Transylvania to Ozora

I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but where do you go on holiday when your in the adventure tourist business and in theory live in Paradise? A packaged holiday to Spain? Trek to Nepal? Na – we wanted a holiday. We’ve been travelling for 8 years and have seen the sites, so we decided on a festival in Hungry that would be a completely new experience. I used to go to Stonehenge every year, Penny went to Badminton horse trials. Ozora would possibly be a walk down memory lane for me and something totally new for Penny.

I showed Penny the video of the festival

“What do you think?” I said.
“Yeah, why not, we have the camper after all.”

The idea of having the hippy bus was to get us around, not to BE hippys, but what the hell. For a week anyway, we could forget about building houses, and the day job with

12 hours of driving later we arrived, the old lady does 80kms flat out even with the wind in her sails.

A sign says “Welcome to Paradise”

‘Ah bus man’s holiday after all’
I thought with a smile
“ I have goose bumps on my arms” Penny said as I filmed her going under the banner driving the bus.
“Wow” she said, look at all these people, they are… so…”
“Like us Penny, different”

Penny looked at me, and now got why I recommended here instead of a weekend in Venice. We parked up, put our table out and went to meet the neighbors

“Hiiii, welcome Ozora…you drive all the way” they said looking at the number plate and hearing our accents
“No, we live in Transylvania, we came the other way”
Lots of slow nodding from the herd “Cool”
“Glass of wine any one?” Penny offered
“Acid, crystals, I have some great drops or some Nepalese black if you like” one them replied back with a genuine fake smile.
Penny eyes bulged at the collection of stimulates our neighbor had laid out in front of him. Enough drugs to put in prison for 20 years in Romania, a few hours away by car.
“Um… I’ll stick to the dry white for now” Penny said holding up her bottle of plonk.
“Ok, but just have a smoke with us” the smile coming back “As your neighbors”

Penny does not remember much else of the night we arrived.
I watched her pavement pizza disappear into the mouth of a cute little dog the next morning… glad in the thought of sticking to sparking water and mushrooms of the tinned kind from Tescos.

Within a few days we knew every one – even though they still couldn’t quite work out why a middle aged couple who knew nothing about Psy Trans and who did not take drugs, where doing here in a 40 year old hippy bus.

On the third day, a state of the art camper rocks up next to us, rolling up a 45 degree bank like it was a Land Rover and out falls Caroline, a social climber from Hackney with a bottle of cheap Hungarian wine tucked under her arm.

“What, your not into Trans and your here for the week?” she said as she gulped down the wine from a pint glass over dinner “Top bird, Penny, why the fuck not, I say”. Carolyn filled Penny in on the music and how people were ‘motivated’ to stay up all night and ‘slam it’ as she called it, to the music. Penny soon got into the swing of things and loved the beat, rolling up early… in the morning – having been out at the stage all night getting swept up in the whole buzz of the place.

It’s funny, peoples perceptions of stereo types. Yes every one was high as kite, yes they were dressed like they where out of a Mad Max movie, and yet I have never met a more well behaved crowd in my life. From the dance floor to the showers, everyone was polite and had a smile for everything.

On leaving our little piece of holiday paradise we felt we were leaving our new found little cottage on the Isle of White with fond memories of a week’s hols and plans to be back, same place, same time next year to slam it some more Carolyn and Co. and the thousands of other Psy Trans fans of Ozora 🙂

And they say 2012 is the big one?

A year ago I was living is Siwa Oasis, looking forward to a busy tourist season as there had been no troubles in Egypt for some time. As for Libya our neighbor… well nothing happens there.

I had no idea 2011 would work out completely different to how I had planned. Penny and the kids went through not one, but two revolutions, one one either side of Siwa as I watched from Bucharest; my new home, where I spent the entire year building a paparazzi team.

The kids managed to get back to Romania in March, Penny staying on for six weeks whilst Angus and Claudia lived with me in Bucharest brushing up on their Romanian before heading up to Maramures for the summer.

Penny not happy with building one, built two houses this summer with the help of Maria and Nicu our team in Breb.

I kept going with my projects here in Bucharest. We had 11 front pages in August and, my travel site for people who want to carry on their careers whilst workin their way around the word, is now finally in development. It’s a huge project and will take many years to complete, but for now, at least it has started.

We opened Somewhere Different – Transylvania in October and are staying in the Maramures mountains for the winter to let Angus and Claudia go skiing and to finish of another villa in the village so we have a capacity of 8 for next summer. We have gone from a building site to being a fully licensed Pension.

