Day 1: Saturday February 25, 2012: Brussels Ė Marsa Alam
The departure to Marsa Alam is only at 18:00 on the night before Timoís birthday, so on February 25. Earlier that day Veerle and Timo go for a walk with the dogs: Cartouche and Duvel like this a lot. Then we head back home, have lunch, take a shower and then prepare to go to the airport. Timo drives there and Veerle returns. At a few minutes before four oíclock we arrive at the airport, but first smoke a cigarette outside. At quarter past four we havenít seen anyone of the group, so Timo goes inside and checks whether they are waiting inside at the counter of Thomas Cook. Not. They are already queuing for the check-in. Timo goes outside to get Veerle and then checks in. Everyone was already there: Ilse, An, Greet, Bieke, Ludo, Ivan and Jan. We donít need to wait long to check in, but then Timo has a problem. He has a case that weighs too much and needs to pay an additional twelve Euro for each kilo (48 Euro). The guy at the check-in is really giving him a hard time and then especially about the hand luggage. Timo wanted to suggest taking a small bag out of the suitcase to limit the weight in the case, but heís only allowed to take one piece of hand luggage. He could not be persuaded even after others of the group say they had less weight. Timo has to pay and divide the hand luggage, because with the laptop, the camera and casings is was about ten kilogram. Thatís a bit too much, but to hell with it.
Then Timo and Veerle can say goodbye and wonít see each other for about a week, but weíll hear and read each other. Also a last quick cigarette and then pass the passport check, through the scanners for hand luggage and then to gate B4. Timo withdraws some cash and then goes to have a Leffe to reach his ZEN-mode. After another cigarette at the smoking area close to the bar he manages rather well. Everybody is now ready to wait another thirty minutes to boarding time. It all goes smooth, no delay, everybody is on time in the airplane and we even have space to put our hand luggage. Great!
Soon after departure the stewards and stewardesses pass by to offer something to eat. Everybody had ordered food, except Timo, heís the only one in the plane, but he has a quick snack (tuna sandwich) and a beer and then the rest of the passengers receive their meal of eighteen Euro. The idea was to have a budget-friendly vacation, but with the extra luggage-price this has not started very well. The trip goes fast after the meal and normally the flight should take four and a half hours. Timo already knows the newspaper by heart after two hours of flight and he tries to sleep a bit. In one way or another he manages to do that, because the next time he checks his watch we only have one hour flight left. Time flies when youíre having fun Ė to which extend you can say a flight is fun of course. Half an hour later they say that itís only twenty minutes to Marsa Alam. And then everything goes fast. Half an hour later weíre on Egyptian soil in a fourteen degrees hot Marsa Alam. Yes!
Everybody gets out of the airplane, gets on the bus and then passes the first check: first we buy a visa for fifteen Dollar that otherwise is being sold by the tour operator for twenty Euro. Thatís a good deal. Some in our group like Ivan have been for the forth or fifth time already, so they know how this needs to be handled. Then we pass the check, everything all right and then to the luggage to collect suitcases and diving bags. After ten minutes everyone has their stuff and thatís quick. Then another time show our passport and then we can go outside. We can use a sweater and a jackets, because itís not very warm, in comparison to Belgium itís warm, but not what you would expect from Egypt. The temperature has dropped to a cool fourteen degrees. At the exit of the airport a guy from Red Sea Diving Safari is waiting and he takes us to the hotel: better to the tent. The drive is a bit over half an hour; the diving center is about forty kilometres from the airport and about twenty from Marsa Alam city.
When we arrive there after one in the night we get something to eat in a paper bag and itís OK. Timo wants to buy a drink for his birthday, but canít, because the bar closes at midnight. So we all go to our tents, quickly get everything in order and then try to fall asleep with the sound of the wind on the canvas of the tents. Thatís not easy, because itís almost like someone is constantly passing by the tent. There are stalkers here in the diving center. After half an hour Timo manages to fall asleep.
Day 2: Sunday February 26, 2012: Briefing, two dives on the house reef
At about six in the morning the sun comes up and Timo is awake one of the first at Marsa Shagra or at least thatís what he thinks. It is still pretty dead at the camp so he goes for a walk. Or maybe first a description of the tents. In one work: basic: a tent of about three by three meters on the beach, the sand is covered with a mat and there are two beds. Between the beds there is a wooden rack to store the clothes. Nothing more nothing less, we donít really need luxury. We have light and electricity, so weíre good. There is some fear for the sand in combination with the camera, laptop and other electrical parts. The tents are all close to each other. Timo has number 19, Ilse 18, Ivan 17, An and Greet 20. Jan is a bit further away in tent 7 and Bieke and Ludo have arranged a tent deluxe. As mentioned there is nothing to see yet: the reception is not open yet and the diving center is also closed, so Timo walks a bit on the beach and then back to the ten. In the meantime also the neighbours are awake and together with Ivan, Timo tries to arrange to receive a briefing earlier. The Egyptian does not really understands and says the briefing starts at one and then we can dive. We need to find a solution for that. We go to the restaurant, meet Ilse and Jan and have a light breakfast already. A large restaurant with different choices, but because of the late snack yesterday nobody is hungry yet. A bit later also Bieke and Ludo arrive and then An and Greet, so everyone is at the table for breakfast. After breakfast we try to arrange an earlier briefing. In the end only An and Timo are here for their first time; the other two or even five times. We get things sorted, because after weíve filled out all the paperwork we get the briefing. Bernadette provides that to us.
About ten minutes later everyone is there and we get our briefing. We receive an explanation about the booking system that registers everything automatically, very nice and very helpful for special dives, meaning non-house reef dives. Everything is clear and then the briefing continues in the shade part. There are about hundred lockers where you can leave your gear and also lock them. Again: very nice: everything is done for divers and all necessary arrangements are available for divers. A couple of clear tips and Bernadette also mentions which cleaning pool serves which purpose. When all this is said, Ďthe eight Belgiansí can leave the briefing and go diving. Yes, thatís what weíve waited for. Everyone get their equipment and puts it in the plastic box of the diving center, we quickly write the names on the board for the north reef and itís only ten when we can start. Bieke and Ludo dive together, Ilse, Timo and Jan also and the third buddy-team is Ivan, Greet and An. The idea is to stay together the first part, but when it wonít work out, weíll divide into teams as described.
