Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 88
Sunday 8th June
It was high drama of the worst kind on the Red Sea today. We left the hotel at around eight-thirty, after a dubious breakfast, to catch the short public car ride (these are dirt cheap, jump-on/jump-off minivans that seat about fourteen people that are all over the place) to the departure point for our day of snorkelling fun on the Red Sea. Since I have my snorkel and mask with me and Ehab had bought one of his own just last night, Sandy had to make do with one of theirs. Fortunately, she was able to grab the only snorkel with a water valve at the top end. All the other snorkels were of the open-ended ilk and these are annoying to snorkel with since you are forever getting water inside.
We had to wait a half an hour or so to catch the boat and already things were starting to go wrong. Nothing major - just a few small annoyances really. Firstly, the boat was not the ‘large’ boat that we had been promised. It was little bigger than an average sized fishing vessel and we joined a group of about fifteen other snorkelers aboard. Since both Sandy and I get seasick (sometimes violently), I was initially pleased to hear that it was going to be a big boat since big boats rock and sway much less than do smaller ones. I could almost feel the nausea coming on already when it became clear which boat we were going to be taking. Fortunately, we remembered to take our Cinnarizine seasickness tablets both last night and this morning. We learned our lesson in Sodwana Bay well and we certainly didn’t want a repeat of our first day there. Our departure time was off by about an hour and they didn’t have any flippers with the elasticated clip so I opted instead to forgo wearing them, favouring my water slippers. They aren’t really necessary when snorkelling unless you have to battle a strong current. Another irritation was the absence of the promised towels on board the boat. We had anticipated that and brought a couple from the hotel with us.
After we all boarded and waited another half an hour, the boat finally departed and we crawled along the coast towards one of the off-shore islands where we would drop anchor and enjoy the underwater marine life around the coral reefs. We spend about an hour altogether at this first location and the snorkelling was actually quite good. We did have to swim about twenty meters away from the boat to get to the shallow reef (should’ve taken the flippers after all) but it was well worth the effort.
After everyone was back aboard, the boat started to pull away. I was sitting at the very front of the vessel and I noticed that something didn’t seem right as we immediately started to turn full circle again. After a bit of confusion, it became evident that we had left someone behind. An older, portly, man that I had sat next to with our feet over the back of the boat was missing and his wife was getting very anxious. We circled back to where we were but there was no sign of him anywhere in the water. The staff on our boat called across the few meters or so to several of the other boats that had also dropped anchor at this location but he was not aboard any of those either. Everyone started to look towards the water with eagle eyes but even after another half an hour, the missing man still could not be found. Slowly but surely, everyone’s s thoughts started to wander and we were all thinking the worst. The missing man’s wife spoke either Russian or Polish but was so completely upset and disoriented that the other Polish tourists on the boat could not decipher which language it was that she was speaking. She must also have come to the same conclusion as everyone else by now and must surely have been going mad in her mind.
A Polish couple that we had befriended was acting as impromptu interpreters. One of the staff ask them to ask the wife if her husband had any known medical conditions. Everyone was completely stunned when the interpreters relayed her answer back. Apparently, the man had previously suffered from high blood pressure as well as cardiac problems. Why on earth anyone with that medical history would partake in snorkelling is beyond me – and was beyond the comprehension of everyone else aboard also. He was undoubtedly using one of the cheap snorkels issued to anyone without their own and it wasn’t difficult to imagine him getting into difficulty with water entering the top.
By now, the search for the poor unfortunate fellow was starting to take on the air of a rescue mission and the discussions amongst the tourists aboard turned towards speculation as to how he may have died and why the body had not surfaced. Some people were of the opinion that the body would have sunk to the bottom if he had somehow taken in too much water into his lungs.
Everyone was trying to suggest ways in which the situation could be handled. Calling the Coast Guard was a favourite but it turns out that there really isn’t much of a Coast Guard to speak of in Egypt. In fact, there didn’t seem to be anyone to call for this type of emergency. Radioing the other boats was another popular suggestion but our boat didn’t have a two-way radio. In fact, after pondering the situation for a while, I started to realise that our boat and crew (and indeed all the others) were really much unprepared for any type of emergency. In fact, I could think of a number of things that I was unhappy about including, for example, the fact that nobody was told where the lifejackets were. Additionally, there were no indemnity forms that we were requested to fill out, no questions asked as to our fitness for the activity (no questions asked at all, in fact), no instructions given on how to use the equipment and no guidance given for interacting with the corals or marine life. What makes the whole thing very scary is that we might not have given much consideration to any of these things were it not for the fact that one of our shipmates was now missing – and presumed dead in the unspoken opinion of many aboard.
