Every Shipwreck’s port hole has a history to peep in…
Pristine Blue waters of Red Sea:
Just like any other city in the world, Hurgadha is as cosmopolitan as Mumbai. The only difference is this city is buzzing with foreign nationals due to its proximity to the Red Sea and divers from the world assembled here. Also due to its status of the gateway to the Eastern side of Egypt, tourists start their journey either with or without taking a halt here, if they are traveling by road. Actually, this was hardly a case because not many would take a road journey like me. This city taught me a basic rule of traffic in Egypt. To date, I had traveled to the countries including India in which vehicles use the left side of the road because these countries were ruled by the British. Egypt has drive rules another way around, the way American drives. The first night itself learned the lesson in almost a hard way and was about to sit on a car’s bonnet while crossing the road and looking at other ways like we were taught in school – while crossing the road first look right and then left. Luckily or rather because of being a perfect host, the driver neither abused nor shouted like ‘Mummy’ of a Hollywood movie ‘Mummy’ part 1, opening his full mouth. He just stopped for me to cross. I could picture if this would have been on Indian road. The driver would have reminded me of my entire generation for crossing this way.
From this place, my food yatra also started off tasting street food which is almost as vibrant and rouses one’s test buds of the tongue like Mumbai street food. From spicy to sweet. I found Egypt a truly progressive Muslim country in all aspects. It caters to vegetarians. Also, it doesn’t have a ‘veil’ culture. Women are progressive and work in all areas. Men respect them. This was evident throughout my Egypt stay. Not a single eve-teasing case was witnessed forget about reported in newspapers as the laws are very strict. Few of the Northern states of India should learn some lessons of respecting women with this culture.
Diving at the Red Sea which is not red in color:
Non-associated people with oceans have misconceptions about the names of the sea by colors. In earlier sailing days, when sailors travel anywhere in the world, named various seas or oceans by colors to differentiate them. The red sea is one such example. After diving in Thailand, my expectations were very high about the Red Sea. This part of the world is as mysterious on land as in the sea also. Filled with many charismatic shipwrecks like ‘Thristlegrom’, a WW II wreck. If you google the name, , you will be amazed at what went down when it sunk. A diver can still witness English Bedford trucks and BSA motorcycles locked in the cargo hold. This was one of my dreams to visit, but the bitter truth is, you can not be always lucky to fulfill your dreams at the first go. You have to go through tremendous efforts to fulfill your dreams. I wasn’t an exception to it. Google mata decided not to cooperate when I was planning this trip. It didn’t give or rather instead of accusing Googlemata, I mistook the location of this shipwreck and landed on the other side of the Red sea. Hurghada instead of Sharm-al-Sheikh. Missed this shipwreck by a whisker. Still, like all other journeys, I make an outer plan and once reached at planned place tweaks the plan as and when I get new information. This time, it wasn’t possible as traveling to the other side of the Red Sea by road would have collapsed my plan. my choc-o-block plan would have lead to a chaotic block, so gave it a miss. Also gave a miss to Mount Sinai which lies on another side of the Red sea. Mount Sinai is widely known as the primary site of celestial revelation in the history of Jews. On this mountain, God is professed to have appeared for giving Ten commandments to Moses. Mount Sinai itself, has claimed significant importance in the various religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for various reasons. Like, Mount Sinai, I couldn’t include the Suez channel which is a modern-day wonder in the shipping industry.
My second day in Hurgadha was hectic as I got up late because of the previous day’s long flight. Further stretched road journey till midnight. Pick-up arrangements were supposed to pick me up from the hotel. Unaware of Egyptian punctuality, couldn’t finish my breakfast properly. With the hotel’s help packed up a few things from the buffet. Actually, I was planning to gobble this breakfast on the dive boat’s travel to the dive site.
Pre-checks before getting immersed in the Red Sea:
The Red Sea proved to be a stepping stone in my driving career. I had planned to finish my Deep diver, Wreck diver, and Enriched Air specialization courses in my Hurgadha stay. Because of PADI’s uniform rules and regulations, in all countries wherever I dived, seen disciplined, well orchestral management except very very very few exceptions.
