They’re hot and their lifestyle is even hotter. They’re one of Egypt’s most popular and unconventional couples. They’re not just the life and soul of the party – they’re throwing it! Maya Challita and Adly El Mestekawy are the gorgeous and gregarious duo behind the region’s coolest club, Pacha in Sharm el Sheikh, and its funkiest hotel, Sanafir. Enigma’s Managing Editor Amy Mowafi finds out what it takes to be married, sexy and cool.
It’s too much to take. Couples like this ought not to exist in real life. They belong in some sort of cool beachside TV series. You know, along the lines of the impossibly picture perfect, lithe-looking, infuriatingly idealistic parents you’ll find sexily milling around the OC, or the new 90210, or something. Just not here. Not in Egypt, please. It’s setting the bar far too high. It demands that our ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ and ‘fresh and fabulous’ years extend long past our 20s. And most of us can’t even manage that.
Yet here they are, Maya Challita and Adly El Mestekawy (both old enough to have grown up kids from previous marriages), living the lush life in Sharm; running the biggest, hottest, wildest nightclub in the region (um…Pacha anyone?); owning the funkiest beachside hotel in all the land (can you spell SANAFIR?) and just generally being cool. And gorgeous. Did I mention that? But when you’re half French and Lebanese à la Maya, why wouldn’t you be hot? It’s practically a genetic prerequisite. While you’re at it you might as well throw in one of those sexily lilting Franco-Arab accents, just for good measure. So of course Adly thought she was the “sexiest hottest woman ever” when he first laid eyes on her 12 years ago. “She was sitting on the rooftop of my hotel, sipping a cup of coffee and just watching the stars,” says Adly. Maya, a tourism professional, was in Sharm El Sheikh on business, scouring the place out and measuring Sanafir up for size. Of course Sharm was a very different place then; a sort-of bohemian utopia for the wistful at heart. It was an era Adly likes to call its “romantic” phase, a subtle and serene time that existed long before the wilder alcohol-fuelled club-loving European crowds took over.
Back then, Sanafir, Adly’s now iconic hotel was little more than a pumped up campsite, an intimate little dwelling for divers, wanderers and the type of travellers who are ‘looking for themselves’. And there she was, sitting cross-legged on the roof of this insanely dreamy idyll, as if she was placed there by the props department. So of course he fell in love, or lust, at first sight. The feeling was mutual. And why wouldn’t it be? Adly’s got that slightly frayed around the edges, but secretly very wise, beach boy thing going for him, both physically and spiritually. He is, to use a suitably hippie word, enviably ‘centred’. But he’s worked hard for his casual joie de vivre.
He spent the early 70s morosely crisscrossing the world with the global technology company NCR. He spent time in Morocco, Dubai, Kuwait and Algeria. Finally, his Eureka moment came during a business trip to Tunisia. On a whim he decided to take time out from surveying and installing ATMs to head down to the beachside resort of Al Hammamat to visit his only slightly older uncle. “My uncle had left Cairo to live in Tunisia,” starts Adly. “And I find him there, wearing shorts and a t-shirt everyday, surfing, and hanging out with all these beautiful looking young people.
So I start thinking: ‘How great would it be to find something like that in Egypt? Some beach where I can go and spend my life.’ I just kept thinking: ‘What would happen if I lived my life by the sea?’ And then I found Sharm, which was just so young and attractive then. It felt like a magnet pulling at me. And suddenly I’d taken my suit off, thrown on a t-shirt, learnt to dive and was running desert safari tours. I’d found my way back to nature.” Bloody hell. Who are these people? Who wrote this script? Wait, there’s more… Eventually Adly decided to set up his own beachside hotel, building it stone by stone, room by room over a period of 12 years. “I’d started off with a few huts on the beach in Naama Bay and then I built five to six rooms every year, as and when I could afford to.”
The point is, how could Maya resist that sort of a story? “He’s just so funny and wise,” says Maya. “He has a lot of wisdom and at the same time he is so much fun to be with. He is active and always has new ideas. I’m never bored with him.” Throw in Adly’s intense multi-hued eyes and his speckled silvery hair, and, all together now… swoon. So all it took was one year for Maya to pack up her Parisian abode and leap into a life less ordinary in Sharm. Pretty soon they were married and making quite the formidable (and fabulous) team. He was the ideas man and she’d realise his fantasies (double entendre utterly intended). He mulled