After having spent a wonderful but too short time in Bavaria, where I finally convinced David that Bavarian beer is the best beer in the world, my mom dropped us at the Munich airport where we would take our flight to Hurghada, Egypt. We were already running a little late when we got to the check-in desk where the lady working asked if David had a visa. We triple checked long before and were sure that we would be able to get the visa when we would arrived in the country. The airline employee seemed to be very sure that we would only get a 15 day visa and wasn’t too happy that we couldn’t present a return ticket as we would be starting our Africa overland trip from Cairo to Capetown. She finally sent us off on our on risk. Being a little worried now, we noticed that we both forgot to print the confirmation page from the tour company, which they advised us to do in case of issues in Egypt. We rushed to the information center at the airport and printed them out. After going through security we were somehow still on time and could finally start to look forward to our trip.
We arrived at Hurghada airport after a four hour flight and were greeted by 40 degree celsius weather. We headed into customs and hoped we would get the visa without any problems. We noticed that it was all made perfectly easy for tourists, as the indications were all in English, German, and Russian. We lined up where it said Visa and without even asking one question we paid 25 Dollars or 24 Euros each, they accept both currencies. We then had to pass through the actual passport check, but even there we got by without any questions and we found out that the visa would be valid for 30 days. All our, or maybe mostly my, worries were for nothing.
We grabbed our backpacks and headed outside the airport to find a taxi. It seemed like we were almost the only tourists that hadn’t book the trip with a big travel agency, but after asking around a bit we found the taxis. We definitely overpaid for the taxi ride to our hostel in downtown, as we were charged 20 dollars, but we were too exhausted to try to negotiate. After a 20 min taxi ride we got to the Hostel 4 Seasons in the old downtown of Hurghada, El Dahar. We received a friendly welcome by the owner of the hostel with a nice cup of Egyptian tea, and we asked him right away about scuba diving courses. The hostel had his own diving school right next to it, Prince Diving/White Whale Diving. Although it was already around 7pm, we could still book a diving trip for me and a PADI Open Water Diver Course for David. We were super excited about that and especially about how cheap it was! Two tank dives, including almost the whole day on a boat and lunch were only 30 Euros, and David´s OWD course was only 235 Euros for three days.
The hostel wasn’t super clean or very new, but the friendly and helpful people, as well as the great price made it a great place to stay. A big bonus was having a much needed air conditioner in our room! We paid around 20 dollars per night for a double room with private bathroom. We didn’t get any food on the plane so we headed out to find a good restaurant with local Egyptian food. The owner of the hostel made it sound like there would be a ton of options around, but we couldn’t find too many places that would offer Egyptian food, so we ended up at a small place, the Canarian Steakhouse, around the corner. The small restaurant had some local dishes on their menu and the cutest little cats waiting to get sneaked some food. The Egyptian dishes were super cheap, being under 2 dollars per meal. We thought that for this price the rations would be small, so we ordered plenty. To our surprise it was more food that we could eat, so the little cat got its fair share. Old downtown where we stayed seemed to already have had seen its best or more busy days. A lot of shops seemed to have been closed down and the restaurants and cafes were quite empty.
The next morning we got up early and had a quick breakfast at the hostel, which was included in the price and nothing too special, but it filled our stomachs. At breakfast we met the only other foreigner that was staying at the hostel with us, Jacy from Switzerland. She’d also be going diving with us, and would end up being my dive buddy as David had to go with an instructor to do some exercises for the course. We were picked up by one of the instructors and driven to the harbor, where we would get on the boat. Our boat the “White Whale” wasn’t new, but still in pretty good and clean shape. The best part was the big sundeck, with benches and tables to sit and relax. We seemed to have gotten there pretty early as we still had to wait about 45 min til the boat finally headed out to the Red Sea. In the meantime it filled up with quite a lot of people, of which a lot would later just go snorkeling or enjoy the day out at the sea, where it was so much cooler than in the city. David got a introduction to diving and Jacy and I went downstairs to get our equipment ready and receive the briefing for the dive. Although there were a lot of people and divers, the groups were really small. It was only three of us and the instructor who would dive together. After a 50 min boat ride we got to the first dive site.
The reefs were great! There were a lot of different kinds of hard and soft coral, most of which seemed to be in pretty good condition. We also got to see lots of different fish, some bluespotted ribbontail rays, and eels. After about 50 minutes we ended the dive and got back on the boat, where David was already waiting. We got some rest on the upper deck and got served lunch before heading to the second dive site.
The second dive was even better than the first, mainly because on the first I had picked some fins that were too small, and couldn’t feel my feet anymore. After everybody had finished their dives the boat drove back to shore, where one of the instructors took us back to the hostel. We were pretty exhausted from the long day in the sun, so we just had a quick dinner in one of the restaurants nearby and headed to bed early.
The second day of of diving was very good too, especially because there were way less people on the boat this day and everything seemed a little more organized. David and I finally got to dive together which was great! We saw beautiful coral gardens, two octopus, which could change their color and a few stonefish. Some of the stonefish were very well camouflaged, and therefore really hard to spot. Stonefish can adapt to the surrounding stone or reef color and are very poisonous to humans. Touching them or stepping on them would be a very bad idea, as the venom could lead to death.
