Every once in a while you need to do something crazy and step out of your comfort zone. For us, it’s time to do just that. Therefore, we decide to go Winter diving not in the cold waters of the Arctic but in the warm winter sun of the Red Sea. Off to new horizons!
Bucket list items:
- Traveled to the African continent
- Visited the Pyramids of Giza
- Visited the Valley of the Kings
- Dived the Red Sea and saw a Longimanus
26.12.2023 (Tuesday) We take a relaxed lunchtime flight from Berlin to Hurghada. Prices had been crazy at the time of booking so we had to fly-in a day earlier. We get to experience the joy of BER airport, advising us to be there early due to staff shortage and opening the counter late due to staff shortage. The flight itself was uneventful.
In Hurghada, we were lucky to be out of the plane early and the first at the visa counter. I rush past the payment barrier as I take the people for travel salesmen. Michi manages. We pass quickly through immigration, collect our luggage and find our driver who takes us to Port Ghalib (110€). It’s a 1.5h drive as advertised, i.e. driving in the middle of the road, plenty of people in the wrong lane (Geisterfahrer), some of them without lights. Still, we make it safely to our resort, the Pickalbatross The Palace. It’s a humongous place, full of German all inclusive holiday guests. Benefit: We still get a dinner at 10pm.
27.12. (Wednesday) Today is nothing like a holiday. The alarm rings at 3:30 for our pickup to Luxor. Tarek, our driver, is 20min late but we learn that he already came 2h from Hurghada. It is not trivial to drive to Luxor. We need to go North to Safaga. In Safaga is a giant police checkpoint where we need to “register” (our driver hands papers to policemen) and pickup a second driver who will take us across the desert to Qina and on to Luxor. Apparently, the road is not considered save and can only be entered between 6am and 4pm (bad drivers, bandits,…). There is an obligatory stop half way. We reach Luxor around 10am. We start at Karnak Temple. The impressive structure towers over the crowds that push through the complex. It is considered the largest temple ever built. Over ca. 2000 years, Pharaohs have expanded the temple with ingenuity.
E.g. the over 100ton obelisks would be erected by building a cage around the site and fill it with sand. The obelisk is placed on top and the sand, which is then drained through a hole in the side. Slowly, the obelisk sinks until it is upright in its place.
From Karnak Temple we move to Luxor Temple. This temple is equally impressive but much less crowded. We look down the Avenue of the Sphinx (12.000 statues connecting Karnak and Luxor) and explore the temple. In this temple, the Pharao laid claim to being the son of Amun-Ra and built a birth chamber the depicts the story of his mother’s honeymoon and his birth – a form of deception the also Hatchpsuth employed to claim her throne.
We cross the Nile on a regular ferry and have a very quick lunch by the river.
On the way, we visit the Colossi of Memnon, two giant statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III next to the ruins of his temple.
Then we go to the valley of the kings. Mountains tower over the valley and it is understandable how Pharaohs might have thought that this place will not be found by grave robbers.
We first visit the tomb of Ramses IV (KV2), close to the entrance. One tour bus after another pushes into the grave while we wait outside the grave while our guide explains scenes from the different books of death that can be found in the graves. The grave itself is a great start to our exploration: a long hallway angles downward, walls filled with hiroglyphs. At the end is a big stone sarcophagus in a wonderfully painted burial chamber.
Next, we visit Ramses IX (KV6). It is a very colorful tomb. Panels protect the sides.
Finally, we visit the tomb of Seti I. We had bought tickets in advance. And it was worth it. We are completely alone as we descend the endless corridor into the tomb. A well aims to deterr robbers but we make it safely across into the ante chambers and further below into the magnificent burial chamber. The art on the walls is stunning and the air smells of exploration. A lone guard opens a set of side chambers for us. Just beautiful.
A strong headache prevents a further visit. We stop at a stone mason place and buy a few pricy souvenirs. Our last stop is the temple of Hatshepsut. The temple is laid beautifully into the mountainside. The interior is less striking and largely damaged by Hatshepsut’s son, whom she deprived of the throne and who took revenge.
