. The price depends on what you order.
I learned from officials at the resort that a maximum of a 100 guests is allowed on the island each day, so it is never crowded. "We were granted permission to run this project in 1997 and the inauguration was in August 1998," said Osama Eteiba, board chairman of Al-Alia touristic development company. He added that this project is the first of its kind in Egypt and it has proven successful. "With further permission, we will be able to replicate this on other islands."
As the sun set, all those on the island started to pack their things and prepare for departure. No one is permitted to stay on the island overnight. We jumped into our boat and returned to shore. "Was it a vision or a waking dream?" asked poet John Keats. A little bit of both, I think.
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Or visit the Web site: www.mahmeya.i-p.com