Found Nemo, now looking for Dory

Trip Start Apr 16, 2004
Trip End Aug 31, 2008

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

2 May 2007 - Wednesday

Maybe I'm a little excited for this upcoming holiday, but maybe I'm a bit more than a little excited. It seems that recently my holidays are composed of completely new experiences, which probably is a good recipe for mental and physical stimulation. Firstly, the pain (oh the pain) and the minor victories of learning to snowboard. Next new skill (if you could call it that for me) introduced to me by Peter, mountain biking... and then of course coming up on the weekend is scuba diving. Yes, I can swim... yes, I have sort of snorkeled before but not enough to exclude the "sort of" from this sentence, and yes, I don't like the idea of being underwater for a time longer than about 20 seconds... or rather, make it about 5 seconds, so am a little concerned that I might feel a bit claustrophobic in the whole sexy wetsuit and also with being underwater for an extensive amount of time, but I'm sure I'll stick it out to discover again that this activity is going to be incredible.

Unfortunately, my joy for acquiring a year long Schengen visa does not extend to my trip to Egypt as it required me getting a separate travel visa, however this one did not cost me the world as for once, South Africa is exempt from paying the visa fees, and also the process of obtaining the visa was much more easier.

Flights, accommodation and diving course booked... all that needs doing is packing and then we're off!! Seriously can't wait!! I guess the next entry will be an update of the whole week in Dahab.

5 May 2007 - Saturday

Backpacks on, we head out for an early morning start down the A4 to Syon Lane train station. Our trip train and flights to Sharm El Sheik went smoother than well-oiled clockwork. Looking out the plane window nearing on landing all that was visible to us was sand, sea, and extremely rocky mountains jutting out of the earth. Clearly this was longer the green, muddy island of England. With our backpacks on we tried locating our transfer to Dahab. We read and re-read our instructions as well as who to check for our pick up but alas, we were left to fend for ourselves and make our own way. An Egyptian man, Mahmoud, kindly assisted us while waiting for his own Russian tourists to arrive. After bundling just Peter and myself into a relatively large minibus, we were off with our driver, Esam, at the steering wheel.

First a quick stop in Sharm El Sheik to draw some Egyptian Pounds (EL) and then off for our hour long drive. We left the greenery and oasis of Sharm and head straight for the the mountains. By the time we were on the road, it was rather late, the sun was starting to set. Our visibility was somewhat limited to what seemed like sand, stone, and the occasional thorn tree. I still do not entirely understand on what any form of plant could survive on in the desert, particularly this one where there was absolutely no humidity despite being on the edge of the sea.

After passing a couple of road blocks, and providing the officials with a drink, we continued our drive through the foot of the mountains. Not long on our arrival in Egypt and I soon came to realise that we were indeed in Africa. On the open roads all vehicles, including our taxi, were happy to drive where ever it suited him as long as there was no obstructing oncoming traffic. To determine the existence of any oncoming vehicles wasn't particularly the easiest of tasks either as they all seem to drive around at night with only their fog lights on. Occasionally even those were off, and you'd come across a car or a truck that seemed to have come from the movie 'The Fast and The Furious' (though a bit more run down) with luminous blue, green and red lights attached all around. On coming around any bends our driver, Esam, however did endeavour to flash his brights to inform any potential oncoming traffic that we were there. Also strange was that despite there being not being many roads turning onto or off the main road, all vehicles put their indicators on when going into any bend, and not only when they were to turn off the main road. Esam, also thought it was great to flash all oncoming vehicles about three times over for good measure... No-one has yet managed to explain any of the Egyptian driving habits to me despite the fact that most of it seems rather pointless, why don't they just put their lights on? It's not like it takes additional petrol or anything, besides, petrol only costs about 0.13/litre. Oh well...

On arriving in Dahab, we struggled extensively to locate our accommodation, the Bedouin Moon hotel. I guess this was partially due to the lack of communication as on our "arrival", we looked up to discover that we were about to be dropped off outside a shop called Bedouina. Not quite what we had in mind. After some goat, people and truck dodging and extensive instructions on directions from the locals we eventually were offloaded at the Bedouin Moon Hotel. We had arrived!!! We were warmly welcomed by Tito, the hotel manager (I think), who also sorted out our fare as we had already paid the hotel in advance. He was sincerely apologetic over our transfer not arriving and informed us that our dinner would be on the house.

The Bedouin Moon hotel surpassed all expectation. The lighting around the whole hotel, particularly in the back garden, and around the pool was stunning. Baskets and ceramic containers covering the lights created a very romantic and special setting. Also, the mountain behind the hotel was lit up in a similar fashion as Table Mountain, but obviously this one was nothing but rock and sand. Still a beautiful effect. Our room overlooked the Red Sea, where we could sea across to the mountains of Saudi Arabia.

With evening temperatures well into the twenties, we immediately changed into our t-shirts and short, and headed to the pool to indulge in a delicious barbecue dinner, before sleeping like rocks.

6 May 2007 - Sunday

Dahab, as we were to discover, means 'Gold' in Arabic, and is at the foot of the Sinai mountains. It's about 100km north of Sharm El Sheikh. It is somewhat smaller, and thus maintains a bit more of it's local, laid back atmosphere and feel than Sharm which is rather commercialised and almost entirely geared up for new tourists, with extensive new developments popping up. Dahab is definitely what we were looking for.

- View across the Gulf of Aqaba. Saudi Arabian mountains visible in the distance

Beckoned by relentless flies, we rose early to enjoy a freshly prepared omelette and some other Egyptian foods. We then headed over to the Reef 2000 setup alongside the hotel. We were introduced to Jo-Jo, whom I presume runs the diving facility, and also to Mark who would be our dive instructor for the PADI Open Water diving course. Also, we were introduced to Rowan, Mark's sidekick for the course, who spent most of the time under water basically levitating around us looking like a meditating Rastafarian with his decorated dreadlocks and all. Picture the jellyfish from 'A Sharks' Tale'. Anyways, we were shown where all the air cannisters along with the Nitrox cannisters were kept and refilled, where all the diving equipment was kept and stored, and then headed straight into our course.

To start off we spent the first hour or so watching videos covering the first two sections of the dive course. Following this and some instruction on setting up our BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) and connecting our air tanks etc, we were kitted up with our necessary equipment and headed down to Lighthouse Bay (the main part of Dahab) to do our first confined diving training.

Our base for the following two days was to be the Bedouin Son's restaurant, located right at the edge of the water, giving us easy and fast access in and out of the sea. As with many of the restaurants, it had a very spacious atmosphere. No windows necessary as it only rains about once a year, and also, there seems to be no theft of which to worry about, so everything was very safe. Even when leaving our bags and possessions while diving. Seating was on the ground around a table against railings with pillows provided for backrests. Really laid back and relaxed.

Mark first accompanied another girl on an introductory diving course while we were left to our own devices of drinking coffee and reading through the first couple of chapters of the course material. After a lunch of banana and chocolate pancakes we kitted up in the 40-degree temperature. While everyone usually took but a minute or few to get into their wet suits, I needed some extra assistance in getting into the outfit. Jo-Jo clearly thought that getting into an outfit that didn't provide much room for an ass, particularly when I've got one, wasn't going to be too much of a hassle. Well, she was wrong, by the time I managed to get myself zipped up, I had already worked up a couple of litres of sweat. So, in a well heated wet suit and with about 25kg of equipment on my back I was more than keen on getting into the water. The initial cooling off was always just so good. the water temperature seemed to stay at round about 23 degrees Celsius, but definitely provided relief to increasing land heat.