Then it’s time to go back. I sleep most of the trip as we drive through busy streets and through the night back to Port Ghalib.
28.12. (Thursday) We sleep in. Finally. And explore the giant all-inclusive resort. We realize that it is not our cup of tea and we do not qualify, being ca 100kg short of the average guest’s weight.
At 2pm the Blue Team picks us up at our hotel and takes us to the marina, no more than 500m away. The hotel complex is built in the desert, with nothing around it. The Blue Storm is a giant boat. It will house 19 guests and 14 crew.We check-in, meet other people and relax.
29.12. (Friday) Today is the first day of sailing and diving.
We do the safety briefing in the morning, then the boat heads out into 1,5m waves while we have breakfast. We sail down the coast to a dive spot called Marsa Shouna. We do a test dive along the reef and spot alot of blue dotted rays and all sorts of reef fish.
The second dive is a zodiac dive. We head out to the end of the reef and drift back via the plates. We see 2 giant turtles as well as a smaller one. I am trying out my flash (with limited success) but manage to take a few shots. Michi manages down her led from advised 10kg to 2kg with 15l tank.
Super cool surprise is that I meet a former colleague from TU Berlin on the boat (she clearly has a better memory than me). Super exciting.
In the evening, we sail towards Brother Islands. The sea is rough so Michi skips dinner. We go to bed early.
30.12 (Saturday) The alarm sounds way to early. Wake-up is at 5:45, dive briefing at 6:15. We have anchored south of the small Brother Island.
We take the Zodiac out to the west site and drop onto a beautiful Gorgonia forest. Sea life is plentiful and we enjoy a nice dive.
I have a headache and struggle with breakfast. I rather sleep until the second dive. We drop in from the north on top of a cleaning station and are rewarded with a Thresher shark passing by in the distance. I am not super well and feed the fish at the surface. But I attract no further sharks.
I sleep again before the afternoon dive at big Brother Island.
We drop on top of Numubia and explore the wreck. We continue along the reef past Aida but hit a strong current. We turn around and drift over the reef back to the boat.
Shower, snacks, relax and dinner. Then we go to bed while the boat sails towards Daedalus.
31.12 (Sunday) The alarm rings at 5:40am. Again, it is much to early. Outside the window we see a lone lighthouse on the reef.
A Longimanus greets us, but again underneath the boat. Coffee, briefing, Zodiac, water. We dive the North East corner of Daedalus Reef. First, we try to spot Hammerheads in the blue but are not lucky. We follow the beautiful reef. We swim through three small bays where we see mostly reef fish. A crazy giant travely visit and shots between the divers.
In between dives, we relax on the sun deck and write dive journals. Our second dive is a beautiful drift dive along the South East Side. We drift through a beautiful coral garden. A curious barracuda circles. The current subsides and we glide along the beautiful reef. Anemone Fish vigorously defend their young. And a few banner fish are up for a foto shoot.
We sleep in the sun deck until it is time for my 100th dive. Michi decides that she has improved enough and will skip this dive. This may not have been the worst decision. We jump at the current split point with the plan to drift a bit. As soon as we hit the water, we get sucked into a strong current. We have less control than we would like to. Anemone City flies by. We need to cling to the reef to enjoy a huge Napoleon fish. We drift along the South West side, past the boats until we reach the shelter. Then we go up. Crazy dive. I will later learn that I have flooded a flash. But you have to make this experience as well if you want to get to 100.
We relax on the lounge deck and enjoy the last sunset of the year.
At 18:30, the crew invites us to a fantastic dinner in a wonderfully decorated dining hall. We eat and enjoy the evening. However, we decide to move the (anyway broken) clock forward to Kasachstan time and celebrate New Year 4h ahead of the rest of Egypt.
We sit for a short while and then go to bed (I am trying to save my flash but will not know until home if it is ok)
01.01. (Monday) the alarm rings at 5:40, just as on every other diving Monday. Day 2 at Daedalus. The atmosphere is a bit tense this morning, not clear why. There is a debate whether to cut Daedalus short by one dive and somebody demands to see the life vests. Eventually, we manage to get in the water. First dive is the North East section of the reef. It is sheltered from the current and we have a very relaxing dive. We see a swarm of barracudas that even perform a little tornado dance for us.
