by Harry (BigH) Ryalls
27th May, 2004: Who would have thought that a question from his wife could answer the dreams of a very old man.
A simple question, “Where would you like to go to celebrate our anniversary?” from Cyril Hucker’s wife Lorraine sparked the latest expedition for the club.
Now Cyril has always wanted to visit the Red Sea, but has never been able to for one reason or another. Now was the chance to fulfil a dream and combine it with a celebration of 35 years of married bliss and 40+ years of life (that’s why we call him the Old Man). Now Cyril is not one to keep things to himself and he loves to share with those close to him and Lorraine, so it was no surprise when he asked if anyone would like to come and celebrate these events with them. The Venue was to be Sharm El Sheikhin the Red Sea on the south Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. Now some friends and members of the club had been to a resort here the year before and on their recommendation it was decided to use the same accommodation “The Dreams Beach” hotel as a base for the expedition.
As Cyril was the instigator of this trip, he was volunteered to all the hard work, his task was to organise the flights and accommodation, so off to the nearest travel agent to see if we could get the dates we required, as it was early February we hoped we would have no problem getting the dates we required. I stepped forward and offered to organise the diving, something that can be arduous at the best of times. So I sat myself down at home in front of my PC and logged into the World Wide Web to see what diving operators were available in the area and what they had to offer us in the way of diving. We already had an idea of the sites we would like to visit, so firing off a few questionnaires to each of the operator that I had found, all I had to do was then sit back and see what was the best, maybe not the cheapest, deal that would suit our needs. These were the first step towards what would turn out to be another cracking club trip that has taken place over the past few years. So together, Cyril and myself started to make our plans
Now Cyril had to wade through countless tour operator magazines to see if they offered “The Dreams Beach” resort as an option, then talk to the travel agent to see if there was enough accommodation for our party, which had grown to 14 persons, then to see what the best deal that could be struck for the group. Once all this had been hammered out, it was time for phone calls to see if everyone was in agreement. After this was done it was time to secure the places and part with a very large deposit. Thankfully Cyril keeps all his loose cash under a worn mattress, so he was able to stump this up for everyone and hope that we would all pay him back.
Now as I said I had the arduous task of organising the diving for the 10 divers within the group. I patiently waited for replies from the Red Sea operators to my emails. I had sent my queries to some of the large operators that cover Egypt and the Far East, along with some of the smaller ones that I found via the web. Sadly not all the large operators replied to me, but all the small ones did. I read what they all had to offer us as a group, then what they offer as an operator that could be useful to the group and decided that the best deal was offered by Africa Divers, an operator situated close to our resort. Now that I had done my part and secured the best deal for the diving, the only thing outstanding was how to get the group to Gatwick Airport. This could be a story all of its own as when looked into there are many options available to the discerning traveller.
We needed someone else to have a look at this side of the organisation, step in the wife (Julie).
The ways to get to the airport fell into three categories, Train, Car, and Bus/Coach.
- The first was thought to be the least attractive due to having to change trains to get to the airport as there is no direct route there from Bristol, and of course the cost.
So that left two other options.
- Bus/Coach travel was quickly ruled out because, as our flight required us to check-in very early in the morning, an overnight stay in London became a necessity, as there was no bus/coach leaving Bristol that could get us to Gatwick for our required check-in time. Another reason this option was ruled out was, if for any reason our flight was delayed, we could miss the last coach back and have to pay for additional tickets in the morning. This has happened to us in the past, so we only use the bus/coach if we are sure we can make the connections.
Now that left driving.
- This choice also had a few options. Do you want to take your own car (Airport Parking) or hire one (Drive and Drop)? Now as our flight required us to check-in very early in the morning this would mean a very early morning get-up, combined with travelling times, this could turn into a very long day. If you decided to take your own car, would you, due to the early morning flight times and possible long day, want to stay overnight in London somewhere close to the airport. If so, what accommodation was available? Did it do airport parking and airport transfers?
Lots of questions and choices to be made, so it was over to Julie and the WWW for our answers.
- Train travel would be around £60 return, but sadly, as with the Bus/Coach option, there was nothing early enough to get to the airport for the check-in time.