With my limited knowledge on scuba diving, my biggest concern was not whether I'd survive the under water breathing, that my mask would come off, that any of my equipment would fail, or any of the other potential unexpected situations underwater, but that I wouldn't be able to equalise the pressure on my ears while changing depths. When flying, I'd always just yawned which seemed to do the trick, but this was slightly different. After some skill learning with Mark in the shallows we eventually did a bit of a dive around the corals where I was able to test my ability to equalise my ears. It took two days before I could finally figure out how to go about this. After that, all the other skill exercises seemed to go quite well. Peter and I were the only two in the group for the course, thus we managed to set the pace at which we were to learn. Despite not having had his Open Water diving license before, Peter had already done quite a bit of diving with his dad and friends, so knew most of what to expect and how etc. We did manage to make good progress during the day doing our first two confined dives in the shallows of the Red Sea.

Along with seeing clown fish, parrot fish and various other species of fish, the one that I did find rather fascinating was the sole. That is one really odd looking fish and it's amazing how they've evolved into the form that they currently are in, one eye having grown through to the other side, and now they basiclly live on their side, which is sort of now the bottom. Their mouths seemed to have remained the same however, and it seems like they're eating sideways when they do eat. What made them start evolving like this anyway?

On our return to Bedouin Moon we rinsed down our kit before spending some time at the pool. The setting of all of this was just beautiful. We then ordered some calamari and red snapper before settling into bed after our first day of hard work.

7 May 2007 - Monday

Flies, flies, flies... there is nothing in this world that annoys me more than FLIES!!! Flies that wake buzz you awake first thing in the morning, flies that sit on your food, flies that just won't go away flies... Hate them all!!! Mosquitos are way ahead in my book of insect popularity, by a long way... Anyways, enough about that.

So, flies about, and fresh honey pancakes eaten, we were again off to Lighthouse Bay to continue with our diving course. We completed another confined dive before going through some skills in the open water. After some more pancakes for lunch, just before our second open water dive, we spotted some dolphins playing out in the bay. This seemed like a good opportunity to head out and try and catch up with them, so we hurriedly kitted up and started swimming. I can't say that we were too streamlined, thus quite a bit of difficulty in effort and mobility in making distance. Unfortunately, by the time we neared their original spot, they'd already started heading off, and if we were to keep up, I'm sure we'd have ended up on the Saudi Arabian shores before long. Would've been great to catch up with them, but I guess it was not to be on this occasion. We then slowly headed back before continuing with our training.

I had quite a bit of trouble equalising my ears throughout the day's dive, and by the end of the day I was happy to sell my right ear to any black market willing to buy. I was in complete pain. I think it was my own stupidity though as when ascending in the water and when my ears felt 'uncomfortable', I'd still blow and apply pressure from the inside out, which is obviously wrong. I should be relieving the air pressure on the inside. Fortunately, made it through the day with only painful, and not entirely burst eardrums.

We booked in for the mountain dinner organised by Reef 2000, which included the camel ride to the dining site. Firstly, to confirm that it is completely true, camels stink, and they stink bad!! But other than that, they have the most gentle of eyes and have a very calm, submissive manner about them. I think they say that camels are the ships of the desert, and well, this was definitely the case for my camel, Elwan. Not too long into the darkness of the evening and I was feeling some motion sickness setting in due the lack of visibility of the ground 20 miles below me and also of the surroundings, but alas, there was not turning back. Our guides (some pretty young boys) led us through and up the mountains to our dinner location before trying to get our camels to hunch back down. Peter seemed to have a really easy trip throughout, but when Elwan was requested to kneel, he completely objected and it took about 5 minutes of cursing and swearing by the camel boy and a lot of braying by the camel before, to my relief, it finally gave in and let me get off.