After breakfast, we go straight back to bed to wake up for the second dive. This time, we jump in on the east side of Daedalus and swim south. We see a big Napoleon fish who likes the attention of the divers. The dive guides call it Lady Gaga. We find clownfish who, again vigorously defend their offspring as well as a large number of reef fish. We push against the south currant but eventually turn around and end our dive.
Lunch, sleep, repeat: The last dive at Daedalus is a drift dive on the west side. This time, we enter after Anemone City and find much calmer current. Still, my SMB line comes loose in the current and I battle to get everything in order. Roughly 30bar later, everything is tidy again. As we drift by the boats I look up in hope to finally see a Longimanus, which we have seen repeatedly from the surface. And indeed, there it is. A bit distant but very clearly visible: the big fighter jet with its accompanying pilot fish. There goes another 30bar. The rest of the dive is easy going. We drift until we reach the sheltered area and swim along the reef until our exit point.
Back on deck, we have snacks and watch the boat diver untie the lines from the reef; a sterneous work as the mooring lines hang a few meters under water. We sail into the sunset and towards Elphinstone reef.
We eat dinner during the cruise and go to bed early. Around 11pm we reach the reef.
02.01. (Tuesday) We wake up next to 4 other dive boats that arrived during the night. Elphinstone gives us the typical reef look: only green water and breaking waves are signs of corals directly beneath the surface.
Our first dive is the south plateau. There is no current. We spot a turtle as well as a leopard torpedo electric ray – likely the fish with the coolest name in the Red Sea. On our way back, we run into our second dive group and see, how 15 divers surrounding a swimming turtle look like. We continue along the East Side of the reef and enjoy the fantastic reef landscape before we go back to the boat.
We sleep after breakfast until the second dive. This time, we do the North Plateau. Again, we have no current but also nothing big. Just a school of Jackfish who take the same interest in us as we in them.
After the second dive, we set sail towards Abu Dabbab. Abu Dabbab is a set of smaller reefs, a bit closer to Marsa Alam. We dive Abu Dabbab IV, cruising around the giant underwater pillars and photograph all the reef fish we had not yet photographed.
Final dive is the one and only night dive of the trip. Michi stays on the boat. As it is unguided, i.e. buddy teams only, I join two other divers for the dive. We dive at Abu Dabbab II. The reef forms a closed pocket, so when going inside, there is no way to get lost. Great. We enter into the water and after 5min lose one of our buddies. Great. At least we know where we are. After this act of smartness and heroism, we go looking and find him at the surface. After we rejoin, we explore the reef. The atmosphere is very nice due to massive coral rocks everywhere. We do not see anything special but a lot of small things, such as the little crabs that live in soft corals and a juvenile lion fish.
In the evening, we have a special dinner, soup, Spätzle, and steak. The food is really good but I must have gained 5kg over Christmas and this trip. I edit pictures and we go to sleep.
03.01. (Wednesday) A final time we get up at 5:45 to check our Nitrox levels and be ready for the dive at 6:15. A cold wind blows and we are freezing on the dive deck. We start the day with a Zodiac dive on Abu Dabbab III. We enter north of the reef and slowly make our way towards the reef past pillars and over coral rocks. We see many small reef fish and a giant Titan Triggerfish munching away on some coral or plain rock. Just as we reach out safety stop, a giant turtle takes off. I manage to swim side by side for a while. During the safety stop, we see a moray and a leopard torpedo electric ray from above. Despite 25°C the water feels cold, so I don’t mind being back on the boat
We have breakfast and settle our bills incl. tip for crew (ca. 120€ p.p. and dive guides, Captain, etc (ca 70€ p.p). Then it’s time for the final dive of the trip. It’s again Abu Dabbab II in buddy teams, without guide. This time Michi joins and we go off exploring. First stop is the week of the Heaven, a dive boat that burned down and sank during a check dive. Not much remains. We head South East along the walls of the reef. We find some blue spotted stingrays and clown fish. After one hour, we make our way back to the boat.