Everyone is ready quite quickly and we enter the water for our first dive. We start at ten and then we leave. An has some problems, because she only received her permit recently, so the rest does not wait. The dive starts at the yellow buoy, you follow the rope to the outer reef and half way down the small bay you cross it so you come to the northern part of the house reef. We immediately see a bunch of fish, especially different species of surgeon fish, but we dive inside the dust caused by the wind and the divers in front of us, so we continue. We see a large round stone that connects two ropes: one the way we come from and the other serves to cross the bay: thatís what we do and after ten meters we arrive on the north reef. The first thing Timo sees is a large cornetfish, a really magnificent animal. He tries his external flash, but it has not the good influence as he would expect. But as you know: one needs to practice to get good results. The reef looks nice, but the visibility is not so great: a couple of divers went into the water just before us and they have stirred the sand. That combined with the heavy wind causes a lot of movement in the water. An royal angelfish and a grouper swim past the lens, but itís too difficult to take a good picture. The coral, hard and soft is really magnificent and it looks really intact here. To be a house reef it looks great. The coral groupers are present in large numbers and then Jan spots a batfish with a little blue cleaning fish. The grey body with the yellow side and the fins look beautiful. A bit further we see a couple of pipefish. A large school of glassfish swims in the darker part of the reef and then we like it a lot to see another kind of angelfish: the emperor and thatís a beautiful one. Weíre just in the water for half an hour and we like it a lot.
A group of snappers is watching us come closer and then disappears in formation over the reef, like theyíre in the military. We had indicated on the board that we would dive one hour, so after thirty minutes we turn back, we dive shallower and return to where we come from. It will take another half an hour before we arrive. A giant pufferfish is resting undisturbed on the sand until we come by, because Timo needs to take pictures from this. The fish is scared by the flash, but stays on the sand. Bannerfish dance above the large sponges and a lonely hawkfish is lying without movement on a piece of coral. When we come closer he has enough and swims away to safety. We already notice during our first dive that there are many giant clams and they are really good to take pictures. The first dive comes to an end. We already see the sand floating through the water in the distance and we know weíre almost there. Jan has a small problem to stay under the surface, but then uses his snorkel to reach the yellow buoy Ė our departure and we meet there. Everything is all right. We enjoy the beautiful weather on the bar, have something to drink, something cold or warm: some of us are already cold. Well, Timo is never cold, so heís surprised. We then go to lunch for a quick bite and start preparing us for the second dive at about two. This will be our second dive of the day and now teams are different: Timo swaps places with Ivan and joins An and Greet, because Ivan was not able to actually enjoy the first dive.
We get ready, get into a wet wetsuit and that is never fun, but we feel good and look forward to have a dive. And now has a couple of extra weights and now itís easier for her to get under the water. Also to the wing (BCD) we made some adjustments and it now works better for her. We go down easily and now dive towards the south part of the reef. When we just reach the sand we see an electric ray, a beautiful animal. We then start to go deeper, first to about nine, ten meters and then we go to fifteen. We follow the reef at our right side and see the same animals as the first dive: bass, unicornfish and all the others are spotted too. A funny pufferfish comes towards us and also this dive weíre impressed by the state of the reef. The visibility is still not so good, because the wind nor the divers have dropped. A little scorpionfish is spotted by An and sheís doing a great job. At about twenty minutes of our dive time Timo thinks itís best to turn back, so turn and start diving shallower and shallower. During the ascent An canít get the air out of her BCD and Greet and Timo help her to stay under the water. Our rescue-course is no paying off. We donít see anything special after that, also because weíre focused more on each other than on the reef. It does not really matter; the vacation has just started and weíll see plenty of great things this week.
After forty-five minutes we reach the shore and give An some tips and tricks to make things easier and more comfortable for her and then itís time to have a drink. First a shower, then a beer at the bar. They donít have any Sakara here, but they have Stella, also not so bad, but the Egyptian beer canít compete with the Belgian pils or Duvel. We speak about the dives, laugh a bit and only the youngest of us are here: An, Greet, Ilse and Timo. A bit later also the others come by to have a drink and then we go to the restaurant to eat. Itís basic, but OK. After dinner Timo pays for the drinks for his birthday and then we speak about travels, diving and other great stories. We make it a nice evening, but at about ten everyone is tired and goes to bed. We have done two, others three dives today and the divers who read this, know that it can be exhausting. The first day is already finished. Time flies when youíre having fun! Sleep tight!
Day 3: Monday February 27, 2012: Ras Samadi and Marsa Egla
Five AM: woken up by a singing Arab. Somewhere in this area we should find a minaret or a disco, because otherwise this is not possible: singing Arabs. We think a minaret is close. We: that is An, Greet, Ilse and Timo. First have a quick breakfast and then prepare for our first truck-dive. A dive during which they will take us to the dive spot with a van and then material is brought over with a truck. We arrive at six sharp and theyíre already loading up everything. We need half an hour drive, then the driver takes an exit from the Ďhighwayí and cross sand dunes and small sandy hills. We stop at a beautiful beach, a little bit cluttered with garbage like the rest of Egypt, but the reef looks nice: welcome to Ras Samadai. Ras means head (according to Greet it means hair) and Samadai is a local bird in Arabic.
The drivers open a large piece of hard plastic on the ground and they take everything out of the truck so we can prepare for our dive. Thatís why weíre here eventually. After half an hour everybody is ready and we can leave. We get into the water with high tide and walk a sandy path between the reef to reach a deeper part. After a few meters the wall of the reef begins. We put our fins on and can start. Weíve already done some sport today: itís a walking and diving vacation. We dive into a small open cave and need to exit the cave through a narrow canyon. Everyone can follow? Yes, so we leave. At the end of the canyon we turn right and follow the reef and the blocks at our right side. Immediately after the exit of the canyon Timo spots a blue spotted stingray, he tests the camera and yes, all is OK. On the sandy bottom and along the corals Timo does some tests with the sharpness and the hardness of the new external flash, but at this moment it seems to be best on automatic mode. Weíll see what the outcome is. We dive over the sandy bottom until a maximum depth of about eighteen meters. We canít go deeper, so this is perfect to get used to the water and do a long dive. We donít see so many special things. Butterfly fish flutter in pairs over the hard corals and a lonely coral grouper is hidden in the rocks. The typical inhabitants of the Red Sea reef are also here and they make the reef very colourful. We see many large sponges and a lionfish is under a hanging rock. With the flash set to automatic Timo succeeds in taking not-so-bad pictures. He had promised Ilse to spot a nudibranch and indeed, well hidden between the rocks he sees a Chromodoris quadricolor. No picture of this one, because itís too well hidden.
