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

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31-03 October/November 2005

Monday 31st October 2005    day 112     whereami     Satellite view

Feeling quite a bit better - still got some of the unpleasant symptoms but less of the urgency so I'm free to move. Al, Justin, Arnaud and I went to Aladdin's for their special offer breakfast - egyptian breakfast + tea for 10LE.

Arnaud and I were heading out to Eel Garden to snorkel but it's very windy so we stopped at the more sheltered Lighthouse Reef. It was pretty good again, lots of fish.

surgeon fish   surgeon fish   titan triggerfish

No depth record-breaking attempts today - taking it a bit easy as I'm not 100%.

Arnaud went off for a wander, I returned to one of yesterday's bookshops, bought the only book I'd seen that interested me - Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan (fiction) for a pricey 45LE - and joined Al and Justin who were loafing on sunbeds in a beachfront restaurant. Just chatted, watched some pretty good windsurfers and read for a couple of hours in the glorious sunshine sheltered from the wind.

I'd arranged to meet Arnaud at 2pm to snorkel The Islands but couldn't find him so waited in Bedouin Lodge with my book and a lemon juice for an hour. Went off to look for him and found him in a different restaurant where he'd been sleeping. He'd gone off the idea of snorkelling as it's blowing quite a gale today, and The Islands is an exposed site. I started out that way on my own but soon thought better of it and went back to the camp.

Played my guitar a while - I've rigged up a 2nd strap that holds it much steadier so I don't need to support it whilst playing - much less awkward and I don't get the pain in my forearm.

Got a knock on the door - can I pay the camp as it's the end of the month? - paid 5 nights at 15LE and 4 days snorkel/fins hire at 5LE = 95LE total. I'm gonna have to cut down a bit, that's nearly a tenner!!

Sat with usual crowd in the communal area a while smoking Pavel's shisha - apple tonight, very nice too. Al and I went off to find Arnaud and get something to eat - couldn't find him again. Went to King Chicken for one of their legendary meals. An enormous 1/2 chicken with a plate of rice, a bowl of vegetables, a dish of salad, a bowl of soup, bread and a shay for 14LE. It was more than a normal human being could eat and very nice too.

Al went off to the internet and I had a wander around looking for my turkish mate from Cairo that I've not seen - couldn't find him. I haven't seen Said yet either, I look into Desert Divers every time I pass but he's never about.

Walking through the shops a little lad of about 2 or 3 (italian I think) ran to me and tightly hugged my leg. I thought he'd mistaken me for his dad or something but he looked up at me and just held tighter and tighter. I suppose he just wanted a hug, I had to peel him off me and put him down at arm's length to get away. His slightly older sister thought it was hilarious.

It's definitely getting cooler, especially with the strong wind all day. Trousers and sweatshirts to go out tonight - you could get away with shorts and t-shirt still but it gets a bit chilly just sitting around eating or whatever.

It's been a lazy day again really but that's what Dahab is about - "shwaia shwaia" as Said always said. For some strange reason it's still tiring. But I do feel super-relaxed and my mind is totally free of clutter, and I think my stomach has recovered.

Al has found out that the freediving competition is starting at the Blue Hole tomorrow so we're going to have a look.

      High: nice picture of the Titan Triggerfish - they're normally shy and elusive
       Low: too windy today (the weather, not my dodgey stomach!)

Tuesday 1st November 2005    day 113     whereami     Satellite view

Bleedin' November - I can't believe it.

Woke up cold at 4am - it's definitely not warm enough any more to sleep on top of the bed in shorts and t-shirt. No blankets or even a covering sheet here so I dug out my sleeping bag and slept soundly until 9am.

Breakfast with Al (no sign of Arnaud again) at Bedouin Lodge. Managed a very nice big egyptian breakfast on top of last night's feast - stomach is absolutely fine again.

Went to the bank for some money and spoke to the camp boss about getting to the Blue Hole. He offered a 35LE return trip but quickly came down to 20LE. He had a full jeep leaving at 11am and we found nobody else near that price so we took it. 25min bumpy ride to the Blue Hole.

It's developed quite a bit since I was last here but, like Dahab, it's not been spoilt. The driver was keen that we stuck together in the restaurant he'd chosen but we made our excuses and wandered off. Quick shay close to where the freedivers were gathered. I went straight in for a snorkel and got some shots of the freedivers in action. It was quite interesting to watch.

freediver   freediver   freediver

freediver   freediver   freediver

There's not a lot of interesting fish life in the Blue Hole so I swam out and north along the reef. Saw some decent barracuda.

barracuda   barracuda   barracuda

Got out and warmed up with another shay - we're in a really nice spot sheltered from the wind (not so strong anyway today) and the sun is lovely.

Went for a walk, looked at the memorials for the divers who've died here. There's quite a few - people just go beyond their limits and get themselves into fatal trouble - it's 70m deep here. Climbed up to get some shots of the Blue Hole - the sun was in the wrong place so the photos aren't great. I'm certainly not as tanned as I look here! The last shot is from the south as we left for Dahab.

