Sharm Al Sheikh Trip over Eid Al Adha
There follows an account of 406 on tour – Sharm El Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt.The trip didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts. No complaints about Royal Jordanian Airlines or the stopover in Amman but Sharm Airport must be a leading contender for the world’s most shambolic immigration procedures and the surliest, rudest and least helpful officials. After jostling to the front of what passed for a queue, witnessing several near fights as people’s patience wore out, taking abuse from the guy behind the desk for not sticking the visas in for him, having had the passports stamped with serious venom and almost thrown back at us with a snarl, we were literally shoved through the last barrier. Welcome to Egypt.There followed a protracted discussion with a taxi driver as to the relative likelihood of our cases reaching the resort fixed to the roof rack with either a) some rope threaded through the handles and tied down securely or b) nothing just hope for the best. It then took an hour to check in to the resort and a further hour to find a key that… OK enough.
The whole idea of the trip was the diving and at this point things began looking up. We’d booked with Emperor Divers based in Na’ama Bay about 15 minutes from our resort and who I would be happy to recommend to anyone planning a similar trip. The organization was exemplary. After getting the paperwork and equipment sorted out, we headed to the quayside and the “Orchid” which was to be our dive boat for the next couple of days. Naturally as dedicated club divers we were desperate to help carry tanks, load equipment etc but after a few nanoseconds of thought we decided it would be best to let the crew do it.
The first dive we did was largely a check-out dive to let Sarah, our guide, make sure we weren’t too incompetent. As a technical diving instructor with over 20 years experience, she was well qualified to judge. The dive site was the “Fiddle Garden” reef in Na’ama Bay (half way between Far Garden and Middle Garden hence the name). You know the viz is going to be good – that’s why you’re there – but it was still amazing to me to be floating around in the blue able to see clearly at least 30 metres into the distance. The site was a series of shelves with a final precipitous drop down to enormous depths. We started around 18m and worked our way up to shallower depths to maximize the dive time. Despite the viz, the fish life was not startling or massively abundant and most of it was quite small but we did see some nice groupers and a shoal of transparent fish that I’ve not seen in the Gulf.
The second dive on “Middle Garden” was similar in length and profile to the first and with rather more fish to look at. We did this one as a drift dive although there was little current. The highlight was a blue-spotted ray seen towards the end of the dive.
That evening we met up with Sergey Yurchenko who was coincidentally in Sharm at the same time. Efforts to get him on a dive with us eventually came to nothing but it was good to see him and have a glass or two.
Presumably Sarah must have concluded we weren’t a danger to ourselves or anyone else so Day 2 saw us travelling about 1½ hours in Orchid to Ras Mohammed on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. This is where the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba meet the Red Sea and the area is now a national park. We did two dive sites, Ras Ghazlani and Shark and Jolanda Reefs. Ras Ghazlani was closed to divers for a long while due to its proximity to a turtle beach. It was re-opened when the authorities realized that diving the reef posed no threat to the beach.
The second dive was on Shark Reef and Jolanda Reef, a pair of reefs that protrude from the sea bed. A couple of very large trevallies were spotted early on. Mainly a wall dive there is also a plateau on which sits what’s left of the Jolanda, a cargo vessel carrying bathroom furniture to Aqaba. It cut one corner too many and finished up wrecked on the reef – on the plateau but close to the wall which descends into the abyss. One day after a large storm the wreck had vanished – picked up and tipped over the edge. It was relocated eventually at 150m. What’s left now is part of the cargo – a field of toilets. I’m sure I’m neither the first nor the last diver to be photographed sitting on one.
For Day 3, we abandoned Orchid and travelled by minibus to Dahab, 100km to the north. The journey was not without incident. First there was the mutinous bus driver intent on taking us the longest way round if at all possible, second was the fact that thanks to the bus company our papers were not in order at the checkpoint leaving Sharm. Sami had a few words and we were allowed through. The journey took us through country that would look familiar to anyone who has travelled across the Hajar mountains from the UAE to Oman. The mountain pass was also the site of a big battle in the 6-day war and was once strewn with burnt-out tanks.
Dahab is apparently what Sharm was like 20 years ago and if that’s the case I can only hope it remains so. The world can surely do without another Arabian Benidorm which is what Sharm has become (sun, sea, sex and shisha). Dahab does retain a slightly hippy-ish aura with travelers who arrived 20 years ago and never left. I was tempted to ask where I could find some good dope but decided this might not be a good plan.
The first dive site was the famous Blue Hole. Only a few metres offshore the hole descends 150m or so. There is an arch at 52m connecting the Blue Hole with the open sea beyond. On the short walk from the kit-up point to the entry point we saw a number of memorials to divers who tried to dive the arch but over-estimated their ability. Quite sobering really. The entry was superb – a chimney called the Bells which is only wide enough for one diver at a time at its narrowest. We emerged at 30m to see the most spectacular wall to date – absolutely vertical descending beyond the range of visibility. We swam along the wall, pausing to allow Mike to have his ears cleaned by a pair of small cleaner wrasse, eventually coming to the saddle. This is the point where you swim over into the Blue Hole itself. We could not descend very deep into it but it lives up to its name. Unfortunately the state of the tide meant that the viz wasn’t as clear as it sometimes is.
The second dive was the Canyon, a scar on the seabed apparently volcanic in origin which starts at around 20m and descends on down. The limits of it are still being explored by technical divers, two of whom we saw decompressing at the start (and end) of the dive. (Well there was a mass of tanks – I assume there was a diver inside them somewhere.) Coral has grown over the top of the Canyon making it a tunnel with entry and exit points. We explored the section between 20m and 30m before slowly ascending.
We finished the whole thing off with a few glasses of Sakara (the local brew) and a delicious (if unorthodox) paella at a restaurant called “Al Capone”, a few km up the coast. A bus ride back over the mountains and that was that for this Eid. Apart from a final night out in the resort of course!
Mercifully, the departure through Sharm airport was smoother than the arrival although the staff had not completely lost their touch. Having persuaded a barman after several minutes of discussion that it was OK for him to sell us a bottle of wine, his efforts to open it would not have looked out of place at Fawlty Towers.
The trip was organized by Sami (thanks!) and the intrepid divers were Mike, Ian, Cathy, Sami and Sami’s family: John, Peter, Tamara, Armand and non-divers Jenny and Vivian.
The Dive Club would like to wish its members and friends “Eid Mubarak!”
Ian Hussey and guest writers.