True confessions of a Liveaboard, it's no lazy life
Bootcamp diving and other stories of desert life
“I pay you well, I pay 100 camels for your wife!” Bartering with one of our friends whose wife has gorgeous blue eyes.
In 2002 when we went to Ponta Malongane in Mozambique, we made friends from Durban. They arranged a trip to the Red Sea for a big group and invited us to join them the following year, seeing we had dive qualifications.
Diving in the Red Sea
It is most diver’s dream to dive in the Red Sea. It is one of the top places to dive in the world and is known to steal the heart of most divers.
1 week on a liveaboard, diving.
1 night sightseeing in Sharm el Sheik
1 week at Dahab, diving, sightseeing & shopping
2 days in Cairo, sightseeing & shopping.
We flew via Egypt air and sat at Cairo airport for a few hours before flying to Sharm el Sheik where we were to board our boat. Once again the heat virtually knocked us off our feet as we left the airport building. At the quay all the boats made an island of their own, gunnels almost welded together. We had no clue which was ours. The in-flight magazine wasn’t wrong when it said at any given time about 4000 divers were diving per day in the Red Sea. Eventually we found our boat.
Below deck we scrummed for a suitable cabin. We dumped our bags of clothes, then scrambled to squeeze our dive gear in with the other equipment at the back of the boat, it’s home for the next week. Rows of cylinders with our BC’s attached to them. Below our cylinder we each had a crate to put the rest of our dive gear in. There was a section where we could hang our wetsuits.
Once everyone was on board, it was time to depart. The scorched, rough and unforgiving sandy landscape was replaced by azure blue as we sailed out to sea. Such a juxtaposition between the desert and the sea.
Not long after that we moored at a spot and dived right in for our first orientation dive to test our buoyancy and equipment. Nothing like settling down after an overnight flight and adjusting to the climate or recovering from possible dehydration and lack of sleep!
Liveaboard Diving Bootcamp
Our daily routine:
Before the playful exotic fish had a chance to hide in the coral from crazy divers, our days on board started with a clanging bell. We opened our eyes to a sharp, shrill ‘br…ie…fing!’ to call us for our first dive of the day. At the briefing they showed us an infographic of our dive site and informed us of the type of dive we’d be doing. Bleary eyed, we’d kit up. Instead of crawling back into bed with a cup of coffee, we’d fall into the water to swim through schools of fish, admire coral and other sea creatures or worm our way through a wreck.
Just slightly more alert after spending about an hour in water, we’d hop back on board and wolf down breakfast. They were kind enough to allow us to relax for a bit while they motored to another dive site. (If it wasn’t for recommended safety and dive regulations, it might have been another story!) Invariably while we were moving, they’d start with the second dive briefing.
Before we even had a chance to take bearing of where we were, we would don our dive gear once again, and leap into the water for a second dive.
By then it would be lunch time and before you’d even fully digested your grub, you would have the third dive of the day. If by some chance you hadn’t had enough diving for the day, you could volunteer for a night dive as well. Those that felt a bit water logged, freshened up for a few drinks and dinner. No alcohol was allowed during the day, unless you weren’t diving.
Without a doubt, the diving was brilliant. From wreck dives to wall dives, drift dives, excellent visibility and an abundance of sea life. If you like to dive with crowds, that could be arranged too. I have never seen so many divers in one area. If you felt you could spend some more time in the water, you could snorkel too. If snorkeling and diving wasn’t your thing, you could have a continuous party on board the boats.
Who could believe diving was tiring? Or maybe it was the sizzling Egyptian sun and the movement of the boat, but we often had little catnaps and slept well at night, apart from the heat. Sometimes as we arrived at a dive site, we stood kitted up, ready to jump off the boat like lemmings because we had a brief slot before groups from other dive boats did the same as us. At times boats were moored 4 or 5 abreast. You also had to know which anchor rope belonged to your boat, or you could end up with another dive party.
Our boat although relatively comfortable, had a lack of air-conditioning. A barely noticeable breeze cooled us slightly while we moved but did little to our cabins. Once we came to a halt, the scorching cabins became infernos. One or two guys in our group engineered a make shift ‘air conditioner’ with a cardboard scoop, stuck into the porthole to divert some air into the cabins. I’m sure it made a slight difference.
Food on board was delicious and beautifully prepared. There was no shortage, with plenty of liquid refreshment such as water, cold drinks, tea and coffee. Between meals there was an array of snacks and fruit. The difference to our other boating holidays was the time we spent on the boat, without touching land.
The music was another story. Egyptian contemporary music played like stretched tapes over the speakers on the boat. After day two we’d had enough and convinced them to connect our music to their archaic system.
Sharm el Sheik
We spent the last night on the boat at Sharm el Sheik in the harbour, moored where we first went on board. Dinner was reluctantly cooked by the staff. We were convinced they wanted us off the boat, so they didn’t have to work. Dinner wasn’t up to the normal standards and a piece of fish I ate was ghastly. After a couple of mouthfuls, I couldn’t eat any more to such an extent that I spat out the last bit into a paper serviette.
After dinner although we were all melting away, without any sea breeze to cool us down, we were excited to hit the town and explore.
Sharm el Sheik was illuminated and decorated like a Christmas tree. We were constantly harassed by vendors offering us anything, even camels to one of the guys in our group. They wanted his wife because of her gorgeous blue eyes. Thankfully we didn’t inherit a caravan of camels to take on the plane with us. It might have been a problem getting them through customs.
That night, we didn’t sleep well. We were continuously disturbed by people and noise from the boats around us that were packed like sardines. And it was hot! No air movement whatsoever. Even our cardboard scoops didn’t work.
