July 30, 2003

travel to egypt, snorkeling and sailing

april & thad
Greetings from Sharm El-Sheikh Egypt,

It has been 3 weeks since I last wrote an update and I've definitely done some traveling since then. After writing my previous update I spent the rest of the week visiting with friends.

On Friday I went downtown to a couple of the Smithsonian museums and then in the evening I went rollerblading with a bunch of friends. I hadn't been on skates in quite awhile, but it was really fun to visit the downtown monuments after dark again after being away from the DC area for over a year. As usual the Roosevelt memorial was one
relaxing on the beach
of the highlights with the many illuminated waterfalls.

Sabbath morning I went to church in Martinsburg, West Virginia which is a short (under 2 hour) drive from where I was staying in Maryland. After church I visited with some relatives over lunch before taking the scenic route back to Maryland. We drove on some back roads in West Virginia and Virginia before taking a car ferry over the Potomac River. In Maryland we also followed some scenic roads along the Potomac and saw lots of rabbits, deer and birds along the way. In the evening we ordered pizza and played some games at another friend's house.

On Sunday I went to the wedding of my friend April in Pennsylvania, which was very
nice. It was an outdoor wedding held at a country club and the weather couldn't have been better. I enjoyed visiting with more friends at the wedding and then met up with relatives for the rest of the evening before packing my bags and falling in to bed at about 1 am.

At 2 am I got up and my friend Rich drove me to the airport. Unfortunately, the airport I flew out of was in New York so the drive took around 5 hours, during which I got a little sleep, but not much. Rich had some other business to take care of in New York so it worked out nicely for him to drop me off.

I originally booked my flight from New York instead of Washington to make a
dolphins near our buoy
connection in order to get to Cyprus several days sooner. By the time my destination changed to Egypt it was too late to make changes to my ticket so I went ahead and flew to Cyprus, then caught another flight from there to Egypt. The trip was definitely the longest continuous plane trip I've been on with about 30 hours in the air and over 3 days of travel from Maryland to the hotel where my parents were staying in Egypt. Along the way I had layovers in Korea, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Cyprus and finally spent a night in Cairo before catching a 5 hour bus down to Sharm El-Sheikh.

In Cairo I got a good but short nights sleep in one of the church guestrooms in between landing at the airport and departing from the bus station in the morning. One of the church members was kind enough to arrange a taxi for me from the airport to the guest
dolphins with reflection of me on the boat
room and from there to the bus station in the morning. The taxi ride was an experience in itself. It actually took around 10 minutes for me to figure out which side of the road you are supposed to drive on in Egypt as we were using both sides, even on a divided highway including the on and off ramps. Nobody else seemed to mind though and we arrived at our destinations without incident (For those of you who read the MEU Musings newsletter, this was the same taxi driver mentioned there).

The bus from Cairo to Sharm El-Sheikh was about an hour late, but once I got on it the trip went smoothly. The bus thankfully had a good AC as the entire trip was through the desolate looking desert, first with just sand and later with some tall mountains for a backdrop to the sand. Along the way we had to stop at several checkpoints where a
my dad fixing the stay
government person would walk through the bus checking papers of a few people here and there, which is pretty normal for Egypt. Upon arrival in Sharm El-Sheikh I caught a shared minibus taxi right to my parents hotel where I began to unwind. I stayed awake for the rest of the afternoon without too much trouble and enjoyed a buffet supper at the hotel before heading to bed.

Friday and Sabbath I pretty much spent just relaxing at the hotel enjoying the pool, beach and snorkeling. Saturday night I did take a quick trip to the boat with my dad to help install a new battery in preparation for our Sunday departure.

Sunday morning we packed everything up, checked out of the hotel and headed to the
my mom snorkeling
boat. Now, for anyone reading this who doesn't know already, the boat is named Caramba and is a 41-foot Morgan sailboat. My parents bought it instead of a house when they moved back to the US from Russia in 1997. They lived aboard for about 9 months while commuting to work in Maryland. We enjoyed many trips on the Chesapeake Bay over the years and when my parents decided to move to the island country of Cyprus they decided to bring Caramba with them. One of my dad's friends sailed the boat from Maryland to Gibraltar and then my dad sailed it the remaining 2000 miles from Gibraltar to Cyprus. The boat remained in Cyprus for over a year until about a month ago when my parents sailed to Beirut in Lebanon, then to Port Said in Egypt and on through the Suez Canal. They then sailed down the Red Sea to Sharm El-Sheikh where I joined them a couple of weeks ago.


