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Hurghada, Egypt: February 14th – 21st 2024

My girlfriend, her six-year-old son and I left a soggy, cold Glasgow on Valentine’s morning knowing we would be going to a country where we could not celebrate Valentine’s Day as a lesbian couple – so squeezed in all the smooches we could without traumatising our fellow passengers on the plane! 

We arrived at our hotel in the dark as the sun sets at around 4:30pm in northern Africa. Once we checked in, a bellboy wheeled our bags to our room – we still felt a little anxious as to what he would say or do if he figured out we are a lesbian couple sharing a bed. Luckily he was fairly stone faced and made no comment or judgement. Following this, we decided to head downstairs to explore our home for the next 7 days!

As we wandered down towards the beach, we noticed there were no people around, which we later discovered was because everything is so controlled, so many rules, so many things we weren’t allowed to do. We walked towards the sea, just to dip our feet in and feel the water after a long day travelling. A security guard appeared out of nowhere and told us we were not allowed to do this.  We were a bit surprised as we had been told the sea is ankle to knee high until quite some distance out. I confess I am a bit of a rebel, so I found this quite hard to stomach. I fear I haven’t quite grown out of the rebellious stage in some regards, but knowing how strict Egypt was and what might happen if I “misbehave”, especially as security may have used our sexuality against us – I decided I’d probably be better keeping my proverbial shut and behave this week!

So many rules, Egypt made us appreciate our freedom

On our first full day, we explored more of our resort and enjoyed the water slides – although I had to wait for my girlfriend (OutNewsGlobal’s Editor, Maz Gordon) to give me the all clear for safety, as I had just broken my collarbone the week before. Terrible timing for a woman child like myself! However it did become glaringly obvious at this point that we were pretty much enclosed in our resort with very little information on how to actually get out and see more of Hurghada. This felt quite surreal, and reminded me of The Truman Show. To some, a resort holiday is ideal – who would want to leave when you can lie by the pool all day every day – however this is not our idea of a holiday. We like to explore and do things!

I didn’t want to go back in the closet but had to call my girlfriend, my “friend” all week

Generally in our hotel  things did seem more relaxed and we did feel more comfortable holding hands and stealing the odd wee kiss when we were on the pier, out of sight. We’d done our research and women friends holding hands in Egypt is generally acceptable.  We probably did push the boat out with this quite a number of times, but I think that is because we are both quite passionate. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t have done it at all if we felt it was unsafe to do so. Perhaps things are moving on in some places, and many of the staff and guests seemed more open minded than we expected. I do think having a child with us made a huge difference.

In our hotel, we were hounded by people trying to sell us trips and excursions. As we were keen to get out and see more of Egypt, we booked a trip to Cairo and Giza to see the Pyramids and a snorkelling boat trip.  We booked parasailing on the last day but by then we just needed to escape the boredom of the hotel routine and so decided to splash the cash on a few minutes in the air.  Well, that’s what we thought we’d signed up to.

Our Egyptian guides were great at taking the perfect photo

 Here’s what I thought of our day trips:

Cairo/Giza was a 6 hour drive away so we had to get up at the ungodly hour of 1.30am, to arrive at the Egyptian museum by 9:30am. Ouch!! Was the Egyptian museum worth it?  It might have helped if they’d let us get our morning coffee before shoving us into the mass of tourists.  For us personally, coffee at the end was the best bit.

The pyramids themselves are quite a sight to behold, however we felt very intimidated by the men who followed us around trying to sell us tat. They wouldn’t take no for an answer, and our guide wasn’t particularly helpful in telling them to leave us alone. The fact that we didn’t have a man with us meant they did not take us seriously, and kept pushing their souvenirs on us. One of them lifted my girlfriend’s son onto a camel, and we told him we couldn’t pay as we had no money – he told us several times it was no problem – which was a complete lie as he then became quite aggressive towards us. Eventually, we had to part with £20 to get rid of him. 