Bookings in Egypt are now coming through and Ludmila is once again busy with guests and putting up the Christmas (palm) tree in the villa as I write.

Sasha has left home. She came back for three months this summer to sort her blood sugar levels out and has managed to get her self a job, a house and, well maybe this has something to do with the fact that she found herself a boyfriend as well. She’s 19 and living in the UK with her man and all is good.

We went ice skating in Bucharest last night, Angus and Claudia enjoyed it a lot and Penny… I never knew she couldn’t skate.
Bucharest Christmas, Angus and ClaudiaBucharest Christmas Angus & ClaudiaBucharest Christmas 2012
We were invited by a load of medical students to go for a drink with them.
“ So, Angus, Claudia, what have you been up to this year?” one of them asked.
“ Well we started out in Egypt” Claudia said “and, you know it got quite bad as Mum ran out of booze and had to start making her own and…”

The students and me listened as they told their story. “ Wow, you guys are like travellers” Mo said, a tall black student from London.
Angus replied “ We’re not like travelers…” he looked over at me and smiled “We are travelers.”
And that’s what’s so great about it all, we are till on a journey, still exploring and finding out things about ourselves we never knew before.

Mo was intrigued with Angus’s reply “ So, Angus, what’s your plans for 2012?”
“ We’ll I will be taking my GCSE’s, but apart from that, dunno” Angus looked at me, and again smiled “Dad?”

The plan next year is, whilst all you guys are busy saving the world from destruction, we’re going to sit it out up here in the mountains in Transylvania and the Sahara desert in Siwa next winter where you all welcome to come and join us and enjoy the simple life.

Well that’s the plan anyway… 🙂

Three weddings and a funeral.

I was asked to cover the royal wedding for a Romanian newspaper. We arrived in London.
‘We need to meet the Cheeky girls now’ The reporter said loudly in the hotel reception ‘After, I want to see condom town’.
‘It’s Camden Town’ I said

Here they come, the bride and groom. Get ready, focus and…the crowed cheered and surged forward. The plastic bollard I was standing on bent a bit. As the carriage when by I was heading for the ground, my camera pointing to the pavement. I saw the back of Diana and Charle’s heads. No pics.

Ok, tripod set, here comes the kiss, no crowd is going to push me off my ladder and… the crowed surged, I didn’t budge. Thousands of flags waved in the air. Shit, flags, I… I can’t see anything. I missed Andrew and Sahara kissing.

God its so sad to see this, but I guess I should photograph it and…my Nikon F3 jammed and I watched, not photographed Diana’s coffin go by.

OK the plan is to find a Romanian in the crowd, get them to look at me just before the kiss so I can link the shot into a Romanian story… no chance. I decided I have the kiss of death on the subject and opted for a safe shot away from the front line crowds. I stood next to two women in Hyde Park and lined up my shot.
‘Are you official” The woman next to me asked as she looked at my camera.
‘No I am a ghost” I said and smiled ‘I am covering the event for a Romanian newspaper’
‘Really? My friend next to me is Romanian.’
Ok, I think the kiss could come in a few seconds and… ‘Ramona, please turn around and look at the camera…. now!” She did, just as William kissed Kate in the background.

On leaving for Romania we arrived at Kings Cross to get the train; there weren’t any. A bus ride later… and we missed our flight ending up having to kill 12 hours before the next one. We headed to St Albans.
It was weird to be in St Albans as a foreigner. I took the reporter to see the Abby.
‘Wow’ the reporter said to one of the park keepers as we reached the lake ‘You have ducks here, the gypsy must be very good.’
The park keeper looked confused and I hoped he would not ask.
‘What do you mean’ said the park keeper.
‘In my country, the Gypsy, they would eat the duck’.

PS, we had the front page for today ‘booked’ for an exclusive story we got whilst in London, but Laden getting binned ruled the day.

The land of the Pharaohs… and the free

“Egypt, the land of the free” No you must mean somewhere else right? Surely? A week is a long time in politics as they say and well it took 18 days in Egypt, the pace of life is a bit slower here, sorry for that. As you have probably gathered by now I am a new paper guy at heart, I live in the desert and up a mountain but when a story is in front of me I see it in print.

