Posted by: Tommy | November 19, 2010

Dahab – a diver’s paradise

We had so many experiences to write about in Israel that we were able to write ahead for 5 or 6 days, just scheduling posts for later.  Which is good, because there’s just not that much to write about in Dahab, Egypt – a welcome change.

When we arrived in Egypt, we’d been seeing sites (mostly churches) for 5 weeks.  Most of the sites in Russia were either historical or churches, everything in Israel is religious.  We went to Petra for basically 2 days, but even that was a lot of logistics to worry about and all centered around seeing the Lost City for the day we were able to.  Even the crossing into Egypt was taxing.

But then we got to Dahab.  Dahab sits in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula, on the coast of the Red Sea.  It is known as a major diving hotspot around the world.  We met a guy in Israel who had spent 6 weeks here and turned us on to a hostel/dive center called Seven Heaven.  We budgeted 3 days for diving, long enough for us to get certified as Advanced Open Water divers and do about 6 dives.

That was 6 days ago.

Most of the people we’ve met here ended up staying at least 2 days longer than they had time for.  It’s like Vegas – the time just slips away here.  It’s so magically relaxing that you really don’t want to leave.  There are 3 people here doing their training to become divemasters.  All three of them came here to do their Advanced certification and decided it was too wonderful to leave.  They’ve rented apartments and work part time at the dive center as part of their class.  2 of them are planning to stay here at least a year and just didn’t go back to work (they are from France).  The strangest part – after being here for 5 days, hearing someone say “We came for a vacation, but then we liked it so we just aren’t going back home for at least a year” doesn’t seem at all strange to me after being here.  (When we decided to leave for a year, it took months of intense planning – not so much about our trip itinerary, but about our affairs in America and getting them wrapped up or to a place where we could leave them with someone else for that long.  And they still aren’t done – if anyone needs a condo in Preston Hollow, please let us know!)

Dahab has an almost narcotic effect.  Everything seems less important when you are hanging out in your private room with private bath for 60 Egyptian pounds ($10.50).  Or eating a dinner of rice, tahina, salad, potatoes, and an entire grouper – fried whole – for….roughly $3 (20 EGP).  (I walked past an advertisement for an apartment this morning – 600 EGP ($110) per month, on the water.  We could live for a year in Dahab for the same price as one month in Dallas.  And so you just worry less about everything.  If you stay an extra day, you’re spending an extra $20 with your food included.  If you are hungry, eat again.  No big deal.

The hostel is across the street from the ocean, so you can be in the water, snorkeling in under a minute.  Or lying in the sand.  Or more likely, eating at one of the many restaurants that line the water.  At most of these restaurants, instead of regular tables by the water, they have low tables surrounded by thick floor rugs and logs rolled in carpet that you can just plop down on and relax, enjoy the view and eat.

Relaxing by the water, with a view of Saudi Arabia

But we came to Dahab to dive, and dive we have.  We started out with a refresher dive, reviewing some basic safety skills we may have (definitely) forgotten since July, when we took our class.  After 20 minutes of that, we were able to see a coral reef up close and personal for the first time ever.  It was astounding.  I don’t have any pictures to share because water and electronics don’t mix, so I’ll link to some of the fish we saw that others have photographed later.  Anna was mostly nervous in the water in Texas and wasn’t convinced that she was going to like being under the ocean in a strange country.  She’d not a big fan of swimming in the ocean anyway.  So I was nervous, not about the diving, but about her not liking it.  It would be a rough 3 days here (and all the other places around the world I was hoping to dive on this trip) if she was bored or worse in the water.  But no fear – she came up from that first dive with a gleeful smile on her face and wouldn’t stop talking about how awesome it was.  And it was.  The things you can see from the surface pale in comparison to what you can see when you can get up close and when you can see inside the reef from the side, instead of looking down on it.

And the sense of wonder replaced her fear.  I think it’s that you can see everything really clearly, so you can realize there’s nothing really scary lurking below you.  And it’s actually much easier to scuba than snorkel, once you know what you’re doing.  You don’t have to worry about sinking below the surface, or getting water in your airway or about drowning.  The air coming from the regulator (the breathy part of the scuba setup) is actually much smoother than the air from a snorkel and comes with a lot less work.  And you don’t have to try very hard to swim.  You are neutrally buoyant, so you can just kind of hang out, like in zero gravity, and look around.  I’m sad we’d never found the time to take the diving class before.  I’m convinced, after just a few days, that diving will be a big part of our vacations in the future.

Anyway, after the first review dive, we scheduled our class to start the next day.  The class consists of 5 dives – for us, navigation, deep, drift, night and underwater naturalist.  But I was sick the next day (Saturday) – I think I ate the wrong $3 fish.  So we started on Sunday and began with our deep dive, then our drift dive (a drift dive is one where you start in one place and “ride” the current to exit in another place.  And because the diving here is world famous, we got to do our drift dive in one of the world’s most famous dive sites, the Blue Hole.

