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In August 2012 we flew to Egypt for a dive holiday. The dive trip was organised by Pharaoh Dive Club, who are based in Roots Camp, Abu Sauatir, about 12km north of El Queseir itself. We dealt with Clare Rattle, who manages the dive Centre with her husband Steve. They also arranged for the two-way transfer between Hughada Airport and Roots Camp itself. We ourselves arrnged the Egyptair flight from Larnaca to Hurghada via Cairo.
El Quseir (القصير), has existed on the east coast of the Red Sea for over 5,000 years and in the time of Ptolemy was known as "the white harbour". It is located about 140km (a 2-hour taxi journey) south of Hurghada (الغردقة) and about 70km north of the airport for Marsa Alam (مر). There are no direct flights to either of these airports from Cyprus, you have to go via Cairo (القاهرة) and the flight to Marsa Alam is usually more expensive than the one to Hurghada. The city itself is not particularly attractive, but the diving there is fantastic.
We drove from our home in Polis Chrysochous (Πόλις Χρυσοχούς) to Akrotiri (Ακρωτήρι), one of the two sovereign base areas on the island, the other being Dhekelia (Δεκέλεια). Akrotiri is the headquarters of British Forces Cyprus. Technically speaking, while we were there we were outside Cyprus, in fact we were outside the European Union too! We went there to have a look at the pro shop at the Joint Services Golf Club at Episkopi and Neil ended up buying a new golf bag. From there we went to Governor's Beach, past Limmasol (Λεμεσός), for a lovely lunch of Sea Bass and Sea Bream. We parked the car off-airport with a company called Quik Park, paying €32 for the 8 days. We boarded an Egypt Air plane at Larnaca (Λάρνακα) and arrived at Cairo International Airport just over an hour later.
We obtained our Egyptian visas (2 for €25) at the Thomas Cook counter near passport control and followed the signs for transfer flights (4th floor). We had to wait 2 hours for the onward flight to Hurghada and arrived there about an hour later. From previous trips to Egypt we knew that our baggage would not appear on the carousel indicated, but at one on the "international" side of the glass wall, like at Sharm El Sheikh. Thankfully our bags arrived OK and we exited the airport to be met by the driver from Pharaoh Dive Club, who was to take us on the 2-hour journey to Roots Camp, El Quseir. Steve and Clare, the dive centre owners, were in Canada, so we were met instead by Moudi, the acting camp manager and excellent dive guide. We unpacked then flopped into bed and were asleep before our heads hit the pillow.
The camp is about 300 metres from the sea, which is on the opposite side of the M65, the main road between El Quseir and Safaga (سفاجا). But you never get much traffic on this road (every now and again you get a lorry transporting phosphorus ore from the mines) so it isn't a problem. Roots Camp has an area next to the beach, where you kit up for diving on the house reef. There are also beach umbrellas, sunbeds, showers and a toilet there too. The camp does not have a swimming pool, but plans are advancing to build one. This will help with the "confined water dives" that are done as part of the PADI open-water diving course. There is some excellent snorkelling on the house reef and we also did an unaccompanied dive and two night dives there.
There are two types of accomodation at Roots Camp: the Eco Huts and the Deluxe Chalets (see the Roots Camp website or the Trip Advisor report). We stayed in a deluxe chalet that was basic, but clean, with air-conditioning and an en-suite bathroom. This was more than adequate for us. As usual, we brought too many clothes, but luckily Sue brought some coat-hangers to supplement the ones provided. Most of Neil's stuff was (not so) neatly folded and placed on the couple of shelves and on top of the safety deposit box. We were each allocated a crate in which we stored our dive gear. This was stored in the dive centre overnight. The crate was loaded on the truck by the dive personnel each morning and the kit was cleaned by them when it was brought back in the afternoon. We paid for the "soft all-inclusive" option, which covered tea and coffee as well as all water and soft drinks served in glasses. Since it was our daughters' birthdays while we were away I paid the equivalent of GB£5 for internet access. This was a bit hit-and-miss, especially when we used Skype from Sue's iPad. But it was adequate for what we wanted. For the first 5 days or so we were the only guests at Roots Camp. It is so sad that many people are put off by unfounded fears of the security situation. For the last few days we were joined by a nice young couple from Luxemburg.
Besides Moudi, we shared our table at breakfast, lunch and dinner with Jochen and Peter, other dive guides and later in the week with Laura and Joey, the teachers from Luxemburg. Ahmed looked after us in the restaurant and Bebo was the chef. There wasn't much choice in the way of meals, but the standard of the meals was excellent and after a day's diving the dinners were really tasty and of excellent quality. Bebo really did pull out all the stops in preparing the food. One day Moudi asked if Sue wanted a cup of tea and she explained that she could only drink tea with skimmed milk in it. That evening Moudi went into town and from the next day on Sue had her tea with skimmed milk. How's that for service? The resort has two lovely dogs, Snowy and Deco. Although these are wild dogs (and ensure that no other wild dogs enter the camp) they are effectively domesticated and like nothing better than for you to tickle their tummies and make a fuss of them.
All in all we were very pleased with Roots Camp and would definitely go back.
The dive centre is run by Steve and Clare, Moudi and Martina. They are very easy going and there is no rushing about. We had our own dive equipment so I can't vouch for the kit at the dive centre, but it looked good and well maintained. Pharaoh dive run PADI courses and several were going on while we were there.