Over the years I have had a lot of stick for what ‘ the press’ have done, always negative, never ever a good word. 80 million people have put up with Mubarak for 30 years, I feel naughty writing this even now, you were (are?) legally not allowed to say a bad word about him. Every one has a picture of him above their desk in Egypt. I am now getting the picture I put in my last post called ‘Power to the People’ printed up and will have it above my desk in Siwa, I like tradition:)

America with all it’s power and CIA agents, England with it’s James Bond department and the millions invested in humanity projects in Egypt changed diddly squat . A few thousand guys protested in Tahrir square, they were shot at, they were beaten, they where the good guys shown to being treated like dogs by the incumbent dictator, and he fell. He fell because those thousands of people gave their all and risked their lives.

And this is the point every one misses: the camera man from CNN: the photographer from Reuters: the reporter from the BBC also risk their lives. The secret police where going around rounding up any one with a camera or microphone, they shot into the crowds, don’t tell me the camera men were not targets. ‘The press’ risked their lives to get the message out, no matter what the cost to themselves. Not a word. It’s all taken for granted that this sort of information is pumped 24/7 around the world in a time of crisis.

The mixed cocktail of fearless protesters AND journalists have changed Egypt for ever, hopefully for the best. Who ever comes to power now will know one thing, don’t fuck with the protesters and don’t fuck with their best friend, ‘the press’. The average Egyptian has now learnt he does have a voice, he can be heard, its called Al Jazeera, CNN and the BBC and pretty soon it will be several new independent channels in Egypt that will be out for the new government guts, keeping them in check and always looking from the peoples point of view.

Egypt is coming back to normal. We now have guests back in Siwa but many people who were planning on coming to Egypt this year are talking to their friends about their trip. “Egypt, your not seriously thinking of going there still?.” they say “Oh my god your insane, cancel your holiday!”

Their friends panic makes them cancel, not in their thousand like in Taharir sq, but in their millions. The point is, the people that have told them they should not go to Egypt, would never go to Egypt ever under any circumstances as they go to Malaga every year and, why would any one go any where else. I mean?

Many tourist businesses we work with are now left empty and guess who’s fault it is, oh yes. ‘The press’

I am now getting the comments I am so used to. ‘ They make a big deal about what happened last week, why don’t they write about what is going on here this week and say it is perfectly safe to come back and carry on as normal? I point out they may well have done but super man has been sent to cover Iran…

I’m a news guy and I know what the power of the press has been all my life, I have seen first hand the power of the people in the last month and the molotov cocktail of power you get when you mix the people and the press together.

So… for the record, we have had a single woman traveler stay with us in Siwa whilst the unrest was at it’s height, we now have guests staying with us in Siwa today, like nothing had happened. ( It would take a nuclear bomb to go off in Siwa for them to even notice a change). Egypt is safe to travel in, its is buzzing at the moment, its carnival time, EVERY ONE is in a good mood, even the hated police are giving their bosses a hard time openly in from of the cameras now!

Any one who is thinking of canceling their holiday to Egypt ( lucky for us all our guest have confirm they are still coming:) it’s simple, you ignored you boring neighbors advance about going to Egypt before and were set on coming – keep ignoring them and enjoy every moment of telling them your tales from the desert when you get home and showing him the little piece of razor wire you picked up in Tahrir sq you found lying on the floor, that you might now put on ebay 🙂

I did not do my ‘the press’ bit in Tahrir sq, ( I assure I would have loved to) as I am fighting a ‘the press’ battle on another front somewhere in Romania, ( long story) but I will now do my little bit for the Egyptian tourist business and pump this little blog out to every travel section of every newspaper in the UK asking them to do a piece on life returns to normal in Egypt.

So, if your a travel editor in London and your reading this, show them what you can do and give me a call on 00407251414545, I can get you a great story on how a bunch of women have kept a little mud hotel in an oasis called Siwa in the Sahara desert open through the whole revolution and…

LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION! Egypt before was all about it’s past, come and see all that and it’s present chapter in history… yet to be put in a museum.

Power to the People

Mubarak leaving EgyptWhen I was a kid I used to have pictures of my hero’s stuck on my bedroom ceiling. I wasn’t aloud to put them on the walls, but the ceiling was mine. It was covered in mainly motor bikes, the Kawasaki 900 taking up most of the space. Right down in the far corner I had a small picture of Che Guevara. I didn’t know who he was, or where he was from, I certainly didn’t know he was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary who was all about controlling people – for me, he stood for “Why should we do homework, when we are forced to be in that institution all day” in my little confused world he stood for “I’m not taking your shit and more.”

