Note: I’ve been trying to write this for a good while now, so most of what you read was written just before I left, with the last bits added more recently. Guess I’m just lazy. Anyway, enough of that bollocks. Here it is.
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Well, I was toying with not starting this until I was actually back in the UK, but seeing as I have some free time I figured I’d try and jot down a few things now and see where it gets to.
Basically, tomorrow night I will be getting on a plane in Cairo and flying back to Manchester, on a one-way ticket, effectively bringing to an end my working in Egypt for the past 3 years.
It’s a little bit weird. But at the same time I’m looking forward to being back.
Anyway, the next stretch of text doesn’t really have a structure as of yet, but I’ve got a feeling it could be fairly long-winded, so I’ll try to break it up as best I can.
I first arrived in Egypt in the late hours of 4th November 2004 completely and utterly confused.
I was being met by someone I’d never met before, jumping on a bus with him, and taking another 12 hour journey to Marsa Alam before I could consider ‘settling in’.
The night I arrived in Cairo coincided with a popular local football match that had just finished, leaving huge traffic jams, excessive car horn blaring, and people running around all excited with victory. I was just confused.
After finally getting to the bus station and getting sat on a crowded bus, we set off and I tried (ineffectively) to get some sleep.
6 hours later we got to Hurghada, spent an hour driving around in a taxi trying to find a hotel where we could get a few hours of sleep before meeting guests that were arriving that night… all in the first day.
Another interesting fact that came up here was that when I arrived in Egypt, unbeknown to me, the month of Ramadan was already under way. Not speaking any Arabic, and not knowing the place, and being with Yasser who was fasting, effectively left me without food until sunset. That’s not a complaint by the way, it just added to the overall surreal atmosphere of the first few hours in the country, away from everything I knew and understood. It was all outweighed by the fact that once the sun did go down, we had some cracking local grub just around the corner from the hotel. Lots of foul, falafels and all that good stuff. Yasser was good company and did his utmost to make sure I was alright.
The next phase was out of his control though – going to the airport to collect a group of Polish guests who were heading down to the Marsa Alam camp with us. We went to the airport after eating, then proceeded to wait for roughly 6 hours as their flight was delayed. Champion.
So, by the time they arrived and we were finally able to set off to the Deep South Diving Center and Camp where I was to be learning the local dive sites for the next few weeks, I passed out in the back of the taxi and woke up when we arrived at the camp around sunrise, at 0600, my internal body clock completely out of sync with having had little sleep, and the only sleep achieved being during daylight hours. However, we quickly got stuff sorted, met Karim and the staff there, unpacked my dive gear, and a couple of hours later I was in the water checking my weights and seeing the local dive sites. The tiredness and confusion soon passed.
The Deep South Experience
The location and layout of the camp at Marsa Um Tundoba is great. With a hilltop open-fronted chillout spot (now decorated as a bar) able to look over the sea and sunrise to the east and towards the hills, mountains and sunset in the west, it provides pretty dramatic landscapes at any time of the day.
Powered by generators running for a few hours each day, with a small number of two person huts, with shared bathrooms and one large restaurant area with floor seating and having similar views to the bar area at the top of the hill, the whole camp was completely different to anything I could have pictured or imagined, but in a good way.
In all honesty, settling in took longer than I thought it would, most probably due to it being so dramatically different. The people were cool, the place was cool, the diving was… cool, and the mosquitoes feasted on my skin every night – they loved it, but it took me a while to manage any real sleep. Having never really encountered mosquitoes before (that I could remember anyway) they took some getting used to, and I spent the first few weeks covered in little red blotches. No amount of repellent seemed to work and in the end it seemed to come down to just working out the most efficient way of sleeping, being covered up, but not cooking yourself in the process. In my own humble way, I like to think I did friggin’ excellently conjuring up that solution. Kinda.
To be honest, there’s really not that much more I can add on the Deep South experience for those first 6 weeks without going into even more mundane detail than is necessary. After about two weeks there I had a 2 day spell of shitting brown water during which I was unable to do very much except feel sorry for myself but – touch wood – that was the only time during my entire time here that I ever got sick, which I think is par for the course. Your body takes a battering adjusting at first, and then just deals with it.
As already mentioned, my initial spell at Deep South was for just 6 weeks, after which I came back to the UK for Christmas and New Year. The original plan at that point was to come back to a basically-ready MV Tala, although in the end that wasn’t quite what happened.
Even when I was first leaving from Cairo, it was obvious the boat wasn’t going to be ready until I got back, and reasonably it was expected it would be a couple of months late. In the meantime I’d be back in Deep South continuing to learn the sites and generally get some diving in. Which is nice.
AG came down in January giving me a chance to video and listen in on Tech 1 classes – all good stuff – and myself and Faisal started doing some dives and managing to keep pushing myself bit by bit. There was a lot of good stuff to learn.
Various things continued to hold the boat up, and in turn my time at Deep South extended right until the end of May, when I came back for a little while before heading back out to join a finally finished Tala to have her first trips in late summer.
It’s fair to at least claim that this time was ‘wasted’ in terms of what I could have been earning. Whilst I probably earned more than most of the guys in the camp overall, it was still considerably less than I could have earned if I’d have stayed in the UK, even with the extra expenses involved with that.
