Chill-out in Dahab
While everyone else was experiencing sub-zero temperatures in the UK, we were lucky enough to be enjoying a relaxed and chilled week diving in Dahab, Egypt.
Dahab is in the Sinai Peninsula, in the narrow Gulf of Aquaba facing Saudi Arabia.
I originally learnt to dive in here, so needless to say saw virtually nothing but my instructor for the entire week I was there. The dives I did for pleasure at the end of my Open Water course were mostly spent yo-yoing up and down and staring fixedly at my air and depth gauges for signs of imminent drowning. I have always been keen to go back and see what the diving was really like as Gren has always insisted that it was fantastic.
Gren, Katie, Rob and I flew into Sharm El Sheikh and immediately escaped to the relative calm of Dahab, an hour away to the North. BA now fly direct to Sharm on scheduled flights which offer extra leg room than normal flights and free aperitifs and wine with your meal. Not the normal 5-hour sardine can experience so we arrived less frayed than normal.
Our diving was organised through Poseidon diving who we originally dived with. They are a mainly British outfit catering for everyone from beginners up to technical divers and are very well organised. All diving in Dahab has to be guided and Noelene, our ex-army dive guide was with us all week, freezing to death in a 3mm wetsuit as someone had very kindly stolen her 5mm from the dive centre at the Hilton where she freelances. We had booked a five-day package but were having such a good time (and luckily had late flights back) and so were able to dive an extra day.
The nice thing about the diving here is that it’s mostly shore-based so many of the sites are close by and you don’t have to get up early to reach them. We turned up at the dive centre most mornings at 09.00, loaded our stuff on the pick-ups and then took a short jeep ride to whichever site we were diving. We normally pulled into an open-air café, set up our kit outside and had a coffee while listening to the briefing (handy also for waiting while Rob hitches a lift back to Poseidon to pick up the wetsuit he managed to leave behind!). After the dive we’d come back to the café for lunch and a nap before heading out again. Most days we were back at the centre for 15.30 and if we’d wanted we could have easily done three dives a day.
The disadvantage of shore entries is the unevenness of the ground on occasions; cue much slipping as we carefully picked out way over small and in some cases big boulders on our way to the entry points. Coming back from one site fully kitted up my left leg disappeared completely into a hole right up to my knee, much to the amusement of the German divers who’d positioned themselves to the side of it because they knew it was there!thanks for the warning!
The sheer variety of dive sites in Dahab is what makes it so special, the famous Blue Hole is a major attraction but there are many other sites, many of which just drop off so you can pick a depth, which makes it suitable for all levels. We didn’t even get a chance to dive them all. Highlights of the week were:
The Islands. You jump into a small hole in the coral (literally!) and then go through a shallow swim through to a series linked sandy pools and then out into the ocean. The Lonely Planet dive guide describes it better than I can as ‘a maze of coral boulders, alleyways, amphitheatres, valleys, gullies, passages and bowls in less than 18m’. It’s like being in a grotto and fantastically rich in marine life. At one point we were able to just sit and watch the resident school of Barracuda arcing backwards and forwards around us as they were being attacked by stray Trevallies.
The Canyon is a long narrow rocky channel that runs perpendicular to the reef. You enter through a shallow swim-through, over a narrow shelf and then drop down from 20m into the canyon bottom at 30-metres. In one direction the canyon narrows and continues down until you reach a ceiling exit (I started heading off in this direction until turning and seeing everyone else heading the opposite direction. Oops! Must remember those maximum depths mentioned in the briefing!). The exit we were following takes you up a narrow chimney, past a fishbowl at 20-metres containing glassfish, and out again at 17-metres.
I don’t know if it’s just the stage that I’m at but I love going in things, down things and round things so the landscape made these dives my idea of heaven.
Gabr El Bint is the only site we went to by boat as by land it’s one hour by jeep (not an attractive option as none of them seem to have a suspension) and then one hour by camel when it gets too narrow for the jeeps. Having done this before there is something surreal about seeing a camel loaded with diving tanks and kit gently weaving its way along the edge of the shore but it’s a lot easier to relax on a boat than on the back of a camel. Gabr El Bint is in a sheltered bay and the site follows the curve of the bay, with a lagoon sloping gently down to 8-20-metres depending on where you are before becoming a sheer wall that drops in parts to 50-metres. Down below you could see the most enormous tree coral and Gorgonians; in the blue you could see giant and marbled grouper.
Blue Hole. We left the most spectacular dive site until the last day. We also made an exception and got up early as this is probably the most popular site in the area with coaches of snorkellers coming in daily from Sharm as well as the normal divers. The Blue Hole is a natural coral feature and considered to be a world-class diving site. It is also the site that has seen the deaths of over 100 divers – more than any other diving site and just to press that point home on your way to the dive site you pass plaques commemorating some of the people that have died here.
The Blue Hole itself is a hole in the reef that is around 55-metres wide and 102 metres deep. The attraction � and danger if not dived with the proper equipment � is the archway located at 54-metres, which leads to a 26-metre swim through before it exits at around 65-metres. Needless to say that wasn’t part of our dive plan!
We did two dives at the Blue Hole � Bells to Blue Hole and Blue Hole Right. The first consists of a headfirst descent down a 5-metre crack in the reef that exits the wall at 30 metres. The wall itself continues down to over 300 metres and appears bottomless.
I don’t know what compelled me to go down it quite so fast but my ears were complaining bitterly when I finally popped out through the little arch at the other end. Next time, I’ll take it a little more slowly as it was truly thrilling experience. It’s called Bells as people have been known to scrape their tanks against the wall on the way down, although I’m glad to say we managed not to � at least, no-one owned up if they did!
Often with wall dives you end up concentrating on the micro-environment and focusing on what’s immediately in front of you but pulling away from the wall and looking back you suddenly see the rest of the group against the wall, looking like tiny toy figures and the vastness of it is breathtaking.
The rest of the dive was a multi-level wall dive to the saddle of the Blue Hole at 7 metres over which we went to get into the Blue Hole itself, the coral garden surrounding it and the exit to shore.
For the second dive we dropped in off the pontoon and descended over the saddle and turned right. We stayed quite shallow this time but again, the vastness of it is staggering. Down below you can see huge tree corals.
Relaxing afterwards we poured over the Debelius Red Sea Reef Guide arguing about what we saw. Rob finally got to see a Picasso fish although they seemed to know he was after them and so shot away every time he tried to take a photo. We didn’t see much in the way of large fish � it’s really too close to shore for that � and we didn’t see a single ray although they are common but the sheer range of fish, coral and sea life was vast.
Dahab itself is very laid back, the town seems to be divided in half by the bridge over the wadi into Cat town (where we stayed) and Dog town � not great if you have allergies. The whole seafront is full of restaurants, some right by the shore, and there’s a huge choice of food, including a vegetarian restaurant (yes!), pizza place as well as Totas the ship-shaped bar that we went to most nights. With three vegetarians this was a big consideration. Lounging in the garden on floor cushions, by an open fire with beer at �1 a pint we were trying to think of good reasons not to leave. We will certainly go back soon.