Blue Hole   Blue Hole   Blue Hole

Back in for another snorkel and swam almost as far as The Bells. Saw a lot - best was this good-sized grouper.

grumpy grouper   grouper   grouper

Another warming shay and I sat on the low wall to get this shot of a very cool camel. He strolled up and bent down to closely inspect me before sauntering on. They're great animals, very noble and with a curious way of looking down their noses at you as an inferior unworthy creature. They certainly don't deserve the general bad press they suffer.

cool camel   cool camel

We met up with the others for our 4pm return journey. It was perfectly timed really, the sun had just disappeared behind the mountains and I was struggling to warm back up after my long 2nd snorkel. Bumpy ride home and I got some dry clothes on and warmed up in my room sorting out photos and diary.

Met up with Al again to go and get some dinner. Went to a little place just round the corner and had shish kebab with chips, salad, humous and bread plus a melon juice and a shay for 26.5LE - very good. Went off to find an internet café but Dahab is off-line today - nobody has a connection. Quick browse around a few of the shops and back to the camp about 9pm.

Nipped out to get something to drink after 10pm and found Dahab was back on-line. Did my emails and a few web bits. Also opened a Yahoo email account to see if it will allow me to communicate with my several NTLWorld contacts - Hotmail fails every time.

I'm absolutely shattered again and I really don't think I've worked that hard today. I think the seawater/suncream cocktail that got into my eyes today hasn't helped. A great day though, the Blue Hole is a really nice spot.

Al's last day here tomorrow so we'll be busy snorkelling again. I'm really enjoying the snorkelling and am not really missing the diving at all - everything really worth seeing here is accessible with a snorkel and a hefty gulp of air.

      High: finding the Blue Hole unspoilt, and the freediving was interesting
       Low: it's just all so tiring - but try not to worry about me too much . . . .

Wednesday 2nd November 2005    day 114     whereami     Satellite view

Up and went for omelette breakfast at Bedouin Lodge. Met Al and we headed up to Eel Garden for a snorkel. The wind seemed to have dropped a bit again today but when we turned the corner past Lighthouse Reef we found ourselves in the teeth of a gale.

We got to Eel Garden and there was nobody else around. Dropped our gear in a beachfront restaurant and went in. The water was low and choppy so that we could only just swim out over the reef. There was a fairly strong current too pushing us south back towards the main bay. Towards the edge of the reef it got very shallow and we had to launch ourselves through a gap to get into the open sea without grazing our chests on the sharp coral.

We swam north against the current keeping close to the reef for shelter, but not too close as we were bouncing up and down more than a metre with many waves. Occasionally a big wave would leave your head right out of the water and you'd come splashing back down mask first. It was pretty exhilarating stuff and quite a laugh - though hard work. The sea was obviously fairly churned up so the vis wasn't great but there were clear patches. Plenty of fish around though - presumably out feeding in the strong current. We got to where the bottom starts to slope away deeper and decided to turn and drift back to the exit point - pretty knackered after the long bouncey swim against the current.

Gentle drift back and I managed to get a few photos.

silversides (?)   fish (?)   batfish grazing in the sand

Saw what I thought was the exit but it looked different with the low tide. Signalled to Al that this was it and swam towards the gulley in the reef. As hard as I tried I couldn't get near it - the current was rushing out of the gulley. Al shot past me and I thought he was going to zoom straight in but he too came to a grinding halt and was swept out again. It was a little worrying but we were having a laugh about it between the big waves. We decided to go further south and look for another way in but after 100m we stopped. The reef was reaching right up to the surface all the way along and, even ignoring the coral damage, we'd be cut to pieces trying to scrabble out of this rough sea. We decided to swim back to the main exit and try again. Starting to get just a little concerned now, and cold and tired.

We got there, I tried and failed, then tried again diving down and going in close to the bottom where there was old, dead coral to hang onto. I got into the first little chamber but didn't find the expected shelter from the current. I had to hang onto the corners of a big brain coral and haul myself in an arm's length at a time - whilst also hanging on tightly to my camera. Al was doing the same behind me. Then a quick, frantic swim to the next available handhold in the reef and a further haul, a quick frantic swim and . . . Eventually we got to the rope that marks the path in/out and hung onto that. It was still shallow and choppy so you had to watch you didn't graze the coral with your chest. A very exciting snorkel!! I don't think we were ever in real danger, at a push we could have drifted all the way back to the sheltered bay and got out easily there, but it was a whole lot more exciting than we'd anticipated!!

Back to the restaurant for a shay and a laugh about our life or death struggle. Al pointed out I had blood streaming down my leg but it was only a graze.