Our third day of diving in the Red Sea would become our most exciting. The day before I asked the dive instructors various times if we could go to a dive site where we could maybe see some dolphins. They told me there is one place where they tend to see them but no promises would be made. On the actual day we then didn’t go to that site, so I was a little disappointed and about to give up my hopes to get to dive or swim with a dolphin in the wild. The dives themselves were just as great as the days before, but the most amazing thing would happen just after we finished our second dive. Only minutes after we were back on the boat, one of the helpers on the boat shouted out that he saw a dolphin not far from the boat. At first I didn’t believe him, but then I saw it too, and it didn’t seem to be too far away from out boat. We grabbed our masks and snorkels and jumped back into the water as fast as we could. We raced to where we last saw them and then after two minutes or so we could see the dolphin just a few meters from us.
It didn’t seem to be afraid of us, just the contrary, it came really close to us and swam around us in circles before going down and playing with the corals below us. After a few minutes it came back up with a small piece of coral in it’s mouth. It seemed to be playing with the coral, as it kept dropping and catching it. Suddenly we saw a second dolphin swimming toward us. We kept watching them and swimming with them for another 15 minutes or so until the dive instructors called us back on the boat. It was one of the most incredible experiences I ever had and I would have liked to stay out there with the dolphins forever.
Besides having seen the dolphins and the amazing corals in the Red Sea, David also finished his OWD course this day, so from now on we could finally go dive together anywhere without problems. To celebrate that we decided we would go on yet another dive trip the next day!
On our forth day of Scuba diving we didn’t see anymore dolphins, but the dives were great anyway. We saw two sea turtles and a big squid. Besides getting to see all the great underwater life, just spending time out of the hot city of Hurghada on that boat was really nice. After the dives we always swam around or snorkeled for a bit.
For our last day in Hurghada we decided to do something else. David had always wanted to ride on camels, so when we saw that our hostel offered desert safari tours where you’d get to ride on camels, we decided to book it. There was no option which would only let us ride camels, so we booked a complete safari trip, including lunch, jeep and camel ride, and a visit to a Bedouin village for 20 dollars per person. We got picked up by an old Land Cruiser around lunchtime, and it stopped a few more times at other hotels where more people would get on. We didn’t really know what to expect from the whole trip, but definitely not what we would find when we finally arrived. The whole complex, called Safari Land, was huge. We were lead to a kind of welcome area, with carpets under some shady huts where we would be split up into groups depending on which country you where from. After about 10 minutes and some tea our guide picked us up to go quad riding, even though we didn’t book that option. I am not a big fan of that so I sat behind David, while he drove it. It was all very touristy and therefore we had to stay in a straight line driving behind the guide, not going any faster than 20 miles/hour.
After this not so very exciting experience we were lead back to the waiting area, where we soon got offered to ride on donkeys or a horse carriage. Seeing that the animals weren’t be treated so nicely we decided to skip that part. Soon the rest of our group came back and we were led to some other jeeps to drive to the Bedouin village. We were hoping for some more authentic, traditional lifestyle there, but the whole place still seemed like it was build for the tourists, with even proper bathrooms and more sitting areas installed.
We saw the camels when we arrived and got excited to ride on them, but soon we figured out that the Bedouins would just lead the camels about 50 meters in one direction and then back. Nevertheless we got on them and rode for about five minutes. We were both pretty disappointed by this. I had ridden camels before but David hadn’t, so I had hoped we would be able to ride them without them being walked by guides for such a short time. Overall I wish it had been very different.
We got off the camels, and were lead around the Bedouin village some more, where we watched some women making traditional bread and a man knitting scarfs. Both seemed to be purely set up for the huge amounts of tourists arriving there daily. After that we just sat around and waited to be taken back to the main area in the jeep, where we would then get dinner. The food was okay, being mainly the same food (rice, noodles and veggies or meat) anywhere we went in Hurghada. We finished our food quite fast and were led to another area, where we would get to see a traditional show. We waited for about 30 minutes, when the show finally seemed to start. Without any announcement or introduction, the assistant of the performer (Fakir) went around looking for volunteers. He tried to get me up on the stage but I wasn’t too keen on that. The Fakir laid down on a board of needles and walked over what seemed to be broken glass while having people stand on him or carrying them. The second act was a girl doing a belly dance, but surprisingly there doesn’t seem to be a need to show your belly for that as she wore a full dress. The last performer was a man spinning around for ten minutes in a traditional dress. The second the show ended we were rushed to the parking space, where it then took the guides quite a while to get the hundreds of tourists into their buses or jeeps. We definitely wouldn’t recommend doing this Safari in Hurghada, the whole experience was completely different than we hoped for and we arrived back at our hostel pretty disappointed.
The next morning we got up early to pack all our stuff and head to the Go Bus station, one of the highest recommended bus companies in Egypt, with different price classes and a lot of departures every day. We would take a bus to Cairo to see the National Museum, the real mummies of the kings and queens of ancient Egypt, see the Pyramids of Giza, and meet up with the group of our expedition and start our overland trip through Africa! Over the next 4+ months we’ll overland through 15 countries, camping most of the time, and getting away from the tourists and off the beaten track. It may become longer between posts as internet won’t be very common, much less showers and electricity! Make sure to read up as we post more on Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and head down to Sudan!