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In July 2011 we flew to Egypt for a dive holiday. The dive trip was organised by Black Rock, who used to be based in Pissouri, Cyprus, but who now are wholly based in Dahab. Hayden and Nicola arranged for us to stay at the Coralia Club Hotel. They also arranged for the two-way transfer between Sharm-El-Sheikh airport and the hotel and put us in touch with Yiolou, a very nice lady at Egypt Air who booked our flight from Larnaca (LCA) to Sharm-El-Sheikh (SSH) via Cairo (CAI).
Dahab (دهب), which means "Gold" in Arabic, is situated on the Gulf of Aqaba side of the Sinai Peninsuala, about 1 hour's drive north of Sharm. Saudi Arabia is on the opposite shore of the gulf. In the past it was just a Bedouin fishing village, until it was "discovered" by backpackers and divers. It now has three distinct parts to it:
We drove from Polis to Larnaca, stopping off at Paphos on the way and then to Governor's Bay, just west of Zygi, for a lovely lunch. We parked the car off-airport with a company called Quik Park, paying €40 for the 10 days. We boarded an Egypt Air plane at Larnaca and that's when the first problem arose. We sat on the tarmac for an extra 45 minutes because the airport had just experienced a power cut, which had affected the loading of the luggage. "Oh-Oh" we thought. Cyprus had been experiencing power cuts daily following the terrible explosion at the naval base at Zygi, some days before, when a dozen people were killed and 60 or so injured. The explosion had wrecked the power station next door, which supplied the island with about 50% of its power and is likely to cost about €2 billion to fix. Eventually the plane took off and we arrived at Cairo International Airport just over an hour later. We followed the signs for transfer flights and were lucky to spot a sign for Egyptian visas (just before passport control). We bought our tourist visas (2 for €25), which are NOT required if you ONLY remain in the resorts of Sharm, Dahab, Nuweiba or Taba. However, since we were likely to go outside Dahab, we got one. See here and here for more information about visas. (Tip: if you buy water at Cairo airport, you will NOT be allowed to take onboard the plane to Sharm, so drink it beforehand! I also presume that, had we bought duty-free bottles of booze in Larnaca we would not have been able to take them onto the Sharm flight!)
We arrived at Sharm about 40 minutes after leaving Cairo. Unfortunately our baggage did not arrive. We spent about half an hour waiting at the carousel, then an official told us that since we had originally flown in from outside Egypt we needed to go to the carousel at the other (international) side of the glass wall. We did this, but still our bags did not appear. Along with two or three other travellers we had to fill in a form stating what the bags looked like, where we were staying etc. We were told that they would send the bags to our hotel once they arrived and to phone them at 7:30am tomorrow (or rather "today", as it was by now about 1am).
We met up with Ali, who was waiting to take us to Dahab and apologised for the delay. On arriving at the Corelia the night staff didn't seem to expect us, but they gave us a room and we dropped on the bed exhausted. The next day we went to the dive centre and talked to Hayden and Nicola about our predicament with the luggage. Hayden loaned us 100 LE and Nicola spoke to Nabil, an Egyptian who works for the dive centre, who was brilliant. He drove us to a shop in Dahab where we could buy toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant as well as bottles of water. He phoned the airport at Sharm several times, but didn't have much luck, just being told that the bags were in Cairo. He tried several times throughout the day and eventually, at 2am, gave up for the night. He then started again at 7am the next day and was told to phone back about 9am. He then found out that they were due into Sharm on the next flight The airport would not send the bags to us so we paid Nabil to drive all the way to the airport and back to get them. What a palarver! Luckily, as this had happened to us before, Sue had packed our swimwear in hand luggage, so we could go to the beach and dunk in the sea. This is something we recommend everyone do every time they fly!
The resort is right on the beach overlooking the lagoon - a fantastic location with the only sandy beach in Dahab. Our room was probably the furthest from the dive centre which is at the most easterly part of the beach, so we asked Nicola about the possibility of upgrading to the next level of room. These rooms are much closer to the dive centre. She came back later that day to say that we could upgrade at no additional cost to room 108, which is about 30 seconds' walk from Blackrock. It was a bigger room with better shower facilities and in a fantastic location.
Just past the dive centre, the beach has a small spit of sand that almost disappears at high tide. You can see it on the satellite photo above. It is possible to walk along this spit and reach the other side of the lagoon without getting out of your depth. At low tide it never even reaches your knees! The other side of the lagoon has some good snorkeling, but only do it when there isn't a wind as there is nothing between Dahab and Sharm if you get swept out by the wind/current. There is some reasonable snorkeling in the lagoon itself; we saw a free swimming eel, lots of lionfish and parrot fish, puffer fish as well as some anemone fish (Nemos). Early in the morning shoals of fish would chase along jumping and splashing out of the water. You can also lounge on the beach on comfortable sun loungers with huge straw covered umbrellas, tables and a little wicker fence behind, which made it feel more private. You can sit at the sunset bar and watch the efforts of the windsurfer novices, as well as the experts and the kitesurfers. You also get to see "newbies" doing a try-dive with the Black Rock guys.