- The Bus/Coach was £35ish return, but as already stated nothing early enough.
- Car hire (Drive and Drop) varied greatly, but was between £60 and £100 each way. You still had to get up early though.
The cost of using you own car would depend on its fuel economy and if you decided to stay overnight in London. If you were lucky enough to have friends or relations in London that would let you stay with them, that was a bonus. If not there are plenty of B&B or Hotels to choose from.
Now out of our group of 14 people (7 couples), 2 opted for the Drive and Drop, the rest opted to use their own transport. 4 were able to park their vehicle on a friends drive for the week, so did the early morning get-up. 2 had a daughter living in London, so stayed with her for the night and left their vehicle there as well. So that left 6 of us to arrange an overnight stay in London. 2 opted to stay at the Gatwick Hilton – they like their creature comforts. The last 4 of us had to arrange for a B&B, this was my small group. We had a recommendation of a small B&B called “The Acorn Lodge” which was very close to Gatwick, around 10 min drive, with easy access from the M4/M32 motorway. As a bonus airport parking and airport transfer was also offered, – just what we were looking for.
As our return flight was due to land at 9.00 pm we decided to stay for the extra night so that we would be fully rested for the drive home. So in a way we had tagged an extra two days to our holiday. It started with a leisurely drive up to London, with no hassle about having to be there at a specific time, easily arriving at “The Acorn Lodge”, parking the truck up for the next 9 days, then checking in to our B&B. I had also been told that there was a very nice pub, which did an excellent selection in meals. It was just a short walk through the local graveyard, which should improve our appetites and we could get spiritual guidance from two sources. I can say that it lived up to its expectations and 4 very slated people made their way back later in the evening for a good nights rest. We had to get up around 6.00 am for breakfast and the short drive to the airport to meet the rest of the gang and check-in for our flight.
Through to the departure lounge and a refreshing drink to start the holiday proper. Some, who had travelled up that morning opted for a hearty breakfast, some did a bit of duty free shopping, a few just chilled out in the bar, but no matter how the time was filled it was soon time to make our way to departures and our Red Sea destination. Around 4 hours later we were touching down in Sharm el Sheikh and the dreaded immigration and visa queues. If you have ever been to Egypt you will know what I am on about. I know the British like to queue, but this takes the biscuit. I’m sure we took well over an hour before we managed to get through to baggage reclaims to see our luggage spread out over the floor and off the conveyer belts. A quick scout to locate yours and it was off to the buses and the fury of the Egyptian baggage handlers. Once past this test, it was on to the air-conditioned coach and a 20 to 30-minute trip to the resort.
“The Dreams Beach resort” is located on the cliff road to Sharm el Sheikh, which is a bit out of the way of the town centres but is easily reached with a short and cheap taxi ride. There are taxis available through the resort, but if you walk just outside you can find larger capacity ones if your group is bigger. As it is not in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of the town centre you can have a very relaxing time if you want, spent in the hotel complex.
First impression of the hotel is a very good one, along with that of the reception area with its large water feature in the centre. This gave a very relaxing atmosphere if sometime a bit noisy as the water feature had chimes incorporated within its design. There is a small bar also located in this area, which is open for the majority of the time and operates with a waiter service. If you are interested in a safety deposit box, they are located just behind the reception area and are free to staying guests. But beware; if you lose the key there is a hefty charge for its replacement. To access your box you must inform one of the reception staff who will bring the master key with them as each box needs two keys to be opened. Checking in is no different from the majority of places that I have stayed, the hardest thing is getting one of the reception staff to deal with you, but once you have achieved this, registration takes a very short time. You only have to fill in the required forms and are then handed your room key alone with a couple of labels that you attach to your luggage before setting off to your room. The porters then deliver the luggage to your rooms, in our case they arrived very quickly, within minutes of us locating ours. This could be due to the fact that we tipped him before we left reception, but I think they are just very efficient. As an aside, when we were there £1 British was equivalent to 10LE (Egyptian pounds), so you can appear to be very generous when tipping, but actually spend very little. I found out that they are not very well paid compared to ourselves, so a little goes a long way and it is amazing the effect it has.
