Friday, December 03, 2010

Shark attack

Wednesday I had another dive with Abraham. The first time I tried it, Monday, I could not get used to the breathing apparatus - every fiber in your body tells you "don't breathe underwater fool!" and I had to literally force myself to breathe, which I did too much, hyperventilating and getting dizzy. I am also claustrophobic, and it is a whole different world underwater - with so much equipment strapped to you, yet you are floating around weightless, your body just doesn't know what to do. I enjoyed the first dive, but not fully. I was paying more attention to my own possible death than enjoying the fish. The second time, I completely relaxed and it blew my mind. Diving is amazing!! We swam IN a school of fish. It is a completely 3-D, crazy experience, like a dream. I enjoyed it so, so much. I was so moved and amazed, almost like I felt privileged to be swimming down there. We saw so many creatures and dozens of species of neon fish. I made eye contact with fish as I swam alongside them, right in their school. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life. Yeah, I know most people have been diving - but I hadn't before this. I had to really conquer fear and anxiety to do it, but it was completely awesome. If I had another week in Dahab, I would get certified for sure. And the prices there are very good, I thought. Two dives and unlimited snorkeling over 4 days for less than $100 USD. Plus, they cared enough to pair me with an instructor who was great with beginners.

I had a choice to make. I could stay in Dahab one more night and take a long, long 11-12 hour bus to Cairo the next day, or just move a few hours south to Sharm el Sheikh, spend the night and cut my bus ride shorter. Sharm el Sheikh is a huge resort town, with 4 star hotels, fast food chains and hoards of tourists. There is also good diving and snorkeling there, so I figured I would just get up very early, see the town for one night, get a nice hotel, dive or snorkel - then get the first bus in the morning to Cairo. I had a nice final night in Dahab, carefully choosing where to have my last meal, where to have my last beer, gazing wistfully off my balcony at the sunset, vowing to come back one day. I had one more errand to run - buying some arabic CDs!

Did I really need to buy four? No. Will you enjoy hearing them at my next gathering? yes! The young guy in the CD store let me listen to all of them before buying, too. He loved his job, recommending CDs and joking around with customers.
The next morning, I took the bus to Sharm el Sheikh. I poked around town and hated it immediately. Thousands of european tourists, families, loud music, tackiness, chaos after Dahab. I actually heard a guy ask "how much is this in US dollars?" in a store, which made me roll my eyes in disgust. Dahab is more of a backpacker place, and there would be no more lounging around on pillows listening to cool music, drinking $2 beer in Sharm el Sheikh. According to my guidebook, you either love one or the other. I knew I wouldn't like it as much as Dahab, but I could appreciate it for what it was - a resort town, and it's not a bad place to spend the night. Oh, poor me. December in a resort town on the red sea coast! I read that the best coral reef was off the Sofitel property, and like fate I called and they gave me a very good rate - for once it was almost half what the guidebook said it would be. After paying $22 per night in Dahab it was a bit of a splurge, but there would be no cockroaches at the Sofitel. Yes, I found three cockroaches in my room in Dahab. But I was so smitten with the place that I didn't care. The happiness per dollar ratio was extremely high. However, it was time to move on and I happily checked into my beautiful room with a balcony in the Sofitel, thrilled that I actually had a real shower stall and more than just a sheet on my bed. It's amazing how low my standards become sometimes.
At reception, I was also excited to slip the arabic word for "pen" into the conversation. They gave me a form to fill out, but no pen. NO PEN!! hehe.. As casually as possible, I said "Qualam?" and the man handed me a pen. I know the following words/phrases in arabic:
Hello, I wish you peace!
goodbye, I wish you peace
mountain goat
thank you
Mountain goat I learned on Mt Sinai from Husam #2. He was bounding up the mountain so fast, that I said "you are like a mountain goat! what is the arabic word for mountain goat?" "Mazza!"
So if I were to form a real sentence in arabic, the only conversation I could have would be with a mountain goat, and it would go something like this:
"Hello, mountain goat, I wish you peace! Is this a pen? Or is it a book? it's a pen, yes? no? thank you. OK, Goodbye."
And I would say it like this:
Esaalamu alikum, Mazza! Hathi Qualam? Hathi Kitaab? Nam? La? Shukran. Masallama!"
After check-in, a man walked me to my room, and said "you speak arabic?"
"no, not really"
"you know the word for pen"
"oh, I only know about 5 words. Qualam, Nam, La, Mazza, Kitaab"
The man laughed at me.
Here's my new balcony, with real furniture. Sunset view from the balcony at the top of the page.

