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Michael’s Travel Diary

Friday, 31 Mar 2006

Location: Dahab, Egypt

MapFirstly, as a side note to the guy dying in the Blue Hole the other day; As it turns out, he apparently dropped down inside the blue hole, not outside, or thru the arch, and it bottoms out there at a bit over 120m. Maybe one day he will be found after all.

From what I can tell, the journey under the arch (from inside the blue hole to the open ocean on the other side) is supposed to be one of the most incredible dives imaginable. People try all the time to 'bounce it' on a single tank to just deeper than 60m, then have to swim across 26m, and back up. Often enough it works, but there's 155 reasons I can think not to try it. Anyway, generally speaking you have to do a bunch of tech courses to complete the dive, and it seems to be the main goal of a lot of people around here.

Anyway, it has been a pretty cruisy time around here. I have been here for a little over a week now, and this place has many, many reasons to continue visiting here, it also has plenty of reasons for getting out of here.

Since I've been here, each day has progressed in a relatively similar way. If I have been diving I get up early in the morning, grab breakfast and go diving. If not, I get up late in the morning, have breakfast, and do nothing!

The food here is pretty awesome, and in some ways you wonder what exactly the tourist areas of Cairo, Luxor and Aswan are doing in terms of food. Every meal you eat along the Nile, even in the areas frequented most by tourists, you have to analyse and scruitinise to ensure that it is safe to eat:
1. Decipher what exactly it is that you are ordering, as the menu will be either in Arabic, or the English equivalent name that is hard to pronounce the first time you read it, and you have no idea what is in it. Eg. Shwerma (like a Souvlaki in a bread roll) or Shakshouka (scrambled eggs with mince meat).
2. Other than occassionaly meal, the diet is essentially a million and one types of different bread which gets tyring quickly.
3. The main meat is chicken which is easy to screw up if not cooked well enough, plus there has been reecnt bird flu cases in Egypt.

In Dahab, it is set up for the tourist traveller, with the meanest breakfasts you've ever seen. Omlette's, made of about 4-5 eggs go for just 8LE (about $2 AUS). Fresh juices are sold everywhere, and you can have a great breakfast with and omlette, toast, 'sausage', 'bacon', fried mushroom, tomato, beans and juice for less than $5.

And it's not just breakfast. I had a chicken dinner the other night, that consisted of:
*1/2 chicken
*Bowl of rice
*Lentil Soup
*Bowl of "Baked Beans" which was essentially lentils in tomato sauce.
*Plate of salad
*2 Pieces of pita bread stuff.

All of that came to about $3.25 Aussie! Red Rooster should have a look at doing a meal that cheap...

So needless to say, the food isn't contributing to a huge drain on my money, neither is the accommodation with my room going at about $40 Aussie for the week with a double bed and private bathroom. It would cost more than that per night in many European countries for a night, let alone a week, and even a dorm bed with a shared bathroom costs more than that in London. So I didn't mind staying here for that reason either.

The problem is, there really is nothing to do. I am not really a 'lounge on the beach' kind of person, and given that the 'beach' is more smooth pebbles, I have even less desire to lounge. The other end of Dahab bay has an area that people tend to swim, or at least snorkel over the last few days. I have noticed that the place is slowly getting busier as my stay continues as well, building up to Easter I suppose.

That said, it isn't doing much for the night life. The night life consists essentially of the following:

Blue Beach Bar - The Furry Cup. This is where all of the dive instructors go, and is a small place that for some reason always seems to have had a heater on. The conversation often centres around diving, and the music is a wierd blend of 90's rock, and the occasional Jack Johnson-esque song.

Crazy House Bar - A bar with a pool table, immediately next to the Poseidon Dive Centre (where I've been diving) but I have never seen more than 10 people in it at any one time.

Rush - On the other side of the dive centre, this area has the occasional 'rave party' a couple times a week. The busiest I have seen it was the Wednesday night I arrived, where there were about 30 people in there at midnight!

Tota's - Next to Crazy House bar and seems to be where I ended up most of the time. Beers are nice and cheap ($2.50 Aus for 1/2 Litre) and they have the big screen for movies early in the evening (7pm satrt). Unfortunately, there some soccer crap going on at the moment, Champions League finals or something, and the place seems to be soccer crazy, with every screen showing soccer.

Now, maybe I would let this grow on me slowly (I've got no choice if I'm going to stay in London), but you have no chance when it takes you 45 minutes to figure out which team is which because the commentray is in Arabic. They had Barcellona and someone else last night on the big screen, and I fell asleep I was that bored. No, I'm not jokin, I did fall asleep. The game ended in a 0-0 draw and I was thankful for the shut eye I had managed to get. I was actually kind of upset that there wasn't a shoot out... stupid game.