All in all we were pleased with the Corelia Club resort and would definitely go back.
The dive centre is run by Hayden and Nicola. They are very easy going and there is no rushing about like you get at some other places. Apart from our regulators, which we always carry as hand-luggage, we had to use the centre's BCDs, masks and fins for our first dive. The kit was fine, but we were glad when our own kit arrived for subsequent dives - it's always more comfortable using your own equipment. We effectively had bespoke diving all week. Monem was our guide for all the dives except the last one (when James took over) and it was just the 2 of us plus guide all week!
We would in general turn up at the dive centre for 9am, having had a good breakfast beforehand. We'd discuss with Monem which sites we were going to dive. For nearby divesites, like "the Lighthouse" or "the Islands" we would suit and boot-up at the centre and then load the tanks (with BCDs and regulators attached) and a box with mask, fins, boots etc. into the truck. For dive sites further away, such as "the Blue Hole" or "Umm Sid", we'd kit up there. We would take over a place in a lovely pole and straw roof structure or in a corner of an outside bar leave our belongings there, have a drink the kit up. We would then return between dives. Lovely people and traditional surroundings. On the way back we'd sometimes ask the driver (most times it was Nabil) to stop at a small "supermarket" and buy a dozen bottles of water and some beer and wine from the "drinks shop" (well you don't want to dehydrate on a dive holiday, do you?).
On a couple of occasions we paid for Nabil to take us into Dahab in the evening and bring us back later. Both times we went to the Blue Beach Hotel restaurant, which does the best steaks we've had in a long time at a very reasonable price. Sue likes her steak extremely blue (effectively raw) and the chef at Blue Beach knows exactly how to cook it to perfection. Also, they do a lovely Babaganouche and a very drinkable South African red wine. They don't accept credit cards, but there is an ATM immediately opposite the hotel entrance, which Neil had to use on one occasion.
Almost all of the dive sites were stunning because of the weird and wonderful creatures you could find. In many cases there was sand and rubble, but the creatures that the guides spotted there were incredible. If you have ever tried to take a photo of a Pygmy Seahorse sitting on a coral fan the same colour as the seahorse, you will know how difficult it is: first to spot them, even when the guide is pointing to them, then to get them in focus. The challenge that this sets is part of the fun of the dive. We took over 3000 underwater photos on this holiday, whittling them down to 900 when we got back home.
We used to download the photos (almost all of which were in JPEG format, some were in RAW) onto the iPad each evening for two reasons, firstly as a safety measure, in case something were to go wrong with the memory card in the camera; secondly to get a better view of what we had managed to capture than could be seen on the camera LCD screen. The iPad is great for this, it's lighter than my laptop and easier to transport and fire up. However I wouldn't edit the pictures there, I'd rather wait till I got back and tidy them up using my home PC. The main reason being that it's relatively easy to get the photos onto the iPad, but Apple don't make it easy to copy gigabytes of pictures off this tablet, whereas with a PC/laptop it's simple to do this using a USB memory stick.
For details of some of the dive sites go to the Black Rock pages. Almost all of the diving is "shore" diving with very easy entries. On Fridays there is generally a boat going to Gabr el Bint, but there weren't enough people to make this viable when we were there. For nearby dives we could do one about 10am, come back to the hotel, and do another about 2pm, then have the rest of the day to update our logbooks, download our photos and chill out on the beach. For dives further away we would normally drive to the site, lay claim to an area in a restaurant and set up our kit. Then we'd have a drink in the restaurant before doing the first dive. We'd then come back to the restaurant, set up our kit for the second dive and have a bite to eat and a drink. After the second dive we'd again go back to the restaurant and have one last drink before loading the kit in the truck and driving back to the hotel. It was all laid back: no rushing and easy "pootling" dives with plenty of chances to take photos. Monem was great, pointing out items of interest, yet leaving us to do our own thing if we wanted. He seemed to know everyone, from restaurant owners to waiters and camel drivers!
All of the dive sites were interesting, the ones we particularly liked were: Umm Sid; the Canyon; the Islands; El Bells and the Blue Hole. All of the ones in Ras Abu Galum national park were spectacular, being in an area that is not often dived, South Ras Galum was one of the best, along with Al Kharoom. We did a night dive at the Lighthouse which ended with us seeing a fantastic Spanish Dancer. Sue did all of the dives without a wetsuit and managed to persuade Neil to do the same - the bottom temperature was 27°C, so it wasn't an issue. The last dive was with James at the Umm Sid divesite. This was absolutely brilliant even though when we got back to the centre Sue found that she didn't have her mask. We went into town to eat steak in the evening and decided to buy a new mask (and snorkel to replace the one Sue lost last year at Sipadan) at a shop called Dive Zone. The new mask is great and about half the price we would expect to pay in the UK.
