Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Red Sea - 1996

Was looking for something on USENET and found this thing I wrote way back in 1996. Figured might as well add it to the blog.
Just got back from a three day diving safari of the Sinai with the Red Sea Sports Club/Manta.  In short, I had a great time and the money was well spent.
On our first day we took a Land Rover from Eilat to Sharm Al Sheik.  The dreaded border crossing at Taba, which I was warned can take hours, proceeds smothly.  Except for a short delay while I try to explain to the border official where Latvia is, I have an American passport but was born in Latvia and put down Latvian as my nationality, we are through in about 15 minutes.   Next time, ethnic pride be damned, I will stick to American. First rule of travel: K.I.S.S.  Keep It Simple, Stupid.
The drive from Taba to Sharm takes a little over an hour.  It is hot and raw, but the countryside is so savagely beautiful that the physical discomfort just seems to intensify the beauty of the land.  Afterall, this is the desert.  It is easy to imagine ancient trader caravans traversing the red mountains that surround us on both sides.
We arrive at our first dive site, Ras Um Sid, around 9am.  The reef itself is about a 100 feet from the shore.  We gear up and hit the water. Incredible.  The abundance of coral and marine life is fantastic.  This dive is meant as a check-out dive to test our skills and abilities, but there is so much to see that you quickly forget that this is basically a shakeout dive.
Our next dive site is at Ras Nasrani.  We have a quick lunch on the beach and then take to the water.  We descend to 80 feet.  The amount of fish and coral is mindblowing.  Lion fish seem to be everywhere.  After the dive we load up and head for Shark's Bay where we will be spending the night, having dinner, and in the morning boarding a boat for Tiran.  Our lodgings for the night are to be simple cabanas, but it is simply too hot to sleep in them.  Most of us opt for sleeping on the beach.  I highly recomend the beach option.  A gentle, cool breeze and a giant star filled sky beats a steamy four walls everytime.
In the morning we board the boat for Tiran.  Tiran has four major reefs.
We decide to dive Thomas and Jackson.  At Thomas we see a White Tip Shark and a couple of Sea Turtles, and a ton of fish and corals, but it is Jackson that takes your breath away.  The topography of the reef is amazing.  It seems to stretch into infinity and bend and twist into fantastic shapes.  By far,  the highlight of the trip.  Between dives we have lunch on the boat and snorkle in the South Lagoon.  Fish, coral and more fish and coral.   In more variety and colors that I have ever seen. After the boat ride back we load up the Land Rover and head for Sded where we will be spending the night and doing a night dive.  To kill time until night fall, I do a little snorkeling.  Lion fish, Puffers, Stingrays as far as the eye can see.  To top it off, heading back to the shore, I catch sight of a giant Manta Ray as it glides over the reef and disappears into the deep.  In contrast, the night dive is almost a dissapointment because there are not nearly as many fish.  However, the colors of the coral under the light of the torches are magnificent, and at the end of the dive - once we turn off our torches - we watch the plankton glow like a million fireflies.
We have dinner by the campfire and sleep on the beach.  There is nothing at Sded save for a flagpole marking the spot and the night sky is even more immense than before.
In the morning we head for Dahab, our final destination.  Our first dive is at the Island.  It is a shallow dive, 25 feet, but the amount of coral is incredible.  It feels like being in an underwater forest.  You are surrounded by coral on all sides.  There are also many nooks and crannies to dive through and explore.
Our final dive of the trip is at the Canyon.  Next to Jackson Reef, this is my favorite dive. However, it is more of a cerebral experience, than a visual one.  The Canyon begins at about 60 feet and descends to a depth of 163 feet.  There is a chamber at 100 feet that is used as an exit if you don't want to go all the way down.  For most of it's distance the Canyon is about 8 feet wide with a sandy bottom.  You can see the sky through the cracks overhead.  Overall, it has the effect of diving a cave.  The light is incredible.
We went all the way down to 163 feet.  Resting at the bottom you feel as if you are on the surface of the moon.  The complete stillness and silence is eerie.  The only sound is the sound of your breathing through the regulator.  The only motion is the rising of your air bubbles to the surface.  The ascent seems to take forever.  It is awhile before you can distinguish the surface from the surrounding depths.
After the dive we stop by for a swim with a dolphin at Mahmood's Dolphin Beach.  It is both exciting and sad.  There were about thirty snorkelers and one dolphin.  She didn't seem to mind, but at times the press of the swimmers to reach her seemed to resemble a wolfpack descending on a deer.
Overall, I had a fantastic time.  This was the best time I have had in many years.  I would highly recommend it to anyone.  The staff at Red Sea Sport Club/Manta was highly professional and courteous.  Our guide, Hen, and his lovely assistant Natasha, were excellent and alot of fun.  Hen allowed us to dive to our limits while also keeping a close eye that we didn't exceed them.  And all of this, while nursing a really bad cold.  (I should know because I managed to catch his bug.  It's been a week and I still can't shake it.)  He also has great taste in music.  You haven't lived until you have driven through the Sinai while listening to some trance and acid tapes.  The total cost for the trip came to around $350.  This included tanks, guides, transportation, boat ride to Tiran, border fees, food and lodging.

Finally, two pieces of advice.  If you are the type who is used to air-conditioning, indoor toilets and soft beds, this is probably not the trip for you.  It is hot and sticky and bathrooms and showers are few and far in between.  If you are the type who likes roughing it, then do it soon.  Civilization is fast approaching.  Everywhere we went you could see construction underway.  In a few years this will probably be another Cancun or Florida, so enjoy it while you can.