We stay on the reef from this side all the time and then the guide asks how much air we have left. There are a couple of divers with only hundred bar, so we cross the reef here through a narrow canyon to about eight meters. Then we continue to follow the reef on our right hand side. The visibility is very good without any sand or other particles, so everything is all right. A masked puffer swims towards us and a pair of chevron butterfly fish follow him over the table coral. Timo remembers the first time he saw the colours and the reef and the fish in Taba: you seem to get used to it, but you should not look at it that way. Also the dive sites here south of Marsa Alam are really beautiful. Lemon-yellow fish swim through the coral and the other sea creatures move: it still is a magnificent world to discover. Whip coral grows here too on a couple of spots and we think itís astonishing that the corals can survive divers and snorkelers in the area. Timo tries to mind his buoyancy all the time, but at one moment he looses it and touches the reef, luckily without braking anything, so thereís no damage done. After five minutes we reach the starting point of our dive and can return via the small canyon to the roof of the reef. Everybody is OK and we were able to enjoy our first dive of the day. In the open cave at the end there is a large scrawled filefish in a cleaning station. Itís a big one of about forty centimetres and a cleaner fish is cleaning the larger one: a great sight. Then itís the end, back on the reef, remove fins and follow the same path to the shore. We get dressed and then get on the bus and they bring us back to the camp.
After a half hour drive we come back, clean our gear and then have a drink, we speak about the dive and have a small snack. As in the past Timo does not eat too much between the dives, but has enough with some pasta and fish, especially drinking is important and with that he does not mean alcohol, but water. Thatís what we do and at about one in the afternoon itís already time for the second dive, this time itís not that far away, only ten minutes by car to Marsa Egla. When we arrive there a few divers are in the water and during the briefing the guide says from time to time we can see a turtle here. Hopes up! Marsa Egla is a small bay with a north and south reef, simply left and right of the bay. The briefing is short: get into the water over the sand, then follow the wall and return via the same wall: easy as hell! Around the bay there are a couple of dunes and on one of them an Egyptian guy is doing nothing. Above him in the sky two vultures are circling: maybe an omen of what is to come. They donít stay long, so the guy can be at ease. Then we start preparing for the dive. Bieke has a bit of problems with her tank, because it looses air all the time. Luckily the dive guide has a separate O-ring, because the one of Bieke had suddenly disappeared. When everyone is ready we get in the water and leave for our second dive. The divemaster guides us over the grass and sand and quickly has spotted a turtle. Everybody comes closer and she grazes on right in front of us. Just a minute later there is another turtle: this time a smaller one: a hawksbill turtle: seeing a turtle is always nice and two during one dive is even better. On the sea grass a large triggerfish is defending its nest, so we stay out of his reach and we continue over the grass. A strange fish sticks his head back in the sand when we pass and we swim to the wall. Itís pretty dusty here in the water, but maybe itís normal when a dozen of other divers are in front.
On a piece of hanging table coral a scorpion fish is enjoying the peace and we leave him be. Timo spots plenty of small fish in the water: they all are juveniles from the lyretail hogfish. Timo can enjoy the dive, because the cold water has caused the battery to be flat sooner than he wanted. We continue the dive and we see a tube worm that has found a nice quiet spot. The small hogfish are really cute: they have a double tailfin and a couple more small fins. We see dozens and we can really enjoy the view and dive. After half an hour the guide turn back and we go from eighteen to eight or nine meters. We can continue for ages like this. The reef fish greet us all the time and two yellow butterfly fish almost hit the mask of Timo. Those bastards just know his battery is flat. We continue our relaxed dive and donít se anything special anymore. We follow the wall and even dive almost onto the beach. At one meter and a half itís difficult to call this diving, so everyone surfaces. We had not seen Ludo for a while and neither did we see the guide, but we canít loose our way when we follow the wall. And indeed, after sixty seven minutes everybody ends the dive. We come to shore almost as the last ones and get dressed. They looked stressed, because we need to hurry up. Zen-master Timo does not allow this and calms the rest down and makes sure nobody forgets their stuff. We even have time to smoke a cigarette. Eventually some divers are not ready yet and we need to wait for our ride back. Fifteen minutes later weíre there, clean our gear and leave everything to dry.
Four oíclock and this means tea time, or better first have a shower and then have a beer. We clean the salt from our brown bodies and after the shower we have a beer at the bar. While the others speak about their last dive and dives, Timo finishes the reports of today and the day before. If he does not do it today, heíll be forgotten everything tomorrow. Because heís been doing this for so long, it would be a shame to stop it now. Then also the others have a shower and we drink another beer and our stomachs say at about seven itís time for dinner. Then we hang out at the bar some more and discuss the dives and the days weíre here. At ten everyone is tired and we go to bed. Ivan has bought drinks for all, cheers mate; it was a good beer. And then itís time to sleep, because tomorrow Ilse, Greet and Timo need to get up at five to go to Elphinstone.
Day 4: Tuesday February 28, 2012: Elphinstone and Marsa Shagra house reef south
Elphinstone: a dive site of which the name is very familiar to many divers and has a special ring to it. The sightings of the oceanic, hammerheads and napoleons have probably caused this. Yesterday we decided to get up early this morning and so we get out of bed at five. We need to be ready at six to leave to Elphinstone with a fast RIB. Everybody is awake: Greet, Ilse and Timo: the others donít think itís worth to pay 25 Euro for this magnificent reef even without sharks itís great. The day does not start off so well. Timo has lost his mask. After searching all of the camp, a guy from the diving center notices that Timo is looking for something and the mask and snorkel are with the lost objects. Yes, Timo can dive. And heís lucky, because a mask with the special glasses costs more than two hundred Euro. When everyone is ready we get a briefing. We donít know yet how the current will be, so we need to wait how the dive will be like, but the guide Ashraf briefs both scenarios. Everyone carrier their equipment into the water, into the RIB and then we can go. Full speed it would only take us ten minutes, but already after five one of the engines is down and we need to go with one engine only. What a bad luck today. Theyíre supposed to send a replacement RIB from shore, but then suddenly the engine is OK and after half an hour weíre at the dive site. The instructor dives to check the current and then we can all go into the water. Everybody ready and we can descend.