Before coming to Egypt, was in touch with a couple of diving centers. Shortlisted ‘Diving Star’ in Hurgadha as my dive center for diving as well as certification. I have noticed wherever I dived if the owner of the diving center is himself an Instructor and not just an investor always offers professional and prompt services. Also one should check the reviews of earlier customers. This is applicable to almost all services. Especially in the diving industry. it matters a lot because your life depends on the diving center. Right from tank filling, equipment maintenance, staff behavior towards customers/divers, boat facility. In diving, the boat facility matters a lot. In the Indian subcontinent, hardly any dive centers use big boats. May be due to the closer proximity of dive site from shore and the cost of buying and maintaining a big boat.
At the center, met the co-ordinator who was handling my booking. My equipment set was handed over post my measurements were checked. He chatted with me to check my experience to find the level of diving. Also, this was done to pass on information about my diving plan for the next 7 days.
Divers of Red Sea:
The Jetty was just a couple of km. The crew was already on board preparing for the day’s trip. The first look of the boat impressed me. the diving boat – ‘Sweet Maya’ was much better and bigger than I had dived since the time, I started diving. I was given a tour of the boat so that I should be accustomed to all required areas. With a sun deck above the discussion room. It had a compressor on the boat for tank filling which I experienced the first time. The boats on which I dived, always had compressor at the dive center and only those many tanks are loaded as per the plan. if a guest who booked for a single dive to check if he or she is comfortable underwater, can’t go for another dive if loves the experience.
Boat also had equipment washing arrangement, small kitchen, and dining room, this boat was self-sufficient for 3 dives a day plan. These boats are stable in case of a choppy sea because of the broader hull. This boat was completely surpassed my expectations. Till the time, I had dived in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and of course, in almost all Indian dive sites and was never comfortable on those boats. Those boats were like traveling in a vehicle on Indian roads. Sometimes I wonder, which is worse. Traveling on Indian roads or in a boat on a choppy sea. These boats offer 3 dives a day traveling away from shore at deeper sites with lunch and refreshments. These arrangements keep you energized for day-long 3 dives. It does not let your stomach churn out like a mixer while traveling to and fro dive site. Why I am insisting on this point is, I find this is the most important factor in diving. A diver should be relaxed and not troubled by sea when he reaches the dive site.
At this boat’s Sun deck, you can relax on a surface interval, chatting, and sharing experiences. Also taking notes amongst your dive buddies. A study in a discussion room helps you if you are going through a course.I was introduced to the owner/CEO who is also an instructor. He was courteous to welcome and made me comfortable. He asked me to wait for my instructor for specialty courses.
Meeting of my Katrina Kaifs (‘Zindgi Na Milegi Dubara’ movie character):
After 10 minutes, I could see, my instructor getting out of a parked car with three cute girls between the ages group of 5-7 years. From any angle, she didn’t look like Egyptian. Her features were more European then local. In the last couple of years, I have been diving and never had a lady instructor. I couldn’t stop myself comparing her with Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif who played the role of a Scuba Instructor in one of the famous Bollywood movie ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dubara’. In that movie, she brings a change in the lead actor’s life by introducing him to his first-ever dive. In my case, through Aggy, my Polish Katrina Kaif, changed my approach towards diving, inculcated safety, the anticipation of potential hazards in Wreck diving. Throughout the diving days, she along with another lady instructor Birgit, a German instructor taught me a lot of things. Birgit even saved my ass once on one of our wreck penetration dive during the Wreck diving course when I forgot to check my air pressure. This happened while entering in a shipwreck. Halfway, she asked me to check the air pressure in my tank. I realized I had only 80 bar of pressure left and we couldn’t turn back due to lack of space in the wreck. She calmed my nerves and signaled me to follow her without rushing. If I would have panicked and rushed, due to sudden movement and lots of bubbles, the roof could have sunk in. it could have become our coffin. We finished our complete penetration and returned back. When I reached the exit, again checked the air, it was 30 bars which wasn’t enough to reach the surface from 30 mtrs depth. She shared her Octo, a second back-up regulator reserved for this kind of emergencies which is a common practice. We continued our wreck survey from out of the wreck to complete my Wreck diving course certification as if nothing had happened. I was sure, she was going to kick my ass after reaching the surface. Hush! I was lucky. She didn’t do so. From that incident, I made it a rule for myself to check my air and my buddy’s after every 5 mins post 30 mins of dive.
