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Sharm El Sheikh - Day 1 - The Paranoid Android
...musings of a mechanically depressed robot...
Sharm El Sheikh - Day 1
We need to be at the dive centre at about 09:00. We didn't manage to get to bed until gone 03:00. Today is going to feel like a long day!

Most of us manage to make it on time... The exception being Nadia.

The group is split. There's us at the Bay View: Simon, Nadia, Lard, Tim & Una, Craig, Robert, Alistair & Olivia (Robert's Children). Then there is a group at the Hilton, which includes Derrick, Jay & Sarah(?) and Ben (Jay and Sarah's son). There are 5 of us doing our Open Water certificate, the others have at least advanced diver status.

We load our diving gear into crates which are loaded onto a couple of small buses. The heat is intense... finding shade is a must and it's nowhere near the peak of the day. Simon and I try and hunt down some more bottled water. A two litre bottle in the restaurant area sets me back about 7LE (70p) which sounds reasonable to me.

Once our buses have been loaded we set off. The air conditioning is welcome and I get my first proper look at Egypt. There's not quite as much sand as I expected... but there is a lot of very dry and barren rocks. The method of driving there is fascinating... mirrors and signals are completely ignored in favour of the horn. We pick up the guy at the Hilton and head back on ourselves to the Quay.

There are a few check points along the way with heavily armed "Tourist Police"... the gun of choice is the infamous AK47. Having a bunch of guys sat out in the sun with machine guns doesn't seem that great an idea to me. The other worry is why are they there? To keep us in, or to keep others out? Neither option is a good one.

When we arrive at the Quay there is another check point. The driver hands over a list of all our names and we are counted. Papers are exchanged. It all looked very official and I have no idea what the hell it was all for.

We grab our crates of gear from the back of the bus and queue up at a security check point. A cursory check of the dive gear (including knives and stuff) is followed by a more thorough check of my backpack. My towel and Sudo Ku book are considered harmless and I'm allowed passed. We wait while our guide sorts out some more paperwork. The sun is really starting to put some effort in now and the temperature is close to 40. I'm glad for my daft hat and long sleeves, without which I would be a burnt up crisp by now.

We are finally let onto the dockside and our boat comes in. It was much to look at, but it was floating and the skipper seemed to know what he was doing. I notice with some amusement that the boats seem to have the same mode of navigation as the cars... it's all in the horn.

it doesn't take very long to get all the gear on the boat and we are off. The wind off the sea is cool and the scenery is amazing. Any worries I had about this not being a good idea evaporate. Even from the boat you can see a fair selection of tropical fish.

Our guide tells us the rules:
This boat is someone's house... and to show respect for that no shoes allowed. The exception is the "wet deck" where fins/dive boots are of course allowed.
The "wet deck" is so called because that's the only place you are allowed to be wet. You have to dry off before you are allowed inside or on the sun deck.
Food and water is provided at a charge of 40LE a day. If you are a tight git you can opt out of the meal and just pay 20LE for drinks.
He also pointed out that the Red Sea is pretty much a conservation area now. No touching/feeding/catching the wild life.

The rules don't seem too bad to me... and we start to kit up. I've done this a few times now so not much to worry about. The added fun of a moving deck wasn't half as bad as I thought it would be. It's suggested I add at least 4kg extra (8kg total) to my weight belt to counter the fact we are using aluminium tanks and the saltiness of the water. You really notice lugging 8 kg around. Adding the jacket and tank I feel like going for a lie down!

We don't travel far as us newbies need some shallow dives with a sandy bottom. I'm buddied up with Robert and we check our kit. Then it's out onthe back of the boat in the full sun for the first time in my wetsuit. I can feel the skin on the top of my head crisp. I loose about 500g in water in the 5 or so minutes waiting to get in. When we eventually are given the okay to jump the relief is sweet. The water isn't cold... surface temperature according to my dive computer is a very pleasant 32. We group up and descend.

The first thing I notice is how clear and blue everything is. The next thing I notice is we are about 10 meters from the bottom with the shallows a long way away! I calm my breathing as much as I can as we head slowly down the leaded line towards the bottom.

My ear starts to hurt so I slow my decent... it continues to hurt so I signal my problem and go up a little. The pain disappears but attempts at equalising the pressure are not going well. I had this problem in the pool once and I'm worried this might be the end of my dive for the day but a quite hard (too hard?) "blow" on my nose seems to clear it with a bit of a squeak and I am able to make it to the bottom without further problems.

I notice the fish. There are quite a lot of them and they don't seem particularly bothered by our presence. I am beginning to enjoy myself quite a lot. Robert's kids are totally amazing (Olivia is just 10 years old but seems completely un-phased by the whole thing) Alistair is similarly adept and our tests go without much fuss. We swim about for a bit before heading up for our safety stop. The time has flown past! When I surface there is blood in my mask! Tim seems to think this is nothing much to worry about... so I try not to worry.

Dive 1 stats: Location : Ras Katy
Max Depth: 11.2m Bottom time : 34 minutes Air in: 200 Air out: 60 Bottom temp: 29

Getting out of the boat is a mission in itself. Not only am I carrying the weight of the tank, jacket and wieghtbelt, but everything is now wet and weighs twice as much! One of the boat crew helps to haul me aboard. His English isn't so great (but a hell of a lot better than my Arabic) so we communicate in an impromptu sign language. I salute him as I give thanks which he seems to find most amusing.

I de-kit and dry off. We sit inside and watch lunch get served up. It's quite an impressive spread considering the size of the galley. There is rice, pasta, vegitables, salad, meatballs, pitta breads, and a few items I don't recognise. I try a bit of everything and it's all good! The supply of food is also never ending - as one plate is emptied another appears in its place. The experienced divers are discussing what they've seen. I'm informed that what I've seen is nothing compared to some of the other dive sites.

After lunch the boat moves off. A couple of people go to the sun deck for a snooze. I am a little wired so wander about the boat - checking out the scenery as it passes. It's a savage landscape, all mountains and dryness. The rich life in the sea just highlights how little there appears to be out of it!

We arrive at the second site for the day and we're told to kit up again. My wetsuit is almost dry and it's less that 2 hours since I left the water! We take slightly less time to get into the water (which is a relif - it's not got any cooler standing in the sun!) and we once again head to the bottom. My ear is still a bit of a problem and my descent is slow. This is concerning me a lot more than I'm willing to share with the rest. On the one hand I don't want to seem like a hypochondriac - but on the other hand I don't want to damage my ear in such a way that I can never dive again. The dive masters don't seem particularly concerned that it's taking me so long to descend so I try not to worry.

Our drills at the bottom include filling our masks with water before clearing them. The Red Sea is very salty... and even with my eyes closed they stung. We pretend we've run out of air and had our regulators pulled out of our mouths. It's the same drills as in the pool... except the scenery has improved dramatically... and it's warmer!

After the drills we swim about some more. I'm getting the hang of my buoyancy... my breathing is enough to get me over obstacles but I still have problems getting back down again.

When we get to the surface we do some skills ... Robert drags me to the boat after I push him along for 20 meters or so. It's all very tiring and getting out is harder still. My ship mate salutes me after helping haul me out again. He still looks amused.

I notice I have blood in my mask again.

Dive 2 stats: Location: the Temple
Max Depth: 8.5 Bottom time : 36 minutes Air in: 200 Air out: 80 Bottom temp: 29

We de-kit and dry off. The boat heads back to the quay and we head back leaving our kit on the boat. This will mean less lugging and waiting the following days... supposedly.

After dropping off the Hilton lot we drive to our hotel. We pass the checkpoint. The drivers papers are checked and we are counted in. Everything appears to be in order and we are allowed to proceed. I see they have set up two stingers about 100 meters apart... either side of these is a 2 meter steel surround with a little window in it... inside stands a sun baked policeman with the now familiar AK47.

When we get to the hotel without being killed... we agree to meet up after an hour or so to head into the "town" for some food. I am totally shattered by now... 4 hours of sleep demanding company. I set my alarm for an hour nap and drift off.

I felt much better! A quick shower and a change of clothes and I was really a new man! I was pleased to see there was no drop outs - so we all headed into the centre. It was still quite warm but the sun was near the horizon so it was bearable. We opted for pizza(!) and Nadia surprised us all by ordering in near perfect Italian. We should have suspected something then!

The pizza was good... the Egyptian beer wasn't bad either! Me and Sakara would become good friends by the end of the holiday!

Between about 8:30 and 9:00 it got very dark very quickly. It also got very busy in the town centre. As we all had an early start the next day we decided to buy some water and head back to the hotel. The local supermarket had two litre bottles on sale for 2LE. I felt ripped off from this mornings purchase! Those with a good memory might remember that 7LE is 70p... so we're talking about 50p a bottle... but it's the principle of the thing damnit!!!!

It's strange how your mind works at times.

I bought 4 bottles of water as did pretty much everyone else. Outside the front of the hotel we was stopped and searched - and they tried to confiscate our water. It would seem our hotel had a policy of not allowing you to bring "food and drink" into the hotel from the outside. This included bottled water. We kicked up a fuss and was taken to the management. They "allowed" us to keep the water this time... but in future we was allowed to bring only one bottle of water into the hotel with us at a time...

no... really... I kid you not.

We are in the desert, it's 40 degrees inthe shade, the water in the taps is enough to give you the shits for a week and the damn hotel doesn't want us to buy our water at the supermarket.

Opinions were forming of the Egyptian way... and they were not complementary...

Back in our room I set my alarm for 8:00 and drifted off to sleep...

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Current Location: Sharm El Sheikh
Current Mood: hot hot
Current Music: Kids - MGMT

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