The rooms are quite basic, but are very tidy. When we booked we asked for a double bed, but found that we had two large singles that could be pushed together to form a large double. Sadly this did not apply to the bedding, but as every room has air-conditioning this was not a great hardship.
We had two large wardrobes, a chest of drawers, Fridge and Colour TV with only one English channel; I think we only turned it on once just to look. Each side of the bed had a small cabinet with a drawer for personal items. There was also a phone that allowed you to ring other rooms and the all the hotel services. A small table with two chairs was also included. The balcony also has a small table and two chairs, but in plastic. The Bathroom had a bath with a shower over it, a very large work surface area where the sink was located, a toilet and a footbath (bidet to be precise). There was also a very long mirror over the work surface area and a hair drier if needed. Sadly there were no facilities for making any hot drinks in the room, so the early morning cuppa may have to be missed. Thankfully we brought our own so did not miss out. The other thing is the fridge is not a very large one and could only hold about 6 large bottle of water along with little else.
Once we had settled in, we decided to have a look around the complex and were quite impressed with what was on offer. They have done a nice job on the grounds that surround the complex with gardens; a couple of pools and a variety of sporting facilities too occupy the guest’s time. There are two beaches; one has been cut into the cliff down to the water giving access via a walkway to the dive site known as Pinkys Wall, which is given shelter by the cliff and is a favourite with all the snorkeler’s. The other beach is located out in the open, around the corner from this one; following a raised walkway around the cliff you can access this second beach. This walkway can be very interesting as lots of marine life can be seen very easily due to the clarity of the water. This beach can also be found by taking the path from the main pool area down towards the lower pool area and two of the outdoor restaurants. Loungers are available for use by guest at all of these areas. On our travels, I spotted three outdoor restaurants as well as the main indoor one. There was a restaurant by the main pool, which was ideal for lunch, another that was done in the design of a boat and a further one, which specialised as fish restaurant, which had a panoramic view over looking the ocean, the latter two being located on the lower areas close to the sea. There is also an open-air disco, with it’s own bar, Bedouin tent, and soft seating area.
In the main pool there were facilities for volleyball and water polo, and a shallow end suited for young children with water fountains and geysers for their entertainment. What interested me most was that there was a bar situated in the middle. It was very nice to sit and cool off by the bar having a refreshing drink and not have to worry about having to dry yourself before hand. Around the pool area there are a number of shaded areas, but as in most resorts these are quickly snapped up. There are a few umbrellas as well, but these quickly go also. The hotel operates a system that supplies beach towels in exchange for a voucher that you are given at check-in, so you can have clean towels when you like. So, if you were to go to lunch, you could return the used ones and get fresh ones when you returned. A great idea especially as they can get a bit dirty if you are using a sun tan lotion, which is highly recommended, as it can get very hot. As with the safety deposit box, if your voucher is lost you are liable for a hefty fine, so keep it safe, especially if you would like to use this service.
Within the complex are a small variety of gift shops, a foreign exchange branch of the Egyptian bank, a large conference centre used by the travel reps for their presentations, and as I found later on, a dive school. Sadly I was unable to get any information about this as every time I went there they were closed, but I did see them making use of the deep pool that is next to the main pool for training.
Depending on the type of accommodation that you have booked, they do Full Board, All Inclusive, Half Board and Bed & Breakfast; there is plenty of choice when you need to eat. Breakfast is taken in the main restaurant and is a buffet style service for all meals with a very good selection of both hot and cold foods. This is located off the main reception area. Lunch can be taken either here, at the main pool restaurant or the fish restaurant. The evening meal can be at the main restaurant or there is another small restaurant that offers a different, if small choice for the pallate. If you are more adventurous, the main town centre of Na’ama Bay offers a large variety of restaurant, fast food outlets and a la carte choices and with the English pound being so strong the cost of a decent meal can be very small. A T-bone steak, with all the trimmings, was around 35LE (£3.50). As our group was 14 large, we shared all the bills and most meals worked out around 200LE per couple (£20) including drinks, so not too expensive. Our taxi, which took 7 off us, was only 30LE (£3) from the resort to Na’ama Bay, around 15 – 20 minutes travel. Although I did not, there were a few others who went to Old Sharm and I hope they pen something about this area.