It seems like this part of the world doesn't see very many private boats and until recently there were very high fees in place that effectively discouraged anyone from stopping here. Now that the fees are gone, people still aren't coming probably at least in part due to the red tape involved. My parents were able to get some information before coming thanks to some Egyptian friends, which was a big help. The port area where we tie up the boat is a secure area complete with a police checkpoint at the large gate out front. We are out at the end of a long concrete pier because we aren't allowed to park too close to a boat belonging to the president of Egypt. Whenever my dad wanted to take someone to the boat he had to fax a list of names to the authorities one day in advance, and only then would people be allowed in to take rides or do work on the boat. Our family is now all on the official
sohal surgeonfish and orangespine unicornfish
crew list so that makes it a bit easier to come in and out, although our bags and papers are still checked sometimes on the way in or out of the port area. Our main contact here is our agent, who basically helps us with the red tape and also points us in the right direction if we need some parts or repair work done. The agent speaks English very well, unlike most of the port authorities. In order to spend a few nights on the boat outside the port we had to get a special permit specifying the time period and how many people were allowed to stay overnight in which area. Getting things done here involves lots of hand shaking and greeting of all those involved and most things are possible with a little patience and waiting.

Although there is plenty of red tape to deal with, all of the Egyptian people we have met
how many feet?
here have been very friendly and welcoming. Many are rather surprised to learn that we are Americans since they mostly get European tourists around here. They certainly don't hold that against us at all though and most of the time the first thing they say when learning we are American is "Welcome to Egypt!"

Sunday afternoon we departed the port with our permit in hand and headed for Tiran Island which is about 15 miles away. Near the island we located a buoy to tie up to for the night since anchoring is not allowed in the protected area around the island. We ended up spending the following four nights tied up in the same spot, although we did take a few side trips during the day for snorkeling. We also spent one evening hoisting my dad up the mast to do some repair work as one of the main stays had come loose.
raspberry coral
Stays are the cables which hold the mast upright and since just one of the several had come loose there was no major damage and the repair job wasn't too difficult.

Thursday night we came back to the port and took a trip to the supermarket to stock up on fresh fruits & vegetables, eggs, bread, drinking water and juice. We also stopped by a repair shop and ordered two more batteries for the boat. The boat has three batteries, one for the generator, one primarily for starting the engine and one mainly used as a house battery for things like lights, navigation equipment and computers. Two of the batteries weren't holding a charge any longer so we decided to replace all three.

This time when we came back to the port we had a new neighbor. A very large yacht
scalefin anthias
which apparently belongs to the prince of Saudi Arabia is now tied up just down the dock from us. This is by far the most luxurious private boat I've ever seen. They have a staff of about 30 people on board and the extra "toys" include at least 3 large power boats and a helicopter, all stored on board.

Friday morning we hired a taxi to the airport where we picked up my sister Sarah who flew in from Baghdad, Iraq where she has been involved with some humanitarian work for the last month. We didn't have to wait too long at the port to get permission for Sarah to join us on the boat, and spent the rest of the day installing the batteries and doing some troubleshooting on the boat. In the evening we headed back out to our Tiran Island buoy where we tied up at nearly midnight. We used the GPS to find our way to the unlit buoy
masked pufferfish
in the dark, which worked very well. It was nice to spend Sabbath out at sea instead of at the port and we were glad to be away from everything again. At night we have enjoyed clear skies with lots of stars visible, including quite a few shootings stars.

From our buoy we could swim a short distance towards shore to reach a reef with lots of beautiful coral and fish, which we enjoyed viewing many times during the past couple of weeks. During the day we usually would start up the motor and explore some of the other nearby dive sites which are frequented by locally hired dive boats loaded with tourists. A couple of the sites are marked by shipwrecks where large tankers missed the channel years ago. Most of the sites have a shallow reef with a sudden drop of around 15-30 feet at the edge where the coral and fish life are the most abundant. A couple of the
blue spotted stingray
sites have much longer drops of several hundred feet so that you can't see the bottom below as you snorkel. This makes for one of the most dramatic backdrops to the colorful fish and coral.