The Blue Hole - more than 2000 ft. deep

We did our deep dive first and were surprised to find that a deep dive, to over 100 ft. below the surface, is really no different than a regular dive.  It’s shorter, that’s about it.  Your air doesn’t last as long and the nitrogen in your blood (if you want to know more about that, take the class) builds up faster in deeper water.  It was pretty cool to look up and see the surface so far above you.

We moved to the Blue Hole (the deep dive was in the Canyon, since you will die if you try to sink to the bottom of the Blue Hole, 2000 ft. down) and drift-dove for 45 minutes.  It was great to just float, unmoving, while the gentle current carried us by a colorful reef filled with fish and interesting other marine animals.  That was it for Sunday.

On Monday, we were assigned to Mustafa, a very friendly Egyptian.  We did a navigation dive – this one is required and the navigation part was boring – but it turned interesting when we stumbled across 2 Giant Moray eels lying beneath a rock.  One was only 2 ft. long but the other was between 4-5 feet.  That one was about 9 inches in diameter and had its razor sharp teeth on display.  But it was ignoring us and we stayed well away from it, so no big deal.  Sharing the rock with it were half a dozen lionfish, unafraid of the dangerous predator a few feet away.  I don’t know if moray eels eat lionfish or not, but I wouldn’t be willing to get that close, just in case.

Giant Moray, not my photo

Lionfish - yeah, this one's min

The night dive Mustafa took us on was interesting and definitely the most difficult.  Although we did the night dive in a place we’d already been (the place we did our first, refresher dive) it seemed so foreign.  You really can only see the small circle that your light is on (you bring a flashlight).  So each foot you travel is a new discovery, since peripheral vision is worthless.  And all of the colors are brighter.  The water filters our the sunlight the deeper you go.  The first color to go is red, so you never see reds underwater.  But on the deep dive, we saw a ton of red.  Some of the coral is fiery red when viewed at night but is a dull purple during the day.  Another phenomenon unique to the night dive is the flocking schools of tuna.  Apparently tuna are attracted to light, so all the night divers here see tuna all the time.  They accumulated around us in a large school, completely encircling our small group of 4 divers.  When you shined your light on them, it looked like this:

Tuna circle

But the night dive was hard because you couldn’t ever see the bottom and the reef at the same time.  As inexperienced divers (don’t let the name – advanced open water – fool you.  We are anything but advanced) maintaining just the right level of air vs. weight in the water is hard and we are inconsistent, at best.  You don’t want to swim into the coral or drop onto it from above, and since you can’t see those two things at the same time, it was really a struggle to keep your bearings all the time and enjoy looking at the wonders lit up in front of you.  Enjoyable, but difficult.

Yesterday, we had our underwater naturalist dive and our first disappointment since we started diving.  Our instructor was hung over (no big deal here) so we were assigned to another instructor who was already taking a group out.  Unfortunately, that group was a regular open water group – aka, people who have never been on a dive before, ever.  At this point, we’ve each been on 10+ dives and its a pretty easy learning curve, so we are significantly better than we were in the lake in Dallas.  But in this group of 9 other people, we were the most experienced divers.  Yikes.

Rather than swimming along looking for different types of fish and invertebrates, we spent most of the dive trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid getting kicked in the head or having people sinking into our legs.  When we weren’t doing that, we were watching people stand on the coral to take a picture of something else (and killing the coral beneath their feet in the process).  It was such a drastic change from the completely amazing previous dives we had done.  It kind of soured us for the rest of the day.

But maybe it was a good thing, I think as I’m sitting here today.  Before that dive, we had considered just hanging out in Dahab until the 27th, then taking the bus straight to the Cairo airport and flying out, skipping the rest of Egypt entirely.  Such is the narcotic haze that Dahab magically creates in your head.  With our heads a little clearer and a little luster lost, we’ve decided that we do need to see the pyramids, the mummy museum, ancient cities Aswan and Luxor after all.  We may or may not dive Thistlegorm (some consider it to be the best wreck dive in the world) tomorrow and then head out, taking the 16 hour busride to Luxor, then Aswan.

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Responses

  1. Almost every place you describe makes me want to go there. I spent most of my life thinking and saying — I don’t like beach vacations only to learn in Puerto Vallarta that I do. I simply didn’t know how to relax. Once I figured out how to do that a little better, I found that I did. Sounds like Dahab would be a great place to relax. The dives sound so amazing too. I am so glad you could take a few days and just relax but equally glad you will not miss the sites of Egypt. Love you!

  2. What a wonderful place! I am glad you guys are having such a great time-

    Love, Aunt Sandy

  3. Have you ever been to Indiana, PA? It has TWO STARBUCKS!


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