I learned to scuba dive in northern Egypt in the mid-90s. Back then, the dusty Hurghada strip had little to offer but, beyond the coastline, pristine reefs and coral outcrops made it a magnet for divers. Now it has become one of the most popular centres in the world; there are a lot more hotels and many, many more dive boats.
And so, ever the socialite, we headed south to Marsa Alam, where a resort and airport have been built out of nothing and divers think the extra hour’s flight time (direct from LGW) and longer boat transits worthwhile. The diving is different to that on offer at Hurghada, a little wilder maybe but just as beautiful.
I find boat dives the most convenient way of getting around. To protect my spindly legs I wear a made-to-measure long-john and sometimes a rash top; if it’s too cold for that then I don’t go in! For mostly cosmetic purposes I also wear fins.
My son had a PADI course booked and we shared a room at Marina Lodge. It was huge, next to the dive-shop and we made it work for us. Onshore was fine but the boats (I mostly fell off MV Rachel) required a degree of effort. It was easy to board but, once the dive equipment was laid out on the platform, I was hemmed in the corner for the duration. For a change of scenery I would bum-shuffle into the lounge for meals and, as we dropped anchor, aft towards the edge of the dive platform.
I was accompanied each time by a most excellent divemaster, Amr Bazeed, another ex-Navy man and a commercial diver to boot. He set up my equipment and helped me every step of the way. Although I flatter myself I can get around I got used to Amr taking my arm between points of interest. One day I will find a dive centre that can rent me a scooter.
MV Rachel wasn’t the only boat heading out from Port Ghalib but we had plenty of space at each site. We spotted wonderful marine life ranging from barracuda to octopus, white-tipped shark, puffer fish and, as we flopped over the side for our very last dive, a huge greenback turtle.
But my outstanding memory is our swim through the vast hard-coral pinnacles of Torfa Aly. The three of us (Ryan was now certified) swooped and banked between the outcrops like low-time Avatars.