Carpets were laid out on the ground surrounding the campfire. We were firstly served some Bedouin tea, and then helped ourselves to a fire cooked dinner. After some lengthy star gazing and lazing about, we were finally ready to catch a lift down with our Sudanese driver, Meester Adam who had been claiming to have been drinking a good amount of "Vitamin B12" throughout the evening. This also translated to a sturdy amount of Vodka. Thankfully Peter accompanied him in the front seat to maintain a certain level of control. Meester Adam who was of the firm belief that besides being behind the steering wheel did not really need to drive us home as his jeep would take care of us all and do the deed itself. Needless to say, the dear ol' jeep needed a bit more coaxing than that. We started heading down the valley not by following any defined road but by free will of the truck. On more than one occasion Meester Adam came really close to destroying the bottom of his jeep driving over a fair share of large rocks. Avoiding a couple of 'dongas' also proved somewhat challenging. The trip lasted an eternal 7 minutes, and we were all more than grateful to escape the confines of the back of the truck. Feet on the ground, I finally felt safe enought to breathe again. How come I seem to be blessed with erratic drivers on much of these holidays abroad?

8 May 2007 - Tuesday

Again on the back of our truck but this time with ournow driver, Yasser, who hadn't been drinking "Vitamin B12" the night before. We didn't head down to Lighthouse Bay as per usual, but instead to the Moray Gardens dive site, near Happy Life Village. Here we made the Full Moon restaurant our home base for the day. Moray Gardens is located about 20 minutes drive south of Dahab. The setting again so calm and beautiful, with Bedouin style restaurants where all the divers seem to gather before and after their dives.

Moray Gardens is located between the Golden Blocks and Three Pools dive sites. Here we did two dives. Our dives were broken up with a lunch and our final exam in between. I'm happy to say both Peter and I passed with flying colours. Mark really was a good instructor though, so a lot of credit definitely must go to him. The good news for this day was that despite me being extremely nervous about my ears again, I think I managed to sort those out and gain a better understanding of pressurising them when I needed to. So came off uninjured and qualified at the end of the day - whoo hoo!!

9 May 2007 - Wednesday

Having completed our PADI Open Water diving course in three days we had the option of going straight into the Advanced Diving course or to stop there. We decided that in terms of training we had done enough and that it would be great if we could join the boat going out to Gabr El Bint (which translates to 'Grave of the Girl', and to do some diving for the pure enjoyment thereof. This was the best diving yet.

We set out really early on Wednesday morning, ourselves and kit aboard we took about a half an hour to an hour to get to our final destination where we anchored ourselves and went down with Mark for the first of three dives. The sea life was incredible!! On our second dive we went across to the Gabr El Bint lagoon. With these two dives we managed again to see butterfly fish, clown fish, parrotfish, a few huge puffer fish, a crocodile fish along with many others. The crocodile fish was rather different. I didn't even know that something like that existed. You can easily tell where the name comes from when you see the close resemblence to it and a crocodile. There were goldfish in abundance, and clams to no end! If I knew the name of all the fish I definitely would go on listing them here but assume I may start sounding boring.

I very much enjoyed coming across the octopus. While we were watching him, he crawled out from under the coral to sit and watch us back. It was rather strange in that I couldn't quite tell who was taking more interest in who. He sat there like an old man smoking his pipe while time slowly ticked away.

The clown fish also showed a lot of personality, particularly when they had young to protect. They didn't seem to have any fear and would come out right up to you from within the anemone to distract you from the rest of the clown fish there. They were always great to observe.

We took a long break aboard the boat, which included a lunch break and a lot of lazing. After heating up some, I decided to do some snorkeling on the reefs and cool off a bit. The water was so warm I managed to spend about half an hour in the water without feeling any form of a chill.

Following lunch, we then headed off to do our third and final dive for the day, a drift dive (though not much current around). There weren't too many fish on this dive, but a good opportunity to observe the coral a bit more closely. We had high hopes of coming across some Manta Rays, but were not fortunate enough to see those or any sea turtles, we did come across some Baracuda though.

