Snorkelling Ras Mohammed (Egypt) aboard Almira III

Picture it, day 10 of a tough two weeks in Egypt: tanning, swimming, eating far too much at the buffet, another beer, more sun, more tanning, more swimming… how much of this can you take??!! Time for a snorkel off the coast… The day starts of with the usual routine – hurry-up and wait… Wait for the taxi to the marina. Wait at each resort to pick up some sleepy guests. Wait for the forms to sign. Wait for a wetsuit. Wait for permits from the port authority. Wait for the boat (nowhere to be seen). Wait for… the usual bureaucratic ‘importance’. Nevertheless it is a glorious day… does it ever rain here? The boat comes into view and it IS a pretty picture among the dozens of white diveboats. The good ship Almira III.

A two-masted vessel with thirty sunmats on her deck. Not a bad way to spend a day in the sun! We all get onboard and find a spot to spread our towels while the crew casts off and heads into the Gulf… Music is inserted into the environment… never thought that Enrique Iglesias would be suitable for anything, yet it fits the mood…

We motor into a calm sea and the perpetual sunshine is glorious… In the background are the mountains – stark and beckoning. The backdrop is amazing – sunshine, blue sky, dusty-tan desert, light blue shallows and the deep dark blue of the depths… We settle down on the roof of the cabin and relax for the next hour and a half. Our destination is Ras Mohammed. Most famous and also most beautiful of reefs in the area. It is a national park (thank goodness some sense has prevailed) and therefore protected from development. Although it is still very ‘touristy’ with a lot of diveboats in the area – can you imagine if they started putting developments down like hotels and resorts…. We DO pass a lot of boats and divers in (under) the water and continue to what seems like the furthest point.

The boat slows and launches the rubber dinghy in search of a mooring point. We don our masks and fins and jump into the water, heading for a small reef. A world opens beneath us through our ‘goggles’. Hundreds of fish and bright coral. It’s a small reef flanked by sandy bottom and the ‘dive guide’ is over-enthusiastically keeping everyone together. So much so that getting flippers in your face becomes rather annoying, but we persevere. Seems to be a quick lesson in snorkelling… But nevertheless we enjoy the warm(ish) water and the smallest of reef fish. Returning to the boat we emerge into a chill breeze that reminds us that it IS winter here… We dry off, take a drink and settle down for a short sail to an ‘island’. More of a glorified sandbank really. Needs a palm tree and some coconuts… However, the brave climb into the overloaded dinghy and are deposited onto a small stretch of sand in the middle of the water. About 80 meters long and maybe two metres wide when the waves recede. Does feel strange to stand there in the middle of the water… Especially when the dinghy disappears towards the motoryacht to collect a couple more ‘Robinson’s Crusoe’. All around there is nothing but water and in the far distance the desolate mountains offer little comfort…

Back on board for lunch. Always impressed by what a cook can do onboard with a small burner… Tasty and delicious and enjoyed ‘al fresco’ in the lovely sunshine. The boat is now retracing its steps back to port, although now somewhat slower and closer to shore. It seems unreal how the desert stops and becomes water. The shoreline being devoid of life. Sandy, dusty and bleak. Yet right on the edge, under the water, there are long lines of reefs. Teeming with fish and colourful and bright. The contrast is immense and fascinating. A bright blue water set against a dusty tan backdrop. Abundance of life meets no life at all… The breeze is now becoming rather chilly as we follow the coastline. Most onboard are donning jerseys and warmer clothing or wrapping themselves with their towels. An announcement is made: a last stop to snorkel. This time we are allowed out on our own.

Considering the chill wind, we are not surprised that only a handful grab the opportunity. The water may be pleasant but the wind is picking up… Once again we are taken by the dinghy. This time a small group of us. To a reef clinging to the side of the desert. This seems to carry on all along the shore. We jump in and are confronted with an amazing wall of coral – stretching from the surface to what seems like about thirty meters! An amazing sight and an even better feeling to swim along this beautiful underwater garden with an enormous amount of sealife. Fish in all shapes and sizes – Victoria even manages to photograph a lionfish! Well spotted. Far more relaxing to drift along on the current with head down admiring the underwater scenery and wildlife. Really enjoyable and reminded us of our diving experiences. Next time we will definitely have to book a few hours underwater.

On a comical note: as I backrolled off the dinghy (as taught and practiced during our diving in South Africa – see here: http://toursandtales.com/tiger-shark-dive-aliwal-shoal-umkomaas), I made a full 360, due to the lack of a ‘tank’ (or cylinder to my more pedantic friends out there) and ended up banging my head on the boat. Now… this is pretty hard (underwater) and dislodged the sunglasses that I had forgotten were still perched on my head! These floated down into the murky depths probably never to be seen again. But for an eagle-eyed (older) guy who surfaced clutching them triumphantly and made me feel rather small…. Ah well, this joins other incidences involving: the lost sandals pushing a raft, camera (a waterproof one in a muddy canal, so useful for distant generations), a cap blown into the Red Sea (on a previous visit) and now probably off the coast of Moçambique, an SLR onto a tile floor from two meters (terminal) just yesterday, and so on…

Nonetheless, a great day, even though it was getting chilly in the late afternoon. The relaxed atmosphere and laid back charm of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba seducing us once more with its charms. It’s tough! Believe me, I know… But someone has to do it…! Just when we thought that we had ‘done’ Egypt and the next destination was somewhere further afield… we got pulled right back and will have to return again….