A note about snorkeling. I only do this once a day in the late afternoon as usually wind and the tides make it difficult to snorkel otherwise. Almost each day I’ve gone snorkeling in a different location and I can see why the Red Sea is one of the worlds great dive destinations. Even though I’m not into diving, the snorkeling is wonderful. I like it better than when I snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef last year because there you needed to go out on a boat for an hour or more to get to locations, here I can just leave my clothes on a chair and walk out to the reef, and come back whenever I want. Of course the negative is you are walking out ON the reef and that is really difficult (and bad for the coral). To get around this, several of us have become masters of swimming in 8-inch-deep water to get out to the reef. The problem with swimming in water that shallow — sea urchins. I have come to dread sea urchins almost as much as my phobia of sharks, except that at least sea urchins don’t come after you… but I digress…
The first day we went snorkeling, a guy from our hotel said he was taking some people to a lagoon and we could catch a ride. We didn’t know anything about anything at that point, so we went and snorkeled in fairly shallow (2 feet deep) water with chunks of coral, some fish, and lots and lots of sea urchins. Small red sea urchins. Medium purple sea urchins. And Big Black, Black As Black Can Be, with Foot-Long Spikes, sea urchins. At this point I began to really hate sea urchins. But I was happy because at least they don’t have have sharks in the Red Sea. Then I stupidly mentioned this at dinner that night and they looked at me like “huh?, why do you think there aren’t sharks in the Red Sea?” Greeeeaaaaaatttttt………. Another thing to angst over. But I persevered…
The next day we went to a place called “the Lighthouse” which is in the center of Dahab town. It was easy to get in and out, but had so many locals standing on the reef, picking up pieces of the coral, kicking up the water that in some ways it was the most unpleasant of the trips even though it was one of the most popular dive sites. Plus, the mask I had was digging so hard into my face I was really getting bruised, so couldn’t snorkel but for maybe 30 minutes. So, I got out early and watched a bunch of vacationing Egyptian girls beat the crap out of each other (actually, just one pre-teen girl beating the crap out of a couple of 6-year-old girls — I’m really not a fan of the amount of physical violence I’ve seen against kids here) until the others were ready to leave. That night I swapped out for a different set of equipment that fit me much better.
The next two days we went out directly in front of our hotel, and that was probably the best. Even though you had to do the 8-inch swim, the sea urchins weren’t that bad, and once you crossed over the edge the reef was amazing here. Once you got over the shelf, there was a sheer drop-down of what seemed like 20 or 40 feet (no idea of depth, really) but the water was so clear you could see everything. The fish were gorgeous, the coral and clams were also really cool. The only remote negative was it is one of those places where to look one way it is bright and beautiful. The other direction would be dark and deep blue. The dark and deep blue that sharks come out of. Not that there was any chance of sharks coming out, of course. So I was told. Again and Again. But when you have a shark phobia, it’s pretty hard to ignore. The fact that I even was able to go into the water at all was a conquering of shark-phobia-ness that I’m pretty proud of. Mainly you learn to just “not look” because if you’re looking, you’re acknowledging the fear. If you’re looking, you might actually see something which you couldn’t get away from anyway. So, either way, you’re better off not looking.
On the last day (yesterday) we decided to go to the location that they guy in the snorkel shop where we rent our gear had been saying we need to go all week. It was ‘sort of’ near a well-known dive site called “The Island” which was sort of nearby to where we had gone that first day. P, M, and I committed to go and so despite my sunburn from the pool earlier that day, we met up at 3pm and decide to walk rather than take a taxi to “the Island.” This proved to be farther away and a hotter walk than we’d realized. So we finally get there and I feel even more burned, even though I’d slathered on 50-level sunblock at that point.
