2005 Time-out Diary
Wandering around Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

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22-25 October 2005

Saturday 22nd October 2005    day 103     whereami     Satellite view

Went for a look around on my own at about 10am. Safaga is a strange place - a strip of a place along the shore and every building is either half-built or half falling down, and most seem deserted. It's not sufficiently undeveloped or developed to be interesting - it's in no-man's-land. It's very quiet and there's no hassling whatsoever.

Safaga - balcony view   Safaga street   Safaga street

Walked north cutting through some private beaches and bumped into Arnold at the Dune Dive Centre. Stopped for a free shay and chatted with the people about the options: €28 for a 2 dive boat trip with €18 equipment hire. There's nothing to see along the shore where I fancied a quick snorkel.

We went up to Nemo Dive Centre where dive prices were similar but he said the snorkelling was quite good.

We both had another wander, I bought some fruit, and met back up at Nemos later. The belgian manager was very interested in my travels and was amazed how little it had cost - I'm not sure he believed me. I hired a snorkel and fins for 15LE and had a go but didn't see much. It was just a gently sloping floor with sparse sea grass. Saw a few small goatfish and a dozen small squid - the squid were quite interesting. I got out cold after 30 mins and struggled for a while to warm back up on the beach - it's very breezy here. Lazed around on sunbeds, chatting, bit of music, loads of fruit. Lots of diveboats visible further out, and there's a few nice looking diveboats on a nearby pier. Arnold's alright but, in addition to the language difference, we're on a different wavelength somehow and we struggle to communicate.

I went back to the hotel about sunset (5pm) to try and finish catching up my diary. Just about got it done and went up for the same great meal as last night - really good again.

Went out and updated the website with a GREAT PC and a GREAT connection - such a welcome change I could have kissed it.

I'm not going to hang around here. I think my diving budget will go further in Dahab and there's no good snorkelling or anything else really. I'm going to go 40km south tomorrow to El Qusier - I think the diving/snorkelling will be similar but it's less developed so may be interesting - may as well have a quick look.
Just found out that the El Qusier bus leaves at 6am - groan. Arnold's decided to go to El Qusier too.

      High: getting into the Red Sea - first time this trip
       Low: painful stiff neck all day - probably from uncomfortable bus-dozing yesterday

Sunday 23rd October 2005    day 104     whereami     Satellite view

Up with the alarm at 5am after 3-4 hours restless sleep, finished packing and walked up to the main street. Walked a little way towards the bus station then got a minitaxi for 1.5LE. We got the 5LE bus after quite a wait and left at 6:45. Not much to see on the journey so just dozed.

We arrived in El Qusier about 8am. First impressions are good, it certainly looks more interesting than Safaga - much more traditional. The main industry here is phosphate mining but it doesn't seem to have destroyed the place. It seems to have once been on a bigger scale than it is now.

We went searching for a hotel and eventually, after a good 4km walk up and down found the Sea Princess Hotel. 38LE for a twin room and no negotiation. It's a very basic room but it's ok.

Rested for an hour and took a few sneaky shots through the mosquito mesh, date biscuits and water for breakfast.

view from hotel window   view from hotel window   view from hotel window

view from hotel window   view from hotel window

I headed out to check out the snorkelling -it looks like coral reef along the shore, but so did Safaga and it wasn't.

Walked north along a nice seafront and out onto a rough jetty. 10 blokes were in waist-high water trying to push a fair sized boat into deeper water - it seemed to be grounded. A couple of kids were fishing with lines off the jetty - watched them pull in a pipefish and what looked like a very small barracuda.

Stopped at a dive place but it was deserted. Sat on a very uncomfortable brick seat on the front and did some diary and read a bit but was dozing off. It's much hotter today and much less breezey - it's quite a sheltered bay.

El Qusier front   El Qusier front

Managed to find someone at the dive place but they said the only good shore snorkelling was 10km south. Slowly wandered back along the front, picked up some fruit and water and found a quiet spot near the jetty for a snack. Headed back to the hotel about 3pm as I was really flagging. Crashed out for a few hours.

Arnold returned and we went out about 7pm for something to eat. Found a nice beach restaurant and had an excellent kofta/kebab with rice, chips, salad, tahina and bread. 22LE with 2 shays once we'd clarified his "confusion" - he'd wanted 65LE for the joint 43LE meal.