Diving the Read Sea was really nice. The reefs are fantastic. A few learnings are that
- we would look for the season (as we saw only 2 sharks during the week)
- make sure that we have an upper deck cabin again (this time we were lucky)
- go with 15l tanks, it is much more relaxed at our skill level
- really watch for the right weights (we both started heavily overweight)
- bring pockets for the SMB to avoid it unraveling
- open the camera as little as possible and clean all seals that were opened (no rush opening on the dive deck)
- bring a backup light for night dives
A few things went well, e.g. the second dive computer came in handy and camera and GoPro worked well.
After the dive, the crew starts to clean our things. It is all a bit of a rush and chaos. We escape and have lunch. After lunch, we sail for 2h back to Port Ghalib. The sea is quite rough, but we relax on the sun deck.
In Port Ghalib, we dry our dive gear and start to pack. Michi and I decide not to go out for drinks but stay on the boat. We start to pack and go to sleep early
04.01. (Thursday) We sleep in until 7:30. We pack our final things, have breakfast and say our goodbyes as we wait for the airport transfer. At Marsa Alam airport, we are greeted by strict security measures. Guards even search the underside of each vehicle. Inside, there are long queues for the entrance security check. We by a 15USD fast path, which gets us through quickly. The guard finds my SMB line to be a very dangerous wepon and I need to dispose it. Then we get on our sight seeing flight to Cairo. First, we fly along the cost with views on Safga and the road towards Luxor as well as Hurghada. Then we continue along the coast and turn west somewhere south of Cairo. We hit the Nile river and turn north to fly over the Great Pyramids. Finally, we turn east to fly across downtown Cairo towards the airport. Cairo is an enormeous city built in sandstone colors and covered in dust and air pollution from 24m people.
We are greeted by our friendly host Marie who picks us up at the airport and drives us to our hotel. The traffic in Cairo is thick and involves a lot of honking but at least everybody drives on their side of the road.
We stay on a houseboat on the Nile river on the west side of Zamalek Island. It must be truely the most unassuming entrance we have ever been priveledged to enter. We get of on a busy street, pass under a 1.5m high underpath – an off-ramp from a bridge and are led through a construction fence. Behind it lies a small river bank and our houseboat docked. We will inhabit the glass house on the upper floor with a fantastic view over the Nile canal – and, as we will learn at night, the dock of the music night cruises which blast loud egyptian music in the evening.
We relax, order pizza (!) and wait for Inke’s arrival at 9pm. Together, we go for a late dinner at Abu El Sid in Zamalek. Cairo does not lend itself to walking due to traffic and vistas. But we make it safely to the Abu El Sid. The athmosphere of the restaurant feels like a scene out of Agatha Christy’s Death on the Nile. We order traditional dishes and get a thumbs up from the waiter. The starters are great, the main dishes, Molokheya with Chicken – tasty but the sauce as a distinct slimey consistency, and Shin of Beef Abu Sid way – bones with only fat. We manage to eat plenty overall. We take an Uber home and go to bed.
05.01. (Friday) We wake up to a beautiful sunny day. Our hosts serve a sumpteous breakfast. We eat in our glasshouse and enjoy the start into the day.
Our first destination is the Egyptian Museum. We walk across Zamalek and the El Tahrir Bridge.
The Egyptian Museum catapults us back in time into something that looks like a 1960s museum storage. One sarcophagus over the user is stacked along the walls, one artefact next to the other is placed under badly made single pane glass in dark cupboards. But what we see is just stunning. Colorful and artistic sarcophagus, including that of Tutankahmun (not painted but inlayed with thousands of gem stones) and other artefacts from the graves.
From the Egyptian Museum, we take an Uber to the Coptic Quarter in the Old Cairo. Visiting the Coptic quarter is not trivial as it is a network of small alleys and almost hidden doorways to be explored. We start by visiting the lower levels.
We start with St. Georg’s Shrine with its big wooden door.
Next stop is the church of St Sergius and Bacchus, the oldest coptic worship place in Egypt.
