The price of Paradise

This weekend, I went to Paradise. Entrance costs 50 Egyptian pounds ($12). But if you know a guy who knows a guy, you can do it for maybe 20 ($5)…

Summer in Cairo? Insa! (Forget it!) Come Thursday evening, the highways are packed with cars and minibuses taking Cairenes away from the city and to the nearest body of water – the Mediterranean. Much of Egypt pours up to Alexandria for at least one month, while the north coast, ie. everything west of Alex, is littered with beach resorts whose names range from the chic to the corny: my favourite was the humble, unassuming, ‘Nice’ resort. A fake Dolce & Gabbana t-shirt is this year’s must-have accessory, worn by the sharp-eyed, dark-skinned boys of Upper Egypt, out for whatever havoc they can create on their holidays.

The beaches are a bewildering mix of public and private, and the private beaches can range from a strip of sand cordoned off from the great unwashed with a few beach umbrellas and seats to the lavish – bean bag at the water’s edge, shisha pipe in the pools, chaise longue on the white sand beache.

Their names are as evocative as they are global – Paradise, Cuba Cabana, Tahiti, La Plage…
Paradise is the basic number, with lifeguards on duty as this stretch of beach is notoriously dicey, with a strong undercurrent and waves that have no qualms about dumping you on the beach, swimmers full of sand, in front of hundreds of amused Egyptians.

After you have found your spot, hired your umbrella and beach chairs and settled in, guys wander past selling everything from ice creams to cappuccinos, frecia (a sweet wafer peculiar to Alex) to blow-up beach toys. You want it, they’ll run for it. They’ll even take your money and bring your change a half hour later, remembering your spot amongst the crowds. Australia, take note.

In comparison, entrance to Tahiti, a beach resort further up the coast in the gated community of Marina, costs LE75 (about $17) entrance (absolutely no alcohol, they even looked in my bag) and the scene was coooool. Lots of bikinis, lots of long hair tossed about, belly jewellery, Gulf Arab families with Filipina nannies, young actresses spotted in the mix, funky music and the smell of pizza wafting through the air. We lazed along the beach on chaise longes and bean bags and swam and drank coffee then moved to the pool and the lounges to order pizza and watch the big orange sun slide down past the palm-lined horizon.

Another night, we nipped into an open-air beach club at Agamy Bay. Slap bang on the beach, its location is impeccable. Blue has a reservations-only upstairs section, which this night was into bottle service (ie a bottle of Jack Daniels or vodka on each table, resting in an ice bucket) while downstairs was more into the dance floor.

Surely to be Dutch means you must be a great DJ? (Think Tiesto, Armin van Buuren etc). Wrong. The Blues DJ was cashing in on his famous brothers, but himself was a dud, yelling heavily-accented inanities into the mic whenever he got excited, “Take it easy, guys!” when a rare fight threatened to break out on the dance floor to “There’s a girl dancing on the beach!” as well as the obligatory advertisement for tomorrow night’s foam party, every third song.

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