Dahab - Day 4 

Dahab, Egypt

As is commonly the case in mass market resort hotels, breakfast is a buffet and is also oftenly the case, what starts out at the beginning of the week as a delight starts to become old after a few days. The restaurant at the Iberhotel is pleasant, however with seating inside and outside. It serves a few Egyptian dishes such as Foul. One can also find the typical Mediterranean breakfast ensemble of cucumbers, tomatoes and olives.

After breakfast I head down to the windsurfing hut on the beach in front of the hotel to find out when my windsurfing lesson will take place for the day. Today the lesson was at 10:00 a.m. Today's lesson was about the "water start". This is the holy grail of windsurfing skills and I set the mastery of this as a goal for my trip to Dahab.

Today there's a different teacher, a polish guy, I think his name is something like Thomas or some Polish equivalent. Rob has been the instructor up until now and we have been practicing mostly beach starts. Rob is from the U.K. but is multilingual. He speaks to me in English. Thomas doesn't speak English so we communicate in German. The number of other people in the class can very from day to day as new people come, others leave to return home, and some decide to do some other activity for the day. The attendees are for the most part German or Eastern European.

The lessons last for about 2 hours. At the end of today's lesson, the water start remains elusive. I'm too tired to continue windsurfing and there is too much wind to go snorkelling, so I decide to do something different.

(Mountains west of the hotel)

I have another hobby which is called Geocaching. It's something like a treasure hunt in which you use coordinates posted on the internet along with a GPS device to find a hidden container called the cache. Weeks before starting my vacation, I have found a cache using the internet which I reckon is within a reasonable walking distance from the hotel. The cache is located in the mountains west of Dahab. Today I decide to go hunt for it. It takes about 35 minutes to reach the cache by foot from my hotel. The last stretch requires scrambling over loose rock and rubble but the cache is easily found. The location provides a good view over Dahab and across the gulf of Aqaba to Saudia Arabia. It's a very peaceful pause in the rugged desert. Lucky for me civilization is not far away because the vegetation is almost non-existant and without a good supply of water on hand, one would rapidly die of thirst. At the end of the day I'm happy to have been able to accomplish this little secondary mission which I had set for myself.
[ add comment ] ( 11 views ) permalink
Dahab - Day 3 

Dahab, Egypt

Tuesday my windsurfing lesson was scheduled for later in the day so I decided to take advantage of the extra time in the morning to visit another modest dive/snorkeling site a 15 minute walk down the coast from the Iberhotel. According to information I found on the internet, the site is called Lion Fish Rock. I took my wet suit along and tried it for the first time in Dahab. The site was upon first impression not spectacular but if one is a careful observer, one can discover new things to see in unlikely places. In this case I discovered conger eels for the first time as well as prawn goby fish and the Emperor Angel fish. :

1) Mustache conger (Conger cinereus) I came across this eel species two time. The first swam back into a hole to hide as I approached and then he stuck his head out and looked at me. The second was just poking its head out of its hiding place.
2) Klunzinger's Wrasse (Thalassoma klunzinger)
3) Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator)
4) Yellowtail Surgeonfish (Zebrasoma xanthurum)
5) Picasso Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus assasi)
6) Prawn Goby - I saw it sharing its hole with a shrimp
7) Sarcophyton Soft Coral (Sarcophyton trocheliophorum)
8) Mushroom Coral (Fungia sp.)
9) Domino (Dascyllus trimaculatus)
10) Pearl Toby (Canthigaster margaritata)
11) Worm-shell (Dendropoma maxima)
12) Comb jelly (Leucathea sp.?)
13) Blacktip grouper (Epinephelus fasciatus)

(Islands Dive Site)

When I returned to take my lesson it was clear that there wasn't enough wind for it. So I continued my fish watching at another dive site called "Islands" about 40 minutes walking east of the hotel. You can also catch a taxi for about 5 LE. There are certainly plenty of taxis about but they don't all agree on the same price for a ride. The hotel staff had tipped me off that the ride from Dahab bay into Dahab city should cost no more than 5 LE. It took me a few tries though to find a taxi that would take me at this price. This site was the most spectacular of the ones I had visited until then. The reef wall extended quite far down into the water.

New animal life I observed there.