We explore St Barbara church with a ceiling built like an arche, teh Ben Ezra Synagogue, and the church of St. Menas but take no pictures. We move back to the main street to visit the Church of St. Georg.
Next stop is St. Mary’s church and the Greek Orthodox cemetery – stay on the path, do not walk among the graves.
We walk past the Coptic Museum but do not feel inclined to visit another exhibition. Instead, we admire the Fortress Babylon – the birth place of Cairo – from the outside.
Our final stop is the Hanging Church. The church itself is beautiful, but most astonishing is the way it is build. Its foundation is built across two towers of the fortress of Babylon. Through windows in the floor, we can see the towers underneath and the floor ca. 15m below. Hence, the name “Hanging Church”.
We decide to go back to our house boat to relax. We call an Uber, and admire the local architecture, esp. straight angles, as we wait. Back at the houseboat, we eat and relax in the evening.
06.01. (Saturday) Today is the day: we will visit the Pyramids. After a short breakfast, we are picked up by our guide Nina and drive to Gize. On the way, we pass houses that have been half demolished (colors of the former rooms are still visible) to build the ring road. We drive over dusty roads when we see the three pyramids in the distance – the Great Pyramid (Cheops / Khufu) with a base of 233m and hight of 138m (originally 147m), Pyramid of Khafre with a base of 215m and hight of 136m (originally 143m) and the Pyramid of Menkaure with a base of 105m and hight of 65m.
We enter the complex from the gate at the Marriott Hotel and by tickets for the area (900EGP) and to enter the Cheops Pyramid (540EGP). On a plateau overlooking the city, we are greeted by the Great Pyramid – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is a marvel. Its sheer mass is astounding but also the precision in construction.
We feel like explorers as we enter the Pyramid through the grave robber entrance. A short hallway dug by the grave robbers leads to a ca. 1.5m x 1.5m wide hole that angles upwards. We need to duck and squeeze into the corridor. We follow the narrow passage for ca. 40m. Then, the passage opens into the Grand Gallery. The Gallery is 8m high and 40m long, angling upwards to reach the level of ca. 70m above the ground. The Gallery ends with nothing but a small hole at its end. We squeeze through another narrow tunnel and reach the King’s Chamber. The chamber is a simple room made of granit. It holds no inscriptions, pictures or artefacts, other than the sarcophagus of the king.
Happy and with a mobile phone full of pictures, we make our way back through the narrow tunnels. The morning air feels cold after the heat inside. We continue our exploration and walk around the Great Pyramid. We see the harbors for the boats for the afterlife as well as a lot of camels to ride for the tourists. Around the corner, the view opens towards the Pyramid of Khafre. The pyramid is slightly smaller, but the outer shell is still intact towards the tip of the pyramid. While we cannot go inside, we see an inscription by Ramses V, who ordered to take fallen stones from the pyramids to build his temple.
We continue with our minibus to the plateau from which we have a fantastic view of all three pyramids.
Last stop in Giza is the preparation temple, where the mumification was performed. A procession road leads from here to the pyramids. This road is guarded by the Sphinx.
Full of joy from this visit, we continue onwards. First, we grab some roasted sweet potatoes. Then we go on a journey to the beginning: to the first pyramid. We drive through the suburbs of Giza and see the poor rural live. In Sakkara, we start by visiting the museum.
The main attraction is the Pyramid of Djoser, the first pyramid. The tomb was originally planned as a mastaba, a rectangular building that houses the tomb. However, the mastaba has been extended twice and additional layers have been added on top so that it takes the shape of a pyramid.
Inside, a deep hole leads through the bed rock into the burrial chamber below.
Next, we visit the mastabas of more common people, esp. scrives. The mastabas are well decorated, telling of their owners wealths, but scenes are much more focused on the daily live compared to the stories in the graves of the Pharaos.
Lastly, we visit the Pyramid of Teti, which can easily mistaken for a pile of rubble. We visit the burial chamber below.
From the parking place, we can see the stone heap pyramid, the step pyramid, as well as two pyramids in the distance, one of which shows a change of angle in construction – hence its called the “Bent Pyramid”.