Everybody goes down pretty fast to twenty meters, but Timo has problems with a leak in his manometer. After a couple of minutes that look like eternity, pressure goes from 200 to 190 to 180 and then Timo gets the leak resolved. In the meantime everyone is down below him and he sees that Ilse and Greet are looking for him, because at that moment heís only ten meters deep. After equalizing he goes down fast as hell. Then Ilse notices Timo above and he signals heís coming and heís OK. So he goes down to about twenty five meters, follow the reef and dive into the blue hoping for a shark-like appearance. It was no success. After twenty minutes diving someone in the group signals he has only hundred bar left. We havenít seen a thing and he already needs to start thinking about the end of the dive. The agreement was to dive in buddy team then and make sure you can end the dive safely. We do that, because we follow the instructor from a distance to about twenty meters and then we know which side of the reef we need to follow: the darker side offers protection from the current. The dive is very comfortable, because currents can be strong here. Not this time and we stay at this side of the reef. The sea goldies, also known as anthias are present in very large numbers. In large schools and swarms they hang over the reef and synchronously swim away when a diver comes closer. Small blennies dive between the rocks and coral when we approach, but all together itís just great.
We keep an eye out for each other and have a good air consumption. Greet has hundred bar at the same time as Timo. We stay here and enjoy the hard and soft corals. Purple, yellow, red, white: you can find all colours here and then you have a large number of fish. We still think this is a great dive site. It makes it even more impressive that you swim over a depth of over hundred meters. We spot many different species: coral groupers, lion fish, different kinds of butterfly fish and we love it a lot. This site is really worth to get out of bed early and the price. The last minutes weíve been diving at about fifteen meters and then we go shallower slowly and stay at ten for a while. At this depth we see the sun coming over the edge and we look at the beautiful play of the sun and the fish on the reef. Itís really amazing. Also unicorn fish and soldier fish live here in great numbers. Parrot fish bite the coral and Timo sees a small shrimp. It is a species of cleaner shrimp. A pipefish joins the shrimp and looks for food. Hawkfish, giant clams, butterfly fish: this reef has everything the Red Sea has to offer. Itís too much and too beautiful to mention. Then we go shallower and everybody has about sixty bar and we start our safety stop. We do this longer than usual and are OK. When Greet and Timo reach about forty bar we dive away from the reef and send our buoy to the surface. Timo has to do this, because Greet brought it with her, but preferred someone else would use it. It all goes well, Timo unpacks the buoy and the rope and ensures he keeps the end of the rope in his hand. Everything should then expand automatically. He fills a bit of air in the buoy, let it go to the surface and then he needs to let go for a second, because the balloon takes him two meters up. There was a small knot in the rope and even by this little amount of air heís quickly taking towards the surface. Everything is all right and the other two come to the surface and after a dive of forty five minutes the RIB picks them up. It was a nice dive and then we head back to shore. The engine is broken again, but we manage to get there. Weíve not seen any sharks, but it was very nice.
When weíre back at Marsa Shagra we clean our gear and go for breakfast. The others start their first house reef dive now, but weíll wait for the house reef until this afternoon. We eat, rest, check some pictures and write the reports. The time flies by, but Timo gets a bit sick by lying in the tent for too long. It gets hot very fast, so he gets out and sits with the rest in the wind and looking for shadow. At about twelve noon we go for a small lunch and then have another dive. The four of us go for the house reef, the south part. They drop us off with a RIB, we enter the water en dive the whole way back. Today is loose-your-stuff-day, because Timoís snorkel fell down when getting out of the boat. Not good, but no disaster. The wind has taken up speed and there are waves, so we try to go down asap. We donít see a snorkel down there, no luck in finding that back. We descend on a pair of anemone fish and Ilse is a real fan. Beautiful animals and very curious, because they come closer to the camera and the flash, when they leave the shelter of their home. We start the dive very calmly. Greet is buddy with An and Ilse and Timo look the reef for nice things. There are again the juvenile hogfish and hopefully Timo can get a good picture now. A couple of lionfish, coral groupers, but really nothing special to see at the beginning of the dive. But then Ilse and Timo have spotted a crocodile fish at the same time. They take the same route and think, howís that possible he/she has seen it too. Timo chooses a different angle and then we continue very calmly. Weíve asked to drop us for a dive of about thirty minutes, but in the end it will take us over an hour. Timo shows the eggs of the Spanish dancer to the others and focuses to have the flash setup correctly. It looks good and this dive heíll have a couple of nice pictures.
A school of snappers has found their place between two pieces of reef and swims through it and is located between a large group of snappers, just a great feeling. Weíre diving for fifty minutes when the visibility gets poorer. There are many things floating in the water and they cause the bad visibility. We follow the corner of the reef and start to enter the bay over the sand and reach shallower waters. We check on our buoyancy and continue only when weíre all fine. We manage OK, only An has some problems, but that is not abnormal when you start to dive. After a dive of sixty two minutes and only thirty bar left in the tank we stop and walk to the shore. We surfaced at the yellow buoy. After the dive we talk about the dives of the day and have a drink. Four of the group go for a night dive: Ivan, Jan, Greet and Ilse. The others get ready for dinner. An and Timo have a shower, drink something at the bar and at seven we all go to the restaurant. We are filling up our stomachs, because diving makes you thirsty and hungry. While the rest does the nightdive Timo write the reports and at seven everybody is ready to eat. Have a nice meal! Then after dinner we have a beer at the bar and again we go to bed early.
Day 5: Wednesday February 29, 2012: Sharm Shuni, Abu Nawas Garden and night dive
At twenty before six one of our co-campers has set the alarm and either theyíve already left or theyíre not waking up: bottom line: with the alarm they ensure the whole camp is awake. We donít like it that much, but thereís not a lot we can do about it. Timo goes out and calls at the ten (looks stupid), but there is no reaction at all, but a few minutes later the alarm stops. Because everybody is awake so early we already go for breakfast at six thirty, have a quick shower and then prepare for our first dive. We go to Sharm Shuni by van. There we will do a shore dive and this afternoon weíre going to leave by RIB again. After breakfast we go to the shadow area where we stored our gear and we prepare our boxes to put un the truck. Everyone is more or less on time and we drive for fifteen minutes by bus. Along the shore a bit north of Marsa Shagra and then we dive. First we have a briefing with our guide Ashraf and we let him know that An has only (or already) ten dives, so he can pay attention to her. No problem: every diver had to learn at some point. We receive a short briefing and then we walk over the reef table (a small path) to the washing machine to get in the water there. We already see from the surface that there is a current, but weíll survive.
