GROWING PAINS: Egypt Family Holiday Mixes Fun and Danger

If you want an adventure holiday, go to an Egyptian Red Sea resort.

Egypt in spring is bursting at the seams with Russian tourists, and it's not surprising: Russians are probably the only ones who dare to bring their children there.

Last time we visited Hurghada, the children, who love to swim, were dodging barracuda in the bay. Also, our son Bobby fell and received a head wound that had to be stitched up with no anesthetic by the hotel doctor.

But despite these traumas, the children were desperate to go back to Egypt. One of the great attractions is being taken out to sea to snorkel around the spectacular coral reefs, though none of the boats had lifesaving devices.

On one such trip this time, I was reluctant to lower my children into the heaving, jellyfish-infested waters, but before I could say "watch out for sharks," Sasha, my 11-year-old, threw herself in f and failed to surface.

My husband, Kolya, and I then spent an agonizing 10 minutes searching the waves for her while the captain stripped off and dived down to trawl the sea bed for her body. In fact, she had simply swum underwater, surfacing only occasionally until she reached the reef. But I am now a much older and hopefully wiser woman.

Wiser at least than the Russian man I talked to who was planning to take his 10-year-old son out scuba diving the next day. "Goodness! Where did he learn to scuba dive so young?" I asked in amazement. "Oh, we haven't learned," replied dad. "They teach us on the spot."

Then there was a couple from Voronezh who left their 9- year-old daughter caring for her 18-month-old brother every day while they went shopping in town. I warned the father of the dangers of leaving little Vika alone, with full responsibility for taking care of her baby brother, but he just laughed.

"Er, well, doesn't Vika mind being left alone all day?" I said, trying another tack. "Of course she minds. But the first thing I did when we got here was to hang my belt over her bed. She minds that more."

You can tell I don't belt-whip Sasha. I left her with strict instructions to watch over my other two children in the hotel playroom while I popped down to reception; I returned to find that she had abandoned her post and was perched instead at the hotel bar, being plied with nuts and water in return for "two kisses" by the barmen.

I won't go into the incident when Sasha's horse bolted with her in the desert, or the time Bobby was bitten by a monkey (no stitches this time, thank God). Suffice it to say that, by the end of a vacation that they all thoroughly enjoyed, I was relieved to get back to the relative safety of Moscow.