Anyway, after the big screen goes off, the "Dance Zone" fires up. It is a small area between the front bar and outdoor bar that seems to attract a crowd in front of the DJ booth. The DJ basically plays the same commercial stuff you get in Australia, from the commercial hip-hop and dance catalogues.

Now, what makes this place actually attract a crowd? The Biog screen? Maybe, but it is still early when th emovies finish, say about 10pm usually. Music? Don't think so. Cheap Drinks? Just as cheap else where. No it was a very intelligent (if not quite perverted) manager/owner, who knew how to get a crowd, even if it consisted primarily of older (late 20's, early 30's) Egyptian men.

The guy 'employed' two Estonian girls (Greta and Mirim, who were in Dahab on a wind surfing holiday with a wind surfing club) for 50LE a night ($12.50 Aussie) to dance on the dance floor. As the week has gone on, more and more locals seem to be showing up, and by the end of my first week here (Wednesday, and their last night in Egypt) the pub actually stayed open, and was busy till 3am. Now, what exactly is 'perverted' about that.

Let's remember that it is suggested that Egypt is a place that girls shouldn't travel solo, and probably shouldn't travel without a male companion. Either way, they are suggested to wear a wedding ring, and tell anyone who asks that you are married. That is the kind of attention that girls attract from Egyptian men.

Still, that is not the disturbing part of the situation. The disturbing part is that the girls were 16, and being given alcohol. The manager quickly found that the two girls friends also wanted to come in, and soon word around the local community must have been that there were a bunch of young western girls getting their drink on at Tota's, cos every night the place got busier.

The manager was more than happy for the other Estonian windsurfers to come in and drink, knowing that the more people in there, the more locals (even if it is only drinking coke). On the last night they were there, there was 11 in total I think, ranging from age 13-16, all drinking and smoking sheesha.

On one of the nights (the night I actually found out they were from Estonia, their ages, and that a couple of them were getting paid) the 13 year old boy (Chris) was vommitting in the back lounges. I went up and asked if he was okay, and when I saw his face (and that he CLEARLY wasn't 18 - that was the first time I'd been close enough to any of them to be sure) got him a water. In 10 minutes he was out cold. And I mean cold.

A couple of the girls (Keso and Johanna) came back and asked if he was okay. It was then that I got the full story as to who they were, and that the bar didn't mind if any of them drank. I actually asked the bar chick later and she just shrugged and said 'it's good for business'.

Anyway, had to carry the kid to a taxi (about 500m) and put him in the taxi. Next thing I am in the taxi, and when we get to the hotel, I am carrying him into his room (about another 500m), while the two girls are distracting the parents on the trip. Man, people weigh a whole lot when they really are 'dead weight' and it was hard work.

Anyway, I got a friendly greeting from the kid every time I saw him there after, once he got over the embarrassment of teh situation that is. So even when I'm on holiday I am still being the good samaratin.

Upon talking to the Dive Centre guys, and complaining about the night life in Dahab, they told me that I had basically no choice but to head to Sharm el-Sheik, the tourist capital of Sinai. Now, given it is an hour and a bit drive from Dahab to Sharm, it would be like heading from the bars in Geelong to the bars in Melbourne. Add to that the 150LE ($37.5 Aussie) entry for the clubs and double drink prices compared to Dahab, it seems like a long way to go. Although, the dive centre guys assure me that being a huge Russian holiday destination, you are usually guaranteed to find at least one or two stunners in eahc club.

Sharm is alot different to Dahab (judging from my short 40 minute stay there). It kinda looks a little like a Gold Coast Queensland that was erected in 10 years, excpet that there is almost no suburban area. The resorts stretch along the beach front (real beach, not pebbles) as far as the eye can see, and the towns are only one block deep from the beach, with McDonalds and KFC starting to creep in. Most people say that about 12 years ago, Sharm was like Dahab is today. And 12 years ago, dahab was a hippie hang-out. So there is a push to stop Dahab being over-run the way Sharm has been.

Infact there used to be a McDonalds in Dahab, but in '95 there was flood was it washed away the store. They still own the land, but never rebuilt. There are still remnants around town, including the McDonalds bin at the Poseidon Dive Centre, and a bruger joint that has made good use of some left over signage to come up with the less than creative restraunt name (and probably a lawsuit waiting to happen) of McBurger. The Golden arches form the 'M', while 'cBurger' has been added later.

So why was I in Sharm? Sharm is the main port of Sinai, and the best place to do most of the Red Sea dives from, if you're staying in Sinai. So, in order to do the SS Thistlegorm, I had to leave from Sharm. It required leaving the dive centre at 615am, bussing to Sharm, on the boat and headed for the wreck at 8am, and get to the wreck at just after 10am. We were in the water for the first dive at 1040am, Johan and Lisa the Swedish couple, Katie the English diver, Farmer the Irish instructor and myself, all of us using Nitrox for the first time (except the instructor of course).