Weíre ready, but the other group goes first and then itís Anís turn: put fins on, fall back and remain floating. Everything is fine. The rest acts in the same way and from the surface we immediately see a stingray. Weíll see about six during this dive, all very well positioned on the reef or on the sand. Nice! We descend into the washing machine, itís called that way because weíre being turned from left to right and from top to bottom, itís really special everyone is OK and succeeds to keep the buoyancy under control and then we begin the actual dive: well done An! We exit the cave through a narrow canyon to reach the sand. We notice that weíre begin sucked down on the sand by the current, but we donít mind. We head towards the reef, because on the sand there is nothing to see. There should be garden eels here, but we donítí see any. The reef itself is very beautiful here. Not a lot of divers, so also not a lot of dust. When we cross the piece of sand Timo sees a type of wart slug; the others are far away, so he canít show it to them. It does not seem long, but by this moment weíre already twenty minutes under water. The part of the canyon and over the sand has taken some time. After half an hour we dive higher against the reef and see the normal reef life. Nothing special, except for the many stingrays, those are all spread around the dive site. Just like the previous dives we see the hogfish. The wall is very beautiful and we love it. A pair of butterfly fish acts in their fluttering way over the reef. We see some soft coral, but mostly hard coral.
Weíre already on our way back to the washing machine where we started the dive and keep on following the wall. A couple of blennies hide in the rocks and the corals and the small green chromis dance above the corals and disappear when you come closer. It seems strange theyíre not hurt when they swim between the coral. You should try and hit it, youíll react differently. We approach the fifty minutes diving time and we dive shallower to start our safety stop. Weíve reached the cave where we started and now we go the other way. We dive after each other through the canyon and two pipefish follow us into the cave. Everything is great. We make a couple of turns to arrive at a larger chamber. Weíve been here before. On the darker rocks grows different marine life than on the lighter reef, but nothing special to report. Five minutes later we see a small opening in the reef and this way we can go to the surface. Itís not easy because of the waves. Some divers get thrown on the reef, but with their cameras Ilse and Timo need to be cautious when they put their head above the surface. Everything goes smooth and we survived this dive also. Back to the shore, put our gear in the truck and then head back to the dive center. As always we clean the stuff and just do nothing between dives. We have a drink, check out the pictures and then look in the fish guides which species we saw. We sit in the sun and sheís burning, although itís only twenty four degrees. After half an hour everyone needs to go out of the sun, because otherwise we start looking like a lobster.
At about twelve we have lunch, but just a small one for Timo. And then after lunch itís time to prepare for the second dive of the day. We start with an RIB from the diving center to AbuNawasGarden. That is a part of the reef farther down south and the site looks like the rest of the house reef. We prepare, but need to wait another thirty minutes before everybody is ready. Until now that all was OK, because we never had to wait long, so now is the first time. A Dutch couple with their son of about ten is not ready yet and we need to wait for them. Ashraf then starts off the dive-guidance very well. A short briefing. Jump of the boat, dive and follow the reef at the right side. First one guide is going to check the current and it could be the reef is at the left side, depending on the current. Well, there is not really a heavy current, but maybe now there will be. At one thirty everybody is ready and three boats are being dropped: a group of six, one with eight French divers and a third with the Dutch people joined with a few more. We are the group of six with Ashraf and two people from North-Europe, Danes we think. We all get in the boat and then leave. Everybody ready, yes, all OK and we jump on three: one two three jump. Not on three, but on jump J. An, Greet and Timo go at the reef side and get the RIB on their heads, but no problem. There are some waves, but not so much, so we descend and the dive can start. The reef is at our left side and we go. A few sweepers swim along the reef and as every dive the view is stunning. A beautiful reef and at the bottom a coral garden, really nice. A group of yellow barbels and snappers have found a quiet spot along the reef and we feel very comfortable diving here. Ashraf is looking after An as a real instructor and behind them Timo, Greet and Ilse follow. Weíre having a good time. Greet hits Timo a couple of times with her fins on his mask, but he keeps everything under control.
The dive goes well, but we donít get to see special things. Donít get me wrong, because itís great here, but we welcome rare sightings. A pair of anemone fish has found their home in a bubble tip anemone and comes out to defend their home against intruders: what the hell are you doing here? And then Timo sees something special. Of course nothing big, because he overlooks that, but a flatworm: the yellow spotted flatworm. It is a flat worm mostly black at the top and of course with yellow dots. Along the side of the mantle we see a white line and the animal is really beautiful, about three centimetres, so not even a small one. A large school of fusilier fish is parted by the diving French, but they form a large group. Nice sight. The dive is easy, but no real stunning sightings. We dive until forty five minutes relatively deep and then Ashraf decides that itís about the end. Maximum dive time was fifty minutes, so we start our safety stop and then climb on board again. Thatís not easy, especially because Timo already put one of his fins on the boat. Looks like a beginnerís mistake, but it works out this way too. Everybody gets into the boat without problems and then we return. After five minutes weíre back at the base and can change. We rest a bit, have a drink and then we prepare again for the third and last dive of the day. We hunt the hard-to-find Spanish dancer on the south reef. Jan was not diving today, because he had a bad back: a day of rest will do him good and heíll be diving again tomorrow.
Timo first finishes part of the report and then itís time at about five to get ready for our night dive. Timo can use the lamp of Greet for the dive. The plan is to start the dive with five (Timo, Ivan, Ilse, Bieke and Ludo) and if we loose sight, we continue in two groups. Timo then continues with Ivan. We have our picture taken and then the dive can start. We quickly have to divide into two groups, because we loose ach other fast. No problem, because we had good arrangements made. Just as in Dahab a couple of lionfish follow us almost during the whole dive. We start very slowly over the sand with the reef at our right side. There is quite some marine life awake, because the sun has not yet set. Parrot fish look for a place to sleep, but are disturbed by the lamps and look for another spot. Normal and orangespineunicornfish are still looking for action, because there is no night life yet. After twenty minutes we havenít seen a lot, but itís getting dark now, so it will get better. Ivan decides to dive higher on the reef to avoid speed-diving on the return to be back within the hour. Timo is OK with that. A blue spotted stingray is sleeping on the sand between the reef and a lonely lionfish hides between the rocks and then suddenly Ivan sees a giant moray. Timo starts to take pictures. Luckily he already had changed the settings on the camera on the feather stars on the fire coral, otherwise there would not be a single clear picture. We stay some time with the moray who is attacking a grouper, but heís too big, so leaves the grouper alone.
