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Na'ama Bay Jetty

ISSUE 3 ARCHIVE - STAYING CALM IN SHARM

My girlfriend says I've got an anger problem.

"Bull****" I say, "that traffic warden deserved the public oral humiliation"

"But you told him you were going to find his family and take out a contract on them. You said you knew the Albanians that would do it. You also said you would not rest until anyone he's ever known is rotting in a pus-filled-hell-grave. Don't you think that's a bit excessive?"

I don't reply.

"He didn't even give you a ticket..." she finishes.

OK. Maybe she has a point.

So I think there's only one way to show her I can change. Then she can stop bloody well giving me articles out of magazines written by earnest tanktopped beardy Swiss psychologists who deserve a smacking in my book. So let's go to a place that not only can inspire, but also deeply frustrate, irritate, annihilate and get even Mother Bleedin' Theresa in a state.

Lets go to Sharm el Sheikh. It always starts at the airport, doesn't it? And I'm talking back home here in Blighty. A friend once commented, in the days before the joyous Eurotunnel, that a cross channel ferry was the nearest he got to being on a council estate.

Well that's all over for P&O, so step forward Gatwick Airport. Proud owner of the "Place-with-most-people-I-normally-try- to-avoid" award 2002-8. A trick to miss the Burberried queues is to travel first class on the Gatwick Express. This may sound a bit excessive, but it's only 7 quid more than regular class AND the last time I went I was given an Express Pass to go straight to the front of the Customs queue. Awesome. That will save you an hour. And once plane-side the best place to hide from the troglodytes screaming at their kids across the lounge "Lee, come and get your Ritalin.." is of course a bookshop. For obvious reasons.
Halcyon Eclipse Infinity
So you're out of England, and not even a care in the world. Look forward to touchdown in the hazy heat of the desert. Now here's some fine advice from the top. On arrival you will need a visa. Over on the left is where you get them. And then you will need to check through customs. That's over on the right. This can take forever. So I always get a "meeter and greeter".

Slick, networked and loaded with baksheesh for those in high places. My record was 3 minutes from stepping into the airport building to being by the baggage carousel. These guys will sort your visa, take you through the "special customs area" and even stamp your passport. Not bad for 20 which includes the visa. Most dive companies will include this as part of their holiday package, so make sure you have it too.

Here we are then. Still cool, just the bags to come. (For the smokers out there, you can light up in this area. Despite the no smoking signs, all the staff seem to!)

I love baggage, me. It doesn't matter which class you travel. It doesn't matter who the hell you are. Baggage is the leveller. You all have to wait, hypnotically expectant, as the carousel turns slowly, with everyone else's stuff except yours. A watched kettle never boils. Sod that. The closer you stand to the input on the carousel, the longer it takes for your bag to come off. That's the modern metaphor.

We're there now. Checked into our marble-floored hotel for the week and diving tomorrow. Yeehah! I'll leave liveaboards alone for this piece, so let's focus on the day-boats, as that will be most people's week.

When staying calm in Sharm forewarned is forearmed. So here is what WILL happen to you.

It's an 8am pickup from your hotel in a cramped minibus. Yet more people are picked up from other outlying hotels. Everyone's fins are in your face, and the damn thing still can't drop you at the jetty. You have to walk a whole lot of the way due to the "no vehicle" restrictions. Shitty normally but a total bummer with your first hangover of the holiday.

Then you know what? The bloody boat will chug an hour plus, only to moor right off the beach where you are staying. You can even see your sodding room, and the Germans in the suite next door taking an overt interest in your girlfriend's bikini bottoms drying on the balcony rail. Just shout "Leave it Heinz...she's got Chlamydia". That'll keep them away.

It has taken two hours just to arrive a 5 minute swim from your room.
Regaldive
Why is this so? Well chill home boy it's the new standards. The check dive and I welcome it. Due to too many rogue divers and dodgy certs, the dive shops now insist on seeing that you actually know what you are doing. Less accidents all round. So whether you are an instructor or even have dived the day before with another school you still have to be do a "check dive". And that happens most often on that trilogy of dives "the Gardens" opposite where you may be staying.

"Blame the Russians", I was told, "they're mental and make Italian divers look like Eco-warriors."

But I won't (because I'm a mellow man now), and that's because some of the best stuff I've seen out there has been on these dives, shallow and really long. It gives you time to examine the minutae of reef life, rather than passing by in search of bigger targets. Cheers Boris and his missus from Minsk there's a vodka and a potato waiting for you here in my mini-bar.

Well, so far so good. We've got this far, and not so much as a bad word to anyone. Time to really show the lady I'm as cool as a sea cucumber. Let's go to Ras Mohammed. The signature dive of Sharm, and the one that can create the most aggro. This is for two reasons:

Numero uno: the drop in for the dive has to be close to the reef, and often there is one hell of a swell. Your brief is to ALL be ready to go in real quick. Bam bam bam 15 second intervals all off the boat so it doesn't mush you to a pulp and frag the coral. But there's always one isn't there? You've already seen that diver. Late for briefings, spills the coffee on you, and manages to block the toilet. Loses their mask and drops their weight belt on your new camera. Eejit.

Well divers, this person will have everyone using half their air on the swelling surface at Ras as they go for a last minute pee, just as everyone giant strides off the back of the boat. Be warned.

Solution: spot them before anyone else does and ask to buddy up. You get to keep all your air whilst you shrug like a French President to your drowning comrades from the boat as they have to hear your buddy pump the bog-handle.

Numero two-o: Ras can be a long dive depending on your drop in. There's strong currents to swim in to. Depth. And tank-sucking awe inspiring shit to see. Expect to get low on air. And what happens divers when we get low on air? Yes indeedy up we come early. And where does an unmoored boat go whilst you are on the Ras a precious reefed swell city? Yup a long way away.

