We Found Nemo!

4 May

So in a move making him the hands down winner of the Best Husband Ever Award, Patrick surprised me by booking a three-day trip to Dahab (my favorite Egypt destination) and arranging for Sammy to watch Finn while we were gone. Wow! Three days of laying on the beach, doing whatever I wanted, no schedule, no responsibilities, no poo,Β  and the knowledge that Finn would be happily playing with one of his favorite people in the world. To say that I was excited is an understatement.

Weeks before, I started picking out what books I would take with me. I would pull down every unread book from my shelf, read the back cover, flip it open to a random section and do a test read, then classify it into a pile to be further reviewed. I did this several times until I had two books set aside and ready, one for the plane and one for the beach.

We flew out early Friday morning while Finn was sleeping soundly, blissfully unaware that he was being abandoned in favor of a lounge chair and the sound of lapping waves. At the airport, we were turned away from the domestic terminal by a guy standing outside who told us to walk up the street five minutes and then take a bus to the other terminal. Egypt has destroyed every shred of faith that we have in our fellow human beings, so I went inside, checked around and it seemed that he was right. As we walked out to the parking lot, a man driving the Sheraton shuttle flagged us over. His bus was full of people in the wrong terminal. He ferried us over to the right one and we caught our flight with no problems.

We arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh and headed outside to hail a cab for the one hour ride to Dahab. Unlike Cairo, the cabbies there had figured out that if they join together, rather than compete with one another, they can make tourists pay whatever price they set. We stood around arguing and waiting for the price to go down, but they held strong. We didn’t pay as much as most tourists, but still more than we wanted. As soon as our driver drove past the last checkpoint before Dahab, he pulled over next to a shop and said “Dahab Coachhouse (the name of our B&B), right down there,” and pointed down the street while starting to unload our bag. Again, with no faith in humanity, Patrick ran down the street to make sure it really was there, while I refused to get out of the backseat of the cab so he couldn’t drive away. As suspected, there was nothing but a bunch of empty storefronts down the street. He insisted that he knew it and we were there. Patrick called the B&B’s owners, who got on the phone with the driver and told him that he was, in fact, nowhere near them and he knew it. He got off the phone to find us waiting in the car, glaring at him. After driving a few more kilometers, he tried to drop us again at a street corner. I gave him a death glare while Patrick checked with some men standing around and then called the B&B again. Again, our driver was just trying to get rid of us. Finally, we found the place, give him a weak tip, and stepping into the Dahab Coachhouse to begin our weekend.

Walking in through an ornate wood and iron door into a small clean white courtyard with bougainvillas creeping up the walls and the friendly owners, Nina and Mikkas greeting us enthusiastically, we left all our stresses behind and began our vacation. Our room was simple and wonderful. It felt like a little beach bungalow and had a hanging mosquito net around the bed that I thought was romantic and Patrick thought was annoying. We could see the Sea from our window (the hotel wasn’t on the beach but back about 50 metres alongside local residences and dive shops and decided to have breakfast and then go straight to the beach. When we checked reviews of the place on TripAdvisor, everyone raved about the delicious homemade breakfast. It didn’t disappoint. There were fresh lemony crepes, fresh fruit of every kind and homemade bread that was to die for.

We headed down to the beach and were surprised by how close it actually was. It was nice to be less than a minute walk, but still tucked back away from the busy boardwalk. The area we were in was definitely for backpackers, it had a really cool laidback vibe. Along the beach were little cafes with lounge chairs in and out of the shade. You could just perch there all day and have fresh juice or food whenever you want. We met a guy named Bebo who we were told to look for by Nina. He looked like an Egyptian surfer dude and was great in making sure we were happy and comfortable. We set up on two lounge chairs and spent the rest of the day alternately reading, sleeping, hopping into the water and snorkelling, sipping on fruit juice, and people watching. It was so lazy and perfect. We went into the water about four times to various reefs nearby. One was really amazing and clear but the waves were fierce so we didn’t spend too much time there. Around five, we headed back to take showers and then back out for dinner. All the beachfront restaurants have guys outside whose job is to entice tourists to come inside. It was a gauntlet of men asking us to check out their fresh seafood. We ended up eating at a little place where we ordered Indian dishes that weren’t fantastic, but good enough.