We dive very shallow over the reef, only see coral and then Timo has seen something red between the coral: no luck, because itís only a red spot on the reef. But then he does the sighting of the day: between the rocks, in a small cave he sees a red spot again and now it is what heís looking for: a Spanish dancer. Yes! We donít see the whole nudibranch, but only the behind, but thatís the prettiest part. Ivan is happy with the sighting and Timo too of course. Mission accomplished! Timo stays here a couple of minutes to check whether the others are coming, but after five minutes nobodyís there. He looks behind, down, but he sees no lamps. Bad luck for the others. Then we continue the dive and arrive at five meters to do our safety stop and there we meet the others. Where do they come from suddenly? Ivan sees a blue-eyed hermit crab and if you see the crab you know why itís called like that. The crab carries a shell with three or four anemones on the back and carries them over the reef. The dive comes to an end and we get out of the water after a nice night dive on the south reef. When we started we saw at three meters depth a scorpion fish hopping on the sand. Normally they donít move a lot, but this one was hopping away from the reef, but when we came back we did not see it anymore. We arrange our gear and then have a drink, take a shower and arrange to meet at the restaurant at seven thirty. We have something from the buffet and then have a drink at the bar. Everybody is tired at half past nine and one by one we go to sleep. Quickly a text to home: everything is OK there and then Timo goes to bed, because tomorrow is another diving day. We wish all the fish a good night and also the Spanish dancer to be present tomorrow so Timo an also show her to the others. We fall asleep immediately and enjoy our sleep after a busy day with three dives. Sleep tight, everyone.
Day 6: Thursday March 1, 2012: House reef North, Abu Nawas garden and night dive house reef south
As every morning a singing Egyptian wakes us up at five, another hour of sleep and at about six itís to light to stay asleep. Timo gets up and there is already something to see at the camp. Ivan is ready for breakfast and prepares for a dive and Timo enjoys the coffee at the bar and writes the report of yesterday. Ludo and Bieke are already up early to leave for Abu Dabbab to see turtles and maybe a dugong: letís hope so. At about seven Timo walks through the camp and is enjoying the peace and quietness. He misses home a bit, but every day is again a new discovery on the reefs of Marsa Alam and that gives him comfort. Another hour and then itís time for breakfast, because also the ladies are awake and ready to eat. We have a large breakfast and will have a calm day today. The plans are to first go to the house reef and then to Marsa Brayka and maybe another night dive. Timo is the spotter of the nudibranch and wants to show the Spanish dancer to Greet and Ilse.
After breakfast Timo, Greet, An and Ilse prepare for the first dive on the house reef. It was from the first dive that Timo has been on the northern part. We go there another time now. An is not comfortable to go by zodiac, so we leave from shore and return to shore. After an hour everyone can leave for the first dive today. Yes! We do a quick buddy-check, then get into the water and then leave. Timo leads the dive and the Greet, An and Ilse follow. We follow the bottom of the bay via a rope and notice that the visibility is very good today. In regular distances we see shimmering in the water and there it is very cold. Timo has been diving in shorty every day and now too, but on those places itís very cold. According to a Belgian guy itís only eight degrees, so pretty cold for the Red Sea. There is almost no current, so diving is good today. Not many divers, good viz, no current: perfect!
We cross the bay half way down and then slowly go deeper. An is only allowed to eighteen meters with Open Water, so we donít go deeper than that. We have enough to see at fifteen, so no problem. The north reef is also beautiful. Again nothing spectacular, but Red Sea life is quite all right. The first part is about half an hour, we saw some lionfish and also a large number of glassfish and a blue-dotted coral grouper. Heís a normal reef guest. The giant clams are enormous and the abundance of fish keeps amazing us. Above the fire coral (donít touch it, Greet) many goldies bring red-orange into the reef. After thirty minutes we turn and dive shallower, back to shore. All three, weíre very calm and An controls her buoyancy perfectly. She almost dives without problems and has learnt a lot during this weekís dives. After forty five minutes we dive even shallower; the air consumption is less and we need to start thinking about the safety stop. We start it when the sandy slope indicates weíre almost there. Just before that we see a large school of Indian mackerel with their mouths open swimming through the blue water: they move like one giant fish. Also the most difficult part of the dive is OK and passing through a few very cold spots we reach the yellow buoy. Here we end the dive and then clean the gear and have a drink.
Itís almost midday and time to have lunch before our second dive. Donít eat too much and too heavy and at a couple of minutes before one weíre ready to leave for Marsa Brayka. The instructor asks if everyone is OK to dive AbuNawasGarden, because Brayka is not a very nice spot. We did it yesterday, but it was OK, so everyone agrees. Prepare, buddy-check and then into the zodiac. We drive to a bit after the next hotel with a long pier for snorkelers. Next to it there is a wreck that ahs hit the reef and there weíre being dropped. Just before we enter the water the guide says: negative entry. We all had an inflated BCD, so quickly remove all the air, fall over the edge and descend to five meters. It works out for all of us. Abu Nawas is a beautiful dive site; actually itís a bit farther than the place where they drop the house reef divers for zodiac-zodiac. We descend all the way and follow our guide. He guides us down south, because the current is OK to go there. Greet is OK, Ilse too and Timo also. Have a nice dive.
