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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Sun... Sea... n Scuba

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 30 November 2005.

Egypt, Country 12, Diary entry 6th – 13th Oct 2005, Total distance in Egypt: 5428 KM We'd like to thank Dušan Peš for letting us use his underwater photos as Alex's have not been developed yet!

It wasn’t long before we left the green suburbs of the Nile and were back into desert. The long road to Marsa Alam was very scenic with dunes and mountains surrounding us. It was nice to have left the bustling towns and have a feeling of remoteness once again. We entered Marsa Alam quietly with only one police check on the outskirts of the town and decided to try and find internet. Back to the dry sandy desert We pulled up along side a new hotel and a man stopped so we asked where we could find internet. He said ‘OK’ and pointed to an office. Not sure if he understood what we wanted we followed him and after a quick chat with the man sitting behind the desk in the office, they let us use their computer! We did a quick replicate of emails, paid, then headed on our way to find our next destination; ‘Blue Heaven Diving’.

Address; Blue Heaven Diving, Tondoba Bay, Marsa Alam. Marsa Alam isn’t a big town so we didn’t think it would be hard to find….but it took us nearly 4 hours! What we hadn’t realised was that the coastline that stretches 100km north and 100km south of it is also classed as Marsa Alam. You can now see our predicament! After driving nearly the length of Marsa Alam and with our pronunciation also proving to be a problem to everyone we talked to, we didn’t think we would ever find them! After asking many people where Tondoba Bay was (pronounced as ‘Ton-doe-ba Bay’), we eventually came across an internet café. After a discussion with everyone in the café and none of them knowing where we wanted to go, we pulled up a map of Egypt and zoomed in on Tondoba Bay. Arhh they exclaimed, ‘Ton-da-ba Bay’. The power of the internet!!

The suspension bridge over the moat at camp Driving the 30kms south to get to their centre, we were met by Constanze who showed us round the Bedouin style camp they used for living. It was extremely relaxing, with a moat around it to stop the goats and donkeys roaming the camp. With lunch and dinner provided on a daily basis and a possibility of diving Dolphin House and Elphinstone in a couple of days, the one night we had originally planned to stay soon turned into an extended visit!

With Constanze being so welcoming, we chilled the first night on sofa cushions sipping chay and chatting with her until late. The first two days diving were on the fringe reef north of the camp. The first day we dived the north and then south side of the reef at Marsa Assalaya. We joined the rest of the gang diving that day; Annie and Sabine, 2 German girls from Berlin and Dušan a guide from the Czech Republic with a group of 6 eager divers. Alex & Constanze relaxing

After our dive brief from Constanze and being told of the possibility of dugong sightings we eagerly waded into the water, over the sea grass and into the blue. The reef was beautifully adorned with colourful sponges and hard corals, nudibranchs hiding in crevices and hundreds of fish swimming around. A great dive and a nice change from the wreck diving we are used to. Working up an appetite we drove back to camp for lunch. Returning for the second dive which was just as nice, we spent a while on the way back to the shore searching the sea grass for seahorses but without success and even though we tried in vain, we didn’t see the elusive dugong!! Next time :o) Ready for another night of chay drinking, chatting and relaxing ahead of us. Constanze giving the dive brief

Martin and Elena were supposed to be a day behind us, but with very little, if any, mobile reception in our camp and the surrounding area, their early arrival to Marsa Alam went unnoticed! We eventually picked up a text message but too late in the day and they had already organised their own diving.

The next day we went to dive the old harbour. After swimming out to the reef over old barrels dumped by the boats and the odd rubbish dropped by thoughtless passers by, we had another 2 enjoyable dives. Having been warned by Constanze that they had only ever dived the south side of the reef a couple of times and they didn’t know what the north side was like, it was the north side that was actually more impressive for me. With shoals of reef fish swimming around the rocky outcrops, lots of hard and soft corals, a couple of moray eels and an octopus, it made an excellent dive. Alex & Maz on the reef

As we did both dives in the morning we headed back to camp for a relaxing afternoon. On the way back we saw a pickup with a few people waving madly out of the back of it. As we drew up closer, we saw a couple of familiar faces and in the crowd was Martin and Elena! We pulled over for a quick chat and after deciding that we’d both stay put in our respective camps and meet up in Beni Suef on the 13th to see the CARE project, we headed back to Tondoba Bay.

