Poll Star's Wonderings

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dahab take 2

Day 78 Luxor to Dahab/Day 79 Dahab
I have to admit I was a bit nervous about Egypt air. Not so much that I thought it’d crash, but I figured it would be massively unreliable-down to arrive in Sharm as 22.25 with an hour and a bit to Dahab, I wasn’t keen on a delay. I went to their website to check my flight and e-ticket and that started the alarm bells ringing. My e-ticket had the time and date for my flight to Sharm and that flight existed and was on time, but had a different flight number to the one on my e-ticket. The flight number on my e-ticket went to Cairo. You what? So I headed to the Egypt Air office, where the guy seemed to think I was a bit bonkers for questioning it and told me I was going to Sharm. At the airport, all the screens and check in had one flight number, while my boarding pass had a different one, the same as my e-ticket, which was on all the screens going to Cairo. I did get to Sharm, but it was a bit odd and half an hour late.

That wasn’t the only bit of fun in getting out of Luxor. My taxi driver tried to molest me, kept telling me how many hours Englishmen have sex for (compared to 5 minutes for Egyptians-I’m not sure what basis he was using for his statistics), going on about banana, saying ‘strong, strong man’ and pointing at his crotch saying look. I repositioned my backpack and told him to keep his hands on the wheel: my sympathy for women travelling in Egypt redoubled. Proved my point that they’re all queer as folk.

It took me a while to get into the airport. We had some great banter.

‘Ticket?’

‘I don’t have a ticket. E-ticket.’

‘Print out?’

‘No. It’s on my credit card.’ {shows credit card}

‘Ticket?’

‘No. I have a number written on a piece of paper.’ {shows handwritten piece of paper}

‘Ticket?’

Eventually another bloke tried ‘passport’ and this gained me admittance. Of course that wasn’t the end of it. He walked through the scanner in front of me, set it off with his gun, while I didn’t. He turned round and frisked me, goes ‘what’s that?’ and I said ‘money’, ‘give me some’. I quickly tried to calculate how many countries in the world could a man on airport security ask you for cash and not expect instant dismissal. I managed to restrain my response to ‘I’m not giving you anything’. The two experiences made me think that half Egypt would be in jail in the UK. Which led me thinking who is the most famous Egyptian in the UK. It seemed hardly surprising that the man is a shopkeeper with a reputation for sexual harassment, dodgy dealings and talking twaddle. I understand his football are going to be relegated.

Before the taxi driver’s wandering hands had distracted me, I had been rather surprised to feel a bit of a pang as we headed out of Luxor. For all its faults, it is quite a place and they do light it up to good effect at night. I wonder if I will be back: I met a lot of people on Sinai who had been to Egypt before; a couple in the desert and I cannot remember meeting anyone in Luxor/Aswan/Cairo who had been before. The vibe seems to be ‘worth seeing, too much hassle to come back’.

The airport had a couple of final twists. I had a problem finding my gate. This was because gates 9-12 had been laid out (form left to right) 9, 12, 11, 10. With two flights leaving in two hours (40 mins apart), they called both of them (bloke shouts a flight destination across the departure lounge) within a minute of each other. Both need everyone to get on a bus. Oddly, chaos ensues. I really don’t look for these things.

I had felt tired after having lunch; I nearly nodded off reading in the afternoon; it was a struggle staying awake for nearly 2 hours while I waited for the flight; then I did have a doze in the minibus that had come to take me to the Pearl of South Sinai in Dahab. I was shown into room 1 and wished a good night’s sleep-it was fifteen minutes after midnight, so it was a fair assumption that I’d be straight to bed. I’d always meant to go out when I arrived to get something to drink and a quick something to eat. I was very thirsty as I had refused to pay more than 6 times the normal price for a softie in Luxor airport. So I headed out; the 2 guys in reception were clearly surprised. They jumped to their feet and asked if they could help. I said I was just off for a bit of a walk, no worries.

On the street, I walked a minute or so and then started recognising things (I’m a little further south and away from the centre of things this time). At this point I felt I was back in Dahab and I felt a weight fall from my shoulders and the tension seemed to leave me (Norbert later told me he’d had a similar feeling). Energised, my plan changed from just going to the supermarket and getting a couple of things to having a longer walk. Not long after that, I remembered that Norbert and Andrea had arrived in the morning and would almost certainly be in Rush. So I texted Norbert and headed back in that direction.

Unfortunately the Pearl of Sinai locks the front door and some poor devil sleeps on the sofa. I felt bad waking him at nearly 5 a.m., but I didn’t have much option. Never did get to the supermarket or eat anything.

I noticed on the second night they left the door ajar. They’ve got my number.

