Monday, July 18, 2005

18 July 2005

Was I really only away for a week and a half? This vacation was so disconnected from Real Life. I left for London after work on the 6th, and met up with Kris and Lauren. The next morning, Lauren and I got on the Tube at around 9 and barely made it to the airport, as our train kept stopping and starting, with attempted evacuations, due (we later found out) to the bombings. We not-so-intelligently stayed on, undeterred by the "electrical failures" that the loudspeaker was warning us about, and determined to make sure that the shallow end of the gene pool made it to Egypt. At the airport, I managed to get my camera gear in as carry-on, even though it was 9kg over the 5kg limit (I used the Force, Obiwan-style, "This is not the overweight bag you are looking for...")

We had the plane ride from hell, as there was a very drunk group of wedding guests also on their way to Egypt. The full spectrum of the human drama unfolded on that flight. There was laughter, there were tears, there were tacky cowboy hats. There was crazed yelling and uncontrollable sobbing. Accusations of wrongdoing and declarations of friendship flew fast and furious through the recycled air. And we couldn't escape for five hours. (Or was it five years? Hard to tell.)

We got to Marsa Alam in Egypt, and after negotiating our way through customs and wrestling our luggage off the belt, we boarded the bus, 68% confident that the confused porters would load our bags on, as well. As the first group got off the bus, they had difficulty determining which bags to leave on for the continuing passengers, and I had to run out and tell them to put our bags back on, as the exiting passengers already had their own dive gear, and wouldn't have much use for ours. We got on the boat, and I popped the first of 36 Dramamines for the trip. There were 19 divers, mostly Brits, with a few Aussies and Irishmen, plus one American, me (represent!) We had three dive guides: two Ahmeds and one Ali Baba (no joke), who was deaf, but made up for his lack of hearing with an over-the-top personality. The remaining crew included another Ahmed, a few Mohammeds and Mahmouds, and other crew members who had their own names to themselves.

On a typical day, we woke at 5, dove at 6, had breakfast at 8, dove at 11, had lunch at 1, dove at 3, had afternoon tea at 4:30 (seriously, we did, the boat catered to Brits, and by the way, the British are weird. They weigh themselves in a combination of stone and pounds, but can't tell you what a stone is, exactly, and their hot and cold water taps are usually separated, so you either have scalding hot or freezing cold water, but never nice and warm. Anyways, back to what I was saying), dove at 6, and had dinner at 8. Then most of the others would stay up doing God-knows-what, and I would go to bed at 10 like the withered old almost-27-year-old that I am (I blame it on the Dramamine, but it's probably also partly due to my natural slothfulness).

What did we see? Short version: fish, coral, and water. Less-short version: hammerhead and reef sharks, lion fish, spotted rays, morays, wrecks, Napolean wrasse, scorpion fish, clown fish, unicorn fish, groupers, anemones, feather stars, loads of coral, and so on. Unabridged version: go dive the Red Sea and find out for yourself. Several passengers succumbed to what one of the divers dubbed "Pharoah's Revenge," a close relative of Montezuma's Revenge. Through the vomiting and bathroom breaks, we kept our minds on the most important thing... (Family? Friends? Health? Love?) ...Diving.

The last day, we were at a resort in Marsa Alam, waiting for the nitrogen to leave our blood (the bends are overrated). It was a sunny, shadeless, breezeless 105F (40C), so we did what anyone would do and jumped into the 92F (33C) pool (yes, it was warm enough even for me!!) and played water polo. The resort was one of those all-inclusive resorts in the middle of nowhere (I've never been so in the middle of nowhere before), with organized activities like synchronized dance and water aerobics (do people really go there for a whole week??)

Caught the plane back to London, after a brief scare about plane tickets, and we were a tad wary upon being reunited with the stars of the prior flight's drunken soap opera, but they had apparently been hit with elephant tranquilizer darts, much to our relief. Got into Gatwick, trudged through customs (I've never been so heavily questioned in customs before, probably a combination of the prior week's bombings, the Egyptian origin of our flight, and my highly suspicious terrorist-like appearance), got our baggage, and parted ways. I made it to my friend's place around 4 a.m. after sharing a train compartment with a sleepy man who had wet his pants. Spent a day and a half in London, during which time I had dim sum, a Chinatown massage, and met up with a friend from a previous life.

It was with great relief that I finally got back to my apartment and dropped my 88 pounds (40kg) of dive gear and camera equipment. As I took a midnight shower, I was supremely thankful that I am not in a building that forbids late night showering. Tonight I will do laundry late into the night. I feel like such a Swiss-style rebel. But I wish I were still diving...

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