Dahab, Egpyt

Written by on October 15, 2012 in General, Middle East & Gulf States with 0 Comments

Dahab is a small diving and windsurfing/kitesurfing village on the Sinai Penisula of Egypt, about 80kms North of the more resort-y Sharm el Sheikh.  I came to Dahab on my first round the world trip 12 years ago, and have been wanting to go back ever since.  Red Sea scuba diving at its best, the town is a sleepy stretch of bars and restaurants where Lonely Planet says the favorite activity is “loafing”, which I did plenty of!

Dahab, with its super laid-back hippyish vibe, cheap accomodation, golden beaches, combined with amazing diving in the Red Sea and great wind for those more interested in wind-surfing or kite surfing,  has a long history of luring travellers who stay for a lot longer than they’d initially planned.

I was happy that Maya and Sarah joined me, and that I was able to introduce them to Dahab.  I’d forgotten just how laid back it is, and how great the hospitality was.  After our hellish trip from Aqaba, we dropped our bags at the our hotel, the Red Sea Relax Resort, which I’d chosen as it was a 3* hotel with a pool on the beach that offered free accommodation in the dorm rooms if you dive with their dive shop during your stay.  Anyway, we headed out to bars and restaurants that lined the crescent shaped promenade.  We were in search of an ATM, as there had been no opportunity to change money anywhere.  We tried a few, but they seemed out of order.  We passed a super-cute seaside restaurant called “Friends”, and were told we could pay tomorrow when we told them we had no money.  NICE!
Unfortunately we’d picked one of the several restaurants in town that were dry…no alcohol.  I was feeling very jumpy after the ride down from Aqaba, so after finishing our very tasty dinner, we headed to Yella Bar, which was another seaside restaurant by our hotel that also didn’t mind serving us even though we didn’t have money.  Noone just stays one night in Dahab, and the stretch along the promenade is less than a kilometer, so they knew they’d see us many more times over our stay.  My hotel was really nice…clean, super-friendly staff, free breakfast and gym…everything you’d expect from a 3 or 4 star hotel.
What I didn’t know was that the A/C in the dorm was useless when the sun shone through every morning before 6am, turning my room into something between a steam room and sauna.  So, for the week + I spent in Dahab, I was up at the crack of dawn every day.  I guess it wasn’t a bad thing as there really wasn’t much going on at night, so I was definitely going to bed a lot earlier.
When I woke up in a pool of sweat, and went downstairs, I was still too early for breakfast.  Funny, as usually I always miss the free breakfasts at hotels/hostels as I sleep too late.  It was nice to walk around Dahab just after dawn…so peaceful.  I definitely made the right decision to come down here, despite how nervous I’d been the days before.  People finally started venturing down to breakfast after 8, and I re-connected with Maya, who I was trying to convince to take her PADI Open Water dive course.  Diving is so amazing, I don’t understand why more people don’t do it.  Especially travellers!  How can anyone seek to travel the world without considering the underwater world ?!?  Oceans make up 72% of the Earth’s surface.  72%!!  I actually thought it was more like 80%.  Anyway, to each their own.  But, if you haven’t tried scuba diving…or at least snorkeling…you’re really missing out!
Maya and I walked the promenade to comparison shop at all the dive shops along the way.  I realized straight away that the dive shop attached to my hotel was more expensive, and didn’t seem as friendly as others I’d encountered.  After speaking with 10 or so, it was an easy decision to sign up for dives with Octopus World, which was literally a few feet from my hotel.  A new, small shop, I made fast friends with Emad as he offered that I could use their camera on all of my dives.   I actually have an underwater housing for my camera, but left it at home as it was way too bulky to carry around in my backpack, so this was a huge score for me.  It seemed as though they weren’t so busy, so when I asked where we’d be diving the next day, they said “how about Canyons and the Blue Hole”?  SOLD!   The Blue Hole and a shipwreck called the Thistlegorm were the 2 primary reasons for me returning to Dahab, as both are deep dives that only PADI Advanced divers could do.  I wasn’t qualified to do either when I was here the last time and only PADI Open Water certified.
Anyway, we had a lazy but productive afternoon.  I went to Planet Gym, which was attached to the sister hotel, and it felt great to get a real workout.  It was also a pretty quiet night as I had a somewhat early morning appointment diving.  Later in the afternoon we went snorkeling at the Lighthouse, which was right in front of my hotel.
With visibility of over 100 feet in any direction, you can’t go wrong walking into the water from the beach anywhere here.
The Canyon was an amazing dive site, and I was reminded at how great the seemingly endless visibility was in the Red Sea.  This is me descending into the Canyon.  Awesome.
Saw some amazing fish on this dive, including several cool lion fish like this one.

I also saw my first octopus underwater – AMAZING!!  A still shot doesn’t capture how cool it is to see these guys move under the water, or how they attach to coral and then blend almost perfectly so you can’t seen them.

We spent our surface interval, the time your body needs to recover and release the nitrogen that was absorbed while diving, at a small bedouin style restaurant on the shore just in front of the Canyons.  It’s also a good place for a dive briefing to talk about the next dive.

