... you are diving! I face Steve, my Emporer Divers instructor for the next week or so. Thumb and first finger pinched together to form an "A - ok" circle. Regulator's in my mouth. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Steve raises his right hand, and signals thumb down. I signal the same back, reach for my low pressure valve dump button and... I'm under. Sinking down into the Blue. It is so nice to be away from the heat and the dust and sweat above. Cooling off and relaxing, dropping down into the saphire-embrace of the Red Sea. A brief thrill of cold sensation as water rushes into my wet suit. Having cut my diving teeth in cold rock quarries in England and the waters of the Scottish Western Isles I have only ever dived in a full dry suit before.
A Giant Moray Eel goes for a stroll.
This is something new. Clad in superhero tight black neoprene and liberated to spin, twist, turn and roll around in all directions at total liberty. I can truly
be a dolphin now. All those times my sister and I would hold our breaths for as long as we could to sink down in swimming pools and float beneath the waters surface, surfing on polystyrene floats, not wanting to return to return topside but eventually compelled to do so. Another deep breath. Down you go. But here, rule number one, just remember to keep breathing and stay down you can. Why didn't I take up scuba diving like 15 years ago?! Oh well, better late than never.
Quite a lot of my diving during my week in Sharm el-Sheikh is of a practical, educative nature.
The monogomous Banner Fish.
Theory and practice in and around the pool and the little beach area of Sharks Bay that Emporer Divers use for this purpose. It's a pretty stress free undertaking a lot of the time just spent chatting to Steve and his colleagues on the beach whilst they sip endless lattes from the beach bar. Lattes that I long for too but hold back from purchasing, my budget wincing enough already from the impact of Sharm. Every morning the Emporer Divers bus picks me up from my sh*tty hotel, and every evening it drops me back. It's a fairly smooth and accommodating operation.
Whether for practice or leisure though I get 2 -3 days of beautiful scenic diving at various red sea sights. All our kit is loaded onto boats in the morning and a group of maybe 15 people or so + three instrcutor/ guides head out for a nice lesiurely 2 or 3 dive day out on the water.
Nothing more stressful to do between dives than read, eat, chat and try to identify what fishies and weird and wonderful creatures we've all come across during our dives. The abundance of marine life here in the Red Sea, as is well known is rich beyond imagining. Shifting colours and shapes of all different size fish costantly swarm in front of you, or in and about the various reef walls and pinnacles. Great swathes of them move about in packs. Vast flashing collectives of scales, fins and often brightly coloured eyes and flanks. A ball of them, a mass of colours expands and contracts. Throbbing like a pointilist heart of colour pulsating in the blue. Occasionally something a little slower and more graceful.
An Emporer umm? Angel or Banner Fish... I'm not too good at fishy names yet :)
A Blue Spotted Stingray glides along the sandy bottom. A Giant Moray Eel snakes his way towards a new rocky refuge. The spiney delicate fanning of beautiful Lion Fish drift around, still docile until after dark. Always poisonous watch out! A tiny little electric-blue streaked Cleaner Wrasse with a penchant for cleaning divers as well as his fellow fish swims right into my auditory canal and dinks me on the ear drum. "Alright, alright maybe I coulda done a better job of washin me ears this mornin' ya cheeky little..."
For those of you who've dived the Sinai for the sake of form I'll list some of the dives I was able to enjoy in my time there. Ras Katy and Temple in the Rastan Sea; Fiddle Garden or 'Tony Blair Reef'as its occasionally called now owing to the condo the former Brit PM now owns on the shoreline.
One of my fave fishies to date... the majestic, but poisonous Lion Fish. They tend to be pretty docile until after sun down.
Curiously just a little further up the coast is one of the various mansions of the Bin Laden family. Strange neighbours. But then it's a strange world. I visit Sharks Bay several times for training where I am fortunate to encounter 'George' and 'Gerogina' the GIGANTIC pair of Napolean Wrasse that have made the area their home. Also Ras Ghozlani and Shark and Yolander within the protected Ras Mohammed National Park area of the Sinai peninsula. The latter dive is one of the most famous in dive circles owing to the amusing nature of the boat wreckage that can be sighted here since a Cypriot cargo ship went down on the reef plate in the early eighties. The ship itself later blown off the reef and sunk way, way down its humorous cargo of many tens of porcelein toilets and bath tubs (as well as the captain's Mercedes) remained strewn upon the reef and have since been claimed by the corals into the reef wall.
Sadly an unfortunate misreading of the way the currents were running on this site meant the guides dropped us at the wrong end of the action and all the finning in the world could not safely break us through to the wreckage site. Never mind it was an incredibly beautiful dive either way and there is much fun to be had in giving in to the current and being blasted backwards, floating at a zillion miles per hour. We also then floated over the extremely deep reef wall. Vast deep blue all around us. Mesmerising. Sometimes you just stare right out. Into the blue. Looking for some shape. Some form to start to materialise. To emmerge from the infinite blue expanse and surprise you. You hope whatever it might be is not too big.
For one who is never super-great with heights I am peculiarly calm about the concept of floating over an 800 metre sheer drop with an aluminium tank and 9 kilos of lead shot strapped to me. Strange.
My time diving in Sharm is a real joy and all my griping about Sharm the place really shouldn't count for much at all. I came here for the diving and it was perfect. Sharm is not backpacker friendly in any way shape or form, but has no intention of being so. It's for sun chasers, Britain Escapers and package holiday family and fun relaxation. Something I'm sure it does very well. I just stick to my ritual of daily diving, awful self catered combinations of tinned tuna, cashew nuts and bananas back at the hotel following my end of day banter and Sakkara beer with the Emporer Divers boys and girls back at the dive centre.
My instructor Steve prepares to deploy the Delayed Surface Marker Boy.
Stevie signs me off happily as a qualified BSAC Sports Diver at the end of the week so now I am fully prepared to go anywhere and see anything submarinally speaking in the rest of my global adventure. And I cannot wait! Diving really is one fo the most
liberating things I have ever done!