1) Blackspotted Grunt (Plectorhynchus gaterinus)
2) Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus)
3) Checkerboard Wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus)
4) Parrotfish (Scarus sp.)
5) Sohal (Acanthurus sohal)
6) Unicornfish (Naso sp.)
7) Sulphur Damselfish (Pomacentrus sulfureus)
8) Whitebelly Damselfish (Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster)
9) Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis sp.) - he was well blended into his environment and not very large)
10) Clearfin Lionfish (Pterois radiata)
11) Slate Pencil Urchin (Heterocentrotus mammillatus)
12) Parson's Hat Urchin (Tripneustes gratilla)
13) Sticky Snake Sea Cucumber (Opheodesma grisea / Euapta godeffroyi)
14) Barracude (Sphyraena sp.)
15) Goldstriped Soapfish (Grammistes sexlineatus)
16) Doublebar bream (Acanthopagrus bifasciatus)
17) Red Sea Bird Wrasse (Gomphosus caeruleus)
18) Chevron Butterflyfish (Megaprotodon trifascialis)
19) Chestnut blenny - the color looked to be black (Cirripectes castaneus)

The wetsuite helped me stay out longer but even with it, I got chilly after a while, and my fingers got all tingly in the gloves. When I had had enough, I collected my things and walked back to the hotel as there was no taxi available to take me back.

As the sun sets early, its necessary to find something to do in the evening when it's too dark to be about. The Iberhotel offers a shuttle to the area called Assilah where there are many shops and restaurants. Here you can also find internet cafes which charge reasonable rates. Checking e-mail and blogging and such are good activities to do while waiting for the hotel restaurant to open for dinner.

I'm personally not one to partake in the activities organized by the hotel after dinner, so, as I'm usually pretty exhausted by the days activities I spend my remaining time quietly and go to bed pretty early.

A note for the future, I brought along the Economist magazine and a novel that I was already pretty far into but it would have been better to have even more reading material. There was only one English speaking channel on the television and that was BBC news. There are no international newspapers available at the hotel.
[ add comment ] ( 9 views ) permalink
Dahab - Day 2 

Dahab, Egypt

The Iberotel Hotel is located on Dahab bay, south of the city of Dahab. It's the last in a string of hotels on this stretch of beach, all of them offering some kind of windsurfing experience. And there are a lot of windsurfers here. As my windsurf instructor pointed out, all of the other windsurfing spots in Europe are closed for the season so the options are limited for Europeans wishing to winsurf at this time of year and they all come here.

Separating the bay from the Red Sea is a spit of sand that curls around it to form a lagoon. Across the bay from the Iberhotel is the sandy point of land and just beyond it is the dive spot which is called Babyfish. It is possible to walk there by following the beach in the direction of the lagoon and crossing the lagoon at its shallow entry point to the other side. The walk takes about 30 minutes.

I got up early today in order to have a look at the coral reef there called Babyfish before I had to be back at the hotel to check in for my windsurfing lesson. It took me about 30 minutes to reach it. I was able to swim around the reef in the early morning and was completely alone. Later in the day the windsurfers would round the point to take advantage of the increasing wind.

I was able to identify 28 difference species of animal life, so not bad for a start. Here's the list :

1) Anthias
2) A small peacock grouper (Cephalopholis argus)
3) Royal Angelfish (Pygoplites diacanthus)
4) Pennant\Banner fish (Heniochus sp.)
5) Crown Butterflyfish (Chaetodon paucifasciatus)
6) Half-and-half Chromis (Chromis dimidiata)
7) Banded Dascyllus (Dascyllus aruanus)
8) Sergeant Major (Abudefduf saxatilis)
9) Bluegreen Chromis (Chromis coerulea)
10) Twobar anemonefish (Amphiprion bicinctus)
11) Forsskol's Goatfish (Parupeneus forsskali)
12) Lionfish a.k.a. Turkeyfish (Pterois sp.)
13) Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)
14) Pipefish (Corythoichthys sp.)
15) Hawkfish
16) Bluetail trunkfish (Ostracion cyanurus)
17) Masked Puffer (Arothron diadematus)
18) Siphon sponge (Siphonochalina siphonella)
19) Soft coral (Lithophyton arboreum)
20) Cornetfish (Fistularia commersonii)
21) Squirrelfish (Adioryx sp.) - red fish with horizontal white bands
22) Lunar Fusilier (Caesio lunaris)
23) Spotted sandperch (Parapercis hexophtalma)
24) Threadfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga)
25) Striped Butterflyfish a.k.a. Red Sea raccoon butterflyfish(Chaetodon fasciatus)
26) Exquisite Butterflyfish (Chaetodon austriacus)
27) Thornback Trunkfish (Tetrosomus gibbosus)
28) Goggle-Eye (Priacanthus hamrur)
29) Electric ray (Torpedo sinuspersici) - while beginning windsurfing I must have stepped on a small one and felt the shock of electrocution. I saw it swim away.

The last few times I have been at the Red Sea I have brought along a light wet suit. I did bring it along on this trip but left it in the hotel room today. Instead, I was wearing a Lycra full sleeve shirt made for the water. The water is warm enough so that it's not a shock when entering, but after an hour or so I started to feel chilly. I made a mental note to try using the wet suit next time.

