Shabbat Shalom from Egypt! I want to start out with a foreword of MANY sincere thanks to everyone for reading my words and enjoying them! That last post was quite a bit different for me and I am excited that it was received so positively. One interesting note…it wasn’t meant to be one single poem, but seems to workout coherently as one. each verse was a new string of thought. I haven’t attempted to write like that in a long time! But it’s easy when the words write themselves…
Setting the scene: Today I did two dives as part of my advanced diving course and I just got out of the water here in Bannerfish Bay. I decided to go out with my fins and mask and see what this freediving business was all about. As it turns out, it is quite fun and feels much more natural than diving with all the scuba gear. I managed to freedive down to 14 meters (45-50 feet) and swim through a hoop.
Now I want to tell you a story about Ras Abu Galum, a sandy halfcircle interruption of the mostly straight Red Sea coastline. The geography of the area has created a well-protected reef shelf that extends around the entire area at least 1.5km long and 100m from shore. This shelf rests only a few feet under the surface, and allows exactly enough room to slowly swim across the surface unscathed. It also allows for many unique opportunities to see the glowing blue and green sea urchins (yes, they glow!). After those 100m, the stunningly alive coral reef gradually descends into darkness. From the surface, one cannot see beyond 20-30 meters down, but it seems as though the coral goes on for miles. Although the reef is quite special, the serenity of the place is the real catalyst for enjoyment. Unfortunately, one road does go to Abu Galum, but it is from Nuwweiba (North), not from Dahab (South and much more crowded). Abu Galum can only be reached from Dahab via camel or walking. We chose to walk.
A quick cab ride brought Aaron and me to Blue Hole, one of Sinai’s most famous dive locations. We weaved through the truckloads of divers and their gear, quickly finding the trail out of town. Not 50 feet up the trail, we were being called to stop by a couple of armed and slightly abrasive ‘tourist police’. “Give me your passports,” said the one with the gun. Fortunately neither Aaron nor I had brought those along for the trip, and after a small hassle we were on our way with one final caution, “do not go to Abu Galum.” Why? we wondered…but we may never know. It was an eventful beginning to our trip and were eager to begin our 8km hike along the coast.
The sun hit us directly, and I walked shirtless trying to keep an eye on how red I was becoming. A strong breeze felt great, but warned of possible snorkeling difficulties. My daypack was fairly heavy on my shoulders, with fins mask & snorkel, in addition to plenty of water, nuts, and my hammock and frisbee (I can’t get myself to go anywhere without those two essentials). I bought this pack for $2 at a thrift store just before leaving on my trip, and I hope it holds out until I get back to Israel! Just over the next hill, we were confronted by another policeman, who it seemed had just gotten out of the bathroom (could have been his office). He didn’t seem to mind that we were headed to Abu Galum and simply checked that we had enough food and water. After a while longer, the only other humans we had seen were riding camels headed in the other direction. We came to a small camp on the beach, where the family gladly supplied our mid-hike bedouin tea break. You wouldn’t think that a hot beverage could be so delicious on such a hot day, but the bedouin have it down! The man told us we were about halfway to Abu, so we continued along the winding shoreline rejuvenated.
With Abu Galum in sight as a row of beach huts along the sandy shore, we walked closer and closer to our goal. It felt great to be out of Dahab and Aaron and I both looked at each other and agreed in our appreciation for having taken a day off diving between classes. What a perfect daytrip! Just before our arrival, I reluctantly put my shirt on for our landing as I was getting quite red after nearly 2 hours in the sun. The shirt felt good. Passing a couple beach huts open for business (hammocks, tents, food) the huts quickly became empty. We dropped our bags in one and began to explore the reef.
‘Holy shit’ was my first reaction upon entering and nearly stepping on a lionfish.
I had no clue what to expect, and this was more special than I could have imagined. Swimming out across the reef, a sense of apprehension about the proximity of the unforgiving coral turns to relaxation with the realization of safety. Every so often, the reef shelf opens up into circular holes with sandy bottoms big enough to stand and look around in. Giant lionfish hang upside down under the overhangs, waiting until nighttime, their time to shine. A bit further across the shelf and the reef opens up…this time for good.