Cardboard scoop in the porthole
Closeup of cardboard scoop
Our next destination was Dahab, north of Sharm el Sheik and an hour by bus. The landscape on either side of us was arid, the jagged mountains equally barren.
About that fish. The one I had to spit out? Bits of it decided to swim against the current of my digestive juices. I tried to ignore it.
Soon after we booked into our hotel (and a couple more visits to the loo) we were ready for another dive. This was at the Blue hole - a famous and most wanted bucket list dive spot for most divers.
We squished into a Jeep and bounced and swayed our way along a dirt track to get to Blue Hole. My stomach by then was churning. 'Tutan's Trots' was taking revenge (named after Tutankhamun). My stomach rebelled and there was no way I could squeeze into a tight wet suit. Even without one, I’d be feeding the aquatic life from my rear end! I felt like a shrivelled-up fish thrashing on the scorched desert sand. I was so disappointed to miss this highlight. Our divemaster gave me a sachet of electrolyte mix and ordered me to drink at least two litres of water with it. The others went diving and after consuming about a litre, I thought I’d hydrate myself externally. I felt somewhat better and snorkelled around the area until the rest of our group emerged from their dive. Even though I was still feeling yucky, it was well worth it.
After the dive hubby gallantly traipsed around the baking midday sun to find a pharmacy. They knew exactly what to prescribe and thereafter I recovered quickly.
This was a delightful dive with a real cute factor. You had to keep absolutely still, wait quietly and watch the sandy bottom. After a short wait a carpet of tiny eels wiggled out of the sand, tail ends still rooted to the spot, heads bent they swayed in the current. If you moved, they would vanish, and disappear for quite a while. A few would pop out again, but not all of them.
The Red Sea is teeming with sea life. The deep blue just a few meters off shore, a bottomless chasm. An unforgettable experience; worthy of a bucket list and should be visited at least once in your life time, if you’re a diver.
Shopping and restaurants:
On average the day time temperature was over 40 degrees C. As a result, the shops and restaurants only opened later in the day. Goats and camels lay in slivers of shade against walls to escape the intense sun. On one side of the promenade along the sea side of the bay at Dahab were tables and chairs set out for each restaurant. Some of the restaurants were decorated Bedouin style, with colourful cushions and carpets to sit on. Most of the cooking stations were on the other side of the walkway.
Some of the restaurants had a bad reputation, so we tried to avoid them. I needed no replay of a few days ago. Only problem was if you ambled along the footpath it wouldn’t be long before a menu was shoved in your face, trying to convince you their restaurant and food was the best. Likewise, with the shops, they were ready to roll out the red carpet for you to enter their doors. Heaven forbid you gave any indication of wanting to buy anything, they would unpack all their shelves, spread it out throughout the entire shop and try their utmost to make certain you didn’t walk out empty handed.
Occasionally some assistants were rather insolent if we declined to enter their shop. There were only so many souvenirs, t-shirts and perfume bottles you could buy. After running the gauntlet for a few days, we were exhausted from sidestepping the constant wheedling. Hubby went to the bank for some more cash and I went to the hotel to wait for him. I managed to evade most of them.
My better half was harassed but not perturbed. He came up with the idea to tell them he was in a hurry and looking for me to avoid confrontation. (he knew perfectly well where I was!) Upon returning from the bank and walking quickly back to the hotel, he heard someone shouting and feet pounding towards him. A gentleman tapped him on the shoulder and said “Sir, sir, we found your wife! She’s gone back to the hotel!! Don’t worry, she’s safe! Talk of egg on the face! Naturally we felt indebted to buy something from that vendor the next time we passed his shop!
The Sinai desert was another highlight of the trip. We spent the morning hiking through the coloured canyon. The labyrinth of rocks spectacularly etched and beautifully coloured over centuries were remarkable. We were also told the canyon was below sea level. Towards the end of the walk by now the remains of our tepid drinking water wasn’t very palatable. In the middle of nowhere, a man sitting under a little shelter sold ice cold soda drinks. You know the ones that you’d drool over when drops of condensation mesmerise you… By that stage we were all close to boiling point and an ice-cold drink was a welcome relief.
We had lunch at Dolphin bay, then drove deeper into the desert. We stopped at a rock formation that looked remarkably like a mushroom. At an oasis where we were shown how pita break was baked traditionally. The pita bread tasted fine, except for the gritty sand. The flies however where rather annoying. Swarms of them buzzed around our heads. From there we set off for the white canyon. Although we were exhausted from the morning’s hike, we still enjoyed the walk through the canyon.
We spent the last couple of days in Cairo. We had an exhausting day in the museum. We entered every alcove looking at the artefacts. Fascinating but fatiguing.
Have you ever crossed a road in Cairo? We weren’t sure where to cross, except at traffic lights, but there weren’t many of those. The traffic had no sense of order and we were reluctant to risk our lives in the traffic chaos. Then we were told we could put our hand out and the drivers would slow down sufficiently for us to cross relatively safely.
We tried it out and it seemed like the drivers slowed down for us. We’re still alive today, so it must have worked!
It seems like no-one sleeps at night in Cairo, probably because of the heat during the day. Hooters blaring throughout the night, the traffic was endless. It was interesting watching from our balcony. Initially it didn't make sense to us how they drove, but eventually we figured out their system of driving.
Pyramids of giza & the Sphinx
One cannot go to Cairo and not see the pyramids or the Sphinx. I’d dreamt about seeing the pyramids for many years. It’s still a mystery how they were built, especially when you see the size of the interlocking blocks.
I do have one regret. I would have loved to spend a couple of nights sailing down the Nile. The rest of the trip made up for it though.
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