Thursday, May 29, 2008

My Trip to Heaven ©

Travels to Sharm El Sheikh,
October 3-5, 2003

For a guy that doesn’t like to get wet, I couldn’t keep out of the water. But then, this was heaven, and I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could. I may not get another chance.

I was working in Cairo and this was a fabulous weekend trip to Sharm El-Sheikh on the Red Sea, one of the hottest holiday destinations for Europeans, so Egyptians were outnumbered by Brits, Swedes, Germans, Russians, and Italians plus a few Americans.

Initially developed by the Israelis during their occupation of the Sinai Peninsula from 1967-1982, my travel book introduces “Sharm” by saying that “it features some of the world’s most brilliant and amazing underwater scenery.” It goes on, “The crystal clear water, the rare and lovely reefs, and the incredible variety of exotic fish darting in and out of the colorful coral have made this a snorkeling and scuba-diving paradise attracting people from all over the world.”

I’m not sure that these “book-words” do justice to this amazing place. The swimming has to be the best in the world and I have never experienced anything that came close. The water buoyancy of the Red Sea is such that you can lay back, stretch your arms and legs, and without any effort whatsoever, float for hours. You must be alert enough so that you don’t fall asleep while floating, a problem I discovered when I lost my snorkel gear to the bottom of the sea while inadvertently dozing off.

In snorkeling, no artist’s palette could have as many colors; Iridescents, fluorescents, pastels, brights, etc., and no creative person could design the myriad of shapes and colorations of fish that were seen. Fish that were flat, fat, dish shaped, snake shaped of all different sizes up to 18’’ long with patterns of horizontal, vertical, dotted, spotted, circles, outlined--every shape and pattern of coloration and more than you could possibly imagine.

The water was so clear that you could see horizontally for probably 100 feet and easily to the bottom.

The corals came in every imaginable shape and color from blues to reds to greens to whites to yellows to orange, and looked very much like a flower garden.

The fish were so plentiful that you couldn’t look anywhere without seeing hundreds. One time, I swam through a school of tetras that had to number in the billions. The water was opaque with them. Little wonder that the United Nations has named this place one of the world’s natural treasures to be preserved.

As for the swimmers, they were as varied as the fish with European girls in mini-thongs and a few topless on the beach, although this is supposed to be illegal in Egypt, to religious Egyptians or other Middle Eastern Islamic women in long black flowing burkhas. The only thing they didn’t wear was their face covering although I have seen some of that, complete with shoes, in the pools.

The hotel was a 5 star place and must have been very expensive, although I only paid E£300 (about $71 Canadian) which included bus transportation, hotel room, and breakfast. The hotel breakfasts were fabulous never-ending buffets. The food I bought in Sharm happened to be quite expensive, each meal costing me approximately E£70 (about $18), while the snorkel gear rentals cost me E£50 on each of the two days.

My only souvenirs? A fierce sunburn, a towel with Sharm El Sheikh sewn into it, and memories that will last forever.

For sure, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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