All of the diving in Dahab is shore diving, meaning you just pull your truck up to a place, put on your equipment, walk into the water and dive straight in from the shore.

No boat necessary.  I think that’s why it’s a lot cheaper to dive there, as well.  I love the contrast between the brown and rocky mountains on shore that were almost quarry-like, and the bright colors of the coral and fish as soon as your head drops below the surface.

The coral in the Red Sea is fantastic.  It seems like everything is bigger and brighter here.  Massive sea fans 3-4 meters across, a brain coral that had to be 5 meters wide, super-bright yellow cabbage corals, super-cool table-top corals like the one below.  All of it – amazing!

That afternoon we dove the Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole surrounded by 900+ meters of coral that drops 130+ meters into the ocean.  Also amazing!  Sadly, my ear problem from Jordan was back.  But, I tried to ignore it as I was signed up for a 3 tank dive out to the Thistlegorm shipwreck and to Ras Mohammed National Park the next morning.

The SS Thistlegorm is considered to be one of the best dives in the world, and some think it’s the best wreck dive in the world.  THIS is why I came back to Sinai!  My pick-up was at 3am, when I got in a little mini-bus with 12 or so other anxious divers and tried to sleep for the 2 hour drive to the boat in Sharm.  We arrived and embarked on a boat just in time to catch a beautiful sunrise en route to the wreck, another 2.5 hours offshore.   I was happy that we only saw one other dive boat out there, as I’d heard the site could get pretty crowded.

We had been prepped in the dive briefing that we would do the first dive outside the ship, and then the second dive we would penetrate the ship.  What makes the Thistlegorm so special is it’s cargo – it is a British freighter that was sunk in 1941 with 2 locomotives, a couple tanks, motorcycles, jeeps, boots and loads of spare parts for airplanes and cars.  VERY COOL!  Now I know I’m not supposed to touch the wreck, but after several others went in to take funny pictures, I had to get one or two.

I was very careful to not wreck the wreck!  Unfortunately, on ascent my ear felt like it was on fire.  I later found out I had something called reverse block, as air was trapped inside my ear canal.  Typically when you’re diving, as you ascend, your body naturally releases air to help you do the opposite of the equalizing you need to do on the way down.  Well…mine wouldn’t release, and I was in a lot of pain when I came up.  But, it subsided before the next dive and the guys on the boat thought I’d be fine if I dove again, so I did.  I came all this way, I was not going to sit out this next dive!

Penetrating the ship was fantastic.  I wish I was able to take better pics, but I couldn’t get the settings right, so you’ll just have to trust me on how cool it was.  Here was a few of the motorbikes.

My ear had similar problems when I came up at the end of dive #2.  But it didn’t hurt as much as after dive #1, so I decided to go ahead and do dive #3 in the protected Ras Mohammed Nature Preserve, which was meant to be spectacular.  How bad could it be?

Well, the dive was super-fun…we were dropped in to a really fast-moving current for the drift dive of all drift dives.  There was no swimming against the current…we just had to wait and see where the dive would take us.  Saw tons of fish, great coral, a turtle, and this blue-spotted ray.  Cool, eh?

Rays are such funny creatures, but I wonder how they evolved to have blue spots?  They definitely don’t blend into anything else to camouflage themselves…at least not that I saw.  We also saw another turtle, a school or large tuna and several other types of cool fish and coral.

Unfortunately, by the time I surfaced, my ear was on fire and I knew I’d pushed too far.  I took a bunch of anti-inflammatories and pain killers to try to deal with the pain for the long boat and bus ride back to Dahab.  The next morning I made an appointment to see the doctor, who confirmed I had a raging middle ear infection and side-lined me from diving for at least 3 days, and started me on another round of antibiotics.  Ugh.  The good news was that I was also able to get my second round of Hep A/B and rabies shots for much cheaper than in the US, which saved me a doc visit in coming days.   The bad news was that I was told no drinking for the duration of the antibiotics, which was going to be tough to do as the only thing there is to do in Dahab is dive and laze around/drink beer.  Well, Dahab is also renowned for excellent windsurfing and kitesurfing, but I didn’t have time to learn…even with the few more days I was supposed to stay there…and I was supposed to stay completely out of the water for the next few days, too.  Damn!

Well…I made it through one night without beer, but caved on Day 2.   And, my ear did improve, so after 3 days of whining to my new friends Flip and Marc, I finally got back in the water for 2 more days of diving and a night dive at the Canyons.  One of the days we drove South to dive the sites El Om Cid and Moray Gardens.  Both were fantastic – massive corals, 2 more octopus!, tons of lion fish and parrot fish and clownfish and amazing visibility.  Loved seeing the camels on the beach near where we took our surface interval, too.

After 9 days, it was time to leave.  I know some travellers get stuck in Dahab and love the slow pace and amazing diving, but I was getting a bit bored with my routine and had spent a little too much money at our new favorite watering hole the Yalla Bar, although fostered some great new travel friendships.

We did break our routine once for a fun dinner at a bedouin camp in the desert.  But, it was time to leave…or maybe I would have taken up kite surfing and stayed another month!  But, I couldn’t go to the Middle East and not visit Israel, as I was hoping I’d saved the best for last.

 

 

 

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