A Travellerspoint blog

Desert above, paradise below

Diving the Red Sea from the Sinai

sunny 20 °C
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The third of three dive locations in our world trip (no, we don't count the white shark dunking expedition), I was looking forward to the Red Sea and yet was reserved in my enthusiasm, as both Vietnam and Papua New Guinea had been such (relative to normal) disappointments. Diving with my brother, our local resident connection in Egypt, would be a bonus and make the trip, regardless of conditions, yet I still hoped for some luck with good conditions. As the locals would say, I would have my wishes "In sha Allah". And I did! Learning of Jacquie's rendez-vous with Roast Beef dinners and other home comforts, I was initially "Red" with envy but the Red Sea was doing her best to console me!

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The Red Sea delivered on its promise of clear visibility, vibrant sea-life and interesting coral and rock structures! The water was exactly as normal – 73-74 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course I failed to do any research on this fact and was greeted to a chill diving in with a meager 3MM shorty, but my enthusiasm warmed me enough to get me through at least the first 60+ minute dive in the fabled Ras Mohammed aquatic park off the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula.

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Sunrise from our room at the Crowne Plaza Sharm

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An amazing collage of fish lit by the afternoon sun

Booking two boat dives with the dive operator at the hotel earlier in the day, I took for granted that in this dive mecca we would be on a dedicated dive boat. The delay of over an hour in the parking lot of the marina, waiting first on the majority of remaining passengers as well as the local authorities permission introduced me to two things in Egypt: 1) the Russian tourist hordes; and 2) Egyptian efficiency. Neither of which seemed too bothered with timeliness, politeness, nor appearance. Picture if you will a boat of six scuba divers trapped with more than a dozen babushkas, half in thong bikinis, most smoking, all loud, and none less than 200 pounds of Slavic flesh. No, I did not take any pictures. You should thank me for this. I still have flashbacks. Or are they "fleshbacks" . . . . ugh!

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Menu from the Crowne Plaza restaurant. Avoid the Fattouche ("Arabic Herpes") . . . I think the cook/translator was Russian!

Luckily the undersea world did not disappoint! Typically an escape from reality, jumping off this boat took on more meaning given its inhabitants, but if we had been alone in a zodiac, the topography, visibility and abundant life would still have impressed. Roger and I settled in as good dive-buddies, and for possibly the first time in our lives, I think we have a common hobby that we both enjoy, do well and can enjoy together. Probably has a lot to do with the fact I can't talk so much underwater . . . In any case, we had a very good time diving off the boat and enjoying the Red Sea. I would have to count my first blue-spotted stingray and a couple of pockets of glass-fish as highlights of the dives, along with the wonderful visibility and great buddy.

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We saw a few schools of glass fish - these were in a cave

Back at our hotel later in the day, we decide to opt for a night dive, as well as booking an early morning dive (0630AM) to catch one more dive prior to departing the Crowne Plaza, Sharm el Sheikh (where by the way, if you claim my brother as a friend, you can get 50% off the dive. This WILL come in handy . . .). I figure – hey I'm in Egypt and don't know when I might return, so let's dive, dive, dive! The night and morning dives are shore dives, but since all dives in the Ras Mohammed preserve must be accompanied by a local diveguide, they cost about $100 each. Ouch! We even have our own kit, so there is no rental fee in that number! Steep is a nice way of putting it, but in Egypt, it seems there are all kinds of systems in place to get your money out of you and into local hands. In any event, use the "Roger Discount" and some of the pain can be alleviated. Despite the costs, we enjoyed the night and morning dives, and I was very surprised to find that the house reef was, well, beautiful! Again, the visibility was excellent, there were wonderful coral and rock formations, nice sandy patches and a healthy diversity of fish life. Aside from floating Russians, we saw some great fish including some cute (as always) anemone fish and a very large Napolean Wrasse.

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Clowning around with some anemone fish. No Nemo here!

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My first sighting of a blue-spotted stingray

After more than 5 months travelling with Jacquie, this had been our first time apart for more than a few minutes. After 3 days, I was eagerly anticipating her arrival and excited to start sharing Egypt with her. I missed sharing her so much in fact, I emailed from the hotel in the morning after our dive before hitting the road. When Roger's cell phone rang, just before we prepared to enter a cell dead-zone in the Sinai desert, and Jacquie was on the line, I must admit there was a moment of worry: was something wrong in Bridlington? Was she sick? Are her parents fine? Instead of having any concerning news, she simply asked (rhetorically),"You do realize I don't fly in to Cairo until TOMORROW!?"

OOOPS! We're run our entire trip to a precise and wonderfully executed itinerary, and somehow we all missed the fact that the portion for Egypt had Jacquie coming in one day earlier than was the case. After my initial disappointment, we did realize that, hey – one more day of diving!!