I felt a bit uneasy as I started swimming around, even after remembering how to handle the mask and tube. The slight chill to water keeps you swimming to keep warm and the waves and current keep you moving or else you need to fight against them. Once in a while the tube dips below the surface and you get a mouthful of water. All of this disturbs your ability to observe the natural world below. On the other hand, the fact of being so close is much more engaging than looking at fish and coral in a glass tank. The constant movement means always being presented with something new to see.

My second day of windsurfing was a test of limits. There was a good breeze blowing. I had decided to increase the size of my sail from 5.0 to 5.5 and reduce the size of the board from 180 to 160. Yesterday, I had difficulties using the harness lines so I was sure to request 30 inch harness lines this time. But I struggled with the board and sail combination when tacking. The reduced stability of the board and the increased weight of the sail meant I was frequently falling into the water when turning.

I started wondering how much body weight plays a role in windsurfing. Light boards are highly prized in windsurfing because they can skim (plane) across the water and provide more thrills. But the lighter the board, the less stable it is in the water with more weight, it becomes even less stable. When I arrived in Dahab I must have been around 93 kilos. But in observing others, I did see some heavy people managing quite well so it can't be an insurmountable obstacle.
[ add comment ] ( 7 views ) permalink
Dahab - Day 1 

Dahab, Sinai, Egypt

(Dahab Bay)

The sun sets around 5:30 p.m. this time of year in Dahab. It's a pity really. The landscape is spectacular. Dahab lies on the eastern finger of the Northern Red Sea. It's also called the gulf of Aqaba. The gulf, indeed all of the Red Sea lies in a rift valley. Rugged mountains rise rapidly to the West of the town, hemming it in next to the sea. Here you can see across the sea to the equally dramatic mountains on the the other side in Saudia Arabia.

My trip from Paris yesterday happened uneventfully - always a blessing when travelling and especially when travelling on vacation. The Boeing 737 belonged to an Egyptian charter company called AMC, no frills, typical long, slow line to check in with infrequent flying holiday travellers with lots of luggage. 15 kilos was the luggage weight limit but they thankfully looked the other way when the scale displayed 23 kilos (I need to remember not to travel with hard covered luggage on these charter flights). I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had assigned me an emergency exit seat on the aisle no less. I couldn't have asked for better than that. The meal which was served was nothing to speak of but the flight left on time.

All flights to the Sinai land at the airport at Sharm-El-Sheihk. I do believe they have built a new airport terminal there since I was last here. I don't remember the old terminal to be particularly outdated but the new one is much bigger. Dusk was already well advanced by the time the plan landed. No time to withdraw any local currency as the tour operator slapped the Egyptian visa sticker (also an innovation as the last time I was in Egypt they were stamps) into my passport and hurried me and the other two people signed up with the same company into a mini-bus for the final drive in the darkness up the coast to Dahab. Count on a full day of travel to Dahab when coming from Europe.

Driving at night here is a real experience and full of mystery. What messages to drivers send to each other by flicking their bright lights on and off? In France it's to warn others of police checkpoints, two or three rapid flicks is enought to get the message across. Sometimes they do it if they want to pass and of course to signal displeasure at oncoming traffic which may have forgot to dim their lights. But in Egypt, the flicking is frenetic and seems indiscriminate, at least to the uninitiated like me. Thankfully the drive ended mostly without incident. As we approached the destination, the driver appeared pleased by the successful journey and solicited comments about the drive. But when he dropped off the French couple at their hotel, he came back into the minivan and I heard him muttering. And soon, as he started to take me to my hotel, he dropped all subtlety, started jingling coins and mentioned the "B" word. "B" for Baksheesh. It's legendary in Egypt.

I realized that the French couple had probably stiffed him. When he dropped me off I finally fished out a 2 euro coin for him and he looked at it and me strangely. Hard to tell what he was thinking. I would have thought he would have been thankful but he left without saying anything.

I guess I'm satisified with the Hotel. I'm staying at the Iberhotel Dahabeya located on the beach. The buffet food I had last night after checking in was reasonably good, the room a bit spartan as they always are at these mass market tourist resort places. Even though it was dark out, I walked along the beach to do some reconaissance and got as far as I could before I ran into a fence which extended into the water and blocked my advance. I was trying to find out of I could walk to a dive/snorkel site that I had located on the internet. I was disappointed. The first day on any vacation is a process of orientation. And the information on Dahab is less then plentiful. It really is very much a process of discovery and trial and error especially if you are the pioneer within your circle of acquaintances.

