Our departure from Dahab was fraught with danger - too many transfers and too many opportunities for it all to go horribly wrong. Punctuality in the Middle East is not a strong point - why did we expect this to work?
The trip involved a taxi to the port, boat across the Red Sea, taxi to the bus station and then a bus to Marsa Alam. Amazingly it went to plan. Even if we had paid Baksheesh (tips or bribes) to the bus driver it could not have gone more smoothly. Actually, we did pay him Baksheesh but that was more out of relief that we had finally made it there! Baksheesh is pretty much an expected way of life if you want anything to be done in Egypt, regardless if it is someone's job and they are supposed to do it anyway.
What was more amazing was our experience at the Hurghada bus station. We arrived at 7pm for an 8pm bus that would arrive in Marsa Alam at 1am. The locals waiting for the buses were really friendly and translated the Arabic announcements for us and said they would make sure we got on the right bus. All was going well, so time for some food before the bus arrived. Scott stayed with the bags and Adele went in search of some falafels.
Having finally found a falafel restaurant and ordered two falafel sandwiches, Adele gave them a 10 Egyptian pound note (about $2.50 AUD), expecting some change. When no change was forthcoming, she checked with the staff who just shrugged and served someone else. Definitely a tourist rip off, but hey - that's one of the joys of travel. And it wasn't really that much money.
We were talking to some of the local men while waiting for the bus (well, they were talking to Scott whilst Adele listened), and one of them asked if we had paid 10 Egyptian pounds for the falafels. We were surprised they knew the exact amount we had been overcharged, and they were very angry about it. We reassured them it was OK and that we were used to paying more than the local price - especially when we were the only tourists around.
About 10 minutes later a man from the Tourist Police came over to us and apologised (well, apologised to Scott) that we had been over-charged and then he gave Scott back the 8 Egyptian pounds we have been overcharged, apologised again, shook Scott's hand and said he hoped we would not let this ruin our view of Egypt. It was very weird and very nice.
Not sure if it is more amusing that it was all over $2 AUD or that at no point did anyone refer directly to Adele (or give her the money back that SHE had spent) instead dealing directly with Scott who hadn't moved from his seat (and cup of tea) with our bags.
SHAGRA VILLAGE ECO-LODGE
Besides having an unfortunate name, Shagra is known as a premier scuba diving resort on the Red Sea. Full board (all meals) is included and the accommodation options are a tent on the beach (too cold), hut with share bathroom, or a private chalet. With everything priced annoyingly (and expensively) in Euros we opted for the hut. It was clean and warm and with an absence of tourists in early December, we basically had the share bathrooms to ourselves.
The pricing in Euros was very annoying. We had noticed instances of this in Dahab but you could generally get people to convert the price to (or at least accept) Egyptian pounds. Admittedly most of the other guests at Shagra (OK - all of them) were from Europe but that still doesn't make it right to abandon your national currency for another one. We guess the logic was that if you charge in Euros you can charge at European prices, especially as most guests flew directly to Marsa Alam from Europe and probably didn't see anything else of Egypt. On our quickly diminishing Australian dollar budget, it hurt.
Prime example was the internet - at Shagra it was 2 Euros for 15 minutes (that's 56 Egyptian pounds / $13 AUD per hour). In Dahab we were paying only 4 Egyptian pounds / 1 AUD per hour for the internet. Ouch. Needless to say we are using it as an excuse as to why we are so far behind with the website!
The coastline at Marsa Alam was amazing, the spot was quite isolated (we were 24 km away from any type of town) and the views were amazing. However there were plenty of other resorts around. Most were of the 'all inclusive' never leave the complex kind with all meals, drinks and activities included, catering to the European market. It gave the place a weird feeling of trying to be the French Riviera on the Red Sea. There was a complete absence of anything Egyptian, most signs were in German and Italian and of course, everything was charged in Euros.
RED SEA DIVING - PART II (by Scott)
The plan was to do 3 days diving with either 2 or 3 dives per day. The first dive was a 'check dive' to explore the house reef and check weight belt requirements. I was surprised that I required 11kg of weight instead of the usual 8kg due to the higher salt content of the Red Sea (nothing to do with my recent deep fried everything & Stella beer diet).
The reef had many schools of small reef fish with a particularly active school of Indian Mackerel searching for food with mouths and gills wide open. Diving with small fish is OK for awhile but I am after the pelagics (big fish) and I got my chance sooner than I anticipated. One of the Dutch divers who I was talking to earlier in the day invited me to dive with his Dutch mates on Elphinstone Reef that afternoon, which has a number of Oceanic Reef Sharks in residence and supposedly the best dive site in the area.
I jumped at the opportunity and climbed aboard one of the RIB's (Rigid Inflatable Boats). It was a bone jarring 30 minute boat ride in 30 knot winds and a 3 metre swell. We descended quickly to a depth of 8 metres and a dolphin swam close to me which was exciting because I have seen many dolphins from the dive boat, but they tend to disappear when I enter the water.
We were on the lookout for the Oceanic Sharks and after a few minutes I could see the outlines of sharks coming up from the deep and soon there were 6 good sized Oceanics (from 1m to 2.5m in length) swimming closely and checking us out. They were very curious and I was sure they weren't hungry because it was 1pm (after lunch). Well that is what I kept telling myself. We played with them for about 20 minutes and for the remainder of the dive we explored the reef. After we finished the dive one of the other divers took off his wetsuit & jumped in the water to urinate. His pissing nearly turned into number 2's when a shark gave him a gentle nudge on the leg. He nearly walked on water. Very funny.
On my return, I decided to do some research on the Oceanic Sharks and this is what I found:
Quote 1: "Famed oceanographic researcher Jacques Cousteau described the oceanic whitetip as "the most dangerous of all sharks". Despite the greater notoriety of the great white shark and other sharks habitually found nearer the shore, the oceanic whitetip is considered responsible for more fatal attacks on humans than all other species combined, as a result of predation on those shipwrecked or from aircraft downed in the open ocean.."
Quote 2: "Even though the oceanic whitetip is highly opportunistic and aggressive; and has been known to attack humans for food, divers have swum with this shark repeatedly without being harmed (it is a popular draw for dive tourism because of its size and the perceived danger). However, divers are advised to approach the shark only with extreme caution, not spear fish near this shark and if the shark comes too close or gets too inquisitive to get out of the water as soon as possible."
However, I didn't ever feel threatened by these great creatures. Though I wouldn't advise taking a piss next to one of them.
This dive ended up being the highlight of the Marsa Alam trip because the other dives that were organised turned into a debacle through incompetence by the dive operators. Including one dive where they couldn't find Elphinstone Reef (the reef I dived on two days prior) and this was the second time where they hadn't delivered in what they have promised. So I decided I wouldn't do anymore dives because they were incompetent and it wasn't worth the money (or risk).
Unfortunately not the best advertisement for Red Sea Diving, however if you are going to charge European prices then you should deliver on quality and safety.