Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 92

Sharm El-Sheikh

Thursday 12th June

We left London on March 12th exactly three months ago, and thus today marks another milestone in our epic journey. In this short span of time, we’ve visited ten new countries, encountered dozens of new cultures, engaged in a plethora of new activities and seriously broadened our horizons – and we’re still less than a quarter of the way through our overall trip.

Our mission for the day was to demonstrate to our dive master that we are capable of proficient diving and we were eager to get out into the water as quickly as possible to prove the point. I took my last Cipro tablet this morning (the bug is pretty much out of my system now) then quickly ate breakfast and waited for the morning pick-up. Since today was going to be a beach entrance dive, there was no need for nausea tablets as we would not be going anywhere on a boat. The van picked us up a little later than expected since one of the other divers had overslept. Since I’m not a morning person, I was not complaining about the extra time to wake up.

Once again we had arranged for our own, private, dive master but instead of a Danish man, today it was a Japanese woman. Although she had a bit of an accent, we could pretty much understand everything she told us and we were quite happy to dive with her. We kitted up with everything but our flippers and waded into the calm, warm, waters from the public beach. We put the flippers on in the water, as it is difficult to walk with them, and swam about two or three more meters offshore and descended into the tranquil waters. At the water’s edge, where the odd wave caused by passing offshore boats and the occasional snorkeler here and there, the visibility was slightly less than the waters where we dived yesterday but still much clearer and cleaner than any other country we’ve dived in. We were swimming amongst some spectacular marine fish right from the moment that we set foot in the water and it only got better as we descended and started to follow our planned circuit around the rocky ledges. Although the corals were less spectacular and much less prolific here, the fish and other marine life was unsurpassed. We saw a nice Morey Eel, a Lionfish and several other species of brightly coloured fish all around us. Shoals of fish would pass right through us from time to time and there was something to stop and look at every couple of feet, which made our forward progress quite slow.

Since we’d left the camera onshore for this dive, we concentrated mostly on our diving disciplines. Consequently, we had a much better dive profile and our dive master was more than satisfied that we had good buoyancy control and that we were quite relaxed in the water. Even though I had a larger, fifteen-litre tank with me, my air consumption was much better today.

The first of our two dives lasted about forty minutes of total bottom time. Since the coral reef is practically at the shoreline, the dive itself lasted right up to the moment that our heads popped out of the water, just a few feet from the shore. Usually, we surface after a dive and have to either swim to the boat or wait until it arrives to collect us.

We rested and wandered around for about an hour or so before kitting up again to go in for the second dive. We dived the same location again but still got to see more beautiful things that we had missed the first time around. This time, we took the underwater camera with us but made a point not to just aimlessly shoot away at anything and everything. We were actually hoping to spot a shark, since the name of this dive site was Sharks Bay, but they must have been elsewhere today. In addition to the previous Morey eel that we found again in its hole, we spotted another one about twice the size a bit farther down the shore and a couple of meters deeper. It must have a been a good five feet long with razor sharp teeth showing through each time it opened its mouth to breath. We also caught sight of several Lionfish, both big and small. One of the larger ones fanned out its fins when I got the camera to within about two feet of it and I was thus able to snap a couple of really good photos of this brilliant display of defensive posture. Several species of Puffer and Boxfish along with a rather nice Torpedo Ray were amongst the highlights of the second dive.

Even with the camera, our dive master was very pleased with our diving performance and so we were ultimately successful in obtaining our goal for the day. We recorded as much in our logbooks later, back at the dive centre, where we also reviewed our photos for the day.

Tomorrow is the third and what we had originally planned as our final day of diving the Red Sea before setting off again to another new country (Jordan). We’ve been contemplating, however, staying on for another few days to take the fullest advantage of the fact that we are right in the middle of one of the world’s premier diving locations. Since it is low season and we are getting some very good rates from our new Dutch friend, it really doesn’t make sense not to seize the opportunity whilst it lasts. Additionally, since we may be staying around long enough, we are also thinking of completing the two-day Advanced Open Water certification course. It’s not going to be any more expensive to do this versus just booking in for some recreational diving and the additional level of certification will be beneficial to us later on in our journey. Staying in Sharm El-Sheikh for another two or three days should not be a problem since we still have the flexibility with our return flights out of Amman. I must remember to call the airline, however, to confirm the date change.

As the day had been so successful and everything seemed to be going so well, we decided that we would again treat ourselves to an American style meal (Egyptian fare is particularly unappealing) and thus jumped on the shuttle bus over to Na’ama Bay and the Hard Rock café. This time, however, we were intent on pacing ourselves with the starter and main course so as to leave room for the chocolate fudge brownie ice cream desert – just like old times.