The crew decided to leave the reef and go to another island where some other boats that were at this location earlier had already gone. Perhaps the man got on board one of those boats by mistake and was unable to penetrate the language barrier enough once he realised his mistake. There was another boat anchored immediately besides ours with several others not far away and so this sounded like a reasonable option. Since we had spent over an hour idling around the immediate area with everyone aboard our boat as well as in the neighbouring boats all looking for the poor chap, it seemed like the right thing to do. Several other boats were not yet ready to leave anyway and we would come back again if the man still could not be found on the other boats. Somewhat reluctantly, then, we pulled away and headed towards the other island.
It took us about ten minutes to reach the other island and we pulled alongside several boats in turn but none of them had discovered any discrepancies in their passenger numbers. Things were now starting to look very grim indeed as we, again reluctantly, pulled away to go back to our original location. Another thirty minutes or so of idling around the island revealed still no sight of the man. There had been divers at this location but none of them had reported finding a body so there was still some hope yet.
The crew was by now very busy working the cell phones and was in communication with other crews and company staff members on other boats, islands and on-shore. Since none of the boats that were working in the area had returned back to dock yet, the missing could not possibly be back on-shore and so returning back to port was not going to solve anything.
After another hour of working the cell phones, one of the staff seemed to think that the missing man was found on another boat that was anchored next to ours earlier but had departed to a different location that was not on our boat’s itinerary. It was all a bit vague but there was something about the hotel room numbers matching which they thought was the conformation they needed to conclude that this extraneous passenger aboard the other boat was, in fact, our missing man.
Since the other boat was by now very far away and all the boats would eventually arrive back at the same location in Hurghada, our snorkelling trip seemed to just resume itself with a visit to another two locations before we turned back to shore. Even though few could concentrate much on having fun, the snorkelling was actually very good and the marine life quite varied and vibrant.
When we eventually arrived back at Hurghada, we went back to our hotel whilst the woman and interpreters remained to wait and see if her husband would, indeed, show up. After showering and going out for a meal, we returned back to the hotel again and there was a man in the lobby that seemed to have all the details as to what transpired after we left the boat and Ehab queried him on the subject. It turned out that the story of the man being on another boat that was far way was complete fabrication and nothing more than an attempt on the part of the crew to put his wife’s mind at ease. Even more incredible was the fact that this was indeed exactly what had happened. As if this wasn’t bizarre enough, the man did, in fact, come back on another boat but instead of waiting at the dock for his wife to return, he wandered off down the coastline and was found lounging on a neighbouring beach. When I was sat next to this idiot on the back of the boat earlier in the day, I remember thinking to myself that he looked a bit dim and somewhat of a village idiot. We don’t know if he was in some way mentally handicapped but to come snorkelling with a seriously dubious medical history to begin with and then to get back into the wrong boat only to then wander off down the beach to lounge around instead of trying to contact his wife, this guy must earn the Pulitzer prize for stupidity if ever there was one.
Nothing here in Egypt is ever very close to normality. When we arrived back at the hotel, earlier, I distinctly made it a point to ask the guy at the reception desk if new, clean towels had been put into our room. Since our room was initially devoid of towels (and everything else you would expect from a hotel room for that matter), I wanted to stay one step ahead of this problem and was quite pleased at myself for having the ingenuity to predict this problem. With a solid affirmative reply, the receptionist put my mind at ease. Alas, however, it was false hope as our wet and dirty towels were still lying on our bathroom floor with no new towels in sight. I went immediately back down to the lobby and told the man that there were no towels. He mumbled something to one of the cleaning staff and sent me back upstairs with the promise of more towels to arrive very soon – which they eventually did. This apparent communications breakdown is not unique to hotels, here. At the restaurant this evening, Sandy ordered a chicken entrée and asked the waiter if the dish included a half chicken. Once again, an affirmative response was only to be followed with disappointment when the slither of chicken arrived twenty minutes later. It seems that people will answer in the affirmative in an attempt to make you happy if they don’t understand what the question was to begin with. This continually leaves you with a feeling of a false sense of security and I find myself double and triple checking everything that anyone tells me now.
Our ‘three-star’ hotel really doesn’t deserve one and a half stars as everything is falling apart, the service is very poor and the general running of the place desperately needs improving. Of the fifty or so rooms, I think there is a very good reason why just our two rooms are occupied whilst the rest of the hotel is empty. The hotel manager insists this is because it is low season but there seem to be plenty of people about so I have my doubts. I don’t think I will ever believe anything that the travel agent back in Luxor tells us again since he had nothing but praise about the hotel. He had also told us that the one ferry that we need to catch tomorrow departs at eight-thirty in the morning but we learnt this evening that it actually leaves at five-thirty in the morning instead. Once again, this means an extremely early start to tomorrow and I am not looking forward to it.
It’s hard to believe that just two or three weeks ago, we were tracking Leopards in the Serengeti and here we are now, snorkelling in the Red Sea after having spent what seems like weeks following in the footsteps of the pharaohs. It makes me wonder just what we will be up to in a couple of weeks or more from now. A quick browse at the itinerary planner reveals that we will, in fact, be back in Europe by then. That will be another oxymoron with sadness and joyfulness all rolled into one.