01.06.2009 - 11.01.2010
I hope you're all keeping well, had good Christmasses and New Years etc and have settled back into whatever the old routine is.. I had a lovely 3 weeks in Ireland catching up with family and friends and am now over in Brighton visiting a couple of friends... They are back at work, which gives me the chance to finally finish this email that I began in Egypt in November!!! So, here goes!
So, firstly, how on earth did I end up coming to spend 6 months in Egypt? Well, as I mentioned last time, I met a lovely French man called Antonin while I was in New Zealand. We had a lot of fun travelling around the South Island in our van, and we realised we didn’t want that fun to stop when my visa ran out. We were both getting close to penniless by that stage, so we needed to find somewhere where we could both live and work together. My idea had been to go to Australia for a year or two and travel about there working along the way. However, unfortunately for me, Antonin had already spent a year working in Australia and was not entitled to a second working holiday visa. So we had to come up with another idea. Antonin’s plan had been to be back in France in time for the French summer, however I wasn’t too keen on going back to Europe, and with the economy in the state it was in, there were no guarantees of jobs in either France or Ireland for either of us. So we decided that as we both had qualifications that entitled us to work in the SCUBA diving industry, that we would seek work in that field. Our bottom line was that we both needed to be earning money, at least one of us needed to be taking advantage of our diving qualifications and we needed to be living in the same area, whether we were actually working together or not.. Long story short, Antonin saw a job for a French speaking instructor at a Red Sea dive centre advertised online. The dive centre were willing to take on someone fresh out of their instructor course (which Antonin was) and they had a job for me too, not in my ideal role as a divemaster, but working at the reception of the dive centre as the French-speaking receptionist! And so we were Egypt-bound
En route to Egypt we stopped for 4 days in Sydney where we stayed with my grand-aunt and caught up with some friends, aswell as borrowing my grand-aunts car and her 40 yr old Sydney street and suburb road map to visit some beaches!! It was getting well into Autumn by then so the weather was only ok. From there we flew to London via Seoul (yes indeed, the cheapest way to fly from Sydney to Cairo was via London...no doubt not the cheapest way in terms of carbon footprinting however!). Korean Airlines put us up in a lovely hotel in downtown Seoul, so after our free dinner we headed out for a wander around. We spent 4 lovely days in London too. My parents and brothers had all decided to fly over for the weekend as none of them had seen me for about 18 months at that stage. Antonin’s parents and his two sisters also flew up for the weekend as they hadn’t seen Antonin for a good while either. And so we all booked hotels within walking distance of each other. Both myself and Antonin got to meet each other’s parents and spend time with our families. And on one funny night, all 10 of us went out for dinner to a lovely Italian restaurant in Soho! Obviously this was a bit strange as Antonin and myself hadn’t even known each other for 6 months at that point, but we both figured it would be more strange if neither family met the other over the whole 4 days, so why not do dinner – how bad could it be?! Well, I’m sure it could have been pretty awful, but it wasn’t. It was a lovely evening, with great attempts at speaking English by the French and equally great attempts at speaking French by the Irish. And so the two families met with just Antonin’s brother missing the occasion as he had to study for exams. And it was a lovely weekend, really really great to see my family again even tho’ in lots of ways it seemed like just yesterday that I’d said good-bye to them.
From London, myself and Antonin continued onto the next part of our journey with a flight to Cairo. We spent a couple of days in Cairo taking in the sights and the sounds. I really liked it and could have stayed for longer but Antonin is not a fan of “big smelly cities” and we were expected at the dive centre a few days later... We saw the pyramids (of course, I don’t think you can go to Cairo for the first time and not visit one of the world’s greatest wonders) and the mummies (ditto - altho’ they’re not a “wonder” - they are pretty unbelievable) at the Egyptian Museum. We also spent some time wandering around the big markets in the Islamic part of the city. We met this great guy there who looked a lot older than his 50 years, spoke some French and was only delighted to have a chance to practise it. He asked us if we wanted to see the small “factories” in the back alleys of the market place where all the stuff is made. We agreed but wondered how much it would cost us. He brought us on a great little tour of all these one-room “factories” where we got to see all the locals working on their crafts. I wondered whether he was going to stop at some point when we were well lost in the maze of alleys and give us a price if we wanted to get back to the main market, but no. He brought us all the way back, wouldn’t accept any sort of payment and just asked us to shop direct from those people if we wanted to buy any of the things they were making. Maybe he would have made some commission had we bought stuff while we were with him, but there was absolutely no pressure to buy at all. And that was one of the first examples of the unbelievable friendliness, honesty and good-humour I came to recognise in most of the Egyptians I’ve met. I didn’t have any hassles at all from the men of that country, despite some warnings to the contrary, however I was, in Cairo at least, always with Antonin which could make a difference. And I also dressed modestly too, not that I’m in the habit of dressing immodestly, but honestly the way some western tourists dress in this, a muslim country, especially when away from the beach, I find really disrespectful. Anyways, I won’t start on that rant! In Cairo, around the pyramids, I saw camels – pretty sure that was the first time outside of a zoo. We also had our first sheeshas (smoking flavoured tobacco the traditional way), saw the great Nile and learned that Viagra on a menu meant seafood!! And that was Cairo.
