I'd Like To Be Under The Sea & Egypt Wrap Up

Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2010

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Flag of Egypt  , Red Sea and Sinai,
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Please note:
for those of you who like rules, some of these images are not mine, i only had a disposable underwater camera, some are from an online fish identification chart

"One fish
two fish
Red fish
Blue fish.

Black fish
Blue fish
Old fish
New fish

This one has
a little star.
This one has a little car.

Say! What a lot
of fish there are.

Yes. Some are red. And some are blue.
Some are old. And some are new.

Some are sad.
And some are glad.
And some are very, very bad.

Why are they
sad and glad and bad?
I do not know.
Go ask your dad

Some are thin.
And some are fat.
The fat one has
a yellow hat." - Dr Suess

We had been looking forward to going to Dahab in the Sinai Peninsula on the Gulf Of Aqaba because it's a place for real, vacation type holidays and would give us a good break from the days spent on the road without breaking the bank.

We took a local bus for nine hours from Cairo via Sharm-el-Sheik and up the coast to Dahab. Formerly a Bedouin fishing village, now it is set up for independent travellers and is accurately described as being hippie mellow and resort chic at the same time, a nice mix i think. There is the element of a touristy dive club scene here and can see why it is many people describe it as their paradise. We loved it for it's cruisy people with sunny personalitiesa nd it's cuisine, beauty, coloured fish and it's reef. The village is set up along the coral reefs of  The Red Sea and in close proximity to some of the world's best diving spots including a really cool WWII wreck of a warship called the Thistlegorm, another reason to get the dive certification. The water is impossibly blue and clear, the kind of blue that draws your eyes and won't let them go. A deep, welcoming, turquoise blue that is splendid because it contrasts with the sand which is gold. Dahab means gold in Arabic. It's not too hot because a clean air breeze always blows off the sea. We immediately felt rejuvenated here. It was super sweet (have i been talking to too many Yanks?) to see the large, golden sand dunes of Saudi Arabia from the Dahab side of Egypt. The Sinai is an intercontinental crossroads being in between Asia and Africa and has a colourful past as a place of refuge, conflict and curiosity. They say that prophets, nomads, exiles and conquerors have all left their footprints here and so it was only right that our monkey and us should fit right in and leave ours there too.

We stayed at the popular Penguin Village that had basic rooms right on the beach for AU$5 each person and is run by some very friendly, energetic chaps who have made a point of getting to know us. It's a bit of a halfway house for those young lads learning English and trying to earn a better wage, it's also home to quite a few stoners who run on Egypt time (slow). The shower water here is pumped from the ocean so is rather salty and you could never wash your hair, not that it matters to us because our hair is now hippy hair after the twelve months spent already on the road with no stylist. We normally cut our hair with nail scissors.The hotel also has one of the funky, laid-back seafood restaurants right on the sea so we spent lots of time just chilling out by the sea, smoking sheesha pipes, lazing around on cushions on the floor, listening to the zen-like Cafe Del Mar / Buddha Bar chillout type beats and tunes, reading, lounging and chatting to friendly staff and waiters who crew the restaurants. Pirates are abundant in these parts. The chillout space is so close to the sea it feels like you are sitting in the water. The organically decorated restaurant has a relaxed vibe like a chai tent with tables close to the floor, natural bamboo flooring, lighting made from wicker baskets, a rooftop lounge and the seafood catch of the day (lobsters, octopus, fish, shrimp etc)  is displayed out the front of the place. There are many others places like it and we tried quite a few. One of the ones we liked best is called Funny Mummy Cafe where we ate many times plus Friends Cafe. Friends has some ambient, organic decor including warm fire pits and some pendant lanterns made with fabric and dragon's tears glass drops to give a floating jellyfish look. The Cafe is run by some very friendly (hence the name) local lads who trip over themselves to make your evening with them special. They tell you their life story and invite you to parties and excursions with them. Good guys. We ordered the whole fish and spaghetti marinara pasta here and the chefs went to some elaborate presentation effort to bring out the dishes which arrived on giant, sculptured alfoil platters with little candle burning inside onions. Very cool. The local cat population all gather around waiting for your fish head and skeleton scraps and then the staff allow you to feed them. As in all of Egypt, the cats are looked after well and these ones are quite intelligent for choosing a touristy, seafood town to live in. I like the simple places that are not too pretentious and that seem to be how i imagine Dahab was when it was just a quiet hippie hang out. There's one place called Alakefak (nice name choice) where we ate ocean pot pie. We tried some other dishes like apple mousakka and the calamari. A couple of times we went to the Tota Restaurant which is a giant, tacky, ship-shaped restaurant in the middle of town that shows English football games, plays bad American pop music and sells cocktails by the bucket. We went there because they were supposed to have a Sunday Session roast on but that didn't happen so we ended up on the Stella beers. If there is to be another tourist bombing here in Dahab (last one in 2006), this would be the place that's hit for sure. A ship themed restaurant with no pirates. Boo to that.