Since we were returning to the hotel at an earlier time than the scheduled shuttle pick-up, we decided that we would get the E£1 public car back to Sharm, unless we could find a taxi that was willing to accept a E£10 fare. Looking for a taxi is not difficult here. Just walking along the street is enough to solicit offers for a ride to wherever you might be going from any number of taxis, regardless of the direction that the taxi is driving in. This constant badgering is certainly not something that is unique to taxi drivers, as almost every single car that passes will honk at you, slow down and ask if you need a lift. It can get quite annoying actually but today it worked to our advantage. We had barely made it ten yards down the street and already had three drivers offer a ride. The going rate is anywhere from E£20 to E£40 but this is Egypt and everything here is negotiable to those with the gall to try. I was more than public about making it clear with my fingers that I was only willing to entertain a E£10 fare for the five to ten minute ride and the first few drivers were very reluctant, perhaps hoping to hook one of the package tourists instead. One of the drivers, however, buckled and eventually chased after us, having decided he was going to accept the deal. He took us to his taxi in a nearby car park and whisked us off. It certainly helps to act as if you know what you are doing and what the fare should be. Most of the taxi drivers and merchants here take full advantage of any passing tourist. It pays, too, since the vast majority of tourists here will readily pay far more than they should for goods and services. We were looking around for some batteries yesterday and stopped in at one of the one-hour photo booths in town where a dumb tourist was happily and gleefully proclaiming how pleased she was that the new film cartridge she was buying was ‘only E£50’. The correct price should have been much closer to E£10 but since it was cheaper than she might have been accustomed to in her own country, or perhaps because she didn’t understand the exchange rate, she was more than willing to hand over the small fortune to the lucky merchant. It’s the stupidity of tourist like this that make life for travellers and locals alike more awkward. It consequently means that we are immediately treated as rich, unsuspecting tourists and we’re always initially hit with a ridiculously inflated asking price wherever we go.

Although we got a very good deal on the hotel in which we currently reside, things here have never been entirely up to scratch with something new breaking down or going wrong every day. On our first day here, the toilet didn’t flush and the bathroom door wouldn’t shut. On the second day there were no new towels and the bathroom ventilator was sucking the awful stench from the rear of the building into the room instead of blowing air out. Last night and this morning, the hot water taps were running dry due to maintenance on the hotel heating system and so on. Since it looks like we are going to be staying in Sharm for a few more days, Sandy didn’t want to the hassle of constantly walking between our hotel and the hotel attached to the dive centre in the blistering heat. Since the dive centre hotel is a much nicer one than this one (and has a lot more people staying there), we decided that we would try our luck at getting a good rate there with a view to checking out of this hotel in the morning and into that one tomorrow afternoon. Henk had already told us that the best rate he could manage on our behalf was E£240, excluding breakfast (although he was going to try to beat that), but I was confident enough in my own negotiation skills to give it a try anyway so we had the taxi driver drop up off there to see what we could manage.

We walked into the reception area and the game was on. I strolled up to the counter and casually told the young man that I was shopping around for a hotel and asked for his rates. He started typing into his keyboard and started to look up the US Dollar price. I interrupted this by telling him that I was not interested in the tourist rate and that I wanted the Egyptian rate instead – did we look like tourists or something? Even at the hotels, they will hit you with the inflated tourist price if you let them get away with it. He came down a little bit without too much effort but I tried to act as convincingly as possible to give the allure of someone that was very familiar with the local customs and rates and I told him that the rate was still no good but I wanted to look at the room anyway. He summonsed the bellboy and off we went to see the room. I was searching for something in the very nice room to give me an excuse to complain about but really couldn’t find anything other than the fact that it was farther away from the pool than it could have been as well as being one flight of stairs up. This was all I needed for the next stage in the negotiations and we went back to the reception desk. I made my objections about the location and asked if he had anything better. He went down a bit more but when I got the impression that he had gone as low as he was authorised to, I asked him to call the hotel manager – perhaps he would be able to do more for us. The young man picked up the phone and chatted for a couple of minutes with the manager. They went over a couple of calculations and finally came back with a rate of E£180 ($30) for the double room including breakfast. Bingo! Given that the listed price for their rooms was $90 or more, this wasn’t a bad rate at all and well worth the fifteen or twenty minutes of haggling. I even had the audacity to ask him if he had any rooms with a better location and he told me that he may very well have by tomorrow morning – sometimes it’s really like shooting fish in a bucket. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil here and it certainly pays to be persistent.

Tomorrow morning, before commencing with another fun-filled day of Red Sea diving, we will confirm first with Henk if he was able to get a lower rate than we just did and otherwise we will check out of here and into there, first thing in the morning.