When Dave and Sue at Indian Valley SCUBA initially talked about our trip to the Egyptian Red Sea, I interpreted what they said to mean we were going to be staying in a Bedouin camp in the desert. I had visions of sleeping in a tent during one of the hottest months of the year, surrounded by camels and goats. I’m not sure where I got that impression. It could have been an earlier invitation I received from a Belgian diver to join her on the Sinai Peninsula where we would ride camels into a real Bedouin camp on the shores of the Red Sea.
Dave and Sue later clarified the situation and I looked up our destination, Roots Luxury Camp, on TripAdvisor, and found it was the number one rated hotel in el Quseir! The reviews were great and my fears were allayed. We would even have air conditioning in our cabins. Travelers rated their staff outstanding and the food excellent. Following our tours of Giza and Cairo, we flew out of Cairo on Egyptair to Hurghada where we were picked up by the Roots van and driven down to the camp about two hours to the south. Although we arrived mid-evening, a nice dinner was waiting for us before we all tumbled into bed.
The first night there was a bit of a challenge. The Camp’s main generator failed and we slept without air conditioning. Given all the sweat, I dreamed we were already diving that night. “No sweat…” our generators here on the island occasionally go out when someone falls asleep at the Edison plant. Fortunately it came back on by the next night and everything was “cool.” The closest town, el Quseir, also had problems with their generator system and cut off electricity to all the big resorts in the area so it was good to be on our own.
Steve and Claire, the owners of Roots Camp, had arranged quite a varied dive itinerary for us. We only did a few dives on the house reef. The rest of the time we were driven in vans to various dive sites like Serib Kebir, Ras Quseira, Gasus Saroya, Abu Hamra, El Makluf and Saleem. Several times we spread tarps on top of the desert sand and geared up there, walking across it to the water’s edge to enter. Other times there were developed facilities at the dive sites with restrooms and cold water.
On one excursion out of Safaga we boarded a day boat (the Onda) to dive the “Salem Express.” This wreck had a very sad story. In 1991 hundreds of people were returning across the Red Sea from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after making the pilgrimage to Mecca. The vessel encountered a storm and struck Hyndman Reef. It sank within minutes not far from shore with hundreds of fatalities. As we dove the wreck, we encountered suitcases and clothing left from the pilgrims. On the hull of the wreck sat an older portable radio. Two lifeboats lay on the ocean floor at about 100 feet.
One morning we awoke about 3:00 am, had a quick breakfast and drove up to Hurghada where we boarded another vessel, the “Lady Shakira.”h We were to do seven dives off this boat including one of the signature dives in the Red Sea, the wreck of the Thistlegorm. I think I’ll save the details of that debacle for another column. We did get several nice dives in closer to Hurghada after motoring for long hours. The captain seemed to need frequent breaks to smoke and use his cell phone, leaving a kid at the wheel who constantly over corrected.
Meals back at Camp were excellent. Breakfast included omelets and pancakes while dinners were varied. On several occasions we ate at their dining facility on the beach instead of in the main dining hall. Being in the desert, Steve and Claire suggested we drink about 30 glasses of water and other fluids each day. Most of that volume left my body in the form of sweat, and little through visits to the western style bathrooms.
I went to the Red Sea to experience new species of flora and fauna. Unfortunately that was not limited to the undersea variety. Despite the excellent food, I developed a nasty case of Pharaoh’s Revenge. All sorts of new critters invaded my digestive tract and caused me to become better friends with the bathroom facilities in the Camp. I was fortunate that they never interfered with my diving though.
I did experience another concern at Roots Camp. One of the bungalows next to the dining area had a big sign on it that said “ISIS.” Now I had no desire to lose my head on this visit, so I asked Steve about it. He laughed and shook his head (silly Americans). It was the location of the Camp’s masseuse. Now I did remember some of my ancient Egyptian history and realized Isis was one of the many gods worshipped back in those days. She was the Goddess of health, marriage, and wisdom… none of which I’ve had much luck with. The ISIS we all read about today was far away in the northern Sinai Peninsula so we were quite safe.
Roots Camp was a great place to stay. Their staff was responsive to our every need and friendships blossomed between them and our group. The divemasters were excellent, especially Horus, Tito and Fathi and they displayed both an attentiveness to safety and the ability to locate critters for us. Late one afternoon I couldn’t find a buddy to dive with so Horus offered to take me out on the house reef. He had located a crocodilefish earlier that day for other members of our group, and took me to film it on that dive. I would gladly return to Roots to dive again.
© 2015 Dr. Bill Bushing. For the entire archived set of over 650 “Dive Dry” columns, visit my website http://www.starthrower.org