Once at “the island” (named so because it is an underwater island of coral), a bunch of divers saw us with our snorkel-gear and were like “you are going to go out there? Without dive booties on? Walking? You’ll rip yourself to shreds!” This was not encouraging. So we decide to try and see what happens, and we perform our “swim in 8-inches of water” feat and make it out to the reef with little problem. Well, I had little problem, but M got caught up in the rocks and P had to help her quite a bit, but once we got over the shelf, it was really nice. I saw the most fish I had seen to date (of course I later found out that there were barracuda in this part of the waters — I swear it is good we don’t know things in advance or sometimes we’d never live life at all!) and the coral was the most diverse I had seen it.
Once in the deeper water we make the not-so-brilliant decision to just head in the direction the current was going which was toward the place we went snorkeling the first day. We had remembered that as being beachy and figured the reef must end before that point and we can get out at the beach.
We were wrong. Very wrong. The reef didn’t end, it was just that first day we hadn’t realized we were on the “shelf” and had we gone out further we would have found the reef drop off. So after more than an hour (my face stopped throbbing because of the sunburn after 45 minutes, I think it was numb at that point!) we realize we are well past the point we were snorkeling that first time, and were actually near the tip of the lagoon were the wind-surfers are. We knew because of the current we couldn’t go back to where we came from, so our only option was to get out there, even though we seemed so far from land. P went on ahead of us in case it was really bad (P is certified as a diver and much braver than M or I). We could see him stand up and he was talking to us, but we couldn’t hear what he was saying. While we were waiting for him, we didn’t notice the current was pretty much pushing us toward the reef anyway, so at some point it was just put your head down and go!
It may very well have been one of the scariest things I have ever done, after white water rafting. Normally our 8-inch-deep shelf swims covered a few hundred meters and lasted maybe 10 minutes at most. Here the shelf felt like thousands of meters wide and it was so shallow and full of sea urchins it felt like swimming a gauntlet. I think we swam 20 or more minutes and all I could say to myself over and over again was “just do your best, just do your best, just do your best” like a mantra. I stopped at a couple of open spots to check on P and M who were behind me, and seemed to be making it through OK so I pushed on as there was no other choice. Fortunately, there was nothing scarier to contend with in addition to the gigantic long-spined sea urchins (yeah yeah, probably nothing would have happened it I’d touched the spines but it wasn’t an experiment I’d wanted to test…) so there was only one thing to focus on. Of course M then reminded me of the eels we had seen there the first day, but I was out of the water at that point.
I make it to the sand about 5 minutes before P and M and we were SO relieved, it was like “Yes, we made it!! Woo hoo!!”. Then, we realized we were maybe 3/4 or a full mile from where we’d left our stuff. We had no shoes, and the sand was nothing but hot hot rocks and pebbly sand. Somehow I has this fantasy of taxis hoarding around all offering to pick us up, but no luck. We were too far away from a taxi area. We walked back to the launch spot for the Island, sometimes wearing our flipper fins and walking backwards (too hard to walk forwards in them) but mostly just sucking up the pain. I’m not sure what did my feet more damage, the rubbing raw of the rocks, or the fact that once rubbed raw, the heat of the ground. Either way, my feet were not happy campers. Once we got back to the island spot, there was a pickup-truck taxi and we asked how much for a ride back. We knew anything 15 pounds or under was fair. Frankly, even if it had been more, I would have paid it. Fortunately, he said 10 pounds and hobbled into the back of the cab.
After getting back I took a shower and cowered in my air conditioned room. Poor P and M were going to climb Mt. Sinai that night, and I haven’t seen them since so I don’t know how they managed…. I ended up having dinner just with K, as her husband B also decided to stay inside his a/c room that night. I had to keep taking off my sandals as my feet kept swelling up from the heat, so we didn’t venture far. For dinner we stayed at our hotel on the top deck which has an unobstructed view of the wind, waves, and moon and I had chicken noodle soup (they use “Cup-o-Soup-like Ramen noodles which are awesome!) and a chocolate-vanilla-coconut milkshake.
I think I deserved it.