The worst part of the trip was the fact that we had our own private bus. To some, this would be a bonus, but we felt anxious about being alone on the bus with 2 drivers, with no other guests to share some of their attention. One of them asked with a glint in his eye “girlfriend and boyfriend?”, after which I can only describe his driving as erratic, and it was one of the most terrifying journeys in all my cream puff. We’d been convinced to take the private bus, as we were told that with a group bus you can have to wait hours for other families to take their time.  With our drivers making innuendos at the stop, half way into another 300 miles of desert, it was the only time I can remember going back in the closet.  “No, good friends”, we assured them.  In hindsight, we should have done something else with our day! Seeing the pyramids was not worth the hassle, anxiety or almost £300!

My girlfriend took this photo of me. It was beautiful but we were confined to area 32 of this beach. Rules!

The snorkelling boat trip to Orange Bay was by far our best day of the holiday. We loved being able to get further out into the open water, and felt more relaxed and safe being amongst other holiday makers. The snorkelling itself was great, and enjoyed more freedom than we felt all week. Even then, we heard the whistle of our guide a few times when we ventured a few metres too far from him.  We spent some time on the beach at Orange Bay too, which was beautiful. After some lunch on our boat, we had the opportunity for more snorkelling. Our guide was very complimentary about our ability in the water and told us the snorkels we bought back at home were for beginners, and that we are more advanced than that.  However, on the second trip my girlfriend came back to the boat and grabbed her towel.  She told me that when she’d been behind the group our guide had got quite handsy and repeatedly asked for a kiss.  She literally couldn’t swim away fast enough!

On our journey back to Hurghada, the photographer spent a bit of time getting to know us better and indicated we might know about our relationship, but after my girlfriend’s experience with the guide, we still didn’t feel we could come out incase he got sleazy. 

I cringed when the guide asked to take a photo with “my friend” and her son. We knew they have different traditions but we didn’t like having to deny our relationship.

On our last morning, we went parasailing. The parasailing itself was fun, however there is a big BUT. Back at home, it can feel like there are occasions we take health and safety too far, but we felt it severely lacking here. When we asked for a life jacket for my girlfriend’s son on the dinghy out to the boat, the driver scoffed and refused. Once again, we were alone with the driver. He said we would be 2 minutes and then spoke in Egyptian on his phone as he drove the boat, completely unaware of the choppy waves washing right over us.  Instead of a 1 minute journey, he took us right out into the middle of the sea, where another man came out in his dingy and passed us over to the new boat, like some kind of drug deal.  We were so relieved when we finally got to the parasailing boat full of tourists.  

On return from the parasailing boat in the dingy, we refused to get on the dingy until they gave us a life jacket for my girlfriend’s wee boy – luckily this time an additional member of staff and some onlookers in the form of other guests meant they pulled a life jacket out of the original dingy and gave it to us. It was there all along!!

All in all, I wouldn’t return to Egypt. It didn’t feel safe for a number of reasons, and felt far too controlled. I understand this is maybe for our own safety, but I don’t like to feel so restricted, trapped or unable to explore freely without being hounded by people trying to sell things or being told I’m breaking numerous rules. 

This is on a whole different level to anything I have experienced before. I’m sure there are plenty of redeeming factors and other things to see which may be really interesting, but it’s not for me. Specifically in relation to sexuality, perhaps couples like ourselves visiting other cultures are how we can try to help them see we are no threat to them at all. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but maybe times will change and LGBTQ+ couples will be able to go on holiday wherever they want. I’m sure we all wish for a time when everyone is able to love and live the way they want, but it is a long way off, if ever.

I can’t wait to be crew again at Oban Lesbian Weekend and go to UK LGBTQ+ festivals, where I can be as gay as I want!

On a personal note, I definitely could have been more careful in regards to “lesbian visibility”, however as a 35 year old woman who only came out at 32, I feel I was hiding for far too long. I was aware of respecting their culture and only sneaking a kiss, in a place we were unlikely to be seen and in the relative safety of our hotel.  I’m out now and it’s much harder to squish it all back into it’s box now that it’s out there. I really am a woman child at heart, and now feel so free – I’m now even more grateful to be able to live the way I do after visiting Egypt. This Pandora has opened her box and she’s very proud!

It also really made me appreciate the LGBTQ+ community here.  I’m one of the crew at Oban Lesbian Weekend and going to Egypt made me realise more than ever why women from across the country (and as far as Australia), spend their holiday time coming to festivals like Oban Lesbian Weekend, where we can simply be ourselves.  Plus it’s great to have these opportunities to make friends with other queer women!

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El Blackford

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