So it was time for another tour of the Dive clubs, trying to arrange the trip to Thistlegorm and Ras Mohammed. I went back to Desert Divers who pointed me to Sea Dancers, which was a little more expensive than I had been expecting. I spoke to a few others, but it seemed that Sea Dancers were the only one with an inside track on this one (owned by the same company). They’d inspired a good bit of confidence, so I wasn’t too disappointed. Steve, clearly from England, had been saying that they weren’t happy with merely advanced certified divers and normally wanted people with, I’m not sure how many, dives but I have a feeling it was 50 or so. I thought I had 12. Turned out it was 11 so I needed checking out, which means a dive at the lighthouse tomorrow.

I do love Bob Marley, like half the known universe I own Legend. This is a strange record in a way: I love it, think it’s full of great tracks and it has one of my very favourite songs in Redemption Song, yet it has never inspired me to buy any other Marley (apart from the remix of Sun is Shining that Sky use for cricket in the Caribbean. Odd really. Of course there’s a lot of Bob about here (anywhere where there’s a beach and beach bars/café, it is the official soundtrack) and while he was drifting softly in through the door, I got an urgent need to listen to the Clash-shamefully for the first time in 3 years. Hope I’m not getting a party pooper rep.

Norbert didn’t have a lot of stamina and headed off after dinner. Although I needed to get up to dive, it was Andrea’s last night so we went to the Tree bar, as it sounded like the only place with some life. I ended up describing it as a paedo club. I don’t there was anyone there in their 20s, and we were representing the 30 somethings. I got the distinct impression that mummy and daddy were spending the evening elsewhere. This impression of the Tree bar was reinforced when we had dinner a couple of nights later and there was a group of the kind of public school kids that send Sozz apoplectic wearing Tree Bar t-shirts. One beer was enough.

Day 80 Dahab
Steve had said there was no point in starting early as it was only one dive, so come along at 10. He may have been in Egypt for 7 years, but this was very much an English concept of not starting early. We’d had a fairly early night, but I still didn’t really fancy it when the alarm went off. I felt quite nervous, kitting up and managed to put my weight belt on the wrong way round twice. In myhead it was like it was an exam. The first thing that Ollie made me do was completely flood my mask, take it off, put if back and empty the water out of it-my least faoured skill. Burnt some aire, but did and after the fin pivot was away. Nioce little dive and the visibility was mega compared to the last time I was here. I don’t remember too much of what we saw as I was thinking technically the whole time_I really didn’t want ot screw this up. I passed the test and Ollie gave me some good tips-I reckon he’d be a really good instructor. As he was English, I asked him about diving back home. He said he hadn’t really bothered as it’s cold and beardy, which had been my preconception. Still, I am going to look into what’s available-I suspect it may be a lot of wrecks.

The rest of the day became something of a rush. I was supposed to meet Norbert, Andrea and Carolyn (who’s back in town) for lunch, then go back to the dive shop and leave Dahab at 11. After saying goodbye to Andrea, I pottered back to Sea Dancers, who told me the car would take me to Sharm at 6 instead. Plans of naps and blogging and leisurely dinners were out the window and I had to pack my dive gear, get a briefing and pack my overnight bag.

Along with a few folks doing another trip, I met Aussie Matt on the way down, who was doing the same as me. Getting to the boat early worked out well, as we had a briefing got our gear ready and got a pretty decent night’s sleep, which I needed after the past few.

Day 81 Thistlegorm and Ras Mohammed.
The Thistlegorm was an unfortunate British ship, which was transporting a range of hardware to support the war effort in the region. For safety they’d routed it down via the Cape and, after something like 6 months, it was closing on Sinai when it was spotted by German bombers. These bombers were on their way back from a failed mission. The Thistlegorm was not their target, but the dastardly hun took a few pot shots anyway and down the boat went in October 1941. The boat lay undiscovered until some Italians found it ’63, which surprised me. Less surprising was that they promptly lost it again and it was rediscovered in the 80s.

The LP says it is often too rough to dive the Thistlegorm. It was rough and again I was glad no to have seasickness issues. It presents diving issues though. There wasn’t much current under the water, but getting to the rope we descended by was fun and better still was getting back out as the waves wash you, the other divers, the boat and the ladder up and down.

Before the first dive I was quite nervous and felt both inexperienced and self conscious. Matt was a very experienced diver and the rest of the boat was full of Hungarians, who looked the business. Hungarian is not a language either Matt or I felt any affinity for. Sometimes you can get a sense of a language from hearing it for a while. Not Hungarian. We worked out the guy in orange was funny and I kept thinking of Keyser Sose (sic I am sure). Hungarian men appear to be tall, thick set and 8 months pregnant. The ladies are rather more trim, although I had to restrain myself from asking the girl in the porn star tight crop top if ‘those were all paid for’. Anyway, the briefings had to be translated, they were on a diving trip, so it seemed likely they knew what they were doing. There was a father and son, who had all the gear and were using nitrox: nitrox has a higher concentration of oxygen and required special training. Matt and I couldn’t help but notice that we went into the water before the nitrox boys and exited after them. They didn’t even do the final dive. I should know better than to make assumptions based on someone having all the kit-it’s about the first lesson of the golf course.