So do not expect your taxi to be right there on surfacing. It can take a quarter of an hour in my experience for the bugger to get to you. Now here's the Diver Calm trick.

Regaldive
Do not, and I mean DO NOT think or feel or ever remember seeing Open Water. The fact that you are on your own bobbing in potentially sharked water does NOT mean you will be attacked or eaten. You have more chance of being hit by a meteorite out there in the open sea. Or even hit by a bus.

Got it. OK. Relaaaaaax. All the same just don't piss your suit. You know it attracts them. Likewise, when a boat does come, best you know which one is yours. Here's an extract from a true conversation:

"Hello diver are you OK and need picking up which is your boat?"

"El-something or other. It's white with an Egyptian flag. The captain's called Mohammed."

"All boats are this Sir!"

"OK, the toilet is blocked and you served chicken wings for lunch. And crisps. There's free coke in a white ice-box..."

"All boats are this Sir!"

Etcetera! It took 5 boats to come up before the diver recognised theirs. It was a true conversation because it was my conversation. So you Calm- Sharmers always make a mental note of your boat's name before getting off the damn thing. Or leave a marker for the crew to recognise, so you know it's your boat. "There's a sticker of Woody out of the Bay City Rollers on the bog door." That sort of thing.

Right, what shall we do tonight? Let's hit Naama Bay surely just one big pleasurable experience and no hassle whatsoever.

"No thanks I'm OK for Arabic coffee right now."

"Yes mate, your fish look lovely left out in front of your restaurant like that, all day. Maybe we'll eat later with you."

"No, I don't think we want Chinese tonight".

"Taxi?? We've only just gotten here."

You can feel your remdemptive fury beginning to well up, and prove all your girlfriend's worst fears. Here's the cure... just get to the Camel Bar. And head right to the very top. Big wide cushions and quick service. Decent food, and more of a diver hangout than most bars in town.
Nautilus Lifeline
The floor below has the sports viewing/ monkey nut throwing arena, though it has recently had a make-over so some of the old charm has gone.

There are plenty of fine spots on the strip in Naama, but to tell the truth, after a hard day's diving it can be a little too much at times. So may I suggest a relaxed tranquil dining experience for young lovers. Check out the Indian at the Sofitel, and likewise my favourite, the Thai at the Hyatt. Awesome food, service and a view to brand itself onto your memory glands.

Surveys show that most rows in restaurants are a consequence of slow service, shit booze and worse food. As Brits, we are too polite to complain to waiters, so we take it out on our loved ones. So when I've got to get it right by the bird and be cool, it has to be imported wine and recognisable grub in Egypt.

Right, done eating, home or clubbing? Do you really want to be surrounded by half naked Russian models gyrating up against your hardened dive body? Do you really need casual, no strings attatched sex with three Italian girls on the beach by the bay?

NO nor do I, so let's forget Pasha or the Hard Rock as we need to save energy for something very important. It's time to get a Sharm taxi (cue heavy demonstrative organ music) dun dun dun daaaaaaaaaaa.

Oh it used to be so easy in the old days before the bombing. The rank was close, organised with its own police and even had a price list of fares. That way you could make sure you were being ripped off legally. Now its bleedin' chaos. A long walk all the way past the coffee vendors to the main road. What's so hard about that, eh?

Well divers, up those streets danger lurks. Nastier than fire coral. More persistent than a triggerfish the Taxi Tout. He lies in wait in a door shop, sees your stagger and direction and just knows there's easy pickings to be made. Always friendly to start with a "hello where you from?", but always belligerent in the end "something for me, I help you home."

Diving Leisure London
I have had and heard too many bitter rows and had too many sulks from girlfriends at my behaviour back to touts, to do it all again the old way. I am a new man. Here's what I do now:

Stand in the street and say in a loud shouty Brian Blessed sort of way: "My esteemed Egyptian hosts. I now need a short trip back to my hotel in a Peugeot 504. I know in central London, even at 2am on New Year's Day this would only cost a tenner. However now, I would like to pay more. I also know where to get these cabs from and know there will be lots of them waiting for my business. But I frankly cannot be arsed to walk there and negotiate alone. Who will help me? I also require that the taxi you choose for me has no lights or seat belts. If it has brake cables, I will be disappointed and if there is no Arabic music playing too loud from a temperamental tape player I will weep a thousand tears. If the driver knows the exact destination of my hotel then find me one who does not. And finally, but most importantly, your best friend who happens to be the first random driver you see, must and I mean MUST have no money with which to reimburse me the difference between the agreed fee and the bank note I give him on arrival." I've never been let down since.

Repeat x 6. Almost there and haven't done me nut yet. Only one more hurdle to go. The flight home. Good news Calm Sharmers, at last the airport has been finally sorted. That bloody scanner to get to your gate that caused a 500 person tailback has been removed. The only thing that can screw it all up is Tony Bloody Blair.

Here's why. Well Mr Holiday Home Sponger often goes to Sharm. When he's there guess who feels morally obliged to come a visiting? Indeedy, the Egyptian Pres'. And his trick is to block all flights and departures for a 2 hour window of his arrival in El-Airforce 1. Chaos then ensues for the weary traveller home. My last experience was a 200 metre tailback to get INTO the airport because of this scenario.

A plea from all divers to Tone. Can you please holiday somewhere where people don't give a toss about you, don't want to see you thus not screwing up all the flights. Then I don't have to crap myself in a 3 hour game of sardines as my flight shows "departed". Go to Magaloufe like every one else.

And to prevent this happening to me again, to put that last piece of the sangfroid jigsaw into place? I go to Jordan. Less Neuveux-Catholics.
Ocean Visions

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