The next morning we got up and rented a car to drive to Mount Sinai and St. Catherine’s Monestary. It was nice to be out on the open road and the scenery was amazing. We got there and headed in. It was jam-packed with people, which we weren’t expecting. We fought the crowds and went into the art gallery where icons had been squirreled away and saved during the Iconoclastic Period when most icons were destroyed. The art and texts, some dating from the fifth and sixth centuries, were amazing. We went into the Basilica and were hurried through because the Monestary closes at noon. We rounded around to the enterance and went through again to get a better look. It was really interesting stuff.

After exploring the tiny nearby town for edible lunch options and failing, we bought a bag of chips and a couple Twinkies and headed back. I slept pretty much the whole way. We set up camp back on the beach at Bebo’s and spent the afternoon the same way as the day before. We swam out to a distant reef that was quite a ways away. pict0005We took it slow and on the way I spotted a sand dollar a few metres down and dove down and picked it up to add to my growing collection of sea finds-including sea glass and a starfish. pict0042We reached the reef and were stunned by the huge numbers of colorful fish. There was a school of large jet black ones just hanging out around us. We watched them for a while and swam on. Around this time I looked up and realized a forest of jellyfish was descending on us. Seriously, there were hundreds. The jellyfish here usually don’t sting, since their tentacles are so tiny, but we weren’t positive that the larger ones didn’t pack a punch, so I started to get nervous and we decided to head back. The whole way back we were navigating through the hundreds of jellyfish in front of us. I felt like I was in a video game trying to weave a path. Finally we got back and relaxed for a while longer before cleaning up and then going to a Thai restuarant that had the best chicken panaeng of my life. It was amazing!

Sunday morning we had a taxi take us out to thpict00841e Blue Hole, one of the best and most famous diving sites in the world. We dropped our stuff at a restaurant and headed out. It was slow going at first, the batteries in the digital camera that I rented from Nina and Mikkas died so Patrick went back to replace it. Meanwhile I watchedpict0036 scuba divers swimming underneath me and some freedivers who just blew my mind. They had powerful mermaid swin fins and nose respirators and would just dive and descend into the abyss for a few minutes and then back up. It was insane. pict0016

Patrick came back and then kept having trouble with his facemask until we switched and were both good. We swam and took lots of pictures. It was hard to get good ones and even the ones in focus dulled the brillant colors of the coral and fish. The pictures around this page are from here. We spent a good two hours exploring. There were these striped fish that swam around us, coming right up to our faces. I spotted my favorite fish, Dory from Finding Nemo and even found Nemo himself.pict0175 pict0033We swam down to another famous reef, The Bells, and then headed back. We climbed out of the water and our taxi driver came running up, rushing us to leave. He had another appointment to make, so we hopped in the back of the Jeep and flew full speed over the beach. It was scary and fun. At one point he started screaming “Lady, lady” and then something I didn’t understand. While I was trying to figure it out, the Jeep hit a huge bump and I almost flew out the back. He was trying to say “hold on, lady!”

We perched in the shade back at Bebo’s, ordered some lunch, and read for a while, then headed inside for showers and naps, then back out to Bebo’s. It was getting late so we decided to get dinner and get ready to go. We ended up stopping in a shop to pick up a few things, which took a little while. Then ordering and getting our food took more time, during which we realized we were going to be cutting it really close. While we waited for our food, I ran back to the room and packed up our stuff. We ate and got to our B&B and waiting taxi 15 minutes late. We said our goodbyes to Nina and Mikkas, settled the bill and hopped in the cab. It was at this point that we looked at the clock and realized we were probably going to miss our flight. It was a mad dash through the desert, with us urging our driver faster while Patrick calculated kilometres left to go and whether we might make it or not. We got to the airport, flew through security and to the desk, where the guy scolded us for being so late but issued our tickets and send us to the gate. At the gate, they pointed the bus that would take us out to the plane (planes here don’t go right up to the gate, you’re bused from the gate to the plane out on the tarmac. ) where we ran to and sat waiting to go. And waiting. And waiting. We waited for about 20 minutes (our flight was supposed to depart about 10 minutes ago) until the bus finally took us to the plane, where people were still loading and a fight broke out in front of us because everyone, and I mean everyone, was sitting in the wrong seats and the flight attendant was ready to start smacking people.

