Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You get what you pay for

Egypt was a dirt cheap price. And to my surprise others had paid even less! So it was no surprise that the service, quality, and indeed safety found in Sharm el Shiekh were lower.

The men were very Arabic. The culture came shining through in their ways. And no wonder as there were no women around to moderate them. It seems for the staff, Sharm is a temporary work place while wives wait at home back in Cairo or Alexandria. There were no women what-so-ever amongst the staff. But the young man tasked with cleaning the rooms and making the beds clearly hadn't been shown the basics of housekeeping by his mom. It's just not done. And as a result the cleaner would be embarrassed had he shown genuine skills or abilities. He managed to make both beds each day. Beyond that his job seemed to consist of hording toilet paper and stealing our towels.

Luxury and exclusiveness go hand in hand. Vast personal space with quality materials, personal service and unhurried schedules are important. Rather than luxury, we had the boats.

A boat ride starts with the chaos on the dock. Ten boats a time can back onto the dock, each holding roughly 35-45 people. Thirty more boats are waiting their turns while all two-thousand confused tourists mill around the dock entrance. Then we file one by one through a metal detector and police checkpoint. The dockside of the line empties onto an even more crowded dock. Large carts clank by with tanks and gear boxes. Ultimately you "walk the plank" to get from the dock down to the boat. Only three steps, but done quickly with extreme concentration. Certainly not loped along.

Once on the boat things get better. Everyone spreads over the 3 levels of decks and shade. But gear needs to be prepared and that's always a hassle. Tobias had a pressure gauge start leaking between (thankfully!) dives. The valve adaptors used in the tanks were always bent, worn, dirty, and leaky. It always took 3-4 tries to get one that held air. And before you know it, a divemaster is barking commands about briefings and gear and jumping into the water.

But once in the water... luxury!

There's very little they can do to ruin my dive. It comes automatically with the space and quiet and exclusivity. I had my own gear and buddy and we did pretty well together... Except a few times circumstances did work against us.

I think the most exciting moment was when the boat failed to pick us up. It wouldn't normally be a problem, but the current was significantly faster than a person could swim. The briefing had made it clear we were in the one place in the Red Sea with the strongest currents. A Y-shaped flow of water comes up from the south and splits at the island we were moored alongside. Critical to getting out of the current was to descend quickly. And so it was a frustrating 3 minutes over which I fought and strained to get below. Insufficient lead weight made it impossible.

Tobias and I surfaced together and looked for the boat. It was a short way away and we signalled it. And we signalled it.

And I got out my whistle and started blowing. Hard! And we signalled.

And the boat just kept getting smaller. The other divers had gone one way, we were going in the other direction, and the boat was moored in the middle. No one looked our way, no one saw us.

The emotion was an interesting combination of fear and anger. I couldn't believe they didn't hear us... although I could assume we were now getting hard to see.

We got rescued. A young man in an inflatable boat swung by and picked us up. After giving him the name of the boat we were from he had us back (about a kilometer) in a few minutes.

What did we hear from people on the boat when we got back? Would you believe:

"Yeah, I heard a whistle. It was really annoying! I wondered what that was." And,

"Oh I was surprised by how short your dive was. I saw you come up but thought you were just done."

And while those are the worst surface currents, the localized current around the Thistlegorm wreck was the strongest I've ever dove in. So it was really strange that the divemaster suggested a dive pattern opposite from the one normally used to prevent problems with current.

He took us down the line from the boat to the wreck, then with the current. A nice fast drift over the long rusting hulk. But the swim back upstream was nearly impossible. In fact, it was impossible given the amount of air I had in my tank.

There was more than one boat and multiple mooring lines. The dive leader wanted the one from our boat. I wanted any of them. I signalled that I was low on air was going up. He signalled "No" and to keep going forward. I signalled up and went for the basic "self rescue". A normal ascent while you still have sufficient air.

I've never pushed a dive to 22 bar of air. But that's all I had once I was finally on the surface. Richard ascended with me to provided any needed buddy assistance. As it was, none was required because I refused to get to that point. But had I followed the leader I wouldn't have had a sip of air left. As I swam to the boat I saw them under me... minutes later.

It all worked. We all got back to the boat... Tobias used the divemaster's air and I surfaced and used the free supply. But I wasn't impressed. The whole dive plan and execution was flawed as the leader dragged us around on the dive he wanted to do... whether we could or not.

Those were two of the ten dives. The other eight, pure bliss.

So it took a week, a lot of little busses, and a lot of noise, but 8-10 moments of total zen were indeed achieved. Knowing the hassles, I would actually do it again. Differently. But I would go back. Egyptian fish speak a language I can understand. *bubble* *bubble* *bubble*


quilly said...

I am glad you are safe and mostly enjoyed your dives. The dives you didn't enjoy still offered good blogging material, so all wasn't wasted.

J. D. said...

I'm almost speechless!!! WOW, that was beyond GREAT!!! It's exciting and joyful to see you so happy. Thanks for taking us along. We loved it! Mom & Dad