In spite of Egypt’s current turmoil, I feel this exceptional country is still a place of interest and worth while including in anyone’s holiday itinerary. I recall enjoying the opportunity to tour many of the countries monuments, museums and being able to touch one of the huge pyramids that have surpassed the adversity of historical challenges.
When I found out I would be traveling to Egypt for three weeks in June, I immediately began making regular visits to a local sauna to prepare my body to withstand the heat for which northern Africa is famous. Coming from British Columbia, Canada, blessed with mild climate and cool temperate water, I knew this trip to Egypt would be a very different experience.
In New York, I met up with adventure videographer Gary Knapp, who creates and produces dive travel DVD’s for sale, all filled with helpful tips, activities and an underwater glimpse of what one can expect to see. Like me, Gary has visited many parts of the world to explore the various dive holidays offered to entice traveling divers.
Our host for the journey was Steve Rattle, owner of Pharaoh Dive Club in El Quseir (on the Red Sea). Steve and several other industry associates have formed a group allowing them to offer a unique experience for traveling individuals and groups while in Egypt as a whole.
“From the time a diver lands in Cairo,” said Steve, “We take care of everything, including airport transfers, land tours, accommodations, diving and all domestic flights, until the time they depart.”
With the help of Afifi El Shimy, from Learning Through Travel, the Cairo portion was a breeze. A majority of visitors arrive in Cairo when coming from North America and many from Europe. Afifi El Shimy arranged for Gary and I to visit the Giza Pyramids within two hours after landing! Camels were actually added into the equation for Gary, giving into the hungry faces of the younger Egyptian entrepreneurs. Needless to say, I pulled out my camera to take advantage of the opportunity while Steve laughed at us both.
Cairo is a city full of history and intrigue, but with over 16 million people, you can imagine what traffic is like. Visitors should always try to arrange their tours before arriving, if possible, to save time, sanity and to make things hassle-free, especially if you don’t speak the language or know your way around. After hearing nonstop honking in the streets and observing only a handful of stop signs and lights, I would advise the hire of a driver or taxi, no matter where you want to go.
The Cairo Museum, in Tahrir Square, was one of my favorite places because of the antiquity collection it contains, totaling over 120,000 items. Although taking pictures and video is no longer permitted, just walking among the towering statues in the exhibit halls gives a glimpse of what life might have been like when Cairo was in its infancy.
Sharm El Sheikh
Sharm El Sheikh is a popular dive destination on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. From Cairo, it took around 50 minutes to fly on Egypt Air. The view from the plane showed how remote this hub, with a population of approximately 35,000, really is.
Steve arranged our first dive on a local dive boat, Abu Hara, operated by Pharaoh Divers. Since first dives are also checkout dives, travelers have the opportunity to become familiar with rental gear or for adjusting their buoyancy and weights to the Red Sea’s higher salinity levels. With current airline restrictions on baggage, I always like to use rental gear from a reputable dive facility. Most dive operations throughout Egypt provide cylinders and weights anyway, with other items available upon request.
The water was warmer than expected, but my thin shorty wetsuit worked fine to keep me warm in the 26°C (80°F) degree water. Like many coastal places, the Red Sea is subject to currents, which provide nutrients to an assortment of life. As a photographer, the colorful resident lionfish and odd-looking crocodilefish made perfect models because they rarely moved far. Millions of tiny orange, yellow and red fish seemed to encompass each coral head throughout the reefs, with nocturnal fish crowding for space under the overhangs.
Ras Umm Sid, the Temple and Jackson Reef in the Straits of Tiran were our next three dives over a period of two days. Here, colorful gorgonian sea fans gently waved back and forth in the mild flow, creating pleasant background settings for wide-angle shots when photographing dive partners. Clusters of hard corals growing in all shapes and sizes were dispersed on the sloping reefs from nine to over 30 meters (30-100 feet) in depth. On many occasions, Steve pointed out turtles, stingrays and other large colorful fish cruising by us while diving on the walls. Like giant bouquets of flowers, orange, yellow and purple soft coral branches were at most sites, adding to their artistic picturesque surroundings.
Between dives, Steve explained that he and Osama Rushdie, originally opened Pharaoh Divers over 17 years ago in Sharm. Since then, Steve and his wife Claire moved to El Quseir five years ago and opened Pharaoh Dive Club. Osama still runs the Sharm operation though, working with Steve to provide visiting divers with a variety of locations to explore (...)