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Hurghada, Egypt

by Den Lewis

Reproduced from in focus 18 (Oct. 1986)

After last year's exploits on the Great Barrier Reef, I had to pick a site closer to home. Having heard good reports of Hurghada, I decided to give it a try. Although I had been in the same area in 1984, at Port Safaga, this was no longer advertised.

The Egyptair Airbus 300 was only a quarter full so there was space to spare. Be warned - its a dry flight, no booze, only soft drinks are available on board, though you can drink your duty free and replenish it at Cairo Airport. Having slept at Cairo Airport once before, we decided on the nearby Movenpick Hotel. Nicely refreshed the next morning we caught the 727 south to the desert airstrip at Hurghada, where we were met by a Rudi Kneip representative to take us to the Dive Centre, ten minutes away.

After breakfast we were boarded out at one of the centre's houses, comprising 5 double-bedded rooms, 2 shower/wc's and a communal area, housing the necessary fridge for the beers and most importantly the film material, as it does get very hat. We were there in June and experienced 95°F (35°C) in the shade, and 80°F (27°C) water temperature - good job there were punka fans in the bedrooms. Breakfast and the evening meal are taken at the centre and the grub was great, no complaints and plenty for hungry divers.

The dive boats. of which Rudi has 3 or 4, set off from the Fort (5 minutes away) at 9 a.m. each day. The tanks and kit stayed on board. Each boat had a cooler for drinks and the same lunch of freshly caught fish, rice, tomatoes, bread and melons was served each day. As for the diving, the Red Sea was at its usual best, viz up to 30 metres, though the surface was not as calm as the waters around Aqaba and Israel.

Without knowing it, we had picked on a good time for tropical species (Sharks and Nantas in the winter i.e. January - February) as it was brooding and breeding time. The fish were friendly, coining up close, even Soldier Fish, not normally out in the open, would stand (or is it hover) and pose in front of the camera, Shoals of Pennent Fish intermingled with Lemon Butterflies, dozens of baby Puffer Fish twiddled in for a look and fat pregnant mothers scuttled away.

Down on the sand bed, large blue Trigger Fish (Pseudoballistes fuscus) were busy fanning water over eggs and chasing off predators. Male Lionfish guarded their loved ones and once I espied one ejecting sperm towards his mate. As for Moray Eels, we got fed up of them following us along the reef like dogs at our heels, poking up like serpents of Hydra.

At one stage I had got three large ones together in front of the cine camera and even pushed the largest (2.5 metres) into the picture, We managed to befriend them all by feeding and stroking, except one which had clouded eyes. I tried to feed him some fish (from my dinner) which I let go of at the last moment (I've had the ends of my fingers nipped before) - he missed the morsel which was soon snapped up by others, so he had another lunge and grabbed the 103 flash lead and then disappeared down a tunnel.

The next few minutes were like a scene from 'The Deep' as I was dragged against the rocks, holding tightly to the Nik V and 103, whilst the coiled lead grew longer and longer, until it was stretched out straight. It was no use pullling, so I relaxed and later the lead came back, but not before the Moray had chewed through the cable. After that, whenever I stopped an the reef the Moray was there but he wasn't having the rest of my equipment!

There was so much to see and photograph that the hardest job was deciding which camera to take in, I ended up taking cine in the morning when the light was bright and sharp, then stills in the afternoon when the water appears to be milky due to the angle of the sun.

On the last day but one, we decided to feed and photograph the large Napoleon Wrasse. Celia, my partner, jostled to get herself in position with the wrasse in the foreground. A shoal of hungry black Surgeon Fish dashed in for the food and, in doing so, got excited and erected their caudal barbs. Next minute Celia was lost in a cloud of green mist, then my brain clicked and I realised that she had been badly cut. However the photos came first, so she carried on, trying to stem the flow. As the saltwater took effect however, she had to give uo. But not before a large Moray had also slid up her back after the food or maybe the blood, and another peered out at her feet!

On board we examined the damage, three of Celia's fingers were neatly sliced open, and there were small cuts an the back of her hand. Antiseptic was applied and we bound the wounds tightly. Next day she was back in the water again, protected by a plastic glove. Now, back in the U.K. the wounds are healing nicely.

Well recommended, especially the sights of Hurghada.


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