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.

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