We follow our guide and he indicates a spot where a moray is sheltered: a large giant moray sticks with the head out of the reef: very nice. A couple of young lionfish have a get-together and sit under a table coral. Theyíre really amazing and magnificent animals. We slowly dive on, follow the guide al the time and he goes up so we donít use too much air. He had already briefed this upfront: the coral garden at Abu Nawas is only twelve meters deep, so thatís the place to be. Timo quickly signals Ilse and then Greet, because he has seen a tiger flatworm. A green-black flatworm with yellow stripes and along the side an orange edge: great animal. Weíre on the move for over half an hour and then the guide even dives higher. There are some hanging caves and there are other plants and animals. Small cup corals are abundant here. A large school is blue fusilier fish has found some rocks together with yellow snappers and with the light of the sun falling down itís brilliant. After three quarters some of the divers only have sixty bar and we need to start thinking about the safety stop. The guide takes his buoy, blows air in it and after a safety stop of seven minutes we can ascend. The buoy marks the spot and the zodiac picks us up. Nice and easy, even with the waves, which makes the boarding a bit more difficult. We are being boarded like whales and fall down in the zodiac. Pain and cold, but weíve forgotten this fast after a great dive.
We try to dry up our gear for the night dive and after two hours we can have a last night dive on the south reef. Timo wants to spot the Spanish dancer again, but to make things clear: this time he does not find it. Ilse, Greet and Timo leave at half past five, when there is some light still and we dive fast to the deep to stay longer on the reef. Timo will only use his camera for the real special things and not for the normal feather starts or lionfish or other Ďnormalí sightings. We dive to our maximum depth of twelve meters in ten minutes. Then we slowly ascend under the guidance of ZEN-master Timo. We see a masked puffer, the same one as yesterday on the same fire coral and we dive under, between and over everything to find a glimpse of the Spanish dancer. In stead of the nudibranch we see another yellow spotted flatworm and a Chromodoris quadricolor. Also the abundant stingrays are on the sand and after forty five minutes weíve covered a lot of reef. No hermit crabs, no scorpion fish, only some white dots show on the reef when you shine the lamp at the reef. The light are the eyes of the shrimps and they react to the light. Ilse follows a stingray and then starts to act strangely with her lamp. Greet also acts strange with her tank banger and then Timo sees that weíre talking cuttlefish here. As you would expect he joins them. The pharaoh cuttlefish is not something you would see often here, although it has been seen a couple of times here on the reef. The cuttlefish leads us away from the reef over the sand and we follow him. We have a quick chase like James Bond and then we leave him and finish the dive. It takes only a couple of minutes, because we were almost there. It was a very nice dive, even when we did not see the red beauty.
We quickly have a shower, have a beer and go for dinner. After dinner we head back to the bar and have another beer there. We wish everyone goodnight and then we can enjoy a well-earned night of sleep.
Day 7: Friday March 2, 2012: Day excursion Abu Ghusson Ė two wreck dives
Yesterday Ashraf had asked our group whether we wanted to join an excursion to a wreck, the Hamaada. That is a different environment than the house reef and a normal reef, so An, Greet, Ilse and Timo want to do this. We get up at six, have a quick breakfast and at seven we meet in the shadow to leave for Abu Ghusson. Yesterday we already had to prepare our gear for today, so everything will still be wet. Weíre all there, except a couple of French guys and in the end we can leave by bus for one hour and fifteen minutes. We head south, cross Marsa Alam and indeed after an hour we arrive at our destination. Here weíre going to do two dives. The first one is over the sea grass, then to the wreck and then second dive after a surface interval of one hour to the wreck. Preparation, then over the sand where we put our fins on and then on the surface to the spot where depth is about five meters and there we descend and start the dive. In our group there are three Dutch people, one German woman, Gertrud and the guide of course. We first look on the sea grass for a sea horse or a dugong, but we find nothing. We dive shallow to the reef and then reach the wreck. And then suddenly Greet signals she has seen something very big. Later we notice this is a dugong. Also An, Ilse and Gertrud confirm this, so it must be true. The guide is away, because the three Dutch divers hang on the surface fifteen meters away. Nobody swims towards the dugong, so we decide to wait for the rest. Because of the Dutch divers we have missed on the sighting of the year. Not nice!
Instead of the dugong we see a large turtle. The visibility is not great, only fifteen meters, because in the water float eggs of jellyfish. After half an hour we reach the wreck and have a look. A beautiful nudibranch, the ringed Chromodoris crawls over the sand and a bit later Greet sees the same species on an iron bar of the wreck. We dive over the wreck and notice the beautiful coral on this artificial reef. It was a carrier that hit the reef for one reason or the other and sunk. The depth is only from seven to eighteen, so easy to dive and very interesting to have a first impression of wreck diving. For An, Greet and Ilse this is the first wreck. On the shipís rail there is a large crown-of-thorn starfish and also for Timo this is the first time he sees that. Weíre already on our way for a while and turn back. But that does not mean the dive is over. On the sandy part between the grass Gertrud sees a mangrove jellyfish. It looks like itís stuck in the sand and swims with the back in the wrong direction. It looks like sheís lost direction and certainly the surface. And then Gertrud points out another nice find: two cleaner shrimp in a sea anemone. The creatures are transparent with blue at the tips of their feet and at the tail. Itís nice, but very hard to take pictures because they have the same colour as the sand. Nice she has spotted them.
We continue the dive over the sand and spot a leopard flounder: even two, a large one of about fifteen centimetres and a smaller one. And then after one hour the dive ends and we get out of the water. We walk back to the beach where theyíve put the plastic and now we need to wait for an hour and we can talk and wait for the second dive here. We arrived in the desert without a living soul around, but in the meantime some Egyptian women arrived with a couple of booths and they sell jewellery. Some other divers arrived also and it starts to be pretty busy. We have a drink and stay in the shelter of the van, because there is a very hard wind here. An hour passes quickly, especially when you talk about dugong, turtles and beautiful dives.
Then we get ready for the second dive and the last one of the vacation. Time flies when youíre having fun. The plan was to stay longer at the wreck, but because the dugong was spotted at the first dive weíre checking out the sea grass again. Without success this time. We see the turtle for the second time and a couple of undefined things on the grass. A small trunk with tentacles appears to be a tube anemone and a tube worm species has not yet been identified. We reach the sea grass again and see a Trichonotus nikii. It is a long fish with fins at the upper and under side and watches the divers strangely. A large colourful triggerfish is looking for food between the grass and then we go back to the reef. Our guide has lost the direction for a moment, so he goes to the surface to check where the wreck is and then he knows weíve followed the grass to long. We need to return to the reef and a bit farther we see the wreck. It is very beautiful if you see the bow and also the rest of the ship. This time we enter into the wreck and Gertrud guides Timo to the most beautiful spots of the wreck for the pictures. But first we stop at the phone of the wreck. Not everyone, but An and Gertrud need to make a phone call. Then we go into the wreck and there is some cargo left on the top: small plastic balls that were carried over the Red Sea. The guide blows into it with his regulator and that makes all parts floating down. Itís nice, but the visibility has become zero now.
