Thursday, July 08, 2004

Found Nemo

So I did indeed get to the Valley of the Kings, just not the next day. The trip was short on people. No worries though, there are other things to see. I saw the Luxor Temple, which had lots of granite and columns and sphinxes. It’s big claim to fame is that it is the original home of the obelisk that is now in the Place de Concorde in Paris. In return the Egyptians got a clock tower, which is now in the Muhammad ‘Ali mosque in Cairo, from the French. The clock has never worked. Damned French. I also saw the Karnak Temple, which was certainly impressive for its size. And they are still in the process of excavating it. I took the opportunity that it was Friday (everyone was at mosque) to take a little unofficial tour of the excavation sight. It was neat to see all that pieces laid out like a jigsaw puzzle. They even put the temples together like a jigsaw puzzle, starting with the end pieces, albeit the piece weigh tons and they have to use a crane. Then I went to the Luxor Museum, which was nice in that it was well laid out and air-conditioned. That night I hit the Mummification Museum. It was cool, I guess, but I was looking for something a little higher on the gross out scale. Like live demonstrations.

Then it was on to Thebes! It looked a lot like it does on TV. The Valley of the Kings is a secluded area where later pharaohs chose to be buried (apparently they got wind of the massive grave robbing that occurs when you build a tomb you can see from space.) The painting on the walls were impressive, you could still see the 3000 year old brushstrokes, but most of the good stuff was stolen in the BCs, or is in the museum in Cairo. The tour also went to the Temple of Hapshepsut. She has a really neat story as one of the only female rulers of Egypt (cross dressing and palace intrigue abound!), but the temple was a bit non-descript.

But no worries, because now I am in Dahab on the Sinai Pennisula. Dahab has a rep among travelers for being that place that just sucks you in. I have been to quite a few places with similar reps and escaped no more than a few days behind schedule, but Dahab got me. I was supposed to leave yesterday, now I am thinking about maybe Monday??? It is this laid back once-Bedouin, now tourist, community. It is the only place I know of where you can lay on the beach, in a bikini, drinking an icy cold one, and look out across the beautiful blue water, to Saudi Arabia 20 miles away. And the diving is out of this world.

[Fun Interlude : Since Saudi Arabia is so close, a few years ago some Aussies decided to go across and take pictures (in a blue plastic foot paddleboat of all things - Aussies). They spent a few months in jail when the Saudi military caught them. The Saudis were thinking of hanging them as spies, but what spies arrive drunk in a blue plastic paddleboat?]

I have been diving everyday. It is costing me an absolute fortune, but really I don’t care. This is just the most incredible undersea life I have ever seen. That includes many many hours watching the Discovery channel. I won’t bore you with the details of every time I chased a clown fish or tried to tickle one of the massive parrotfish that seem dead on convinced that my hair is edible, but I will tell you about one of the all-day trips I took.

I left Dahab at 11 pm for a 2 hour van ride to Sharm el-Sheikh, where I boarded a boat and promptly fell asleep. At 7:55 sharp the lights were on and the captain was yelling, “Dive Briefing on the Second Deck. 5 Minutes.” I scrambled out of my bunk and up to the deck. Our first dive of the day was on the wreck Thistlegorm.

[Educational Interlude : Thistlegorm was a British supply ship in World War II. In 1941 it was loaded with supplies in Glasgow and set around the Horn of Africa to bring them to Egypt. It was anchored in the early morning of October 6th when to long range German bombers landed two lucky hits directly on the munitions cargo storage. A quarter of the boat blew to holy hell instantly and it sank straight down quite soon after, leaving much of the rest of the ship intact. It is now known as one of the best wreck dives in the known universe. You can send your thanks to Jacques Cousteau for finding it, and keeping it a secret for 30 years.]

On the first dive, we saw the anti aircraft guns sitting on the deck (fat lot of good they did), and a coral covered tank lying on its side, and train cars, complete with locomotive sitting loaded on the deck. It was so strange to swim by a school of glass fish and a snapper the size of a German Shepard, under the huge propeller, and over a tank. The sensation is beyond words.

The second dive actually went inside the ship. We swam in through the breech in the hull with flashlights to explore the inside. We saw thousands of pairs of boots, completely intact and likely wearable, if a bit soggy. Then into the next hold, there were lorries and jeeps, still mostly intact with hundreds of glass fish just chilling out. The backs of the lorries and jeeps were filled with scores of motorcycles. You could wipe off the muck and still read the gauges. We swam around from room to room, through door ways and around stairs, exploring the galley and the bridge. Really damned cool.

The third dive was a ways away at the Ras Mohammed underwater national park. (dun-un) It was the best coral gardens I have ever seen, anywhere. In the space of 35 minutes, we saw hundreds of different kinds of fish, some the size of large dogs, some tiny, some bigger than me. (dun-un) The list includes sea turtles, sting rays (the fun spotted blue kind), barracuda, huge groupers (Grandad you could have grouper sandwiches everyday for months with one of these babies), snappers, napoleons (which look like tropical fish the size of Labradors), etc etc etc. (dun-un dun-un) There were also moray eels that were 10 feet long and as thick as my thigh (not a small feat by any stretch of the imagination). (dun-un dun-un dun-un dun-un dun-un DUN-UN) Yes, as you may or may not have guessed from my virtual sound effects, then came the shark. It was an oceanic shark about 10 feet long and 10 feet below me. (When you are scuba diving, you use the air in your lungs to regulate partially your depth. When I saw the shark I squeaked and exhaled sharply, causing me to sink closer to the many teethed gentlemen in question.) It was really cool. Of course the divemaster got all of our attentions and we followed it for a while. It was faster than we were though and we lost it.

Speaking of sharks, I got a great story for you. Well, great is probably not the commonly accepted vernacular for it, but work with me. While I was in Dahab, there was a Russian teenager snorkeling a couple hundred meters down the beach from where I was staying. Apparently a confused tiger shark swam up and tried to eat her. It was only successful in getting her hand. Gross huh? The dive-masters said that sharks are much more likely to attack swimmers and snorkellers rather than divers, because swimmers are up there flailing around the surface like wounded fish. I’ll stick to the bottom of the sea thanks.

Back here in Dahab I was diving again today, just at local places. One of the dive-masters on the truck with me was telling me about this day trip she was going on tomorrow. It is to an island called Trian, which has beautiful reefs and fish, and, this time of year, schooling hammerheads. Hammerheads? I asked. Yup, last trip saw 25 on a single dive. So, instead of leaving tomorrow, I will be on the trip with her. Who could say no to breeding hammerheads?

Maybe I’ll leave on Monday.

Don't worry Mom.

No comments: