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Home arrow Dive Reports arrow Georgina's Xmas - Too much turkey. Too much pudding? Too much telly? Glad to get back to work? Here
Monday, 11 December 2017
 
 
Georgina's Xmas - Too much turkey. Too much pudding? Too much telly? Glad to get back to work? Here Print

CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR IN EL GOUNA

This was going to be the first time I had spent longer than five days in my apartment so I was really looking forward to spending sixteen days over Christmas and New Year in El Gouna!

As the direct charter flights to Hurghada leave Friday to Friday, I decided to fly out earlier in the week with Egypt Air to Cairo. The plan was to land around 9pm then catch the El Gouna coach at midnight. Not wanting to risk the coach being full, I contacted a very helpful company in Cairo called EHRC who arrange anything from trips, hotels, taxis, etc.

I landed at Cairo and before I had even reached passport control there was a very smart young man standing with a sign with my name on. He took my passport and whisked me through passport control ahead of the queue and collected my luggage. They had purchased my coach ticket in advance and drove me into the centre of Cairo to Tahir. It was only 11pm so they waited with me until the coach arrived and saw me safely to my seat. That service including the ticket to El Gouna was USD20. (The bus ticket is only 50LE or GBP5 for a six hour journey.)

The coach was full and has Arabic videos and toilet on board. The journey to El Gouna takes six hours and there is a stop for half an hour about one hour before we arrive. I was sitting near the front and I think the driver had all the windows open so I was really cold after sitting still for so long.

As we approached El Gouna it was starting to get light and you could see the desert and mountains stretching along the coast. I was getting really excited at the thought of arriving at my Egyptian home again. We arrived at 6am and I called the 24-hour taxi service to help me with my 30kg of luggage the short distance to my apartment.

It was great to be back. Ayman, of the Best Service Company, had arranged for everything to be cleaned ready for my arrival and I had sent my shopping list by email so everything is waiting in the fridge so you can put the kettle on straight away.

I had arrived on one of the coolest nights and it was good to feel the sun starting to warm everything up. It was wintertime there so the evenings can drop to as little as 12 degrees centigrade but daytime can be 25 degrees. I decided to head for the beach and soak up some sunshine.

There are many choices of beaches and I decided to buy my weekly shuttle boat ticket from the hotel next door for GBP1.00 and catch the shuttle boat from the lagoon to Zeytuna Beach. It's beautiful here and there is a 400m jetty out to the reef for snorkeling. There are many sun loungers and shades which are free to use and I ordered lunch of grilled calamari and french fries with a freshly squeezed fruit cocktail all delivered to my sun lounger by the sea at a cost of around GBP3.00. Wonderful!

The first few days were spent catching up with friends, shopping, sunbathing, and relaxing at the apartment. The beach on the lagoon right next to the apartment is perfect for sunbathing, swimming or just floating on a lilo. I love to sit up on the roof terrace for sunset with a large G&T. The view up there is incredible. You can see all over El Gouna. To the East you can see out to sea and the islands of Shadwan, Tawila, etc. In the far distance you can just make out the Sinai Mountains right across the other side of the Straits of Gobal. To the south you can see the lights of Hurghada about 20km away and to the west and north are the desert and mountains stretching for miles. It's very peaceful watching the sun set behind the mountains and the skies turn pink. The only disturbance is the sound of the bug man driving around at sunset in a sort of golf buggy to smoke out the mossies!

I began diving a couple of days later. I had booked eight days and the first day you are picked up from the apartment around 8am and taken to the Dive Tribe's centre at the Movenpick Hotel to complete the paperwork and collect your box and any kit. It was great to see favourite dive instructors and boat skippers again.

The diving around El Gouna is excellent and you only see a few other boats in the area. There are many beautiful sites around the islands of Sha'Ab Umm Usk, Sha'Ab El Eg, Siyul Seghira, Siyul Kebira, etc. These sites are only 1-2 hours from El Gouna. The soft and hard corals, sponges, gorgonian fans and marine life are superb. We didn't see any sharks on this trip but saw turtles, giant morays, large groupers, napolean wrasse, baracuda, lion fish, multitudes of glassfish, sweetlips, frog fish, many blue spotted rays, puffer fish, box fish, octopus, colourful wrasse, shoals of banner fish and angel fish, snappers, anthias, an eel garden and lovely green seahorses living in the sand grass. The highlight was swimming with the dolphins. Andy, one of the instructors, had a special whistle that seemed to attract them. I was lucky enough to dive with three bottlenose dolphins including a mother and baby. Another group had eight dolphins around them!

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Christmas Eve was a trip to the famous wreck of the Thistlegorm. I have always wanted to dive this wreck as it was on its way to the 8th Army in North Africa with supplies during the war and my father was in the 8th Army. Pick up time was 5.10am and we were taken straight to the boat and set off around 6am. The sunrise that morning was just stunning with wispy clouds turning from a deep red to bright pink.

It took us three hours to get to the site and the sea that day was flat calm. There were only six other boats on the site. I've heard in the summer you can get up to 30 boats there! The Thistlegorm is 130 metres long and sunk on 6th October 1941. A German long range bomber stationed in Crete had sited it and dropped two bombs which penetrated the hold and caused a chain of explosions that ripped through the stern causing the 9000 ton ship to sink.

The top of the deck is around 14 metres and the seabed around 34 metres. My buddy that day was Vera from Holland and she was an instructor and had dived the Thistelgorm many times and was the perfect guide. The visibility was good but powerful currents sweep the area so its not as good as the local sites. The first dive we explored the outside of the wreck. There's a large capstan with chains used to weigh the heavy anchors. By the sides of the entry to the second hold are two train cars covered in soft and hard corals. Where the bombs exploded you can see the scattered wreckage that includes two tanks. Off to the port side you can see one of the two locomotives and the aft section is inclined to totally expose the propeller.

The marine life is amazing all over the wreck. You are not sure which way to look! at the wreck or at a huge napoleon wrasse or shoal of barracuda cruising past. The second dive we explored the holds full of BSA and Norton motorcycles, cars and trucks, tires, rubber boots, cases of rifles and explosives. It really was a fantastic two dives.

We returned home early evening and dropped the films straight in for processing. A 36 roll costs around GBP5 for one hour processing. After such an early start it was a night in with a hot bath, a bowl of Egyptian beans, humous and pitta bread which costs around 40 pence, and the many movies to choose from on the satellite TV.

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Another favourite wreck is the Ghiannis D in the waters of Abu Nuhas. There are a few wrecks in this area having collided with the perilous reef. The Ghiannis D was a large mercantile ship 100 metres long, with a tonnage of 3000 tons, built in Japan in 1969. It met its fate on 19th April 1983 but all the crew escaped safely on top of the reef before the ship broke in two and sank to the seabed at 27 metres. Both parts of the ship fell on their left side. Visibility is usually excellent and you can see the propeller, poop deck, bridge and long guardrails that completely surrounds the stern. The imposing smokestack is stamped with the letter "D" and then the mainmast rises towards the surface. There are large hatches leading to the interior of the ship including the engine room.

So after all this energetic diving, you are spoilt for choice with restaurants for dinner in the evenings. Tamr Henna is a short walk around the lagoon from the apartment and this leads to Downtown. Just a few favourites are Hedra for seafood, Ferrari Club where they will recommend many Egyptian dishes for you to try, Dunes, Tabasco, Club House, JoBo's, etc. etc. Many are located next to the lagoons and you can finish off sitting outside in a circle round a fire smoking sheesha pipes. The Sand Bar seems to be the favourite for the dive instructors to meet followed by the Palma Café. There are also Irish pubs, German bars and you can walk off dinner by wondering around the many shops which are open until very late.

In the other direction, you follow the red brick path to Abu Tig Marina. Omar Sharif's son owns three restaurants here and you can sit outside admiring the Sunseeker yachts moored in the marina. The cost of a meal is between GBP3.00 - 4.00. Pizzas, pasta, fish and Egyptian dishes are around GBP2.50 and fillet steak with pepper sauce will set you back GBP4.00. All washed down with a bottle of Sakara beer! The Egyptians drink lots of tea and the shop owners will always invite you to join them for tea as you decide on your purchases. There are also some unusual hot drinks like cinnamon milk, as many Egyptians do not drink alcohol.

New Year's Eve started very quietly in the restaurants, as most of the tourists have to buy their compulsory gala dinner at the hotels they are staying at. A couple of hotels had built enormous Bedouin type marquees for their parties with belly dancers, etc. The worrying thing was the chefs cooking on their BBQ's and the many rusty fire extinguishers lined up outside! I'd arrange to meet up with Katy and Mel whom I'd met on the dive boat. They are two rock chics from London playing full time in their own band. Plan was to hunt out our favourite dive instructors in the bars but someone mentioned the owner of El Gouna had taken over the Dawar El Omda hotel for a private masked ball and was flying in the Gypsy Kings! This had to be checked out. We walked up to the hotel and there was a queue of guests checking in for the party. We joined the queue, took our masks and when asked if we had tickets we just laughed and said "Of course" and kept on walking. This hotel is beautiful and built in the Nubian style. We took a glass of rose wine each and joined the party that was already in full swing. Each table had bottles of wine and spirits on so we just kept topping up our glasses all night. The party was full of very distinguished looking Egyptian men with their beautiful and glamorous partners. Katy and Mel caused quite a stir on the dance floor! Mel looks like Cleopatra with striking black hair and dark eye makeup. Katy resembles Sharon Stone in that cowboy movie with a young Leonardo Decappucino. She wore a leather hat with her long straggly hair and tiny hipster jeans that only covered half her backside and revealed most of her pink thong! The Egyptian men couldn't take their eyes off her!! We danced away until midnight when there was a firework display over the lagoon. There was also a live band but they certainly weren't the Gypsy Kings. In the early hours of the morning, after consuming a complete variety of whatever alcohol we could lay our hands on, I had to stumble my way home in the dark, walking around the lagoon without falling over the sun loungers or ending up in the water. Major hangover the next day!

The whole holiday went very quickly and I didn't have the chance to do many of the things I had hoped to. There are endless sports and activities to try including safaris into the desert to join the Bedouins for dinner. My final day I wanted to end horseriding. I can see the stables from my roof terrace and often watch the horses returning from the beach and desert at the end of the day. I booked a ride at 4pm and was quite nervous having not ridden for almost 15 years. There were about five of us and we set off into the desert. I soon got my rhythm back for the trot and there was a reassuring handle to hold onto on the saddle for the canter. We then rode along Mangroovy beach, which was beautiful as the sun was getting low and the sea was turquoise blue and lit the sandy islands and the Sinai mountains in the very far distance. We finished the ride with a fast gallop back across the sand as the sun was setting behind the mountains.

That just left a final trip around the souvenier shops and dinner at Dunes restaurant. Mohamed Hakki, who was the previous owner of the apartment, was a complete sweetheart as usual throughout the holiday. He helped me with my luggage to the midnight bus back to Cairo. Again I chose this route rather than the direct flight from Hurghada on a Friday as it would give me a few extra days. The journey went very quickly as I managed to get some sleep and arrived in Cairo at 6am. I waited at the El Gouna Transport Co. ticket office for my driver and the young man in the ticket office asked me if I would like to use the bathroom. I left all my luggage at the office and followed him through some alleyways to an apartment block where we went inside and took a tiny, old lift to the third floor. I was started to wonder whether this was a good idea as we then entered a dark, empty apartment. He showed me to the bathroom and when I finished I tried to open the door and it was stuck! Just for a few seconds I panicked and thought what have I done! Here I am locked in a bathroom, all my luggage and dive gear has probably been stolen and no one will ever see me again!! Luckily I managed to get the door open and the young man was a perfect gentleman and escorted me back to the office holding my hand! This is typical of anyone who works or has anything to do with El Gouna.

The next worry was I arrived at 7am at Cairo airport for my 9.30am flight with Egypt Air to London and was told that I hadn't telephoned 72 hours before the flight to confirm the reservation. They had given away my seat and the flight was overbooked! All I could do was wait at check-in for the next two hours, occasionally pleading for a seat, and at the last minute they gave me a seat and I made a mad dash for the plane.

Not the best ending but I've learnt my lesson about always confirming my reservations.

A very long trip report but maybe good if you are suffering from insomnia :)

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