First dive in Red Sea:
In the Red Sea, I was expecting greater visibility than earlier international trips but was slightly disappointed. In diving, visibility can change any time. This was nature and it can play a crucial role in its own wish. Still, I was richer in experience and most importantly, now I can dive at the maximum depth a recreational scuba diver can dive with my Deep diving certification. The depth now can explore was 40 mtrs. many international dives sites lie at that depth. Just for the information of non-divers. An Advanced Open Water course diver has a license to dive max up to 33 mtrs. A deep-sea diver can dive up to 40 meters which is a maximum a recreational diver can dive. On my next diving trip to the Philippines, that license came in handy to dive at my first Plane wreck site.
A diver in his initial period bound to commit these as well as some stupid mistakes, but if the diver is lucky, he escapes from life-threatening moments. A diver should always remember his training well. In PADI diving courses, every student is trained to come out of these situations. The next day, I committed one more mistake which was the most stupid one. I entered the water after the dive team leader. I realized the water was sipping through my regulator whenever I inhaled. I came back to the surface and again to check the problem. Couldn’t notice anything wrong in the regulator on the surface. No leakage. Again entered the water, the same problem continued, So decided to show the regulator to the crew on the boat. They also couldn’t spot any technical problems. When I was observing them, I literally banged my head on the edge of the boat realizing the basic stupid mistake I made. The regulator is to be held in your mouth from the right side and I was holding it from the left which was turning the regulator position upside down. Due to this, water was gushing in with every inhale. These mistakes, teach you a lot, just that these mistakes shouldn’t be repeated. Also shouldn’t lead to life-threatening ones.
Red Sea and its fantastic visibility and graveyard of Shipwrecks:
Red Sea didn’t disappoint me, even though I landed on the other side of a big shipwreck which I mentioned earlier. This side, too had Shipwrecks dated back to WW II, Boiler Shipwrecks, and many more.
Any Reserved forest is judged by its inhabitants. If a wildlife sanctuary has any of the 5 Big animals such as Tiger, Lion, Leopard, Elephant, and Rhino, it becomes popular amongst wildlife enthusiasts and tourists. Keeping the same benchmark, while planning a dive site to dive, I always plan my dive destination to see one or more of the important Biggies of Oceans which are Sharks, Whales, Dolphins, Turtles, and ShipWrecks. I hadn’t heard of Sharks in the Red Sea, but Shipwrecks, I was hoping to find plenty. The Red Sea also had slightly different marine life than Asian Subcontinent. As the reputation goes, the visibility was at least 15-20 mtrs which is a delight for a diver.
Right at the jetty on the first day, when I saw Aggy, my instructor, I had seen these 3 cuties in the age group of 5-7 playing all around the boat. They didn’t have fear of falling in water. Those 3 were so fearless that whenever they used to spot us coming to the surface after diving, they used to jump from the board in front of us. They used to come in front of us at 5/6 mtrs. At this depth, every scuba diver has to take a safety stop of 3 mins after diving deeper than 18 mtrs. They used to tease us with mocking faces and again go back to the surface. They were so fearless souls. The next day, I was introduced to them as one of them was the owner’s and instructor’s daughter, Maya. I could connect the boat’s name was also – ‘Sweet Maya’. Others were her school friend and they were on board because of their vacation. I recalled many Indian kids back home and our childhood. None taught us swimming. I learned swimming when I was in college. I am sure, many of my generations never know swimming because of water fear or phobia. Maya had truly inherited her skills and will step in her parent’s shoes very soon.
My days in Hurgadha and diving were coming to an end and it was time to move on to experience Egypt’s Royalty.
If you have missed reading Entry in Egypt’s ancient world – part 1, here is a link to not miss the start…
Stay tuned to read my Egypt’s Royal explorations through my lens and perspective: