The Champagne Backpacker: Michael's Round the World Trip 2005-2007-- The Adventure of a Lifetime travel blog

Photos from Ras Mohammed National Park

The Bustling Port of Sharm el-Sheikh

Dive Master Helge and Yolanda's Reef

Divers Exit Yolanda's Reef

Ras Mohammed National Park

Friday, September 9. Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Only an hour and half south of Dahab on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, Sharm el-Sheikh is largely a package tourist (upscale) resort town. It was developed by the Israelis when they occupied the Sinai after the 1967 war. (Under the 1978 Camp David Agreement, Israeli withdrew from the Sinai in return for peace with Egypt.) Many of the resorts occupy stretches of private beach on Na'ama Bay. It's definitely not a backpacker destination like Dahab. My only reason for coming here is to arrange for some dives in the nearby Ras Mohammed National Park. Coincidentally, my hotel recommend Orca Dive Club, the same club I dived with in Dahab. I made arrangements for two dives tomorrow.

Saturday, September 10. Ras Mohammed National Park, Egypt. Ras Mohammed National Park is on the southern most tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba meet the Red Sea. The Egyptian government declared it a national park in 1988. My dive master, Helge from Germany, and I planned two dives at Shark Reef and Yolanda's Reef. It was great that I was diving solo with the dive master as usually there are four or five other divers per dive master. We met our boat, Ito Tours, at the Sharm el-Sheikh port. It was the busiest and most chaotic port I have ever seen—hundreds of divers, snorkellers, and sightseers each trying to find their boat while dive gear and scuba tanks were being delivered. There were no assigned slips, so boats jockeyed for position in the small harbor. Our boat only had a dozen divers and three dive masters. It was a large boat with ample room for everyone to laze about as we motored out to Ras Mohammed. The other divers were mostly European men and women: British, Italian, German, and Spanish. I was the only American.

Shark Reef and Yolanda's Reef are adjacent to each other. I did two drift dives beginning at Shark Reef and ending at Yolanda's Reef. Similar to Dahab, the reefs extend from land about a hundred meters before dropping steeply off into the depths of the Red Sea (up to 1800 meters). Unfortunately, I didn't see any sharks at Shark Reef, although Helge said he sees sharks there about 70 percent of his dives, usually feeding amongst schools of barracuda. We did our best to search for the barracuda and sharks, but no luck. There were, however, lots of fish and coral in a rainbow of colors—purple, blue, red, orange, green, yellow. Visibility was very good. The clarity of Red Sea is due in part to the lack of rain which results in very little run off flowing into the waters. As we circled Yolanda's Reef, one of the strangest sights of the dive came into view: Dozens of toilets strewn about on the reef. Yolanda's Reef is so named because a boat named Yolanda sank here with its cargo of toilets. Between my two dives, a huge manta ray and a pod of dolphins did a swim by and greeted our boat. What a treat! I'm glad I decided stop in Sharm to do these dives. Helge highly recommended that I dive the Thistlegorm, the prized wreck of the Red Sea. It was a British ship that sank with a cargo of tanks, motorcycles, bombs, and other war related cargo. The famed French undersea explorer, Jacque Cousteau, discovered the wreck in the 1950s, and it was rediscovered by members of Helge's German dive club in 1993. I decided to save the dive for a return trip.

Sunday, September 11. Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. In light of how few tourists there were in Dahab, I expected Sharm el-Sheikh to also be quiet, particularly since it was here in late July where over 80 people died from three near simultaneous bombings. That was not the case. During the day, tourists relaxed at their resort beaches; At night, the streets were busy with people walking, eating, drinking, and smoking sheesha pipes. (Interestingly, many tourists are coming from Russia as I heard Russian being spoken and saw quite a number of menus in Russian.) According to Helge (my dive master), for three weeks immediately after the bombings, the city was quiet. Since then, tourism has picked up, although hotels and restaurants were clearly not full. Sharm is a large, commercial and package tourist resort town. It caters primarily to families (Egyptian and foreign) and couples. Personally, I preferred Dahab over Sharm for its smaller, more laid back atmosphere. But the diving in Ras Mohammed National Park definitely makes a stop in Sharm worthwhile.

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