And I don’t regret sticking it out at the camp at all, and would rather argue that the time really wasn’t wasted, if only from the standpoint of slowly getting used to the differences between being in Egypt and being in the UK (“Egyptian Time” is only a small part of this). Besides which, staying out allowed me to do plenty of diving, and get to know Karim and Faisal better, all of which have helped make the rest of my time out here much easier, and develop good friendships, as well as the other people I met through them.
No, I definitely wouldn’t take the different route if I had chance to choose again.
Other than that, there’s not much more to add to that intervening period. I was, of course, disappointed that the boat stuff hadn’t gone through as planned, but then I could hardly blame anyone for that, these things just happen, and it’s not as if I was the only person it not being ready would affect!
M/V Tala – The Early Phases
So, finally, towards the end of summer 2005, we started the first few trips with the newly finished boat, mainly with Russian guests.
At this point, it’s probably fair to say that our (Faisal’s and mine) collective liveaboard experiences didn’t really amount to much, my only previous trip being cut short by having to evacuate a guest to the chamber, and Faisal also being new to the game. We had on board an Egyptian guide who Faisal had had recommended and who seemed to talk the talk. In all honesty, he just failed to walk the walk. To me, in a purely personal opinion, I could never adapt to the guy. He seemed up himself, over-confident and nearly always wrong. He was difficult to get on with on a number of levels, although it’s probably fair to say that at least one of those levels I can take some of the blame for, in that I simply didn’t understand him as a person. He was nice enough, but it all seemed superficial. But I’m probably being harsh.
Anyway, we plodded on, spending most of the first year doing things my body really didn’t appreciate: diving our asses off, partying like crazy, sleeping minimally, and occasionally drinking excessively.
It was a lot of fun, but by the time it came for a rest, I think I actually heard my inner self subtly scream “Thank fuck for that!”. It was after that first season that I pretty much realized things needed to sharpen up in terms of doing things ‘properly’, as otherwise I simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with such a cycle – it makes it very easy to see how folk suffer burnout in that sort of environment.
The Latter Part
The remaining time there went remarkably quick, all things considered, and included some superb mini-projects and individual dives, and generally a lot of laughs. With the Egyptian guide gone from the boat, it was down to Faisal and I to run everything, pretty much off the top of our heads and, whilst it may not be too modest, I thing we finally did a pretty good job. We had difficulties, but managed to get round them (more credit to Faisal than me on that though), and plodded on through the season, still with a lot of merriment, but a little bit more toned down (overall) than the year before. Well, kinda…
Ironically, I also had during this time a couple of pissed off moments, as the blog will no doubt attest to but, looking back, I think they were more an example of me getting pissed off with myself than with whatever I’d choose to blame. Whatever the reason, it soon passed.
The season went well, and culminated in a fun week that was not only full of some great diving with a small, well qualified group, but also resulted in a small magazine article with my own text – that was quite cool to get.
Start of the next season had Mo come join us to work on the boat, meaning Faisal could take a bit more time off you, you know, be a boss. 🙂 Mo was a friend of Faisal’s from Beirut, and I think it’s fair to say the pair of us got on well right from the off, even if the first week was full of various problems. Having worked in diving in quite a few other places including Cypress and Beirut, Mo had plenty of experience and useful tips and was a lot of fun to have around. We also had a few great parties, and he did his best to educate me in some of the rules of The Game although, to be fair, I was shit.
That season passed, and Mo headed back to Lebanon for a while, putting myself and Faisal back on for the next season. In addition to that, we got a lot of help from Stijn, a Belgian dive guide who’d run the Belgian trips from Blue Paradise that we’d had on for a few weeks each season since the year before. Like with Mo, I found Stijn easy to get on with, and with a shed-load of experience running Belgian liveaboard trips in the Red Sea – whilst we didn’t always get the chance to party quite as hard with the Belgians as we did the Russians, we still got some insanely fun dives, usually making full use of the scooters and chasing sharks.
With that season ended, and my final one about to begin, Mo was back around for another fairly intensive season. In terms of things coming together and being more organized, I think it was clear by this season that it had been getting better all the time. The workload was heavy but we all seemed to gel properly and get things done. Nothing’s perfect, but as a comparison to where we had been and what we’d come to, I think it’s fair to say we’d done good.
Done and Dusted
And that was that. A quick(ish) run-down of my spending three years in Egypt. Although I finished this a lot later than when I originally started it, I’ve tried to skip through later things to keep from repeating myself – needless to say I could have gone on much longer with various little stories and anecdotes which, whilst they were funny to me, would probably not do much for any folks reading it.
I had a blast during my time there, and met some great people I’ll no doubt keep in touch with for a long time but, I guess, at the end of the day, three years was enough for me right now.
Do I have any regrets about doing it? None at all.
Did I give it up because I got bored of it? Not really. I’m still eager to dive and teach and enjoyed the work to the full while I was doing it.
Would I do it all again, given the chance? Damn right I would – I think I got plenty done in that time and got a lot out of it personally, not limited to life experience. I think the only difference if I was to do it again would be that I’d have to go ‘all out’ and actually live there, as opposed to the ‘Suitcase Living’ that I was doing recently.
Don’t misunderstand though, that was fun, but by the end of three years of doing it, it got tiresome. And I just don’t think I’m quite prepared to fully move away from the UK yet. Maybe I never will. We’ll see.