The sea in the area was actually quite rough, and 6 boats were already moored above the wreck. Mooring the boats in the first instance is a challenge in it's own right. A diver jumps overboard, and heads down to the wreck to tie off a line to a hopefully stable section of ship. He then shoots back up, gets a second line, and back down to tie off again, thus 'stabalising' the boat. With swells pitching in the order of 3m, there is plenty of strain on the line, and the wreck that has been sitiing down in the ocean for over 60 years. The diver then comes to the surface, and heads back down to guide tours... sounds like a lot of hard work, cos it probably is.

Until the two lines are tied off, the boat is basically at the mercy of the seas, with the motor off so as to avoid accidents with the divers getting cut by the propellors. We saw that first hand as our boat got thrown into a moored boat, cracked a portion of the ships hull, and snapped one of it's mooring line. Ooops. I've never heard so many Arabians yelling so loudly. It was kind of unnerving considering I was going on my first wreck diver, nitrox dive and the seas were rougher than I'd been diving before.

Once we got in the water, I was utterly stunned. You just look down and see the huge-ness of this boat. 126m in length total (I'm pretty sure) and you couldn't see from one end to the other is was that long. As we descended, everything just became bigger and bigger, to the point where you are swimming around on the deck of the ship.

It was increible, you could actually picture walking along the boat, climbing up and down the stairs and going in and out of the rooms. The fish life was good, not as pretty as the reef's earlier in the week, but MUCH bigger. Butterfish half a meter tall. Huge. Trevally that could take your head off (ok, maybe not THAT big, but big). More importantly, the condition of the ship is incredible, and because it rests upright, it is easy to imagine how things would have been on board.

After the half hour first dive, including the look in the Captains quaters, which still had the private bath (The toilet has been stolen?) and staying mostly above deck, we ascended and got back onto the dive boat. After a good lunch, and a quick glimse at the Solar Eclipse (yeah, we only had a partial eclispe from our vantage, I'm still pissed I couldn't get to see the full one, but there's more in my lifetime, and it is now on my "Must Do Before I Die' list) 3 of us went back for a second look at the wreck, sea sickness getting the better of the Swedish couple.

The plan for the second dive was to head to the area of the boat struck by the bomb, and go look at the two anti-aircraft guns at the back of the boat. Unfortunately the current had picked up substantailly (I mean I had to SWIM hard). Instead we swam into holds 1 & 2 where the jeeps, motorbikes, guns, ammunition, army boots and aircraft wings were all being stored for transportation. It was incredible to see the rubber tiles still in perfect (well at least looked perfect) condition, and the jeep sitting there with old gauges still there. It was an awesome experience.

After the second dive, and watching people come up all over the place, and getting picked up by motorised dingys and brought back to the dive boats, we headed back to sharm. As the pass between Sharm and Dahab reaches over 1000m, we spent an hour in Sharm to ensure no ill-effects of heading to altitude after diving. I think it had just as much to do with Farmer getting his fix of Maccas though!

So that covers most of my time in Dahab. The place is full of stray cats, and dogs, all of which bug you while eating dinner. Slowly it is getting busier as my time here is going on, but it really isn't a backpacker place. The weather though has been beautiful, hot in the day, and a cool breeze as the sun sets.

Most people are either here to dive, or a romantic get away (English getting some much needed sun after a shocking winter), without the busy atmosphere of Sharm. Will I be back, most probably, but I wouldn't come alone, unless I was here specifically to dive for a week, or two, and then leave.

Next time would be Sharm if I wanted the party life, and had the cash to back it up... apparently these Russian model types are a little superficial and materialistic... haha... hence the 50 year old fat bald Russian men they are hanging off of. He must export Vodka, I kept thinking to myself, or Russian arms at the end of the Cold War!

Tonight I climb Mt. Sinai for a sunrise from 2500m+ and then back down to St. Katherine's monnestary. Don't worry, I'll take my matches and get a photo of a buring bush for you all! Haha, what a joke, they apparently have the 'real' buring bush locked away in the monestary, but a 'related' bush in it's place for the public now. Anyway, it will be worth a laugh I'm sure. Then tomorrow night is the last night in Egypt before I head off to Isreal (for an 8km bus ride) and then on to Jordan. Will let you all know how it goes, some time in the near future.

Sorry it was such a long one, but really had said much about my time here in the last 10 days....


P.S. For a worthless piece of info. I am listening to every song on my iRiver in the order that they are stored, which is alphabetically. At present I have listened to 634 tracks out of 5429, and am up to Beyonce. Included in those tracks were the 9 hours of mixes from the Thank Fu*k It's Summer Party (if you weren't there you missed out, people are still talking about it, even in Egypt... haha just kidding) and 230 2Pac songs! Like I said, worthless info....