Na’ama Bay is where it all happens; here are the main shopping areas, with lots of small bazaars around that are very interesting to browse. Beware though, as soon as you show an interest in their shop, the owner appears and offer you “an excellent deal on anything you fancy”. Their first asking price is normally very high and you will have to barter them down to an agreeable figure. Thankfully I had accomplices to do this for me, as I am a novice when it comes to this bartering lark. If they do not have anything you like the looks of, they will try and get you “to visit their uncles / brothers / fathers” shop, which is just next-door or over the road, who will have just the thing you are looking for. There are plenty of bargains to be had, but there are also some bad ones, so be wary of your choice. Perfume and spice shops should be avoided unless you know your stuff as reports of rip off’s are common. If you are a woman who is on holiday on her own, you may find some of the attention you will receive a bit off-putting and you should be even more wary when entering some of the shops or bazaars if you are on your own unless you are very sure of yourself. Overall we found everyone we had to deal very amenable once the deal was struck and they seemed to like the British very much. You can also find the majority of the large dive operators around this area as well, but I did see quite a few smaller operators dotted around, especially around the various resort areas. Thankfully I had arranged our diving from the UK, so any interest we showed was just curiosity.
Friday morning saw us hailing a taxi for the short drive to find Dive Africa, our dive operator, to sort out equipment hire and talk over the dive plans for our three days diving. I had made plans to do two local dive sites on the Saturday, dive the Thistlegorm wreck on the Sunday and finish with a dive on the Dunraven wreck and Ras Mohamed Coral reserve on the Wednesday. When we arrived, Nikki, one of the owners, was there to greet us and he asked if it was possible to change the arrangements for the Sunday and Wednesday around, as we would then be doing deeper dives as the week went on. No one had any objections to this, so for some it was time to sort the equipment hire out, we had also struck a very good deal on this as well and it saved a lot of luggage allowance weight for the return trip home. 5 of the group had decided to make use of this, hiring DV’s and Jackets from them. I was very impressed with the quality of the kit and they were very amicable when we asked to try the system on a bottle. When asked to change any of the kit, it was done without any comments until our entire group were happy with their selections.
Saturdays diving was then on the agenda and after some discussion it was agreed to do Near Gardens and Ras um Sid as the two dives. I was not to know yet, but I would miss this dive due to ill health and a bout of food poisoning. Weight checks would be done prior to the first dive and any changes required carried out. Some did find that they needed to add additional weight after the Near Garden dive due to the extra buoyancy created by the aluminium dive bottles slowly being emptied. I had to rely on the reports back from the group on the smooth actions of the dive guides and boat operators as I spent the previous night and most of that day praying to the porcelain god that inhabits every bathroom. At times, I did not know which end was which, but I survived, just, with help from Julie (The Wife) who was my constant nurse, popping back from the pool every so often to see if I needed anything before going back again.
On the same day I was also to miss out on the celebration for Stewart, who’s birthday (40+ years of life as well), but at least Julie went to fly the flag for the Ryalls family. I hoped that I would be well enough for tomorrow, as I did not relish missing another days diving as well as Cyril’s birthday. Un-beknown to both of them I had arranged for a birthday cake to be smuggled on board the dive boat and be presented to them at lunchtime, (they would only have one candle otherwise it would become a fire hazard), I had missed one – I was not going to miss the other. In addition to this, Monday was Cyril’s and Lorraine’s Wedding anniversary, another thing I was adamant not to miss so I had to get better.
I glad to say that after a restful nights sleep I felt well enough to partake in all the festivities that we had planned. This included a trip to a Bedouin Night to sample the life of this nomadic tribe. Over all a very enjoyable break, good company, good climate, good food (most of the time), good accommodation and most of all excellent diving.
I hope others of our group put pen to paper and write a few lines about their experiences of this trip and cover some of the things I have just touched. I know Cyril has produced an article that has been submitted to the web, so keep an eye out for it.
Part two will cover the wet adventures of our group with Dive Africa, the diving operator that we used for this trip.
Copyright © 2008 Bristol Aerospace Sub-Aqua Club