My lovely new room:

I unpacked as quickly as possible, and ran to reception to ask about a dive or snorkeling equipment. Where the man told me what I least expected - "there has been a shark attack, and there is no going in the water today". In the whole town. For two days. I pouted and asked him "even if I don't go far from shore?" He responded, waving his hand back and forth tentatively "eeeeh, I don't think good idea today". Apparently the shark attack made some international headlines because a friend in New York sent me a message via facebook to make sure I wasn't attacked by the shark, after my excited facebook posts about diving.
I just relaxed by the lovely pool and wandered into town, spotted an egyptian place called Tam Tam, where I had a delicious dinner (grilled meat and more fuul!), then went to bed after arranging an early 5:45 AM "egyptian breakfast". For less than $20, I got all of this, and it was amazing!!

Falafel, fuul, black coffee, several pastries and breads (which I made into little cheese sandwiches for the long bus ride), spanish omelette.
at 7AM after a very confusing taxi ride, I boarded my 7 hour bus to Cairo. Women and men can't sit next to each other, and I sat next to a friendly little 20-something chatterbox in a bedazzled veil. She talked to me in Arabic even though I couldn't speak back, so we relied on my arabic-english translation book. She had all kinds of food, too, and offered me everything first. sandwich, soda, potato chips, ice cream, cookies, etc. I refused everything with a nice "shukran" but finally I tried two pumpkin seed-looking things, just for fun. I pretended to like them so she poured about 30 on my book for me to eat. They were nice and salty but would not break down in my mouth, no matter how long I chewed. She wasn't spitting any seeds out either, so I knew I was eating them properly. I just ended up swallowing most of them whole. We stopped at a few gas station places, where I bought some cookies and offered them around to everyone just like she had. We stopped at a few official looking border-control type places where a man in uniform would come on the bus, walk up to me and me only, asking for my passport. I was the only non-egyptian on the bus. But everyone was completely nice and there were no problems whatsoever. My view to the left:

My view to the right, the entire way:

It was pretty monotonous, and I had time to read an entire book cover to cover.
I am now in Cairo in the embassy district, which is a nice safe neighborhood of tree-lined streets and old mansions. My hotel is run by Germans, and when I called them from Sharm el Sheikh and gave them my name, the woman on the phone asked me excitedly "are you German? Is a very German name!" I said no, but my ancestors were. I haven't taken any photos in Cairo with the exception of this sign which made me laugh:

Tomorrow maybe I'll go see the pyramids and I might meet up with my friend Trisha's friend, who is studying here at the American University. So far so good in Cairo...


Elizabeth said...

No way! The Sofitel is where I stayed in Sharm! I really liked it. The hotel I mean. Sharm was fine, but all I saw there was the Sofitel and the little downtown area that screams Spring Break 1996.

And sharks are precisely what I was referring to in my previous post comment. Freaked me the f*@k out!!

Elizabeth said...

Okay sorry! Whe I saw Sofitel I had to jump over and make a comment and then jump back to finish reading.

I can't wait to hear what you think about Cairo. And if you really go to the pyramids!

Trisha said...

Seeing your FB post when I woke up yesterday totally made my day! I'm so glad you & Ellen got to meet up :)

But wait - no photos of the bedazzled veil?