Diving the Red Sea on the Sinai Peninsula

An hour passes on the border between Israel and Egypt and we anxiously await to see if we’ll be granted entry. Every 15 minutes a voice comes on the loudspeaker to remind us of the suspicious package that they are working on. Soon enough though, the gates open and we saunter through customs easily. Of course, we are bombarded by taxi drivers who want to take us to Dahab or Cairo but we follow our instincts, tell them to buzz off, and walk 1km to the bus station. We meet a German traveler there who has been waiting for the bus to Dahab for close to 5 hours already. This is discouraging but after some additional travelers arrive we arrange a reasonable fare of $15 each for the 6 hour ride to Cairo via a mini taxi. A pretty good deal considering it costs more for a 15-minute taxi ride in San Francisco. Arriving at checkpoints along the road we pay our entry tax into Egypt but then we are stopped at the next checkpoint for not having the appropriate visa to continue on to Cairo. Apparently, there are at least two different visas you can obtain at the border and we got the wrong one. We return to the border to get everything resolved and in turn realize that we’d have to return to Israel, wait for the consulate to open the next day and then wait for 3 days more while they process the visa. I don’t think so.  During this process of question and answer, Erin deals with a trigger happy customs agent who stamps her passport with the Egypt ‘departure’ stamp. We decide we’re going to skip Cairo and just stay on the Sinai peninsula and start our walk back to the bus station. We’re stopped again because Erin has now officially left Egypt so I retrieve our bags from the mini taxi while she gets it cleared up. By this time, we’ve missed the bus to Dahab and resort to having to pay for a taxi for the two hour drive.

Smoke BreakOn the way our driver stops at a Bedouin tent for his smoke break. Locals smoke hookahs filled with what the refer to as massa, a flavored tobacco. The driver invites me to share the smoke with him and I say ‘why not.’ After we finish passing the pipe back and forth I have a tobacco buzz and the local Bedouin man pulls out a 4-stringed instrument he refers to as a ‘simsimean’ and plays us several songs, one which I recorded in length. I ask him what the song was about and through his broken English and my broken deciphering abilities, we arrive that the song is about Sweet Nutella. Pretty unlikely but worth a million good laughs.

View from Penguin RestaurantWe carry onto Dahab, a small seaside town made famous by the hippies in the 60’s, which translated into Arabic, means gold. Within minutes we find a sweet hotel called Penguin Hotel and check into our room. After checking in we chill at the restaurant which reminds us of Thailand, with pillows galore and low tables. Checking our email, we do some research and find out that Penguin Hotels offers package deals for rooms including breakfast and scuba diving so we inquire at the front desk and they agree to allow us to start diving the next day.

Diving in Dahab

Nemo and the Nipple Anemone

Tiger Striped Lionfish

It’s a long story, but I had already dove over 20 times while in Belize and received my Open Water certification and was well on my way to becoming an Advanced Diver. However, I never mailed in the correct paperwork upon my return to the States and technically that means I’m not able to dive. This had presented problems throughout our travels. Anyhow, we decided that I’d start over from scratch and Erin would get her certification as well. Spending the next four days at the resort, we would take quizzes and watch videos, slowly making our way through the coursework.

Scuba JV and Scuba SchneidsOur dive instructor is Ahmed, a short, burly, Egyptian man that resembles a bulldog. He is, however, a big teddy bear and would often joke around with us. In the mornings after breakfast, we would meet with him, load up our gear, and then proceed to the dive site for skills testing followed by fun dives. The water visibility was around 100 feet, similar to Belize, but the water was colder so we had full wet suits and booties on. In total, we completed six dives over three days and received our Open Water Certification. Our last dive was the best as we only had about 5 minutes of skills testing and then 50 minutes of fun. Ahmed also brought his camera so we goofed around in the water and got some great shots of the aquatic life.

After returning in the afternoon from our second dive, we would usually just relax at the restaurant around the resort. We really didn’t feel the need to explore Dahab because it seemed that every resort was offering the same kind of atmosphere. It was nice to just chill and not have to worry about where our next meal was coming from. After our five days in Dahab, we ended up missing the morning bus to cross back into Jordan so we spent a sixth night. Oh well, $10 each -including food- for the mistake shouldn’t break our budget. 🙂 We are going to ancient city Petra in Jordan before flying to Istanbul, Turkey!

Scuba Buddies

Swim like an Egyptian

An 80’s Hawaiian shirt- teal, red, hot pink and yellow

An XXL pair of leopard print undies

The game of Pick Up Sticks

The cratered surface of the Moon.

What do all of these things have in common? They resembled under-water life seen in the Red Sea off the coast of Egypt.

A PADI dive course introduced me to dozens of new species, including a parrot fish, a HUGE, lazy spotted blowfish, a spiky sea urchin, and a massive chunk of coral, all described above, in that order.

Learning to scuba dive from 9 am – 4pm for 3 days turned out to be an excellent adventure course, teaching dive techniques and resulting in an open water certification that is recognized around the world. Mastered skills included emergency ascents, sharing air with a buddy who has run out, managing underwater when losing your breathing tube or mask, and learning how to piece together all equipment.

scuba

Above: Swimming 30 feet under the Red Sea, at Moray Garden.

Our fearless leader, Ahmet, has been working in the dive industry in Dahab, Egypt for years and is about to open his own dive shop before the end of the year. We heard through the grapevine that he was the best teacher on the Sinai Peninsula and after taking the course, we agree he’s spectacular. He is serious about the sport but knows how to make it fun and educational as well.

Ahmet

Above: Ahmet, Jason and I before our last dive together.

lion fish

Above: A lion fish

Above: “Nemo” the Clownfish

Above: Many types of coral on the reef

After zipping around Israel, it was a relief to stay put and work on the PADI dive course in Dahab. Penguin Resort, a hotel, dive center and restaurant/bar all in one, was home for 5 days. The dining area butted up to the water so the beach was literally the back yard. And the best part about this location was the price: a seaside spot for $14 a night!

At night we would gather around the dining area, which leaned out against the Dead Sea, overlooking Saudi Arabia. The floor space was set up like a Bedouin camp where we sat on cushions and ate hummus and babaganoosh, which is a purée of roasted eggplant and tahini, flavored with garlic and lemon juice. Puffy, warm pitas were served along with the dips and the smell of sweet sheesha smoke drifted through the air. Fruit flavored tobacco was smoked through the long tubes of these pipes.

Above: Penguin Resort’s lounge overlooking the Red Sea.