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I've never seen so many clams everywhere. Some beautiful blue

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Here's Rog over a coral head

Quickly detouring, we head north up the coast of the Red Sea to a small town called Dahab. It is well known for diving, mostly for a site called the "Blue Hole" (gee, never heard that one before . . .) at which numerous divers have died over the years attempting to dive to her 70 meter (~230 foot) deep arch. Roger calls in a favor to his dive instructor Hussein, and before we arrive at our lovely little hotel in Dahab called "Daniela", we are set to pick up tanks and head out to do some shore diving on our own. Since I'm a qualified divemaster, and Hussein is training Roger as a DM, we are able to avoid the heavy additional fees of a dive-guide with Hussein's help! Our cost per dive plummets quickly, to about $10 each per dive – the cost of air fills here. Dahab is a quaint little resort, mostly a dive location, so the amenities and services are less than in Sharm. If you're looking for good but crowded diving and a nightlife to go with it, try Sharm. If you want a quieter scene, with fantastic shore dives, less crowdeed diving, and the prospect of "camel diving" (getting a camel to bring your dive kit to certain hard to reach shore spots for you), then Dahab is the place.

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Here's Nemo! Sleeping snug in his anemone.

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A nice yellowhead moray eel peeked out of the rocks for us at night

Rog and I spent a quality 16 hours in Dahab and fit in 3 fantastic dives at 2 dive sites enjoying a bit of afternoon and early morning solitude at "the Canyon" and some great structures diving "the Islands". After enjoying our extra dives (at about 10% the overall cost of Sharm and 110% the quality), we headed off for our return trip across the Sinai via a mountain pass close by Saint Catherine's monastery, the fabled place of Moses' climb of Mount Sinai, at the base of which he saw the burning bush, before taking a hike up the hill and finding "fifteen, no ten . . . ten commandments" (please reference Mel Brooks' comedy, "History of the World: Part I"). The drive was fantastic, with gorgeous mountain scenery and endless wind swept terrain and desert scenes that reminded me very much of the desert southwest.

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Roger and I preparing for an early morning dive in Dahab. We're the only ones here!

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A lionfish and a grouper hunting in the dim morning light

A busy day to be sure, but one of the most diverse, starting with dives in the Red Sea, and finishing with picking up Jacquie in Cairo shortly before midnight, just in time to start celebrating my 37th birthday! A guy couldn't ask for a better birthday gift.

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Roger and I practicing buoyancy - great diving, great fun! Thanks, Bro!

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Posted by lloydthyen 21:31 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

"Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside"

Checking Out Bridlington while Checking In on the Folks

sunny 5 °C

From my first moments in Bridlington, it became clear that my parents are implicated in Emma’s conspiracy to fatten me up before the wedding. Arriving close to one o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, I was transferred immediately to a nearby public house for a massive, traditional Sunday lunch of succulent roast beef, crispy yorkshire pudding, and roast potatoes. I’m sure there were some vegetables involved too, but I was far too busy cramming everything else in my mouth and washing it down with jugs of beef gravy to notice. When the feasting was done, I squeezed myself into the back of the car for the short drive back to Brid thinking that I still had three weeks to go until the wedding. If I just stop eating now, there’s a chance – albeit a small one – that I could still look half decent in my bridesmaid dress.

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But back in Bridlington, signs of the familial conspiracy continue to manifest themselves, and I’m surprised my folks could open the front door to the house, as filled as it was with all my favourite temptations installed - en masse - specifically for my visit: maltesers, party rings (british cookie), marshmallows, chocolate raisins, jaffa cakes, quality street (british chocolate assortment designed to remove all crowns/fillings etc in one sitting), crunchy nut cornflakes, fondant fancies, and the most decadent chocolate cake you can imagine. Bear in mind that my visit was for about 60 hours and you’ll understand my predicament. Between them, my Mum and Dad had amassed enough sweet stuff for 60 years. I resign myself to getting to work and doing the best I can, not wanting to offend anyone (hey, it’s a hard job, but I’m up to the challenge…).

The good news is that I found myself wide awake at 2am on Monday, so that gave me an unexpected additional five hours or so to work on the stash of goodies and STILL leave me with an appetite for brekkie. Monday is a designated rest day but after a perfect breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes and an Aberdeen rowie, the three of us headed off to Scarborough for some Christmas shopping.

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An Aberdeen roll (aka buttery, rowie) features large amounts of butter and lard, to which you add - when toasted - more butter! Sounds disgusting. Tastes yummy, but only to former Aberdonians.

My Dad, fearful of a “I went to Brid and it was boring” type blog, insists on taking me out for the day and showing me the sights on Tuesday. With the 'wrong' kind of weather, this could have been the worst day of my life, but the weather surprises us both by offering up a cloudless blue sky, and a quick tour around town reveals a Bridlington I hadn’t had the opportunity to enjoy before: an historic downtown area complete with a 17th century high street that so perfectly matches the stereotype that it could – and I believe has – been used in many a period drama. But Bridlington is a fishing port and a seaside resort, so we have little time to waste today away from the water.

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Parking a few miles out of town, we walk a mile or two further down the beach. The tide is out – far out - revealing one of the widest and cleanest beaches I’ve ever seen. The combination of clear blue sky and icy air seems to prolong the golden yellow veneer normally enjoyed only by the early risers. But today we enjoy it for hours, and almost all to ourselves, save a few dog walkers, one kite-flyer and a handful of men with buckets and spades patrolling the sand closest to the sea. The sky may be blue but the icy air is vicious, and we have to walk briskly from time to time to keep warm.