We spent the afternoon relaxing in hammocks, reading and catching up on emails. Alex was still in the midst of trying to organise a liveaboard boat from the Sharm area and with communications being sporadic it was difficult to finalise details. We ventured back to our little man in the office 30kms down the road to see if he would let us use his computer again to replicate. Luckily for us he was there and it was no problem to download.

View from the dive centre Having spent the afternoon taking in the slower pace of life that Marsa Alam offers, we opted for a night dive on the house reef. Not having the opportunity to do many night dives in the UK, I always jump at the chance when they’re offered. Kitting up in wet gear when the sun isn’t shining is not a pleasant experience really, but with everything switched on and working, we waded once again into the water. With only the beam of the torch lighting the way we followed the reef round, hoping to see the shoal of barracuda that we’d been told had made their pride of place under one of the moored boats. All the sea urchins had come out to feed and the starfish were slowly moving along the rocks. Lots of activity you don’t see on a day dive and fascinating to just stay put and watch.

As I swam round one side of a rock I spotted a beautiful shimmering green and purple octopus making its way over the sand. Alerted by the beam of the torch, it soon hurried its pace and after one bad attempt of trying to get into a hole too small, it amazingly squeezed itself into a bit of the rock about one eighth of it’s size and disappeared out of view. Impressive! Alex began quickening the pace as he was getting cold, so we finished the dive on a high and wandered back to camp for dinner. Back at camp new holiday makers had arrived, Andi (a cameraman) and his friends, to add a few more Germans to the crowd!

The next day we ventured to Shab Samadai (Dolphin House), a horseshoe shaped reef which creates a shallow turquoise water lagoon where a large herd of spinner dolphins live permanently. Historically, about 800 people a day were brought to the site to either dive or snorkel the reef in the hope of seeing the dolphins, but after active lobbying from those keen to protect the dolphins and the reefs, the area is now protected and you need special permission to dive it – numbers are now limited to 100 divers and a 100 snorkellers a day visiting the site. The inside of the reef is out of bounds to divers and only snorkellers can swim in certain parts of it, but we were allowed to dive the outer walls. The western tip provides a large group of pinnacles rising to the surface from a carpet of seagrass, populated by schools of reef fish. Again, after searching in vain to see the dolphins, we heard them but unfortunately didn’t have a sighting! A really nice dive, but it was the next day’s dive we were getting really excited about.

The early morning view waiting for the zodiac With a dawn start planned, we went to bed early to make sure we’d get some sleep before the wake up call at 4.30am. Having left all our kit on board from the day before, the plan was to meet the zodiac, hop on board to get to the day boat and cruise out to the Elphinstone Reef. However, upon arriving at the shore there was no sign of any Zodiac. With Ramadan in full swing, the boat boys were still fast asleep after waking earlier to have something to eat to get them through the day. After wolf whistles, shouts and eventually a little man swimming to one of the nearby boats to borrow their zodiac to wake the boys, we eventually boarded. Even though it had had taken longer than planned, it wasn’t too bad waiting around as we witnessed the most beautiful sunrise.

Constanze’s husband Ayman was our guide today, and after driving through the night from Cairo, was incredibly perky! As soon as Alex and I were on board, we headed down to the bunks to try and catch up on some sleep as we had to be in Beni Suef by 11am the following morning – 500kms away! However, our attempt for sleep was not to be. Ayman rounded everyone up to talk about the days diving. He gave the most animated brief I have ever seen, making you feel like you were already on the dive. Very amusing to watch.

Alex taking pictures of Maz on the Elphinstone reef Described as a famous world class dive site, Elphinstone Reef is just that. The sheer walls of the reef plunge steeply into the blue, richly decorated with soft corals, sponges, gorgonians and fans. Sharks often swim by the spot to feed on the abundant reef fish, with the northern plateau home to schooling hammerheads and frequent sightings of oceanic white tip sharks. Excited about the thought of seeing sharks, we were gently brought back to the real world after being told that there was only a small likelihood of us seeing any as the water was now getting colder. In Alex and Maz’s world translate that to ‘absolutely no chance’!! With 4 other boats already on the reef, the crew dangled a yellow fin under the boat, so we could recognise which boat was ours as we drifted back to it.

