Monday, October 6, 2008

A day out on the Red Sea

One of the friends, with whom we were holidaying, lives and works in Sharm, making him a native, and, trust me, a city through the eyes of someone who is local, is hugely different from what you and I would see as a tourist..and he is exceptional, in terms of his knowledge of what to do, knowing what would appeal to us and especially in his organisation.

Out of the days that we spent there, he had asked us to keep one day aside for a trip out to the Red Sea. We left around 8.30 - 9.00 a.m. in the morning to the jetty where you board the boats going out to sea, carrying our sunblocks, our glares & caps (it was really hot), and, our beach towels. You can't park close to the beach as that area is reserved for tourist buses etc, so if you're carrying heavy stuff, its best to get dropped off there.

While there are plenty of yatchs that you can hop on to, we hired a yatch exclusively for us. The yatchs have an enclosed lower deck and an open upper deck where the breeze ensures that you dont feel the heat from the blazing afternoon sun. Before we boarded the yatch, we collected our snorkelling gear, and, duly filled out our names & nationality for records ( er...just in case?).

Our yatch was called Venture, and, was manned by a young, smiling crew. Our guide was an English speaking young chap by the name of Magdy, who had a ready smile, and, lots of enthusiasm! He explained that we would put down anchor at three places, out of which snorkelling would be possible at two. Lunch would be served on board.

Our first stop was near Ras Mohammad. Magdy explained that we all would need to don our snorkelling gear, and jump in quick succession, and, most importantly stay together, so that we dont leave anyone behind. Even the ones who could not swim could snorkel by using life jackets. He warned us that where we made the jump, the water would be deep, but as we swam towards the coral, it would become shallow as the coral covered the floor of the ocean. We would need to swim very slilently without too much motion, lest we scared the fish away.

While I have been to beaches and ventured out into the sea, have never dived into the water in the middle of the sea when you know that the bottom is some 40-50 feet away, and, I must admit, as I sat at the edge of the boat, ready to jump in, for a moment had a twinge of unease. But then the water was rushing up to meet me, and there was no room for any thoughts other than looking out for our guide and the group. We swam towards the coral and as I dipped my head into the water, I must confess, I have never seen anything so breathtaking! The coral is alive here, and, the myriad shapes and colours leave you spellbound. There were some that looked like splayed laced fingers from the palm, some like the brain, yet others reminded me of cacti. There are some that look like stars, elkhorns and pillars and seem to be hard, strongly embeded on the sea floor. There are others that look like fans or rods, seem soft and sway gently in the water.

And the fish! Schools of brightly coloured fish swam around us, completely oblivious of our presence. There were two zebra striped fish who swam over and under my arms, and, around my head, probably trying to figure who this giant creature was! Another stretch, I swam alongside a school of blue and lime green fish, who seem quite content to give me company. Clearly I passed muster!

The fascinating part about snorkelling here was that the coral reef is omnipresent on one side right upto to the shore and then there is a sudden drop to the depths of the sea, and the marine life at the edge is just gorgeous!

The photographs are not mine, since I ommitted to carry an underwater camera, but are quite representative of what we saw.

I was told that these are the nicest spots for snorkelling in Sharm el Sheikh:

a/ Ras Mohammed National Park. Virtually every hotel, resort, diving centre and watersports centre offer excursions to this marine paradise. The Park has a couple of beaches where snorkelling is easy, such as Marsa Bareika, and some off shore reefs reachable with snorkelling or diving boats.

b/ Tiran Island, a favourite destination for full day snorkelling trips, with a wealth of corals and underwater fauna.

c/ Ras Umm Sid, with its walls covered with awesome gigantic gorgonians, is another famous diving site, and it is accessible from land via the private beach of the restaurant El Fanar.

Our second stop was a lagoon in the middle of the sea with white sand that felt like powder under my feet, and crystalline turquoise water. We jumped into the sea and then swam to the lagoon, including my 7 year old who can just about float. But it seemed criminal not to take him ashore since he loves the sand and the water. But I made the mistake of jumping into the water with my eyes open and without swimming goggles. As I surfaced from under the water, my eyes were burning and my lens had popped out. It caught me by surprise cos this has never happened in a swimming pool - guess has something to do with the difference in water pressure. So, if you wear lenses, and, are diving, do wear your eyewear.

After frolicking on the finger of sand, we swam back to a local feast. There were 5 different kinds of salads for the vegetarians including a delicious dish of fried aubergines. Fish, caught by the boys earlier in the day, and, fried chicken graced the table along with some yummy sticky rice, spaghetti with tomato sauce and a local version of potato lyonnais with some baladi aesh! The meal was delicious especially after having been in the water for so long.

After this, we dropped anchor at another spot for snorkelling, though this was not as good as the one at Ras Mohammad. Some of us swam in the water while a few others decided to snorkel. I was very proud of my intrepid 7 year old, who despite not knowing how to swim, wore a life jacket and jumped into the deep blue sea, and, had great fun!

As we sailed back to the pier, after having spent a lovely day out at the sea, I think I will, forever, remember Sharm by this day!


Cairo Typ0 said...

It looks like you had a wonderful holiday. I'm quite jealous. :)

Although i was once an incredibly strong swimmer, i still choose to snorkel with the jacket due to my innate wimpiness. So i'm glad to hear that they have that option at Sharm. :)

Manisha said...

It was a wonderful holiday, that ended too soon! sigh!

I think you are being too hard on yourself. Swimming in currents can be frightening esp the thought that the floor of the sea is kms away. I felt a twinge of unease before i jumped, but my love of the water washed it away..yup but its nice to have life jackets, it enabled my baby to join in the fun!

Sareeta said...

Wow, 7 year old in the middle of the sea? You are a brave mother. I am not sure I would allow my 8 yr old, though he knows how to swim, I would not have had the courage.

Manisha said...

Sareeta, my son was so keen to go into the water that I did not have the heart to say no. Plus we were a bunch of friends in the water, all around him, so he was quite safe.

But more than being about me, it was quite an achievement for him cos I know he's scared of going to the deep side in a swimming pool, so to jump in the water in the middle of the sea is quite commendable. I am proud of my baby!