Corals grow all over the wreck, hard and soft one: really magnificent. We all enjoy it and as said this is nice for the people doing a wreck dive for the first time. Itís a nice first tryout. We dive shallower to extend our dive time and Timo sees another nudibranch: a wart slug. Nudibranches rule! We now follow the reef on our left side and return to the start of the dive. Again the dive almost lasts an hour and we can look back at two very nice dives. At the end of the dive we see a giant moray, quickly take a picture and then safety stop and end the dive. On the shore we put everything back into the boxes, get warmer in the sun and then the driver takes us ten minutes by car for lunch in a small settlement, El Qulían, where we have fish, vegetables, rice, potatoes and fruit. We have a drink and explore the lagoon. Two dromedaries are grazing, but we mainly are here for the lagoon. Itís beautifully blue, a really great sight. The nature reserve is not really clean: the Egyptians can even pollute a reserve. We see plastic bags and bottles everywhere. How is it possible you can leave a reserve in this state? We mainly love the blue water, the mangroves and the animals here. A couple of large white herons and also dark blue ones are looking for food in the shallow waters. Two plovers do the same and wade on the beach. A few persons in our group cross the lagoon and spot an eagle. Nice, but Timo stays on this side. He enjoys the sun and the peace and the temperature, stays out of the wind and then is very nice.
The time went very fast today and after this short visit we need to drive one and a half hour back to Marsa Shagra. Everyone gets on the bus and we leave. On the way back it is very quiet, because weíre tired. The most of us rest and sleep a little bit and at about four we arrive at the camp again. We have a drink and then we need to clean our scuba gear, hang it to dry, so we can take it tomorrow and then we rest at the bar. We return the weights to the diving center, get our diving passes back. Tomorrow we need to check out here and then itís over for the week. Weíll need to pass the day, pack and only at ten in the evening we leave the camp at Marsa Shagra. We make sure we still can have a shower and then eat something. After dinner we talk about the week, drink a Stella and at thirty past ten we start to get tired. The best cure for that is to go to bed and thatís what we do. We can look back at a great week and also on some beautiful things weíve seen.
Day 8: Saturday March 3, 2012: Finish the day and departure from Egypt
Today is our last here, but we donít dive anymore, because we fly at about midnight. Theoretically we could dive, but weíre not taking any chance. Timo is woken up by the singing Egyptian and by the damned alarm of our neighbours, so he gets out of bed and stays at the bar from six to eight to write the reports and to check on some pictures. Greet joins him, drinks a coffee and reads a book. At about eight the others should be awake too, so we wait for them to go for breakfast. At a few minutes past nine itís time to eat, so we go out and check on them. Most are already at the restaurant, but Greet goes to the tent to see if An is already awake. And yes, there she comes and we have breakfast. Weíre stuck here until ten tonight, so we have all the time today. It will be a long day. After breakfast we talk about the vacation and the dives and then everyone starts packing. Ilse is very nice to pack Timoís regulator and two books, so he does not need to pay overweight anymore. Maybe the Egyptians would be not so strict, but youíll never know. Timo stays in the tent to prepare the bag for hand luggage and corrects some reports. There will not be a lot to see anymore today, because weíll be here whole day. The benefit was that we could do some more diving yesterday, but not today.
Everyone is ready quite fast and we go and sit at the bar to talks about stuff and to waste some more time. Time passes slowly, but then suddenly itís midday. That means we can spend an hour during lunch, but Timo is not hungry yet. He just takes something to take something, otherwise it would be too long until dinner. After lunch we get the last things sorted and then we have a walk, explore the surroundings, just to kill time. Strange but true: at about three we again reach the bar, have a beer, play some cards and Timo talks to Gertrud, the lady who joined us yesterday to Abu Ghusson. The main topic is diving, what would you expect. Being in a conversation makes time go faster, but at about five she leaves us and joins her daughter home: Bernadette is employed here at the diving center. We stay a bit longer and then have a shower. The water in the gents is not warm, but Timo waits long enough, because when he arrives there, the showers are OK. Then we take our luggage to the reception and some already check out. We need to check the end invoice, because a discount was not always applied correctly. Returning guests did not have to pay the extra dive day of yesterday (thirty Euro) and customers coming here for the first time get the same discount, so they would return. Very cool gesture.
Then we go to eat, already for the third time today. We did not burn many calories, but time goes faster this way. Itís getting pretty warm pretty fast at the restaurant and we almost fall asleep. The past days we would already be thinking about our beds by now, but we need to wait until ten for the transfer to the airport. We play some more cards, drink coffee and refreshments. The temperature has dropped significantly; it almost seems less than ten degrees because of the cold wind. Itís almost unbelievable: this time of the year Egypt is not warm. There are even some of us that are cold. At nine thirty the last in our group check out and then itís only half an hour before the transfer. Thatís what weíve been waiting for and itís not really pleasant to do nothing the whole day and leave so late. We fear that we wonít even be able to sleep on the airplane, but weíll see about that: first we need to pass by customs and the airport processes and then can go home. Veerle will be happy and so will Timo. The transfer bus is ready and takes us to the airport. After about half an hour weíre there and we can queue to scan the luggage, the check in and passport control and wait until the flight leaves. The check in is not easy. They have only printed six labels for the luggage, but five people have booked together and each need two labels. The Egyptian IT guys canít solve it and we need to wait till the end to pass through customs. According to them everything should be OK, but weíll only know that in Brussels. We shop tax-free, wait until about one and then can board and leave. Again Timo is the only one without extra food, but in return he gets three seats. In the end he can sleep for about four hours and that feels all right. After a flight of five and a half hours we arrive in Brussels and can look for our luggage. At the passport control there is a long queue and waiting time is half an hour. The luggage is there and nothing is missing, the Egyptian check-in-guys were correct in that then. We quickly say goodbye and go outside. Veerle is already waiting and weíre happy to see each other. The drive home is fast and at about seven we can get into bed again and sleep. A great diving holiday has come to an end, but everybody is happy to be home again.