For the last 18 days I have called Penny two or three times a day to update her on the situation in Egypt. I normally call her after checking the news online but last night I just called and started to talk. Penny and the gang had decided to sleep out in the desert with a load of locals as there where no tourist in town and so no one had been out to the Great Sand Sea for some time. Penny had forgotten to bring the food, so dropped every one off and came back into town. I caught her just as she walked into a shop in the centre of Siwa.

‘Hey Penny, how are you?’
‘Hi Bill, I forgot the food, what’s the news?’
I clicked on the BBC and had a huge scene of happiness come over me. “MUBARAK HAS RESIGNED” was the head line, the live video feed from Tahrir sq kicking in.
‘Penny, listen to this’ I said and put my head set to the speaker – the sound of thousands of people in Cairo like they had just won the word cup. ‘He’s gone’ I said ‘ It’s all over’
‘Mubark has resigned!!??’ Penny yelled
She screamed and within seconds I could hear half of Siwa yelling in victory in the back ground. I hung up and called Claudia in the desert.
‘Hi dad… what’s up?’
‘Claudia get every one with you to come over to your phone, I have something to say’
‘Ok dad, we’re all here, your on speaker phone’
‘Listen to this’ I said in arabic and again held my microphone to the speaker. ‘Mubarak has resigned!’ I yelled. I could hear their cheers and astonishment that finally…

I called Sasha in the UK and told her the news, she couldn’t believe it; what a moment, how lucky I was too to share it with my family even though I was not there. I am very proud to be apart of Egypt today and proud of my family and our staff who in their own small way did there bit for the revolution by staying on and not abandoning ship.

If I am lucky enough to live long enough to meet my grandchildren, I look forward to walking into their bedroom and seeing pictures of what ever replaces a play station 7. I know I am a dreamer, but I might also see a picture of Mohamed Bouazizi standing at his fruit stall in the corner, and get the chance to tell my version of events. I mean how cool would it have been if my Granddad had came into my room and said “ Ah Che Guevara, he wasn’t really a good guy you know, you see we were living there at the time and…

I used to say “Stalin, Roosevelt and Chruchhill didn’t change the word, so how the hell can I?” I won’t say that again now.

When it Rains it Pours – Siwa Oasis

‘Its day twelve or 14, not sure, its ground hog day and “Didn’t we win or lose the revolution yesterday as well?” I’m BBC Live – Egypt unrest ed out. I can’t watch any more, it’s heart wrenching to see those guys will power and then see the secret police wade into them. But they are winning the war of nerves. Mubarak has said he will be gone by September. 30 years or 30 and third, it doesn’t matter when he goes, as long as he does is the point. Obama is not Bush, he seems a smart guy and as soon as the guys in Tahir Sq have a date for elections. – that’s got to be the victory they will settle for. Mubarak stays on his thrown, handcuffed and real elections are planned and take place. The brotherhood gets 30% of the vote and do a great job of being the opposition and slating Western hypocrisy along with any corruption in the ruling party. Egyptian would be terrorists leave England and become Mp’s in Cairo, look what the IRA did.

I rang Penny today to give her my daily update of what I hear in the news and
“Bill, forget that… that’s the least of Siwa’s problems today!”
“What’s happened” I said fearing the worst.
“ It rained all night!”
“ I see” I said relieved – then remembered we’re talking about Siwa.
In 1929 it rained in Siwa and half the Shali collapsed. In 1953 it rained again and everyone moved out of the Shali as it collapsed into the museum it is today, well yesterday. It rained in Marake a village north of Siwa in 1982 and… it rained again last night.

Penny and the kids were up all night as the brown water came in through the mud roof soaking their mattresses. They have had to move out of the house in the desert and stay in the Siwa Villa. The villa was also flooded and Penny said “ You know our red jeep, its brown now.” History is happening in Cairo and in Siwa, in our own little way, history is also repeating it self.

It's all quite on the Western Desert front

As we all know, a week can be a long time in politics. I am currently in Romania and have heard the stories of the ’89 revolution here told many times. “One minute communism was all powerful, a week later there were road blocks searching for communist sympathisers”. How the might fall, it must be a huge blow to their egos.

Penny, Claudia and Angus are in Siwa, Sasha is in the UK and got out a few days before it all started. As I write this life goes on there as normal. “It’s not a problem Penny” a local says to her “ there was no bus, no petrol, no electric or phones here in Siwa before, we have our gardens, we can go by donkey – humdula”. He’s right, we’re good in Siwa for a few generations, we have our own water supply, solar power and vegi patch.