Most of the navigation around the reefs is done by sight since the water is very clear and it's easy to see which areas are too shallow for boats when the sun is overhead. Since no anchors are allowed most of the dive boats just tie up to what are referred to locally as shamandoras. These are ropes which have been wrapped around large rocks or outcroppings of coral and are left in place for boats to tie up to. Most of the time they are unmarked and only a few of them have ropes which float all the way to the surface so they can be rather tricky to find if you don't already know where they are. Sometimes we
were able to just raft up with the dive boats instead of trying to find our own place to tie up. The dive boats would raft together as many as six different boats and they were all very friendly to us and we even got invited to lunch a couple of times. Other times when there weren't other boats around a couple of us would jump overboard and swim around with a mask and snorkel until we spotted a good place to tie up.

The underwater scenery is of course amazing as this area is one of the top snorkeling and scuba diving areas in the world. During the past couple of weeks we've spotted eels, stingrays and sea turtles in addition to the tons of colorful fish. The coral and sea plants are also very colorful and varied. On a couple of the days we saw a pod of about 7 dolphins from the boat on our way back to our buoy. One of the days they came very
school of lunar fusilier
close to the boat and couple of them swam along right underneath the bow, playing in the currents generated by the boat. When not swimming or snorkeling we've mostly been sleeping and reading between our 2 main meals per day. The weather has been quite hot, but as long as there is a breeze blowing it has cooled off enough at night to sleep fairly well. We also used the two AC units on board a night or two, although the generator that powers them hasn't been working reliably.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we decided to come back in to the port after another great day of snorkeling. On the way back we had favorable winds so were able to sail almost right up to the dock before we started up the engine to park. In the evening we went in to town and wandered around the touristy area where they have everything from Pizza Hut to the
bedouin restaurant
Hard Rock Café. We tried to go out to eat at a Bedouin restaurant with a nice view, but they only served drinks so we found another place to get food after enjoying the view and some fresh fruit juice at the Bedouin place. It was fun to walk around town watching the hordes of tourists, but it was also nice to get back to my bunk aboard Caramba. While in town we were also able to get a generator part repaired so last night we slept soundly in cool air-conditioned comfort. I've been on the boat for nearly 2 weeks now so when I get back on land I still feel like I'm moving gently up and down on the waves. It can be rather disorienting when you are sitting in a restaurant on dry land but keep feeling the sensation of motion. I even felt a little seasick before I got some food in my stomach last night.

our next boat with onboard helicopter
Later today or perhaps tomorrow morning we're planning to check out of the port here in Sharm El-Sheikh and start the trip back towards Cyprus. We haven't decided on our exact route in the Mediterranean yet, but we plan to travel up to and through the Suez Canal over the next several days to get there. I'm sure we'll decide on a next stop eventually, but options include Syria, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece. Whatever route we take, we're planning to end up back in Cyprus sometime in August.

Well, I guess that's about it for now so I'll close and try to get this posted.

Until next time,


Posted by andrew on July 30, 2003

Very nice underwater pictures, Andrew! Also a very nice travelog. Sounds like everyone is having a good time, and as Sarah put it, haven't killed each other yet!
Have fun and keep us posted!

Posted by: Judy on August 6, 2003

Sounds great! I'd love to have been there!
It is Sabbath morning. We got in from the Great 450 mile yard sale Thursday evening quite late and spent Friday doing all the usual things mowing, cleaning, filling the car with gas and goimg through the car wash, and discovering a Friday sized mound when I was mowing. He died either Sabbath or Sunday I'm not sure which. Gary and Micki came and got him up for water and food and a potty trip but he very soon just would lie down again and wag his tail for all the atention he was gettingaand as Gary said smiled.
I need to get ready for Sabbath School and Church.

We love you all

Tom, Dad or Grandpa take your choice

Posted by: Tom on August 9, 2003

Andrew, I knew your parents in Auburn,CA back in the 80's. You and Sarah were so young. Now we are good friends with some distant cousins in Tillamook...and so the Advent circle goes on.
Very interesting narration and pictures. Maybe we will add Cyprus to our next trip abroad next year. God bless and keep you. Gloria

Posted by: Gloria Neidigh on August 15, 2003

Hi Andrew, great snorkel photos !
I'm thinking of going to sharm el sheikh, where exactly are the best snorkeling spots ?

Any information you can give would be greatly appreciated, thanks.

Posted by: Kim on February 5, 2004


You can snorkel right out in front of many of hotels including the Al Bostan Hotel which is next to the Marriott in the newer part of town between old town and the airport. You can also go out on a boat to dive and/or snorkel if you want. There are tons of good places to snorkel in Sharm, even from shore, but the boats will probably get you to the "best" places.


Posted by: Andrew on February 5, 2004