At the beginning of the week we had a guide, Jochen, all to ourselves. Later in the week we shared the guide with an Italian father and son pairing, Marco and Silvio and finally with Laura and Joey. All of the guides were good and very accomodating of the fact that we don't like to rush, since we both take underwater photos.
Each morning at the end of breakfast we would fill up two large plastic water bottles from the drinking fountain in the restaurant or the one at the dive centre. More water was provided during the surface intervals. For the unaccompanied dive on the house reef Ramadan drove us to the beach (we could have walked the 300 metres, but it was nice of him to take us). We kitted up in the shade then had to walk about 30 metres to the dive entry point. Ramadan asked us how long we expected to be down (about 1 hour) and stayed on the beach the whole time in case we had a problem at any time.
For other dive sites we would go in the bus, either stopping at a hotel on the way to pick up a couple of other divers, or waiting at the dive centre for some to come to Roots Camp e.g. if they were in a hotel to the South and we diving in the North. We would usually do two dives at each site, maybe the north side first, then the south side. Once or twice we went to the harbour in El Quseir where a large dive boat was moored. We'd kit-up on the boat then transfer to a RIB that transported us to and from the dive site, 5 or 10 minutes away. We'd then do the surface interval on the large boat before getting into the RIB to go to the next dive site.
On one day we were planning to go back to the harbour, but could not because a suspicious vessel had been escorted in and the naval authorities effectively shut down the port for two days while they investigated it. We then decided to go north instead, but the coastguard was on edge and it took Moudi a little while to convince them that we were bona fide recreational scuba divers. It wasn't a big deal and added an extra bit of spice to the holiday.
Most of the dive sites were stunning. We could not believe the number of free swimming Anemone Clownfish (nemos) on The Rock dive. There seems to be aan area the size of a football pitch that is full of anemones. Abu Quseir was great, but marred by the fact that there was a large fishing net weighted down at 30 metres. We saw a large Angelfish swim into it and get caught. Fati, our guide signalled for us, Marco and Silvio to help free it. Using knives the Italians managed to set it free, but it was too late for the other fish that were caught up. Since it was deep we didn't want to risk going into deco-time, so we couldn't do much more, but Fati and others would come back later to get rid of the net.
On most of the dives we saw blue-spotted rays and on some we encountered turtles and eagle rays. We saw a large number of huge morray eels and a miniature cuttlefish on the Abu Hamra divesite. The start and end of the Marsa Waleed dive requires a 15 minute swim through a canyon with poor visibility, but with good diving once you were outside the canyon. Serib Kebir, especially the South side, with its caves, swim-throughs and "secret valley" at the end was lovely. The night dives were great, even if Sue did forget to load the battery in her camera for the second one. On all of the dives the corals were great, in some cases we'd say "fantastic" and some of the underwater topology was stunning.
This was yet another great holiday, as most are to the Red Sea. The resort was very good and the guys at Pharaoh Dive Club were fantastic. The weather was very hot but not as humid as Cyprus. You can get close to most of the dive sites in the bus and there was usually shade, either via a thatched roof structure, as at Serib Kebir, or by resting in the bus. On one occasion at Marsa Waleed Sue had problems walking to the divesite entry point with her kit on so one of the guys carried her tank and BCD for her. Once there, Neil found he'd left his fins back at the bus, so the guy quite happily jogged back to retrieve them for him.
We would definitely recommend El Quseir as a diving holiday destination and Pharaoh Dive Club in particular as a dive operator. We are planning on returning to Roots Camp in August next year. For more (higher-resolution) photos and videos, click on the icons ( & ) at the top.
|Date||Depth (m)||Time (min)||EANx||El Quseir Dive|
|7 Aug||21.3||62||-||Abu Sauatir (House Reef) South - Lovely trial dive - Loads to see|
|8 Aug||29.6||47||-||Abu Hamra - Wow what a lovely dive - pinnacles, blue-spotted rays, puffers|
|8 Aug||22.3||58||-||Abu Hamra - Again lovely, barracudas, stonefish, crocodilefish|
|8 Aug||24.7||62||-||Abu Sauatir - Fantastic night dive, 5 Spanish Dancers!!|
|9 Aug||23.5||61||-||The Rock - RIB, backwards flip, Huge football field of anemones, more Nemos than ever seen before!|
|9 Aug||30.8||63||-||Ras Quseir - RIB, huge triggerfish, could have spent all day there|
|10 Aug||22.6||59||-||Serib Kabir South - Astounding swim-through to start the dive, so much to see|
|10 Aug||21.6||64||-||Serib Kabir North - Amazing dive, huge spotted eagle ray, octopus, stonefish|
|10 Aug||18.3||62||-||Abu SAuatir North - unaccompanied, nudibranchs, unicornfish, nig moray eel|
|11 Aug||29.6||65||-||Marsa Waleed North - Interesting entry, (15-minute) swim-throughs and canyon|
|11 Aug||18.9||70||-||Marsa Waleed South - Zillions of fish and awsome beds of coral|
|12 Aug||26.8||57||-||Serib Kebir North - Good underwater formations, large moray eel|
|12 Aug||13.7||72||-||Serib Kabir South - Wow, fantastic swim-throghs and caves, big grouper|
|12 Aug||14.0||70||-||Abu Sauatir - Another lovely night dive, but forgot to put a batter in my camera!|
|13 Aug||19.8||73||-||Ras Fungani (Mangrove Bay) - lovely long final dive, huge photogenic octopus|