Angus is feeling it the most, as the Egyptian government cut the internet a few days ago and so he is a bit lost with what to do. They are riding their bikes instead of using what’s left of the fuel that may be needed in the future. Our guests cannot get through, the tourists that are in Siwa cannot get out, so a kind of Ground Hog day feel has set it. Which is completely different to what is going on in Cairo, Alex and we have heard even Marsa Matruh has been affected with looters coming down from Alex who have looted the main street in Marsa Matruh which annoyed Penny as she was going to go there for a final ‘batten the hatches down’ booze run. Nobody knows what to do. The police have disappeared and put back on their civy cloths, they are all Egyptians after all.

It’s weird watching history take place in front of your eyes. To know that Angus and Claudia don’t see the big deal at the moment as, inshala the internet will be back on tomorrow, but they will have their story to tell when their old and their grandchildren ask them. “So Granddad, what was it like in Egypt when Mubarak was overthrown? I read about it in our history lesson in school about how the whole middle east situation changed from this point on.”

He will fall, like all the other bad guys in history, his number is up and he will go in the same humiliating way all the others do, hanging on until the end. The question is, what comes after? One thing is for sure, all the energy of all these brave young middle class Egyptian men and women has nothing to do with religion, its real simple, he’s had it his way for 30 years and they want no more.

We are sticking with it, what ever the outcome, we’re not tourists like in the Tsunami, we lived there too, well we lasted one day and didn’t have time to build a house… this time we did.

If any one has a spare 5 minutes, please give Penny +20165940776 or Claudia +20191407904 a call and a bit of moral support as they cannot call out or send texts or emails.

The view from my seat in Marsa Matruh.

I’m sitting where so much of my book and diary’s have been written over the last six years. Each time the chair, if you can call it a chair, is different. Normally the seat has died and now in its reincarnated state; with new pieces of wood, steel or plastic added to the original design, often with no logic behind it at all. At leasts it’s solid this time which is comforting as I am inches away from the mechanics pit where oil and BIC pens enter, never to be seen again.

In the UK you pay your mortgage, or your rent, or your over 55 and lucky in the fact that you won’t have to do this for the rest or your life. In Egypt, doing stuff like that never crosses your mind. When we close our house down for the summer the biggest cost we incur is a new battery for the solar panel every few years and maybe a new key due to someone (me) leaving theirs in Romania.

In our little desert town of Siwa, it’s not mortgages that are a way of life,it’s… keeping your Cruiser running in the desert; get a stamp on a document, it’s… you just do it, no matter how long it takes.

I arrived in Marsa Matruh three days ago. I brought my Cruiser to the exhaust guy and told him what the problem was. He assured me it would be done that night, for sure, np.

The next day I got up at 6.00am and travelled with my accountant to Alexandria, 400kms down the coast. We arrived around 9.30am and started the paper pushing, tea buying process of trying to get – something done. Today it was to get the final stamp on our company we are setting up that has taken six months of ‘tomorrow it will be finished’.
“You have to sign” was the accountants reasoning for me having make the 1240km round trip.

(The cable for the welding arc has just gone under my seat and is touching the metal. If this is the last thing I write, so be it)

After six hours of sitting around and smiling and telling people my address in the UK was blah blah , even though I told them in the same breath I don’t live there and moving from one office to another, the final crunch came after 20 ‘inshala everything will be OK’ s.

“You can’t sign” said the accountant, “you mus have certified translator from Consulate.” Like suddenly every one new that, it was just so obvious.
“Great, they shut in 5 minutes.”
“It’s no problem, I have power of attorney for you, I can sign, it will be finished… tommorow.” said the accountant, like it was a rabbit he had just pulled out of hat.
“You can sign… so, I didn’t need to come here; great”

Penny travelled up with me and we went off to meet the new Consul General in Alexandria. We showed her the Spitfire Bar and went on to the Greek Club for dinner. We discussed some problems Brits have in Siwa and formulated a plan of action to deal with them. The conversation moved away from work and the Consul took out an astronomy magazine and suggested we do astronomy tours.
“We plan to do something like this and mix in metor hunting during the day” I told her.
“Metors, were do you find them?” she asked
I explained how how a shooting star is a small flec of stone between 1mm and 3 mm’s big and how they zap into the earth atmosphere no less than 130kms from where you see it. “A metor is something much bigger” I explained “When they hit the atmosphere they are called fireballs and and they break up on in pact” I swear, ask her, ask Penny, the first one I have seen in my life appeared out over the bay from the light house over Alexandria. It was huge, it was slow, it looked like a plane crashing or a CIA project going to plan just as the books had described.
“There, just like that one” I said calmly and pointed out over the bay, a few other heads turning in the restaurant but we were all WOUUUUUWWWWWWWWWWWW and WOWW! Power of attraction or a huge coincidence.