Seriously, there is lots of police stationed here these days and many passport and paperwork checks are done as you move around the Sinai region. The Dahab bombings of 24 April 2006 were three suicide bomb attacks that Egyptian security officials have stated were the work of an Islamic terror organisation. At least 23 people were killed, mostly Egyptians and 80 injured. We've had many conversations about the people responsible for the attacks and it is complicated so i won't go into it now. The Western world has a distorted view of the Muslim faith thanks to the mind-controlling media. There is a possibility of future attack but Egypt feels safe for now.

We finally visited a barbershop called Why Not? where the guy cuts women's hair. We both got a hair trim and Nadine's mohawk is gone but we also got the bonus of remembering  the lesson to be careful what you wish for. A couple of blogs ago i mentioned that we both needed an eyebrow wax. Well, old mate barber thought so too because once he had Nadine in the chair and without her permission, he turns to me and says Egyptian style waxing method?, i say Why Not? and realised his store's name was quite fitting. He proceeds to use a piece of twisted cotton thread to pluck all the stray eyebrow and lip hairs from Nadine's face, no wax required. It worked a charm and was accurate too. I volunteered mine next. It hurt like hell but the job was done in this one-stop shop. I think we are going to get him to source some good henna hair dye for us too. We scored some pearler coins with Tutukaman and Cleopatra's heads on them for the kids. The shops sell the normal tourist bollocks but we get a good t-shirt printed for Coops that says Too Good For Shark Food. Perfect. There is lots of dive schools and related shops and enough activities on offer to keep us busy for a week. The days go by fairly quickly in a town like this one. Some travellers never leave.

Now, i was going to go for the PADI Dive Certification here in Dahab but i took one look at all the dive equipment needed, looked at people dressed up like Aqua space men and then decided i was too lazy to spend my holiday doing the study bits. I decided to do the snorkelling where oxygen is available anytime i want to freak out with a mask on under water. Maybe the fear of entrapment wins this time and as much as i adore the underwater world, i may never dive but know it can still be done in Australia should the need arise. I am really wanting to view that underwater, Finding Nemo world from the diver's perspective.

The highlight of Dahab is without a doubt, the snorkelling. This is an absolute underwater extravaganza, some of nature's most magnificent work. We snorkelled nearly everyday and in this time went to the sites of  The Blue Hole, Three Pools, Moray Garden, Golden Blocks and The Islands and also visited the spectacular Ras Mohammad National Park at the very southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula near Sharm-El Sheik. We would bascially just hire a mask and fins and a driver who would throw us in the back of a Jeep or a ute and take us to the dive spots then wait around until we were ready to go to the next one. There are also simple Bedouin restaurants, doof style set up on the beaches near the sites where you could order tea or cold drinks.

We saw wonderful coral, jellies and sea cucumbers and made so many new colourful fish friends, there are over 1000 species here in The Red Sea. Many of the fish are glamorously coloured and seemed to show off their hues by parading themselves very close to us. Other times we would swim right through curtains of fish in schools. I couldn't photograph them all so have included some photographs from the net of some of our favourite fish that we saw during our journeys under the sea.We don't want to forget any of them. The reefs of  The Red Sea form platforms and sometimes lagoons along the coast and you can dive just off the shore and follow the platforms along, feeling as though you are swimming inside an exotic fishbowl. Sometimes divers are underneath you and at these times i felt like i was inside a household fishtank with those little, plastic divers that move around with the air filter bubbles. All the fish hang out at the coral shelves. Nadine thinks the diving is on par with The Galapagos Islands off Ecuador. The fish are abundant and you feel as though you are a fish yourself. Every now and then you would see a special species like a lionfish or a stingray and just float around watching the one creature for awhile then continue swimming on to see what was next. Extraordinary visions, absolutely beautiful. We have gotten all Rex Hunt serious about the fish so have bought one of the charts that tells you the names of the fish so you can identify them. We talk to the fish and wave at them, we love it and have even given up our Mount Sinai trip in order to do more snorkelling. We have decided to skip Jordan too.