The zodiac dropped us in the water upstream and we slowly drifted down the side of the reef looking out every so often into the deep blue with the hope of spotting some big fish. Alex and Dušan had their cameras with them and began snapping away on the colourful fish and coral. Looking at the reef life round the coral Before we knew it, an hour had passed and we were near the boat again. We were thinking about coming up, when we spotted a group of divers clustered together. Looking past the divers, we suddenly saw why they were just hanging about mid water……….S-S-S-SHARKS!!!!!

Eagerly wanting to get in on the action, we swam over to get a closer look. It was an oceanic white tip. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hang around for too long as we’d already been in the water for over 70 minutes and were getting low on gas. By the time we’d swum back to the boat another shark had appeared. Both sharks were swimming round the boat and seemed intrigued by the dangling yellow fin underneath, nudging it with their noses contemplating whether to have a taster. We were quite glad we’d opted for the more sombre blue & green fins as from afar, it looked like they were doing a pretty good job of trying to pull it off and would have made a good picture had it succeeded!

Back on the boat there was an excited buzz. Having already joked with Andi about not seeing sharks, dolphins and turtles parading themselves on the previous dive, we checked he’d seen the sharks on this dive. “Sharks? Stop kidding me” he retorted, so we dragged him to the back of the boat where everyone was crowded looking at the dorsal fins cutting through on the surface. “Let’s go and get a closer look, Alex you with me?” so Andi and Alex donned snorkel, mask, fins and cameras and slipped back in the water so as not to frighten the sharks away. No chance of that……

It wasn’t long before most of us were back in wetsuits and in the water snorkelling with the sharks. There were now 3 and they were hanging around! We stayed in the water for over half an hour watching as they swam back and forth round the boats. To get some good close ups of the sharks, Alex was duck diving trying to take pictures of them. Alex gettiing friendly with an oceanic white tip They seemed particularly interested in the strobes and a couple of times the sharks got so close to him that he had to bang them on the nose with his camera! As we got out I suggested to Alex that we put our kit back on and go for a dive while they were still in the vicinity. Needing no persuasion, we kitted up and were back in the water. The others soon to follow.

It wasn’t long before the sharks were gracefully gliding by and we were getting a good look at them. With Alex taking more pictures and trying to get close up shots we were soon separated. As they kept swimming past, I soon realised there were 4 sharks, disappearing and reappearing from the blue. I presumed Alex had gone off with the others and I was left with just Annie and Sabine, but I later found out he’d suddenly found himself alone with 4 oceanic white tips and was keen for some human company! S-S-S-SHARK....Oceanic white tip Luckily after following one of the sharks into the blue, Alex found the rest of us again and the four of us bobbed about in 10 metres with nothing except the sharks and the deep blue beneath! Absorbed by the beauty of these creatures of which 5 were now circling, one had a shoal of little pilot fish surrounding it. Annie and Sabine then swam off in a different direction and left Alex and I alone in the big blue.

It was getting later in the afternoon and the sun was low on the horizon. Having been in the water for 45 minutes, we were acutely aware that we had not heard the zodiac above us for a long time. With the current drifting south, we had been steadily moving away from the moored boat and wondered how far away we actually were. The sharks were becoming more confident around us and we were getting the feeling that they were wondering where their next meal was coming from……They were now swimming so close between us that we could have touched them. Taking the hint, we decided we had outstayed our welcome and sent up the orange surface marker buoy 'SMB' to try and attract the attention of the crew on the boat.