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Dad walking along the beach.

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Within the last few days, millions of mussels have been dumped at the high-tide mark, leaving a two-metre thick band of dark blue along the top of the beach. We missed what must have been a ferocious but joyous feast among the seagulls as all that remains is countless empty shiny shells that crunch underfoot.

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At the opposite end of the beach, closest to the breaking waves, there are a handful of welly-clad men with pitch forks and buckets. Dad suspects they’re looking for lug-worms and we wander over for a closer inspection. Sure enough, these guys are collecting worms to be used as fishing bate. One young fisherman explains that he uses many of the worms himself, but that he could earn 70 to 80 british pounds (that’s about a million US dollars) a day selling a catch of 150 or so worms. That’s real money! But to be fair, it’s physically demanding work. First, you need to find the tell-tail sign of worm-life: a round squiggle in the wet sand about an inch in diameter. Next, you dig down a couple of feet – hard work in the tightly packed, wet sand - looking for the tunnel that houses the worm. Many times, you’ll fail to find the tunnel and move on. But, if you’re lucky, the tunnel will lead you to the prize: fat, giant worms about six or seven inches long. Our chatty young fisherman happily retrieved one from his bucket to show us. When he told us that they’d spit their own guts up if you don’t handle them correctly I took more than one step back…

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Collecting worms. You can see the mounds of sand he's left behind him and, in the distance, Bridlington.

Further down the beach, we head back to the high-tide line to take a closer look at dozens of large concrete blocks placed here during the second world war. Dad explained that this beach was considered an attractive – even likely - landing target for invading German forces during WWII. The invasion never materialized, of course, but I can report that Bridlington was - and remains - ready!

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We wandered back into town for - well, it just had to be - fish and chips! In addition to being a popular seaside resort, Bridlington is one of the largest fishing ports in the north east, so the cod was so fresh it was practically still twitching as it was battered and thrown into the hot oil.

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Nothing like fish and chips by the British seaside!

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Not quite as large as the London Eye, Bridlington's Eye on the Bay is currently closed amidst funding issues.

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It being December, Bridlington's seafront attractions were mostly closed, but we walked along the front to the fishing pier where a number of young boys were monitoring multiple fishing reels strung over the edge. The tide was on its way back in, but dozens of boats in the harbour were still sitting in mud. Ducks nestled in the mud, enjoying the warm glow of the sun while small birds explored this morning's lobster traps and fish nets, hoping to find an abandoned scrap of ocean bounty.

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After a quick refreshment at Dad's local, we headed home where Mum was working on my next compulsory feeding (looking semi-decent as a bridesmaid is increasingly unlikely but you can see it isn't my fault...). So, as the aroma of garlic and rosemary infused roasted lamb wafted from the kitchen, I worked on updating software on my parents' computers.

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Caught in the act: food-for-IT-support scandal.

My Bridlington visit culminated with a delicious roast dinner with, you guessed it, more roast potatoes, yorkshire pudding and gravy. Thanks, Mum!

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After an awesome visit to Brid where I was re-acquainted with the comforts of home, I'm heading off to Cairo tomorrow to catch up with Lloyd and his brother.

Posted by jacquiedro 07:13 Archived in England Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Coming Full Circle in London

Where it all started on July 5th...

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Since London was once my home, it felt like Lloyd and I were coming full circle when we landed very early on Saturday morning into Heathrow. Even though we have almost a full month left, we are both starting to get a little sentimental about the impending closure of this wonderful chapter in our lives. Even immigration’s sharp ‘what are you doing here?’ (a tough question at 6am in the morning after 24hours of travel!) couldn’t prevent the warm and fuzzy feeling we carried through customs and into the arrivals’ lounge.

Happily, the FREEZING early morning wind did the trick and our warm and fuzzies evaporated with the steam of our Starbucks as we waited for my frankly heroic brother who had generously (stupidly?) insisted on picking us up. All three of us enjoyed a pretty spectacular sunrise over London as we drove right across town to Docklands.

Can you hear the wedding bells? I’m happy to report that – later this month - the blog will feature the impending nuptials of my brother, and Lloyd and I spent half the day with the bride ensuring we’d be properly turned out for the big day. Not, of course, before she had cooked the most welcome hot English brekkie with real bacon! What with all the food Emma had generously produced – and the chocolate by my bedside – I have to suspect that she’s working to fatten me up so that I’ll look even more obese next to her on the big day ;o)

And from here, Lloyd and I go our separate ways for a few days. Late on Saturday, Lloyd will arrive in Cairo to spend a few days with his brother, Roger. I think more diving is on the agenda – this time hopefully with better conditions. And as for me, I’m heading up to Bridlington in the north of England to spend a few days with my folks. As they normally come and visit us in California, we don’t get up there often enough, and I was horrified to realize that they’ve moved THREE times since my last visit!!! So, I’ll be picking up a train on Sunday morning and heading north hoping to arrive in time for a traditional Sunday lunch.

(By the way, this post was written AND posted on the train between Doncaster and London...... how cool is that?)

Posted by jacquiedro 12:30 Archived in England Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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