This morning I investigated my wind surf connection, the Harry Nass winsurf club and enrolled in my lessons for later in the day. After encountering two malfunctioning money machines, I managed to exchange some euro notes for local currency at a bank branch at another hotel in the area. I was reminded that time is a relative concept in Egypt as the bank supposedly opened at 09:00 but I had to wait until 09:15 until someone showed up. (I guess it could have been worse). I was caught smuggling in bottled water into the hotel (a no no as they lose money from their captive audience this way) but was pardonned and succeeded anyway.

And I completed my first day of windsurfing. A great success if I do say so. I remembered much from seven years ago. I used a size 180 board (used for beginners) and I think a size 5.0 sail. I succeeding in pulling off a beach start, maintaining balance on the board and in tacking (very important because it allows you to turn and come back to where you started from).

[ add comment ] ( 6 views ) permalink

Warsaw, Poland

(Reconstructed Presidential Palace)

So what do I know about Poland? Not much. It's a slavic country wedged between the Germans and the Tsars. And its history is intertwined with both of them.

After ten years living in Europe, it's only now that I've come to visit this country. Much of my travelling in Europe has been related to business, and until now, my business hasn't taken me here. But I have travelled in Eastern Europe. I've been to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, but never to Poland. It's been on my list for a while.

So here I am, in Warsaw. I should have been here on business also. But business is bad, and my trip was cancelled. But it was cancelled after I had already paid for the two nights I'd planned to add to the end of my business trip. I looked for a way to save this trip without paying a lot of money and I found one, my frequent flyer miles. Not to say that I got my flight for free, mind you, as the days of free flighs are long over, but nevertheless far less than any other option.

I'm staying in the district in the center of the city near the central train station. There are many international hotels located here, around the huge, Stalinist, Palace of Science and Culture. Seeing this monstrosity is one of the reasons I've come to Warsaw.

The Polish language is much less influenced by Latin than French, German or English. But as a tourist, the unfamiliarity of the language is not much of a problem. Many Poles one runs into as a tourist speak enough English to make getting around easy enough. A little travelling savvy helps as well, of course.

So what is my impression of Warsaw? Well, my expectations had already been informed by a wealth of information on the internet. It was mostly detroyed in World War II and therefore, it's not that impressive in the aesthetic area. Lots of either very modern architecture or Stalinist era buildings, but with a UNESCO World Heritage site in the restored old city as an exception to prove the rule. I have to admit that on the internet, I wasn't that impressed by the photos I saw of the old city, but after seeing it, I would add this to the list of sites for which photos don't do justice. The weather has not helped to cheer up the city but what can one expect in November?

I was interested in the history of the city during World War II, which is why I made a point to visit the relatively new Warsaw Uprising Museum. In the waning months of the Third Reich, the Russian army was closing in on Warsaw. The Allies had invaded Western Europe and were advancing eastward. The people of Warsaw, seeing the endgame, decided this was the time to revolt against the Nazi occupation they had endured since 1939 in hopes of gaining some kind of independence. But I guess the die had already been cast for Poland at the Tehran conference in which Britain, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had agreed to various spheres of influence and none of them were too keen on the Poles having their own opinion about it. Support for the uprising from them was lukewarm at best and downright cynical on the part of the Russians if the Polish interpretation is to be believed. It is curious after all that the Russians didn't go allout to assist the Poles against the Nazis in Warsaw when their troops had advanced to within a stone's throw of the city. There is a wealth information and documentation here about this event including propaganda films and countless objects and interviews with the participants. If one is relatively new to the subject, it can be a little overwhelming.

The Uprising lasted a few months before being crushed by the Nazis. Having planned all along to reduce the stature of the city to a provincial outpost, they took the vengeful opportunity to level what parts of the city hadn't already been destroyed by the ravages of war and deport the remaining inhabitants. In the midst of taking in all of the information don't forget to feel the catharsis of the Nazi reprisal only months before the end of the Third Reich.

As information about the city's public transportation options on the net are a little sketchy, I opted to forgo all but the most necessary transport (airport to city center) and walk to the different sites. After making a loop from the center, to the Uprising Museum on the west side of town, and then on to the Jewish Uprising memorial and the Old Town and back, by evening, I was exhausted. But I was able to cover everything I had planned to see.

All in all, I guess a full day in Warsaw was about right. Tomorrow morning I'll finish up by exploring the Palace of Science and Culture before heading to the airport. By then I'll have added another chapter to my understanding of Europe, another culture, another history, another point of view. When I hear of Warsaw in the future, it will be more than just an abstract and unknown city. I'll have a frame of reference, a mental picture to refer to which can help, perhaps, to explain events which go on in this Union of 27 nations.
[ add comment ] ( 7 views ) permalink

<< <Back | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | Next> >>