A closer look! In hindsight this may not have been the wisest of decisions! As soon as the SMB went up, the sharks become even more interested and were swimming to the surface to get a closer look. They began nudging it with their noses and nearly got tangled in the rope. Both realising we were wearing orange buoyancy jackets our hearts were now beating much faster than we wanted, knowing that soon it would be us bobbing on the surface in orange! On reaching the surface Alex ‘armed’ himself with his flag while I had the SMB. With backs to each other, Alex tried to attract the attention of the boat by waving the flag whilst I kept an eye on where the sharks were, prompting Alex when one needed a prod with the flag pole. Luckily enough it wasn’t too long before the zodiac was whizzing its way over to us. I de-kitted while Alex held the flag ready to prod the sharks when they got too close, then with roles reversed Alex did the same.

After scrambling back in the zodiac as quick as we could the skipper began heading back to the boat. We soon stopped him as we were concerned about Annie and Sabine having left us about 10 minutes before. After searching in vain for about 5 minutes and becoming increasingly anxious, we saw their SMB bobbing on the surface and quickly headed over to them. They too were extremely concerned and please to see us! Still being very inquisitive Sabine was very keen to get into the boat with all her kit on so as just to get out of the water, but after calming her down a little, we de-kitted them before dragging them into the boat.

With exhilaration and adrenaline pumping through our veins we headed back to safety. What an incredible dive! Everyone had swum with the sharks, but we had stayed in the water longer than most. Back on the boat, Dušan and a couple of his group were still in the water and with the sharks still hanging around for dinner we were worried as to where they were. However, soon enough we were all back in the safety of the boat discussing the finer details of the colour of the sharks eyes and sparkly white teeth! :o)

As we were getting ready to head back inshore, someone shouted “dolphins!” Masks and fins were soon back on Alex and he was in the water again. With 2 dolphins on his right swimming past, the day couldn’t have got any better, but as he looked to his left, 2 oceanic white tips had returned and deciding that enough was enough he got out of the water while the going was still good! Annie jumped back in the water after her dive having not seen the return of the sharks. We all shouted for her to get out as they were becoming increasingly active in the water and we could see one of them making a beeline directly for her. Not having grasped we were all shouting at her, she turned to see what all the noise was about and fortunately moved her arm downwards and smacked the shark on its nose and scared it away! Having got the message she exited the water PDQ!!

Escorted by a school of 50 dolphins..!

We headed back to shore with a school of about 50 Dolphins guiding us in for the first hour on the bow of the boat, frolicking and dancing in the waves. This really was a perfect day! Once back on land Andi interviewed Alex and I for a TV news bulletin to be shown in Germany. We headed back to camp for a quick chay with Constanze and a few others before bidding fond farewells to our extremely hospitable hosts and headed north to Beni Suef. Timing it again perfectly, we passed the police checks at ‘breakfast time’ and with police in full swing of eating we cruised out of town without a problem.

The bedouin style camp Constanze had given us details of all of the towns up to where we had to head inland for Beni Suef and a quick lesson on how to pronounce them. This was to help us when we were stopped by police; we could tell them we were heading for the next town and there would be no need for a police escort! We ventured quickly into Hurgarda to buy some ear drops and antibiotics for Alex as he could feel an ear infection beginning, with a failed search for schwarma in desperation we settled for a KFC! By 1am we had managed to drive a long way north and camped behind some piles of dirt by the side of the road just before we had to take a left turn and head inland.

Waking up at 6am we continued the drive to Beni Suef. Making a stop at the only service station en route, we bought some breakfast and a coffee before returning to a semi sparkly car where a man had pushed the dirt around in an attempt to clean it while we were in the café! Paying him a few egyptian pounds for his efforts we carried on the journey. Having arrived before 11am, it then took us another 40 minutes to actually find the office in the town, the big giveaway being Martins car outside……

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Comment from Pete B
It's raining and misrable in the UK, Work still sucks with same shit and a different day, I can't tell you how envious I am of Sun, Sea and freedom, Go for it guys (the VW bus is nearly ready!)
01 Dec 2005 @ 08:52:56

Comment from Keith
Nice dives - hope your pix come out as well as the ones you've borrowed though I have to say Alex's strobe configuration looks awfully familiar.... ;-)
01 Dec 2005 @ 10:11:48

Comment from Jim
The film of the dolphins escorting the boat and swimming in front of the prow was beautiful - what an experience - why weren't you in the water???
02 Dec 2005 @ 22:10:38