Then back to one of the beachfront restaurants in the bay where we lounged around on sunbeds drinking thick fresh mango juice and reading. Strangely Al seems to be really enjoying the book about Mungo the midget detective (!?) that I swapped with him for his Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. I acquired it in a sympathy swap with Joe on the felucca who desperately wanted my Pride and Prejudice - I was glad to see the back of it, I didn't think midget detectives were my thing but maybe I've missed out on a timeless classic.

We stayed there most of the afternoon reading, people-watching and enjoying the sunshine. Had a nice olive pizza and a shay and then headed back to the camp.

Sorted my stuff out and did a bit of diary and photos for an hour and we met up again in Bedouin Lodge for a shay. We sat around chatting with a few of the others, I went out and did a bit of shopping, and back again for a light cheese and tomato sandwich dinner. Al got his taxi to the bus station at 9:30, he's got 2 days in Cairo then home to Sterling. We've had some laughs over the past week (I can't believe I've been here a week already!).

Back to my room - I've got some thinking to do about my plans for the next 6 weeks.

      High: snorkelling in the choppy sea at Eel Garden was great fun
       Low: wondering how/when/if we were going to get back in from Eel Garden

Thursday 3rd November 2005    day 115     whereami     Satellite view

Boring day for the diary in terms of what I've done but I've been busy - and there's the promise of more interesting things to come.

Had an omelette breakfast in Bedouin Lodge and went for a walk along the front. Went to an internet café and spent nearly 3 hours trawling around for information to help me with my plans.
Paul: Yahoo emails are also not getting through to your NTLWorld address despite the fact that I got through to at least 2 other NTLWorlders. Open a Hotmail or Yahoo account mate (takes 5 mins and costs nothing).

I've decided that, as I don't want to risk diving, it's time to move again and be a little adventurous so I'm extending my journey beyond Egypt. I'm going to head up the coast a bit to Nuweiba and jump on the ferry to Jordan and travel around Jordan for a couple of weeks - see Wadi Rum, Petra, Dead Sea maybe, Amman etc.
It should be fairly straightforward except I've no guidebook, just a few little maps and notes taken from the web today.

I'd also really like to get up into Syria and maybe from there into Lebanon but there's likely to be visa problems. Syria is the tricky one - Jordan and Lebanon visas seem to be border formalities. The right way to get a Syria visa is before you leave home, the 2nd best for me now is to go to Cairo and try for one, the 3rd best is to just go and take your chances at the border.
I've been pondering this for a few days and had almost made up my mind to go to Cairo but have now decided to just go and chance it for several reasons: the Cairo option still doesn't guarantee a visa; it's a 10 hour bus trip each way and probably 2 or 3 days of beaurocracy; Nov 5th is the last day of Ramadan and the start of big week-long celebrations and presumably big disruptions to normal business. It could easily cost me a week, it could be a wasted effort and a week is a big chunk of my remaining time.
I reckon I've only a 10-15% chance of getting a syrian visa at the Jordan/Syria border - reading on the net all the official guidelines say it won't happen, other sources tell of complete inconsistency and arbitrariness at the borders - so, let's go and see . . . If I'm not successful I'll probably drift back south through Jordan and return to Egypt.

I definitely have to move though. I love Dahab, it's a great place with a great atmosphere, but the Dahab chill is so extreme, so comfortable and so pervasive it could slow you down for ever. I feel weaker and more lethargic with every day that passes here - I need to move before I become just a helpless and immobile blob. I suspect that many of the floor cushions in the laaazy, slooow, chiiiilled-out restaurants are just travellers who stayed too long and were absorbed into the furnishings.

Went for a walk and took some photos of Dahab as I realised I hadn't taken any.

Dahab   Dahab   Dahab

Dahab   Dahab   Dahab

Just spoken to the camp boss (not that he's particularly camp!) about bus times and he's got a minibus going to Nuweiba at 10am tomorrow for 30LE. That'll do me, probably a bit dearer than the bus except I'd then need taxis as well. He insisted, as he did a couple of days ago, that I'll have no problems getting a syrian visa in Jordan - I just dunno.

Spent a while packing my gear up - I've got more unpacked here than anywhere what with digging out my sleeping bag and guitar and u/w camera case etc. Packing is easier now though since I stopped cramming my small pack into the big one. I've found it more convenient to carry it separately so I can just lob the big one into baggage holds or whatever without any messing about.

Went to Bedouin Lodge for another of their great cheese and tomato sandwiches and read my book until an english bloke I know turned up and joined me. Stupidly I don't know his name but he's here with his young son on a short break. He's travelled a lot in the past though and we had the usual good chat about where we'd been and where we were going. Packed up about midnight, finished sorting my stuff out and bed.

Website updates will be erratic from now on as I won't have my cheap gprs connection, maybe no gprs connection at all. I'll do what I can and I'll keep in touch with family either way.

      High: getting my new plan roughed out - I'm well up for a step into the unknown again
       Low: the plague of persistent flies that decided to join me for breakfast

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