I am guessing that the most overused word in describing a wreck dive is eerie. Well, it was eerie. The first dive was the deep one and was a tour of the outside. The wreck lies on a slope, with the back (stern I believe) being the deepest spot. We headed past the captain’s cabin and then turned round the back, where the propeller made the biggest impression on me. It was massive and detached. We saw motorbikes, trucks, what looked like a freight train carriage, large shells, a defused bomb and tins of supplies. When I flipped on my back for a bit I could see the silhouettes of some very large fish hanging around the smaller shoals. The dive was quite hard work for me as we had two spells of hanging around vertically. My weighting seemed to be wrong and I had to work quite hard to maintain my depth. One of the most striking moments was just after getting in the water and seeing the aerial view.

The second dive was inside. I don’t know if anyone died when the boat sank-it wasn’t a troop transporter so there were less than 50 onboard. It seems unlikely everyone would have survived, but there are no bodies lying around which is a good thing. Mummies are bad enough. For me a lot of the fascination lay in what was in the ship, its state of preservation and how the marine life had now adapted to it. I kept seeing these solitary red fishing lurking behind doors and motorbikes; there was a lionfish who looked very comfortable. Some of the tyres looked good enough to still use, others were now alive with algae and supporting a new ecosystem. The style of the bikes and trucks had me thinking of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (for a change), although I didn’t see a sidecar for any of the bikes. There were quite a number of air pockets inside the wreck, indicative that quite a lot of structure had survived 66 years in brine. I couldn’t help but think of the poor buggers on that boat at 1.30 a.m. as we swam round the holds and up through the kitchen. I was glad Sea Dancers had leant me a torch.

The whole experience was less freaky than I thought and although you could often see a way out, there was plenty of time when you couldn’t and I was very glad we had a guide and a relatively small group of 6. Imagine swimming down a corridor with about 2 torso depths worth of gear on your back-it’s not the most room.

I clearly thought the boat was a bus, as I set about trying to crack my skull. Sea Dancers had sent me a bigger tank, which they couldn’t find on the boat when I set my gear up last night. The idea is that you set your gear up in the port, then they refill your tank when you’re at sea (no one mentioned that bit to me), so you don’t need to change tanks as the boat gets tossed about. In the morning they found my tank and I had to change it while the boat got tossed about. As it was a bigger I had to make a few additional adjustments. Not made easier as some donkeys had left their gear on the deck. When a really big wave threw me off balance, my (bizarre) instinct was to protect my gear and the donkeys’. The net result was I broke my fall using a combination of a bench and my head. The one that really hurt was after the second dive when we were trying to get out and a wave threw me up, another guide to the side and his tank introduced itself to my skull. It’s made brushing my hair an activity to be undertaken only when essential. After that, the 3 or four blows I took in the taxi back to Dahab were only to be expected.

Ras Mohammed is one of the world’s great dive sites and the drift dive we did from Shark Reef to Yolanda reef was my highlight. I somehow missed a massive barracuda, but saw a crocodile fish, which was a first for me. Mostly, as I was tired, it was back to gazing on in wonder. The coral was stunning, the fish colourful and plentiful. At one point I got very excited as I thought I saw coral in fins. When I got closer it turned out to be the coral forming on the metal from the famous container from the Yolanda. The Yolanda sank after the reef ripped the arse out of her, but the crew threw some containers off while they still had hope. This one was full of bathroom gear. I saw one bath, but it was mostly toilets-one of which is set up for you sit on and get a picture. Shall have to come back with the underwater camera. I also saw a beautiful blue spotted ray chilling on the bottom.

Taxi back to Dahab, shower, dinner at Aladdins and onto the party night at Rush. Half the dive guys I know seemed to be there. A good day.

Day 82 Dahab to Cairo
The very nice people at Pearl of South Sinai have let me keep my room for free until I leave on the night minibus to Cairo at 11. This is a calculated risk. It is quicker and they won’t check my ticket 3 times. It will also drop me straight at my hotel and save me the hassle of a taxi (I would have taken so many more taxis if they used meters). However, if it’s full, it’ll be gross.

I’ve been to the dive shop to tidy things up, changed my last dollars for Egyptian pounds and been struck by the thought that I have just 4 nights left. I plan on doing some (shock horror) shopping and having a last dinner with Carolyn and Norbert. Should be a nice day.

And if I have time, I’m having a tenner each way on Butler’s Cabin in the National. If it wins, I think I shall take my good friend Jim Nance for dinner. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Watch the final round of the Masters from Augusta next Sunday.

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