With a head full of impressions, we make our way back to Cairo. We get out at the Marriott in Zamalek built in a former palace. We eat burgers and relax. At sunset, we walk to the Cairo Tower. I manage to buy express tickets that get us up somewhat quickly, i.e. ca. 1h. We have a wonderful view over the city and even see the silouette of the pyramids in the distance.
We enjoy the evening in the restaurant at the base of the tower before going back to our houseboat for pizza and beer.
07.01. (Sunday) Today is our last day of this trip and the Copic Christmas Day. We start again with a wonderful breakfast in our houseboat. After breakfast, Nina picks us up for a tour of the Islamic quarter and the Grand Bazar (Chan el-Chalili). Our first stop is Bab al-Futhu, one of the gates in the old Islamic city wall. But first, we dive into the thicket of old streets until we find a crooket tower. This farytale building houses a glas blower. The man first opens his backdoor to lead us onto the cemetery (also called the city of dead, as many poor Egyptians live among the graves) and shows us the tomb of swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who died in Cairo in 1817. Next, he leads us up the tower for a view over the graveyard.
We emerge from the rabbit hole, which is the glasblowers home and pass the city gate on the opposite side of the street.
Our first stop is the al-Hakim mosque, which was built around 1000AD but reconstructed after an earthquake.
We follow the small streets of the Islamic quarter to Bayt al-Suhaymi, an old arabic house of a Sheikh, which is now turned into a museum.
We take a break opposite the Mosque Sultan al Zahir Barquq and watch a Derwich dance and drink coffee.
Afterwards, we dive into the alleyways of Chan el-Chalili. We drift past the stores, look at Egyptian souveniers, buy some spices and a scarf.
Finally, we snack on egyptian pancakes, very lofty crust filled with cheese, tuna, spicy paprika.
We drive back home past the citadelle and the surrounding mosques, past Tahrir Square to our houseboat. We relax for a while before we head out to our food tour.
We meet at the traffic crazy 6th of october bridge and drive to Al Bohi, a residential neighbourhood north of Zamalek on the West bank of the river. Our first stop is a railway market at El Nasr. As the name suggest, the market is built on a set of active railroad tracks. We try breakfast food in a small restaurant close to the market. The area is lively and the people sell bread, fruits and vegetables and even lifestock. Breakfast consists of Foul, Falafel made from beans, aubergine cooked and fried with sour sauce, mashed potatoes and cheese with tomatos and cucumbers. On the way back, we eat Fahir bread.
We walk south on Nadi Embaba Al Ryadi and stop at a drink store. We have sugar cane juice with and without lemon and relax a bit on the street.
Next stop is a typical lunch place, a magical cornershop.
The shop is a mixture of butcher shop and restaurant. I want to take a picture of the meet but the owner has a different idea. He hands me a 3kg piece of meat and a crocodile dundee-style knive. The shop cheers as I cut a nice slice of meat. After this little theatrical episode, we turn to the food. As starters, we eat Tahini, Baba Ganush and fermented vegetables. Main dishes are an Okra and meat tangerine, rice with tomato sauce and “paper meat”. The food is very nice and we survive a number of close calls with motorbikes shooting past our chairs.
Next, we explore the neighbourhoodand stop for some chips and fruits.
The dinner stop is a typical Koshary restaurant, El Zaeem. We eat a noodle tangerine.
On the street, we stop for a street food wrap – unfortunately with no time to try them.
The final stop is a dessert place on Taalat Harb. We fill whatever space is left in our stomachs with sweets.
Back at home, we pack and enjoy our glashouse for a last time.
08.01. (Monday) Today we fly back. Marie drives us to the airport at 6:15 for our flight at 10. Its a great time because the traffic is light and the lines at the airports are short. We get through airport security check, check-in, passport control (we, again, need to fill out an immigration card), and security. We relax in the lounge until we board the flight. It takes a while to take off and a long time after landing to connect the jetty (Munich airport has some bigger service issues). Luckily, our luggage arrives quickly and we drive home.