Diving the Red Sea from the Sinai
11.12.2007 - 12.12.2007 20 °C
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!
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.
Sunrise from our room at the Crowne Plaza Sharm
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!
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.
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.
Clowning around with some anemone fish. No Nemo here!
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!!
I've never seen so many clams everywhere. Some beautiful blue
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.
Here's Nemo! Sleeping snug in his anemone.
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.
Roger and I preparing for an early morning dive in Dahab. We're the only ones here!
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.
Roger and I practicing buoyancy - great diving, great fun! Thanks, Bro!
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