The next day Penny said she didn’t really need to go to Carfour, but as I will now be away for two months I persuaded her that it was a good idea to stock up whilst in town. Carfour is our nearest super market, all 620kms away.
After a hour I was feeling unusual couldn’t take any more. I went to find somewhere to put my head down. I suddenly got the ‘I need a shit, right now’ but was lucky enough to be just passing the cleanest public toilets on the north med coast in Egypt at the time, just past the checkout. Penny was not so lucky and tried to hold on till she finished her shopping, eventually she did a sprint for the loo and had to have two staff spend 20 minutes helping her find her two trolleys after she had recovered. She had no idea were she, just left them in ile something and made a run for it. What is it with going to smart restaurants and food posing? People say only I can do things like that. Just for the record I have never left a supermarket mid shop to have a shit… ever. Penny is the only person I know who has ever done that, but somehow she gets away with it.

Finally on returning to Marsa Matruh, I come to the exhaust guys this morning expecting to see a shiny new gasket on the engine and the thing running like a V8.
“Ah, Hawaga” (foreigner in Arabic, imaging getting away with calling black people and Poles in England ‘hey immigrant’).
“Yes, all done?” I ask ever hopeful
“No, problem, we need to retap your bolt holes on the engine” ( this took about 20 minutes to translate)
“So why didn’t you do it?”
Blank looks
“I said call me”
Blanker look
“You called me last night and said it was done!”
Just more blank looks and a reply of “You want some tea?”
There is one way to get your Cruiser fixed in this country, like the stamp on the doc, and that’s sit and watch it happen in front of you like a fisherman on your reborn stool, ready to pounce at any time if another car appears with a more pressing or interesting problem or if they just get bored, or; as in my case this time, someone just needed to ring the tappet guy. It took 5 frigging minutes for him to re tap the bolt hole and so now off we go rebuilding the exhaust hours, bolt by bolt by cup of tea. I have just realised I have been concentrating on writing this blog. I have just looked up and, there all working on the three wheeler in the picture. Time to pull on the line. See you soon.

PS. They finished 2 hours later. I moved on and found the guy in town who can repair the canvas roof on the Cruiser, he said he can finish it by 5.00pm tonight np… I feel a long night coming on.