The Islands and Lagoon areas were only a few minutes walk from Penguin camp so one day when we could drag our arses off the chill out lounges on the ocean, we hired some gear from the dive shop and trekked to The Islands site which we could access from the shore. There is also a beautiful lagoon they call Magic Lake there and windsurfing and kitesurfing enthusiasts from all over the world were zipping around all over the lagoon area. The Islands were not so much about the fish although we did see many species here but it was more about the coral formation. There was a reef shelf that dropped off into the big blue then a little further out, some underwater reef islands that went from the ocean floor to close to the surface. There was corals of all kinds and colours like the fan coral and brain coral plus lots of the giant blue clams. The whole scene was a surreal dreamscape and i would liken it to the fantastical visions obtained when drinking Ayahuasca medicine in the Amazon jungle in Peru, it's that good. I saw a Lionfish here and watched it for a very long time as it gracefully floated around suspended in the water and moved with the motion of the small waves above. It was like an eagle trapped in a fish body with all it's feathers floating around it. There was an annoying tout there who was a snorkelling guide and was following me around and trying to get my attention. He actually swam out from the beach to talk to me and trying to drum up business. 

The Blue Hole
is a famous site. It's a a kind of cave, around 130m deep. There is a shallow opening around 6m deep, opening out to the sea and an 26m tunnel, known as the arch, the top of which is 52m. The hole itself and the surrounding area has an abundance of coral and reef fish. The Blue Hole is notorious for the number of diving fatalities which have occurred there earning it the name World's Most Dangerous Dive Site and the nickname Diver's Cemetery. Accidents are frequently caused when divers attempt to find a tunnel through the reef known as The Arch which connects The Blue Hole to the open water at about 52m depth. This is beyond the PADI recreational diving limit (40m) and the effects of nitrogen narcosis has taken over 40 lives here. There are some spooky plaques stuck to a cliff nearby as memorials to lives lost there. There's a full diving scene here and it was a little crowded but we still really enjoyed the snorkelling and also watching and playing hide and seek with the camels wandering around the site on the sea.

Another day we went with a father and daughter French team to Ras Mohammad National Park at the southern extreme of the Sinai Peninsula, overlooking the Gulf of Suez on the west and the Gulf of Aqaba to the east. There was lots of police stops and checks along the way. The area is home to most of the 1000 species of The Red Sea fish, 40 species of star fish, 25 species of sea urchins, more than a 100 species of mollusc and 150 species of crustaceans. Very nice diving here and words cannot describe the visions we saw here. We dived in three sublime locations, Shark Reef, eel Garden and Yolanda. As far as we were concerned, we were in heaven. The highlight was a beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray with a long tail that glided passed just below us and the huge Napoleon Wrasse fish that are like giant goldfish but there were so many fish with exotic names swarming past us, fish like Indian Lionfish, Greater Amberjack, Swordfish, Marbled Grouper, Red Sea Soapfish, Lyretail Antheas, Scorpianfish, Comets, Soldierfish, Crown Squirrelfish, Pipefish, Catfish, Damsels, Humbug Dascyllus, Lizardfish, Orbicular Bannerfish, Pixy Hawkfish, Sandperch, Yellowsaddle Goatfish, Twinspot Snapper, Bigeye Emperor, Orchid Dottyback, Rusty Parrotfish, Red Sea Clownfish, Tiger Cardinal, Crescent Wrasse, Blackfin Dartfish, Maiden Goby, Leopard Blenny, Masked Puffer, Yellowtail Tang, Red Sea Picassofish, Arabian Boxfish, Porcupine Fish, Honeycomb Filefish, Orangestriped Trigger, Black Surgeonfish, Half and Half Chromis, Peacock Groper and Spotted Unicorn. So many fish, One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish...........................

We also checked out the underwater caves formed as the result of earthquakes and then the driver gave us a short tour of Sharm-El-Sheik, a ritzy Euro resort area without an Egyptian vibe. On the way back to Dahab we saw wild camels running with a baby camel on the road whilst the French people got into a rather risky coversation about religion.

One of the days we went on a snorkelling and camel safari to a gorgeous spot called Abu Gallum with some very interesting people who we shared a fantastic day with, they were my favourite kind of people, theatre folk and talented,  famous theatre folk at that. If we had of known they were the celebrities they are we would have been entirely starstruck. The couple are New Yorkers and their names are Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell. They told us they were doing 'experimental theatre'. The genius Lee Breuer is a founding Co-artistic Director of  the wildly successful Mabou Mines company. For many years he has been one of America's most active and innovative stage directors, as well as an author, lyricist, adaptor and teacher. Maude plays the lead role in his theatre production called Mabou Mines DollHouse which they have been touring internationally for five years, shipping entire sets and flying the cast (many of them are dwarves) all over the world. After meeting these wonderful people we were itching to see their work, here is a description of their performance:

Mix the stunning absurdity of Alice in Wonderland with the emotional drama of Ibsen's landmark 19th-century play A Dollhouse, and you get Mabou Mines DollHouse. Adapted from the classic by "wizard-director" (The New York Times) Lee Breuer, this brilliantly inventive, funny yet profound production upends proportions to make a point. Portraying female subjugation in a male-dominated society, it casts tall actresses as the belittled Victorian women and under-5-foot actors as the overbearing men. The small-minded husband Torvald fits fine in the tiny furniture, while wife Nora must squeeze into the dollhouse setting. With dazzlingly virtuosic performances, this "passionate allegory that works-and plays-on many levels" (The New York Times) climaxes with a surprise puppet opera and Nora's unforgettable proclamation of liberation.

The original Dollhouse play was written in the 18oo's so whilst Maude has been travelling, she has been interviewing women all over the world who have played her Nora character in the past. I should have asked them for a job especially considering Lee works with puppets professionally. I wanted to ask then how they found so many dwarves to play the roles and had many more questions to ask them but didn't want to bug them on their holiday rest. This day we all hired some camels (again) and took an hour an a half trek around the coast and a few headlands before ariving at the Abu Gallum location where you could snorkel a long way around a reef shelf with underwater islands, alleyways and amphitheatres of coral. We ate a Bedouin lunch and bought some scarab beetle jewellery for monkey from the very poor, Bedouin women who make their living selling cheap pieces to the very few tourists who pass by. We pretty much had the spot to ourselves because it's a bit of a mission to get there. We then made our way back to the Blue Hole for one last session and were rewarded with a school of eleven lion fish all together. The camels were a little bit wild and to our amusement would take off and run or stop dead in their tracks at any time they wanted to. Lots of fun but unpadded saddles are a little difficult to deal with on your arse and legs.

The rest of the time we have just been running around with fins on our feet being clowns and writing postcards.

We had a problem with Etihad Airways website crashing whilst we were making a booking for a flight from Cairo to New Delhi so now they have taken our money but not given us a flight and the whole palava has taken hours on the phone to the United Arab Emirates to try to resolve a solution. Done deal and we are still going to Pushkar camel fair on time.

We met a DJ called Top Alex who invited us to a fancy dress Halloween Party at a place called Tree Bar. The entrance to the bar is shaped like a tree and vines and we were told DJ Top Alex is the man about town. For the costumes I looked all over town to find a plastic lobster that i was going to make into a hat and wear with plastic fruit Carmen Miranda style. Cutting up the hotel bedsheets and going as ghosts was out of the question too. We ended up going costume-less to an outdoor beergarden style restuarant called Rush that has a giant dreamcatcher for a door, natural Robinson Crusoe wood and rope decor, some nice beats by an italian DJ and cruisy crowd enjoying the night. A few random costumes were getting around. We spent the night chatting with a crew of five diver lads from the UK who were on a stag party then left before it all got too loose. We are big girls now and need our sleep. Nadine runs in the morning, i am smoking again.

I have a mysterious gum infection that is being treated with some of Don's Panadeine Forte.

I am back on the olives and guava fruit is in fashion too.

Mono Loco has taken is jellaba off and has been doing nudie runs all over the beaches. Naughty monkey.

And now for kid's corner:

Lame Fish Jokes Of The Day:

How could the dolphin afford to buy a house?
He prawned everything!

Why did the whale cross the road?
To get to the other tide!

What do you call a big fish who makes you an offer you can't refuse?
The Codfather!

How do fish go into business?
The start on a small scale!

What is the best way to communicate with a fish?
Drop it a line!

How does an octopus go to war?

What kind of fish will help you hear better?
A herring aid!

What did the boy octopus say to the girl octopus?
I wanna hold you hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand!

What do you call a dangerous fish who drinks too much?
A beer-a-cuda!

What's the difference between a fish and a piano?
You can't tuna fish!

Why are sardines the stupidest fish in the sea?
Because they climb into tins, close the lid and leave teh key outside!

Why did the lobster blush?
Because the sea weed

Where does seaweed look for a job?
In the 'Kelp-wanted' adds!

Who held the baby octopus to ransom?

What is a dolphin's favorite TV show?
Whale of fortune!

I think that's enough fish jokes for today

Some things we  have learned:

* Don't encourage Alligators to eat small fish out of your hand
* Never slide down a sandstone rock formation naked
* Never stick your finger in a moving fan just to see what happens
* Never look up when sea gulls are over head
* Never allow anyone to shoot an apple off of your head with a bazooka
* Never go swimming wearing white shorts and no underwear
* Don't put poisonous spiders, scorpions or ants in your swimming suit
* Never rub your eyes after handling hot sauce, peppers or onions
* Never buy a solar powered flashlight

Say this really fast:
A noisy noise annoys an oyster

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