Patrick and I pulled up an episode of The Office on my iTouch and laughed the whole way to Cairo. Well, almost the whole way. As we were descending into the city, we hit major turbulance. The plane was jerking and bounching up and down, side to side. At first it felt like normal turbulence and then it got worse. The plane started dipping to one side and losing altitude rapidly. At several points it felt like we were in a freefall. The plane was creaking like it was going to snap apart at any second. It felt like the plane was really going to crash. I broke out in a cold sweat and remembered the Time Magazine article about how to survive a disaster. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to make it. Then finally, the plane righted itself and a minute later, landed. People were sighing with relief. The woman in front of me collapsed across her husband’s seat. I started crying, I couldn’t help it. It was the closest I think I’ve come to thinking I was going to die.

We grabbed our bag and caught a cab home, very glad to be heading back to our little boy. We both snuck into his room before we went to bed and patted his back, ran our fingers through his hair, adjusted his blanket over him, then adjusted it again. It was good to see him. It was a wonderful vacation, but now it’s time to get back to our kiddo and back to getting ready to leave. Finn & I fly to Chicago a week from today to start looking at houses in South Bend.

More pictures from our diving:

Patrick swimming with the fishes

Patrick swimming with the fishes

Cool Fishpict0069

Cool Fish

Jellyfish that wandered in front of me

Jellyfish that wandered in front of me

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8 Responses to “We Found Nemo!”

  1. Eric Chambers May 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm #

    What a cool, cool trip. Now I’m really ready for our visas to arrive so we can hit the Lagoons in Tahiti!

    By the way, tell Patrick that those “annoying” mosquito nets protect one from lymphatic filariasis and Rift Valley Fever (among other things). I could go into more detail but this is a family blog and decorum dictates that I speak not of such things.

  2. Dre May 4, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

    So THAT’S what they’re called – a “forest” of jellyfish. Silly me – I would have thought a “clutch” or “herd” or “gaggle”.

    I don’t know if you two live on the edge of disaster at all times or if you just have a wonderful way of describing your adventures. Either way, we’ve loved sharing your trips vicariously and on occasion, in person.

    Great pictures! I somehow never pictured the frail and weakened one swimming with the fishes. It was all I could do to get him to pass off his swimming merit badge.

  3. aprillee May 5, 2009 at 12:52 am #

    I am so glad that you had a great final trip in Egypt! We loved the Blue Hole and would totally recommend Dahab over Sharm to anyone! Enjoy your last week there!

  4. Patrick May 5, 2009 at 7:50 am #

    I’m pretty sure I never got my swimming merit badge. I think I got sports instead. And that was a stretch — there must have been an option for number-of-hours-watching-sports-on-TV instead of actual participation, and certainly not skill level.

    And Melissa forgot to mention that at St Catherine’s we touched the burning bush! It wasn’t burning, and didn’t look 3000 years old, but…

  5. Dre May 5, 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    Hmmm, you’re probably right. I must have been remembering your first summer of swim lessons when your teacher sent all the other students to other teachers so she could work with you exclusively. And all you did all summer was sit on the side of the pool wailing, and refusing to enter the water despite all bribes and threats. Shoulda stocked the pool with fish.

  6. Melissa May 5, 2009 at 9:03 pm #

    That sounds about as traumatic as my first swimming lessons, where my teacher repeatedly threatened to tie a rock to my neck to keep my head down.

  7. mom May 6, 2009 at 7:31 pm #

    What a great way to end your 2-year adventure!
    Now come home (USA.
    PLEASE.

  8. Casey May 6, 2009 at 7:48 pm #

    Wow Melissa, that sounds like SUCH a great way to leave Egypt. I love Dahab, it is my favorite place in all of Egypt. If only the travel wasn’t such a hassle! Good thing the in between is so good! Glad you had fun.

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