A Tourist in Sharm El Sheik

They say one of the problems of travel is you don’t fit in when you come back home, but you also never really fit in where you have decided to make your knew home. I live in the desert, I speak Arabic enough for any one to see I am not fresh off the plane and I work in the tourist business. In Sharm, it’s well, most people who work in the tourist business here are pretty, whats the polite word for below average intelligence?
“First time Sharm El Sheik” they say like I am a walking hundred dollar bill.
“Ana ash hena” ( I live here in Arabic) I reply
“ah very good… first time Shamel El Sheik?” their false smile not changing through the whole conversation. I try to ignore the fact that he just ignored what I said to him and carry on looking at the swimming trucks for Angus who left his in Romania. The last time I was here I paid 50le for mine. Angus wanted a similar pair, but about half the material.
“For you my friend….” he looks me up and down judging what I will pay “100, very special price for you Sir”
I speak in English “Maybe you don’t understand Arabic, I told you I live here, I know the price of these is 50le.”
“No sir” his muscles on his face keeping his teeth showing at all times. “ This price you speak for low quality”
I say no thanks in Arabic and leave the shop. I go through this about 5 times. No one gives a monkeys that I live in Egypt, understand that Egyptians will be paying 50le and that they make a good profit at this price. I am a tourist; I pay 100. They cannot see any further and well, I can’t blame them. I am in “first time” central. 99% of the people walking around Sharm El Sheik have not been here more than a few days and pay the going prices. They all say it’s cheap and don’t want to hear its about 200% more expensive than Cairo or Dahab just an hour up there road. Their on holiday and, well shouldn’t I be too?
Angus and Claudia wanted to do their Padi Diving Course. What ever that is. They want to learn how to dive and the fact that someone teaches them a whole new underwater laughing and how that big watch the instructor wears works just makes it all the more exciting. Angus said last night before we went out for dinner in our favourite chain of Chinese restaurant in Egypt
“Dad I wish I could just go to bed now.”
“Why Angus, you love Chines?”
“I know Dad, but if I could fall asleep now it would me morning would come quicker and we would be on the course sooner.”
The last time Angus said something like that I think he was about 5 and it was Christmas eve. I suggested doing the diving in Dahab where the beer is 10le a bottle in a bar, not 30le like here, but they and Penny where having none of it. Sharm is the Spain of Egypt and they all wanted a holiday, not be in the usual surroundings of travellers tails and rugs slung over a log from a palm tree. They all wanted a real holiday, like their friends went on in Europe.
Angus and Claudia started their course, and loved it. Each day they would get up and get all the James Bond kit on and off they would go to the sea for ‘school’ with Amy their private teacher and new best friend for the week. On the third day it was “Dad, we’re going out on a boat tomorrow, you gonna come? Pleeeassssssssssse!” How could I refuse an invitation like that?
We meet at 08.00 and by 10.00 we were out in the sea on a 15 meter diving boat called the Hoolagan. Funnily enough every one on the boat was as diver and they were all gong diving, except for a few scuba divers who could not dive because they were flying the next day and so where just snorkelling.
Divers I quickly learnt are like golfers. They can’t imaging doing anything else apart from paying the mortgage, sleeping, playing golf… and talking about it.
“So Bill, why don’t you do a try dive today?”
“Um, I don’t want to”
“So, you mean your not flying tomorrow and your not going diving?”
“Um, yeah”
“But your going snorkelling right?”
“Um, I don’t have any fins that fit me ( I’m told never call them flippers).”
“Ah we’ll soon fix that.”
It wasn’t a question of if I wanted to go snorkelling, it was just a question of getting the right kit on me and shoving me in the water. When I mentioned I suffer from PTSD and could get triggered off by being in the water, it just made them even more determined to get me out there and ‘get over my fear of water’. I tried to explain I’m not scared of water it’s just something… it didn’t matter; I was going in and you could tell, I would be the opposite of a fish out of water all day and be well taken care of by the seasoned divers all around me.There was a really helpful guy who lent me his size 11 fins
“Thanks” I said
“No problem, anything I can do to help just let me know”
“Um, taking pics underwater, I’ve never done it, I have a new video camera and underwater case and..”
“Well, for a start don’t bother trying to look at the screen, just point and press and hope for the best”
‘Ah’ I thought ‘ like doing car shots outside the Old Bailey, easy.’
Angus and Claudia did a good impersonation of Jack Cousteau and jumped into the water. I got it all on film, I think, and followed them with my snorkel spluttering away like an out board motor. I coughed out of my nose into my mask and realised that was not the best idea as my mask suddenly looked like frosted glass. I tried to tred water but having what felt like two planks of wood strapped to my feet I could not get straight, I flapped about looking like I was slowly drowing.
“You OK, you have one of your funny turns?” A voice came from the boat.
“I’m fine I, “ splutter splutter “I just” splutter can’t breath “can’t get|” splutter mouth fill of salt water “straight in the water, I’m fine, np” sea in my eyes.
I eventually worked out that you just turn around and the planks of wood flop in front of you and you can stay still for just long enough to get some fresh water in the mask and the snot out of the mouth piece before drowning your eye balls in salty water. I settled for the semi steamed look and moved on to where Angus and Claudia and Amy were doing their ‘skills’ about 10 meters below me near to the Garden Reef in Sharm El Sheik.