Went for an evening wander but there's not that much to see - apart from a truck full of camels. Arnold went off to an internet café and I returned to the hotel about 10pm.

camel truck

I really like El Qusier - it's kinda quaint, quite traditional, very quiet, averagely scruffy, not very touristy, minimal hassling and most people seem pretty friendly. The front is very nice with a pretty good beach area. It's a shame that there's nothing to see in the sea close to the shore - if there was I'd stay here a few days. But, nice as it is, there isn't really anything to do here so we're both moving again tomorrow - to Hurghada, about 90km north back through Safaga. The bus leaves at 7am so it's another early start - it really can't be healthy all this early morning stuff!

      High: El Qusier, it's a nice place
       Low: I'm a bit frustrated that there's nothing to do here (apart from expensive offshore diving) 'cos I'd like to stay a while

Monday 24th October 2005    day 105     whereami     Satellite view

El Qusier
Up at 6am, finished packing and walked the 2km to the bus station for the 7am bus. The bus went at 5am - the next one is at midday. We asked 4 people last night and 3 said 7am, 1 said 5am so we believed the 3. I wasn't that bothered, I'm taking all the nonsense in my stride since I decided not to get wound up over it. Arnold was furious and went on about it a bit too much.

We walked back down to the main street to see if any minitaxis were going to Safaga but none were - a couple pointed us back to the bus station where we learnt there was a minitaxi station nearby. We headed back up the hill to the minitaxi station where we found a microbus that was going to Hurghada - 10LE, same as the bus. We were the first to want the trip and there was no clue about how long it would take to fill the 8 seats in the Peugot 504 estate. Arnold wanted to wait over the road away from the dust and fumes, I wasn't sure it was the best idea but figured we probably had plenty of time, so went too.

After 20 minutes I wandered back to see if there was a Safaga trip to be had sooner and found the Hurghada car almost full - 1 space left so we'd missed it. There was a load of argey-bargey about whether another one would run and whether they'd let us on it anyway. An official said that egyptian passengers didn't like travelling with us because we slow the progress through the checkpoints. I told him I'd travelled all over Egypt and never had a problem and he seemed to accept it. They were just trying to get us to take a private taxi to get a load more money out of us.

We got into the next Hurghada microbus and it was full in about 30mins, we set off at 8am. Pretty boring journey back through Safaga and onto Hurghada - arrived at about 10:30. Arnold wanted the ferry straight to Sharm El Sheikh and I'd picked out a hotel near the port so we walked to the port - the one boat a day went at 8am. We went for a shay, we were knackered by this time.

Walked and minitaxi'd into the Sigala area where my hotel was and found it had closed down. Tried a place opposite and were told it was full - I think they didn't like the look of us, not sure why. Someone pointed us around the corner where we tried 2 places but they were both expensive.

Walked and minitaxi'd back to the Dahar (downtown) area to look for something cheaper. All the minitaxi's were trying to charge 10x the right amount and we got on and straight back off several in the course of the day. Eventually found the 4 Seasons Hotel for 45LE for a twin room - it's not bad. Absolutely shattered and sweaty and dirty, it's now 1:30 and we've walked at least 6km with big packs today. Showered and changed and went to check some things with reception. Arnold bought his boat ticket for tomorrow 250LE, I'm gonna stay a day and do some diving - 275LE for 2 boat dives with all equipment.

We went for a walk but couldn't get near the sea as it's all private beaches - owned by hotels, many of which are half-built or half falling down and derelict, it's ridiculous. We went our separate ways after a while and I ended up finding a way to the sea between 2 hotels. It wasn't really a beach, mainly building site rubble, but I managed to get out onto some rocks where I could sit and look at the sea in peace and ignore the mess behind me. It was nice there watching the diveboats, the occasional fish jumping and watching a crab playing with my rucksack. After an hour there, as the sun was setting, a bloke from one of the hotels was shouting at me - probably that I shouldn't be there, but I just ignored him and he gave up.

looking at the Red Sea

Back to hotel and I confirmed that I’d dive tomorrow. Got the gear sorted out into a box, paid my 275LE and we meet at 8:30am. I'm looking forward to it - this has been my longest time without a dive for several years. Also learnt that there's no Sharm El Sheikh ferry on Wednesday so I'm stuck here unless I get the bus via Suez - a much cheaper option but probably 12 hours travelling plus an indefinite time for a bus change at Suez - possibly even an overnight. I'm undecided.

I wasn't expecting to like Hurghada - too touristy - but it's not quite as bad as I'd expected. There are tacky-touristy hotels and restaurants everywhere but the hassling is low-key, the prices in some places are high but not if you look around a bit. It's got the standard egyptian building site appearance. It's not really my cup of shay though.

Went out again at about 7pm to see the bazaar and get something to eat. The bazaar area is pretty cheesey, streets of nice clean shops all selling the same trinkets to the hordes, mostly germans. 15 minutes of that was quite enough except it took me 30 to find my way out again.

There's very little in the way of cheap food, it's all quite nice restaurants. Managed to find one little place tucked away and got a couple of damias for 2LE. I was still starving though and ended up paying 17LE for a pretty good pizza with a couple of shays.

Finished Anna Karenin in the restaurant - a really great book.

Another small walkabout past tourist bars and cafes - some pumping out western music. I've not seen so much pub-life since I left the UK, and I don't much like it. In one resort bar I could here them all joining in to the okey-kokey - what fun ??!!

I couldn't find anything I liked and my feet and ankles were killing me after all the heavy walking over the past few days. Back to the hotel about 11pm.

      High: successful journey and a decent bed after a fair struggle
       Low: Hurghada's a pretty ropey place, not as bad as I expected but I can't find much to like about it

Tuesday 25th October 2005    day 106     whereami     Satellite view

Up at 7:30 and up to Prince's Dive Centre for 8:15. Met a very quiet swedish bloke on the same boat - he seemed ok. Then a very talkative swiss bloke who voiced every thought and laughed after everything he said - "I'm putting on some suncream, ha ha ha ha ha", "the sun is very hot, ha ha ha ha", "my t-shirt has a hole in it, ha ha ha ha". He did go on...... Then an older french/czech couple who mostly kept themselves to themselves. And that was our group. I had to pay a further 14LE taxes which annoyed me as no mention was made of it yesterday - I clarified that there were NO further costs.

Minibus to the boat - Prince, it's a fairly basic dayboat but it's ok. We loaded up and sailed about 70-80 mins to Gota Abu Ramada reef - there were lots of diveboats already there and more joining us.

Quick briefing where I learnt that the maximum depth was 15m and we jumped in - I was buddied with the swede. These were not experienced divers, I think at least one was OW, the others probably AOW. There were a lot of arms and legs flailing about, sand being kicked up and coral brushed against. The coral was in very poor condition - this is clearly a novice training ground. Plenty of fish though and some were a pretty good size. My reg had a slight freeflow so I felt like I was being inflated all the time and the constant stream of bubbles past my mask was irritating - I switched to the octopus but it wasn't much better. And I was cold in just the shortie they gave me - the water was a toasty 26C but I think I'm adapted for 40C at the moment. I get goose pimples at 30C and start shivering at 25C!
I enjoyed the dive more once I'd dispensed with my buddy - he was sticking to the diveguide anyway so he was ok. I hung back taking (fogged) snaps and then catching up. It wasn't that great though. We got out after an hour, I still had 100bar left but I was cold anyway.

Decent lunch and a couple of hours rest.

Picadilly Circus

We motored round to the other side of the reef. On the way the diveguide said that if anyone had more than 70bar at the end of the normal dive he was happy for them to stay down with me for longer. We jumped in and it was quite a bit better than the first dive. Very shallow again but plenty of fish and some less damaged coral. Towards the end it was very nice, big coral mounds and great shoals of various fish.

The main dive ended as a few were low on air but 2 were ok and the 3 of us went for a further 10 minute look around until we were cold. I thought I'd lost my computer in the de-kitting but it turned up to my great relief. Got some much better pictures on this dive with an unfogged lens.

damsel fish?   diver   crocodile fish

trigger fish   surgeon fish   parrot fish - saying cheese

over the coral mounds   er, fish   er, fish

grouper   batfish   er, fish

er, fish   er, fish   er, fish

er, fish   er, fish   er, fish

I'm not sure about the names for some of these fish - perhaps one of my diver friends will email me?

Hour and a half cruise back, unload and I was back at the hotel about 5:30.

Dozed for an hour and woke up with toothache. Well, if anything was going to provoke it diving was always favourite. It's not toooo painful, but quite painful enough for me to lose interest in doing anything else today. I'll just have to hope . . . . .

I'd pretty much decided to bus to Dahab tomorrow but it probably depends a bit on the tooth now.

      High: the 2nd dive was pretty good
       Low: the dreaded toothache makes an appearance

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