The reef gradually descends into the abyss, happily occupied by hundreds of different species. Giant boulders of coral jut out of the ground, teeming with activity. A feather-duster worm instinctively retreats into its relatively small skeleton. Feather-dusters are incredible to watch, and the speed at which they retract is…fast. Quietly resting on the sandy bottom is a wave wort slug (nudibranch), brightly colored orange, white, yellow and black. And above giant parrotfish hack away at the reef, while being groomed by several blue and silver cleaner wrasses. A lazy white-spotted pufferfish a meter long floats into a protected coral frame. I couldn’t help put envision that thing blown up! Part of me really wanted to make it happen…A sandy sea floor littered with garden eels poking their heads out of the sand, and retracting immediately as you approach. The ‘Nemo’ fish comfortably play around in their soft anemone bed…it looks like the softest place you could every imagine (for a fish). The pipefish pipe and the grouper group and all is well in the world.
Back on land, I walk down the beach to the next hut over and sit down with some very inviting Egyptians. On the ground next to Achmed rests a platter of a dozen freshly-caught fish. The water in the pot has begun to boil, and in goes two bags of rice, some spices and the fish cover the top of the pot more than once. It is a lot of fish. Were they expecting company? It’s a good thing we were there to help with all the eating! After a 20-30 minute cooktime experienced by good conversation, bedouin tea, and some bedouin grass, lunch was ready. On a big silver platter the rice was spread out (cooked perfectly) and the fish smattered across it. The following 15-20 minutes were nearly completely silent as the group of 7 manually picked through the fish and rice…bones and all. This has been my favorite meal (by far) here in Egypt. This meal was exactly how it should be – we simply showed up at the right time to partake in their lunch…there was no expectation or interest in being paid for the fabulous feast – just the hope that us gringos would enjoy it.
I just finished my first day of boat diving, here in Hurghada. Here’s a brief itinerary of my travels since my last entry:
Cairo for 2 days (Pyramids, markets, museums)
Overnight train to Aswan
Aswan 5 hours (mostly on a sailboat on the Nile)
Train to Luxor (same day)
Luxor for 1.5 days (temples, tombs, bike riding)
Bus to Hurghada (8 hrs instead of 4)
2 days in Hurghada diving (here I am…)
So, amidst all of these experiences, I will finish up what I can remember from Abu Galum and hopefully have time to expand on my recent travels – really too much to write, so you may be seeing some more poetry soon.
A few Egyptians finished eating and took off, another one continued to pile more rice onto the plate for Aaron and me, but I had reached capacity. Immediately after eating, I felt a sudden urge to snorkel, so I did. I picked up my fins, mask and snorkel and walked the 50 feet to the water and swam away.
Still slightly buzzed from the pre-lunch grass and my stomach in a satisfied euphoric state, I focused on the incredible vibrancy of the colors of fish, plants, corals and other animals throughout the reef. This is something I have never noticed before: Sea urchins glow bright neon blue and green from the inside out that you can see through tiny vertical slits in its body. Clams are beautiful and come in all shapes and sizes – it puts a different spin on the meaning of a pearl. I have now seen clams from two inches in length to two feet! They may be blue, green, purple, slightly yellow, brown, whatever! Each one is just as interesting as the next. Tens of pufferfish, cornet fish, sea urchins, clams, lionfish later I climbed out from the underwater world of Abu Galum.
Watching the sun approach the coastal mountaintops, I realized it was time to move on and get back to Blue Hole. Our lunchmates were gone, and it seemed the only people left in ‘town’ was an international group of 6 who were spending the night. The walk back was shaded, cooler and pleasant. The lighting was mild and spread evenly over the landscape. A pair of crabs mated on the rocks while waves splashed around them. Another hour of uninterrupted walking and exploring brought us to Blue Hole. The last dive group was in the process of packing up and they had a full vehicle. A couple local ‘blue holians’ helped us find a taxi ride back to Dahab. 20 LE and 20 minutes later, we were dropped in the town center, called Assala, where most of the Egyptians live. We filled our packs with fresh fruit, drank fresh sugar cane juice, and shared a cow liver sandwich (I hope).
Sugar cane is produced in a very magical process. The raw canes are first shanked with a knife to prepare them and make them smooth. The juice man grabs them and shoves them 2-4 at a time into a circular hole on a steel machine the size of a refrigerator. Almost instantly, sugar cane juice gushes out below. Delicious. Fresh juices are quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of Egypt. Fresh mango, orange and sugar cane juice is readily available everywhere. They are too good and too cheap. Mango juice, the most expensive of the trio, can cost up to 5 LE (.80).