Getting to Ras Abu Galum was interesting. It started with a 15 minute drive to the Blue Hole (where the road ends). Then we walked for 15 minutes (because it was too steep) before transferring to camel (four of them: one for Sue; one for Neil and two for the tanks and other equipment) for the 75 minute journey the rest of the way. Neil named his camel "Collin", after a friend and well known dive course director (who actually taught Monem - the course director, not the camel). Like his namesake, Collin was quite a character. He was the lead camel and took off without any guidance as soon as Neil had mounted. He didn't like to see other camels in front of him, at one point galloping past another caravan that we passed on the way back, much to Neil's discomfort. There were several steep climbs following a narrow path and on the way there were places we thought we would need to dismount, but the camels just took it in their stride. It was a bit hair-raising for us though and on occasion Sue was to be heard letting out a shriek!
When we arrived at our destination, half a dozen girls from the bedouin village came over to see if we'd like to purchase their wares. We bought a few things and Neil bought a keffiyeh or shemagh (headdress) with a black and white pattern like those worn by Palestinians. It quite suited him and was invaluable for the hot trip back. We did a couple of amazing dives, then settled in our ‘structure’ for the afternoon. Very peaceful and relaxing but we don't really want to see another cushion laid on a floor! There were no showers (we had to pour a small jug of water over ourselves) and the toilet is a subject best not mentioned! We had a few simple meals cooked for us by the Bedouins, the one in the evening was cooked over an open fire and served to us right down by the sea (again on cushions). Our ‘bed’ was then prepared – yes you guessed it – more cushions on the sea shore. We slept out in the open under the stars and Milky Way, which is ever so clear, owing to the lack of light pollution so far from the town. In the water there were "light" fishes. These are amazing - it looked like a spotlight on the bottom of the sea shining upwards, but was in fact a shoal of fish each one of them glowing like a flourescent lamp! It was a beautiful and magical experience lying there, on the beach, next to the sea, under the stars. Watching the sun come up over the Saudi Arabian mountains at 4:40 was stunning. The small discomfort of the cushions we slept on and the primitive washing and toilet facilities, were more than compensated for. We felt very privileged to have been able to do this and it's an experience that should not be missed.
This was yet another great holiday, despite not having our luggage for two days. The resort was very good and it was a very pleasant surprise to receive a room upgrade at no additional cost. The guys at Black Rock were fantastic and went above the call of duty to help us out of our luggage predicament. The weather was very hot but you can get so close to the dive sites in the truck that we weren't subjected to the sun for more than a minute or two. The longest trek was about 100 metres from the restaurant at the Blue Hole to the entry at El Bells, and a kind waiter that Monem knew carried Sues tank and BCD for her.
We would definitely recommend Dahab as a diving holiday destination and Black Rock in particular as a dive operator. We are hoping to return to Dahab in November and go on a liveaboard organised by Black Rock. For more (higher-resolution) photos and videos, click on the icons ( & ) at the top.
|Date||Depth (m)||Time (min)||EANx||Dahab Dive|
|23 Jul||25.3||47||-||Lighthouse - Lovely trial dive - Broomtail Wrasse & Tuberculated Dendrodoris|
|23 Jul||15.5||53||-||Islands - Wow what a dive dive - through a tunnel and into an aquarium|
|24 Jul||29.3||49||-||Golden Blocks - Really enjoyable dive - Pinnacles, corals and lots of fish|
|24 Jul||28.0||52||-||Moray Garden - Didn't see any Morays, but lots of other fish|
|25 Jul||29.8||53||-||Ras Galum North - Pristine corals, like being in an aquarium|
|25 Jul||24.4||44||-||Trigger Bay - Beautiful dive, absolutely stunning with millions of fish|
|26 Jul||29.6||50||-||Al Khroom - Beautiful dive - Pinnacles, Blue-Spotted Ray, fantastic corals|
|26 Jul||26.5||50||-||Ras Galum North - Fantastic last "camel" dive, mesmerising fish and corals|
|28 Jul||30.2||43||-||El Bells to Blue Hole - Brilliant entry down a "chimney", great dive|
|28 Jul||25.9||53||-||Blue Hole South - Fabulous dive alond a very deep wall, graceful Spotted Eagle Ray|
|29 Jul||29.3||53||-||Canton - fabulause dive into a crack in the seabed then out to clams, eels, fish & corals|
|29 Jul||25.0||52||-||Coral Gardens - Pretty dive, corals everywhere, Fans, Tables, Elephant Ear etc.|
|29 Jul||18.0||41||-||Lighthouse - Great night dive ending with a very large Spanish Dancer - amazing|
|30 Jul||20.1||62||-||Umm Sid - Absolutely fabulous last dive, great topography and fish, but lost my mask|
For the whole photo album click on the "Photo Album" icon ( ) at the top.