Diving (or not) in Dahab

Trip Start Jan 01, 2009
Trip End Jun 30, 2009

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Where I stayed
Seastar Apartments

Flag of Egypt  , Red Sea and Sinai,
Monday, March 30, 2009

March 26Dahab grows on you. This is why there are so many westerners here who came for a week and stayed for a year. In the early days, when there were just Bedouins and camels, the intrepid travelers of the hippy era came here (those who couldn't get to Goa). But there was little infrastructure and it wasn't until the 90's that tourism developed to any degree. Now there are restaurants, dive shops, hotels etc and Dahab has become one of the premier diving spots in the world. We wanted to come here as it was away from the typical tourist route south of Cairo to Luxor and beyond, and it sounded like a place we could settle into for a little while, do our own cooking, try to live a little cheaper, and if the conditions were right, windsurf/kitesurf/or learn to dive. Andy needs a focus - he can't go too long just looking at historical sites or chilling on a beach. We have been here a week now and are settling in. We have an apt (Seastar Apartments) that we found using Trip Advisor that is quite new and comfortable and is in the Bedouin area called Assala. We just have to walk for about 15 mins along a promenade to get to the touristy Masbat area with all the restaurants and dive shops. Further on still (quite a long walk) is a lagoon with all the bigger hotels and windsurfing schools clustered). So we feel we are in the right spot - closer to the locals means cheaper housing and more authentic ambience - and that is what we were looking for. The bus arrived at 11:00 at night at the depot and we were quickly herded into a Bedouin 'taxi' which is usually a Toyota pickup truck (Toyotas are slowly replacing the camel) and we were dropped off at the central area of Assala, a collection of scruffy (from a westerner perspective) shops and restaurants. There were tables of Bedouin men smoking shisha and drinking tea in the parking lot, watching a small TV set up so everyone could see and camels being ridden through the street. We were met by Abdul the caretaker, and Tim the owner/manager and walked over to the apt down a dirt road filled with bleating goats and a camel peering over the fence from next door. A warm breeze was blowing in from the Gulf of Aquaba. OK, this place will do, we thought as we slipped into the Egyptian cotton sheets of our bed - only to be awoken at 5 am by a blaring call to prayer that sounded as though the speaker was right outside our window. Later investigation revealed that it was in fact a few houses away but Allah forbid anyone should miss the call so there are multiple speakers set up, facing every direction to reach the devout as well as the infidels. Andy is a light sleeper at the best of times so the 5 am prayer call is particularly distressing to him. He might as well get up and venture down to the mosque as he often doesn't get back to sleep (I'd be curious how many Bedouins are at the mosque at 5 am). In general, I find the prayer call very atmospheric, a frequent reminder that we are in a very different part of the world. After a few days of doing nothing other than sitting up on the roof top bedouin style terrace, reading, catching up with internet and kids math homework, gazing across the sea to Saudi Arabia, sussing out the kite surfing and windsurfing, we decided we were ready to learn to dive. The water at the moment is not warm - think Okanagan Lake in June. We tried snorkeling but without wetsuits we couldn't stay in the water for very long. Tim, the owner of the apt is a diving instructor and he set us up with another Brit to teach us the 5 day PADI course as a family. Now, those of you who know me know that I lean towards claustrophobia. So you might wonder what the hell I was thinking about. Against all rational common sense, disregarding the fact that I have NEVER had any inclination to dive in my previous 51 years, I thought that this would be a great family bonding activity. Well, the first day didn't go well - Olly, our instructor was great, but the day was windy and wavy and the area where you practice confined dives (often this is done in the controlled environment of a swimming pool) was not ideal because of this. We were struggling to stay in one place, the visibility was poor, the current was pulling us. I thought I was just being a total goof, but apparently I wasn't helped by the poor conditions. Both Maddie and I were ready to quit day 1 but decided we should give it a fair go and try another day. Andy and Duncan, on the other hand had enjoyed the day - though they too had struggled. Day 2 was better conditions, but in the end Maddie and I both decided this wasn't for us. We were able to maintain our dignity - we didn't panic or do anything obviously lame, and we might have been happy if we weren't meant to go any deeper (we were a few meters under water), but we could see the sea floor slipping down into the dark abyss and we knew that is where we were headed the next day. NOT ME! I'm going with the theory that Maddie and I are revealing a higher inherent intelligence - knowing that we are not meant to be underwater. Andy and Duncan have just not evolved to our level yet. So sadly, Duncan lost his 'buddy', Andy lost his, and they are finishing off the course together without us. Maddie and I now are 'internet buddies' and are whiling away the day sitting in a seaside bar/restaurant drinking banana milkshakes and bedouin tea doing our surfing on the Wifi. It's a tough life. Dahab is an interesting mix of Bedouin culture meets Western divers. The main promenade feels very touristy (but of course along with this comes the amenities such as ATM's, grocery stores, video stores (we rented Indiana Jones one night to see Petra in Raider of the Lost Ark- but the pirated DVD was the wrong film so we saw The Temple of Doom instead - oh well, that will count as the kids homework for India). Yet you will still see a Bedouin ride by on a camel or horse in a flowing thobe and red and white shumagh (head scarf). Goats wander the roads everywhere eating the garbage that is ever present, camels are tethered (or not) to the street corner (competing with the goats for the tastiest garbage), and veiled woman can be seen walking down the dust street, though there are far more men to be seen than women (who are undoubtably in the house conducting their domestic chores). The Bedouin children are by and large wearing western clothes, the girls with a head scarf. While there aren't many touts in Dahab, there are a collection young girls that have discovered they can sell their little beaded bracelets and necklaces to the tourists. Some of them are already very skilled at the hard sell and will be shrewd business women when they get older (if they are allowed). The Dahab version of the tout is the fellow that stands outside every seaside restaurant trying to get you to come in. They are all pretty similar so it is hard to choose - open to the sea, low cushioned seating, music to chill by, Wifi, various versions of western food and westernized bedouin food, Stella beer and shisha. So these guys have made it an art to get you to choose their restaurant. Walking down the promenade, especially at dinner hour is almost comedic. By now some of them recognize us and say "you said you were going to come here - why haven't you yet - you promised (we didn't)" They ask Andy where his hair is, ask where we are from "Canada?- Canada Dry! (a very popular drink apparently). "please, just take a look at the menu, why won't you look at the menu?"... We need to loose 'our shisha virginity' as Duncan put it but haven't found the right place. There seem to be just men at the hole in the wall places in Assala that would otherwise be authentic places to begin, so I'm not sure if Maddie and I would be welcome there - we might have to send just Andy and Duncan. March 30We leave for Aqaba tomorrow (doesn't that remind you of Lawrence of Arabia? - great movie - if you haven't seen it for a while, do rent it - it is just as good now as it was then!). Andy and Duncan completed their diving with stellar marks and are now Padi open water certified. Andy is pissed that Duncan didn't study as hard as he did and got a higher mark! (no wonder Duncan does quite well at school without proper studying - it is not good reinforcement for his bad study habits). Today we made the trek to St Catherine's Monastery and climbed Mt Sinai. St. Catherines is the oldest working Christian Monastary, built around 550 BC. Moses 'Burning Bush' is there. It has a vast collection of icons and art work and a beautiful chapel. What is really interesting, is there is displayed a letter from the prophet Mohammed declaring that St. Catherines should be protected. This seems to be a great example for modern times of 2 religions agreeing to get along!We climbed with a small group of other people from Dahab, but as we were starting up the trail, led by a Bedouin guide (mandatory), I realized that we were heading up the camel track to the summit. There are 2 ways up, camel track - a gently winding trail up one side of the mountain, and a more direct route by rough rock stairs called the stairs of repentance - there are 3750 of them and they were laid by a monk in the 6th century. Monks have always believed that the mountain should only be ascended by those with the proper spiritual preparation and endurance for this steep but direct climb up the Stairway of Repentance. Bedouin call this route "the Path of our Lord Moses" (Sikkat Sayyidna Musa). We wanted to go up the steps (we have alot to repent!) and down the camel path (bad knees!). The rest of the group wanted the camel path both ways, so our family went off on our own to do the stairs. (note that the guide was not going to offer this choice until we asked for it). It was a good work out - think Grouse Grind. Near the top there are several small huts selling drinks and they have blankets and mattresses to rent out to the crowds who come to see the sunrise (some people spend the night at the top, others climb in the dark in the early morning to summit at sunrise). We have already done one night climb (Kili), and once is enough so we passed on the atmosphere at sunrise. There were very few other groups about - we saw maybe 20 other people. At the top, there is an old chapel, and a mosque, as well as a place where Moses is supposed to have slept for 40 nights (don't quiz me on my Bible studies!), and a stunning view over the desert landscape. It was pleasantly warm in the sun for our picnic lunch, but as soon as you were in the shade it was cold (it snowed on Mt Sinai a few weeks ago). Anyone climbing at night had better be prepared for freezing temperatures! We are now packing for tomorrow - we discovered that taking the ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba was going to be a horrible lesson in Egyptian organization. A 1 hour ride on a disgustingly dirty ferry can take up to 6 hours to just leave the dock with horrendous stories of incompetence heard from other travelers so we are going to do the overland route. Most people try to take the ferry as you can avoid Israel, but we will have to to a milk run - this is the plan: taxi up the coast to Taba, get out of taxi, walk across border to Israel, get in Israeli taxi, go across Israel to Jordanian border, get out of taxi, cross border, get into Jordanian taxi and go to Aqaba. Somehow I think there is plenty of room for problems here but we are going to hope for the best (and expect the worst). If you don't hear from us it means we are being detained in a. Egypt b. Israel or c. Jordan. Lani suggested we make sure Maddie is in front as they are partial to pretty blond girls. It might not be a bad idea! We'll summarize our highs and lows for Egypt in the next blog. Wish us well!
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maaske on

I am with you!
Great photos, makes me want to go to join you. I'm definitely with the Meggie and Maddie, no deep sea diving for me but at least you made an attempt which is more than most would do. Happy Travels

pandadownunder on

enjoyed blog
lovely pics, oh and lovely diving instructor too..no wonder u gave it a go, i share your feeling about being under the water though..although mine is more of a shark type of fear..logically i know much better target on the top but logic is not a big factor in anything i do. The trip is amazing, i find your blog funny and realistic...well now off to the souk ..have fun

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