10 May 2007 - Thursday

Woke up early and packed, ready to head off for our day trip to Mount Sinai and our visit to St Catherine's Monastery, only to be informed that our trip had been cancelled due to too few people signing up. If they'd had let us known that if we had paid 4 extra each they'd have taken us through we definitely would have, but this was not communicated to us until it was too late. Quite a disappointment as we knew that the monastery would be closed on Friday thus limiting our options.

Oh well, we were not to worry too much as this provided us time to laze around by the pool, order some lunch and fit in a much needed massage. After Peter's hour on the table and my half-hour, we caught a taxi through to Lighthouse Bay to enjoy some strolling by the shops and beach. We also rescheduled our Mount Sinai trip for Friday night, leaving at 11pm and returning at 12:00pm on Saturday morning. At least we were going to get a chance to do our trip.

We eventually stationed ourselves at a small enclosed bar taking advantage of happy hour. We then moved on to Tota, a ship-shaped restaurant, for some pizza and calamari, followed by some pool playing.

11 May 2007 - Friday

We woke up to some serious winds coming across from the sea. The electricity had cut out and thus the fact that the air conditioning wasn't working was quite apparent from the increasing room temperature. This was the first day that there was any form of wind and it was definitely welcomed, providing much relief from the heat. The sea was not its usual mirror self, but was actually producing some waves. Though these couldn't particularly be considered to be extreme in the least, this at least provided us with a bit more of an oceanic sound, and also for the first time gave off a bit more of a sea smell.

As this day was again free for us to do as we pleased, we decided again to head on down to Lighthouse Bay, but not by our usual means of transport, the taxi. We decided instead to take a bit of a walk along the shore as being in the sun while the wind was blowing wasn't too bad. As we walked passed the run-down buildings and rocky shores, we came across many Egyptians lying a few feet from the sea wrapped up from head to toe in their blankets. This did look rather comfortable, and also the thought that the wind was keeping away many flies also made the practise seem rather appealing.

Something Peter mentioned earlier on our trip became quite apparent. It's amazing how mathematically precise the ancient Egyptians could build the pyramids, but that all the recently constructed buildings and walls seemed to be at some sort of a slant. Nothing was straight or properly aligned. We came across some British people doing some building on their own places, and realised that if you as a non-qualified builder did your own building, you were probably just as, if not more likely to build a reliable and sturdy structure than the Egyptian builders, unless of course all the building was a "home-made" job anyways.

Anyhow, so another lazy day poised at Bedouin Son's taking turns reading our one book, watching the children play in the water and also on occasions joining them.

We finished off our day with buying a couple of paintings and then heading back to Bedouin Moon for a semi early evening to wake up at 11pm for our much awaited trip to Mount Sinai.

We woke, we waited, we went back to bed... Our transfer never pitched!!! This was Africa for you. I was highly disappointed as this was one of two things I wanted to do on this holiday. But I guess there isn't much you can do when the clock is ticking, your time is up and you're to head off back to the UK in a couple of hours time.

Back to bed, grumpy.

12 May 2007 - Saturday

Early the following morning we headed back to the Safari Company to tell them exactly what we thought of their planning and organising and to get our money back.

Since Mt. Sinai was no longer an option we thought we'd book a snorkeling trip for two hours and take a trip to the infamous Blue hole, obviously not booked with the same company.

The amazing thing about the Blue hole is that it is located right on the shore and drops to a depth of 120m. There were a few memorial stones cemented into the rocks in memory of people who'd lost their lives diving in the Blue hole. Quite scary really.

I'm sure that diving in the Blue hole provides a much better experience but snorkeling didn't quite meet up to our expectations of a place that is so talked about. Firstly, it is rather polluted with rubbish and it's overpopulated with divers and snorkelers. The abundance of jellyfish, though they don't sting, did make me somewhat nervous. We'd definitely seen more fish at all our previous other dive sites.

After some snorkeling we headed on back to our hotel to thank everyone for an awesome holiday, and catch our transfer back to Sharm El Sheik.

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