‘I’ve got the hand of this underwater filming’ I thought as I steadied the camera moving slowly towards them below. The current was moving me along and I could see I would be above them in a few seconds. ‘I’ll do a “going through the clouds” type shot and come out the other side still filming through the whole thing’ I thought. I saw a big bubble approaching and watched it explode over the camera ‘that will make a great shot’ as the other 1000 bubbles behind then hit my face. I think I probably got the whole escapade of me loosing all scene of direction and depth as the air exploded sending me to the surface gasping for air and once again trying to turn around and clear my mask from the mist whilst not drowning. A few minutes later I had calmed down and had a clearish view of the underworld and I put myself in a good position to film the kids. I waited for them to do something and whilst I was calm and treading water, underwater, I saw what looked like two stealth bombers coming in, my 3.00 o’clock maybe 20meters away. They were in the fast lane heady straight towards Angus and Claudia below. Within a second they were 5 meters away and the lead Ray slammed on his brakes by pulling himself up showing the full underbelly of his star shaped wings. A truly magnificant site and I instinctively filmed the whole thing, but I realised the camera had shut itself down so had to press the button again and only managed to get the video rolling when the Ray had turned and was disappearing into the blue background. I held the angle for awhile thinking it might come back but nothing, The whole thing was over in maybe 5 seconds.
‘Damn’ I thought ‘I completely fluffed that shot, I’ll make sure it stays on standby the whole time now and get the next one that come along np.’
I filmed some big green and purple fish, some stripey ones, some long one and some swarms of fish that just came around you, like you are a roundabout. The coral reefs started maybe a meter underwater and dropped down to around 10 meters and then slowly off into the deep blue bit on the right. The water was warm and, it was great.
The kids finished their dive 45 mins later and I got out feeling proud of myself that I did not make my snorkel an accessory to murder, but was embarrassed I had missed getting the shot of the Ray with the kids in the same frame. I pulled myself out of the water.
“Did you see the Ray?”
“Yeah, but I missed it”
“You saw it?”
“Yeah, it was maybe 5 meters away”.
We climbed up on the top deck and chilled for half an hour before lunch would be served. I joined Penny at the front of the boat where the girls were all tanning themselves, the men staying under the sun cover out of site of Penny, but not out of hearing distance. Penny was in full flow when I sat down, taking about men who where speedo’s.
“I mean, what do they think they look like?” Penny said. The response from the women was tepid, so Penny kept on making her point. Amy came up on deck and Penny yelled out to her
Amy pretended not to hear, or understand.
Amy reluctantly answered as quite as she could
“Budgie smuggling”
“THAT’S IT” roars of laughter from Penny “BUGIE SMUGGLERS, HA HA! Ah how could they do it?”. The conversation moved on.
I thought nothing of it till I stood up for lunch and noticed that all the men sitting in the shaded area; where wearing speedos. ‘It’s obviously a diving thing’ I thought and realised we must look like the Wayne and Waynetta of the dive school that day.
We did another dive and I got some great ‘facebook’ shots of Claudia and Angus blowing smoke rings underwater and doing hand stands and all sorts. On arriving back at the hotel Amy got out the fish dictionary and asked me to describe the Ray. She too saw it but wanted to work out which kind it was.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t get you in the same shot of it when it slammed on its brakes and raised up”
“You go a picture of it?”
“Video, I should have something, but it it didn’t have you in the shot”
“You’ve got VIDEO of it?”
I fired my laptop up and we all watched the few seconds of the Ray swimming away. I froze the video to identify the Ray. The two pointy things on the front and the dark fins clearly identified it as a Devel Ray. Amy seemed pleased and wandered off.
On meeting one of the other dive instructors later she said “ I hear your group saw a Ray today?”
“Yeah it was a Devil Ray”
She smiled at me “No it wouldn’t have been a Devel Ray, they are very rare”
“No it definitly was, we checked the video of it against the book and it was a Devel Ray”
“You got video of it?”
“You were diving?”
“No, I was kind of snorking, I’ve never don it before, first time.”
“You got video of a Devl Ray on your first snorkel trip?”
“Yeah… what’s the big deal?”
“I’ve been diving here for 5 years… and I have never seen one” she looked at my eyes darting back and forth from one to the other, let out a small sign and walked off.
I arrived in Sharm a few days ago with my work hat on analysing the tourist scene and, well that was then. I was now relaxed with a ‘hole in one on my first game of golf’ feeling as I smiled and took another sip of my way too expensive beer.

PS. This morning we left Cairo for Siwa. We had to take all our bags off the roof of one of the all new modern taxi’s that have meters because once all the bags where in, he said he wanted 5 times the normal rate to take us to the bus station. I told him we would not be needing his services and waited until he realised we would also not be taking our bags back down off the roof rack and that he would have to do it. Instant revenge is so sweet.
We finally arrived at the all new Turgaman Bus station in Cairo. You no longer catch the bus off the pavement behind the Egyptian museum; you now enter a huge entrance hall in the spanking new terminal. The metal detectors bleep and the six policemen sitting there all ask Claudia which country she is from and smile. I buy the tickets for Marsa Matruh. I know if I say Siwa the guy will sell me the only direct connection to Siwa which is the night bus 18 hours from now. The time is 7.30am. He tells me the bus will leave at 7.45am. The ticket says it should leave at 7.15am. The clock in the main waiting area says 7.00am, the second hand is ticking away nicely. All the electronic boards showing the bus gates and times have dust on them and don’t work. We’ve just got on the bus and left the station at 8.05am. I now feel I am now comfortable back in the Egypt I know and thinking of the 12 hour bus ride to Siwa and the winter season ahead.