It was an adventure to end our Peace Corps duty with a diving trip to the Red Sea. It was my husband’s dream, and after he followed mine for 26 months of living and working in the Republic of Armenia, I said, “OK” -- with reluctance. After all it was Egypt and Ramadan Season plus after a rash of terrible sexual harassment incidents of women so I was scared, General Cici was now in control of the government and hundreds were sentenced to death for being in the Brotherhood….My imagination was taking over and for weeks I worried about this trip, not just the Big Boy diving but the logistics. However, I didn’t need to worry one bit because Irene Beck at Fly & Sea Dive Adventures had everything taken care of. We said our goodbyes and took a 3 hour taxi trip to Yerevan (the capital of Armenia), then onto to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airlines. It was a great trip on this airline, eventually transferring onto to Cairo and to Hurgahada on Egypt Air. It only became confusing when we were in Cairo and had to pick up our dive bags and all our luggage and go outside to another terminal a long way off.
What a madhouse the Cairo airport is! Visas ($25 apiece) are purchased easily at a bank booth not a government office, but the lines for country entry in the huge building spanned its length! Then we went outside and tried to locate a way to get to Terminal 3 and avoid spending money on a taxi. Luckily people told us to wait for a bus, which eventually came and we got to the correct place. People were so kind and helpful. Thank you to Egyptians that helped us with where to get off and to our connection to Hurghada!
We were met in Hurghada along with other divers and transported-eventually – to the Hilton. One of the divers from another group was missing his dive bag and the greeter helped him communicate his loss to the airline, we sympathized with him-this was another worry I had had. All the divers got off at the Marriot and there was not an American among them. The hotel was not marked so my husband went in to check in, while I gathered our things-only to find out it was not our hotel. Ahhh!!!-but it looked so nice and was near so many eating spots and cafes and bars. Next time-this is the place to stay.
The Hilton was on the other side of the city. However, we could easily see our liveaboard from our window and the next day it was a nice little walk to board it. We had a gorgeous room on a corner of the 6th floor and with a large balcony to enjoy.The Hilton night did not come with any meal tickets, so that evening they were gracious enough to allow us to have a bowl of tomato soup and a breadstick for free. If you wanted to eat - and everything was buffet- it was $25 dollars apiece. The Emperor Elite crew took care of collecting all our things the next afternoon, so no worries-except that we were anxious to get this adventure started.
Once aboard we were orientated and checked for certifications and then cabins were assigned according to our preferences, which were made then or had been made in advance. My thoughtful husband chose a cabin next to the kitchen on the same level as the dining room, so I wouldn’t have to climb so many stairs, and it was convenient- but next time we will choose one at the next level up so we can open our door to the sea air, instead of having the air conditioner going all the time.
Now for the important part- the diving. Totally outrageous!!
I had mentioned Big Boy diving previously and it was all that. For me, with about 80 dives it was challenging, strenuous, and I learned a lot. There was a dive every morning about 6 am, one about 10 a.m. and another around 2 pm. It all depended on where we were. Long motoring took place in the evenings though there was one night dive that everyone enjoyed. We often had to climb into zodiacs and then do negative entries to get to where the sharks and other large pelagics were. Sometimes the current was a bit challenging, but the dive briefings were the most fantastic ones I have ever heard. They used Google Earth and multimedia to thoroughly explain everything. We would then break into groups –usually four groups with the 18 divers on board.Your group depended on what you wanted to do and see. The Dive Master always went in first to check things out then gave the ok. His name was MoMo and he was absolutely incredible in skill, knowledge and leadership command of the crew and hehad their respect with his kind demeanor .He is worth his weight in gold to this company, and I wonder if they know it. He was personable, friendly, and always ready to help you if you had a problem. The crew took great care of you from helping you with your suits, equipment, getting back in the zodiacs… and this was with only one meal a day because of their fasting for Ramadan! Although many only knew a few words of English if you needed to translate more there was always MoMoor the Dive Assistant, Akmed.
We met wonderful interesting people on this trip, and started some friendships that we hope can continue across the oceans. Many divers were from England, Europe, and a few from Australia; we counted more than 10 languages! This was often their second or third return to do “The Best of the Best” on the Emperor Elite. The meals were a bit mundane, but then the pastry chef made up for it with his elaborate snacks after every dive and platters of original desserts. The turkey they roasted one night was perfect and very festive.
Some of the women would put on a sundress for dinner and maybe a piece of jewelry, but other than a couple pairs of shorts and some light weight yoga pants and cool tops with a sweater or shawl for the evening breeze, you do not need many clothes. If you have an airconditioned room you might want a warm top to sleep in, but there is a nice comforter for every bed too.
Helpful advice would be to take Dramine with food at breakfast, never on an empty stomach, enjoy the spectacular blue underwater and lively company above water. Take a memory stick if you want the photos of othersso you can obtain them. I was able to take a Nitrox class in my down time and get certified for it, while others took a Deep DivingPadiclass.
I am very proud to say that at age 63 I can lead such an active diving life! Thank you Irene Beck, and Fly & Sea for all your efforts at planning another awesome trip that made many memories. It was not worth all the worries I had before taking this plunge, but I was definitely challenged while my husband was very supportive and it was such fun being together on this adventure.
As an after note-when the ship docked in Port Ghalib we were shuttled 3 hours in a comfortable van to our hotel in Hurghada, then easily made it to the airport the next day. Bring a couple snacks and a bottle of water from the liveaboard because you’ll get hungry by the time you get settled in, but the driver will stop at a place too for a bathroom break and for you to buy snacks. All in good measure, we indulged in a wonderful buffet at the Hilton where Russian families abound enjoying the swimming pool and sun.I am so glad we decided to spend a night before and after the trip, because we were tired from traveling! The opportunities for pictures of rural Egypt were plenty while traveling back to Hurghada and it was fascinating to see the building of little cities and/or resorts in the middle of the desert, or on the coast. Some divers continued their vacations with wind surfing …at these. But not us-we were anxious to be home after living and working two years abroad.
By Flor Constantino, July 2014 (Armenia 2012-2014)