From there we bussed it to Hurghada and stopped there so that we could go for a dive. Not that Hurghada is supposed to have spectacular diving, on the contrary it’s so over-dived you’re more likely to see lots of other divers than fish underwater. But Antonin hadn’t dived for a couple of months and had acquired some of his father’s dive equipment while we were in London, so he really needed to get in the water at least once before he started his instructing job. Neither of us were particularly impressed with either the town of Hurghada nor the dive sites in the area so we skedaddled as soon as the dives were done. We had one nice evening in Hurghada however when we met up with an Egyptian man and his wife and their 3 year old son whom we’d met on the bus from Cairo. The guy spoke pretty good English so we’d a good chat with him about life and stuff. His wife didn’t speak much English, but to this day she remains the only Egyptian woman with whom I’ve socialised! I should point out that by the time we left Hurghada we had both eaten dodgy food and been suitably ill and we’d only been in Egypt for about 5 days!
Anyways, our dive centre very kindly sent a guy to pick us up in Hurghada and take us the 3 hours south to the Marsa Alam area after we missed our 4 am scheduled bus due to the taxi drivers lack of knowledge of the bus stations of Hurghada, and of course our lack of a decent map/memory (we’d been to it before to check the times) and level of Arabic! Taxi drivers all over the world are the same – they’ll say yes just to get you into the taxi whether or not they have a clue where they’re taking you! And so, on June 15th we arrived at Coraya Divers, a German owned and managed dive centre in Madinat Coraya (means Coraya “city”, but was little more than an agglomeration of 4 and 5 star resorts and a dive centre) to begin work the following day.. And so began life in Egypt!
And how was life in Egypt?
Well, I should start with the basics.. Myself and Antonin worked a 6 day week here from 8 to 6 each day with an hour for lunch. We had the same day off each week. The accommodation (which was provided – no rent or bills) was pretty much the second best room in the place, after that of the management (a German couple). The reason for this was that they (the management) find it difficult to find staff who stay longer than a season or two (I’ll explain why shortly!) and it’s easier for couples to stay than individuals as they have each other... So their theory is that giving a new couple the best available room will increase the chances of them staying (we were (at least) the 3rd couple that they tested this theory on and the 3rd couple that proves that it doesn’t work!). Of course, while having the best available room is great in lots of respects (we had a private ensuite bathroom and our own fridge and washing machine – all very desirable things), it also put us in the not very desirable position of having jumped right up the “bedroom hierarchy” to the top, avoiding such things en route as shared bathroom, fridge and washing machine facilities, while some of the staff that had been here for a few years and proven their “staying ability” to the dive centre were still on the sharing rungs of the ladder.. Not good management in my opinion!
Three meals a day were also provided. There were a couple of Egyptian lads employed to cook for us. They were lovely guys and were not bad at what they did especially considering they cooked for up to 50 people at lunch time and up to 25 or so in the evenings.. Unfortunately, while the food was not bad per se, the range of dishes was very limited and so after 6 months we were dying for something different.. I never really partook in the breakfast preferring to buy cornflakes in the local supermarket instead!
My job varied from extremely hectic to downright boring depending on how many guests we had diving with us...we could cater for up to 250 divers and, from mid-Sept to about the end of Nov we did have big numbers and we were very very busy. There was a team of about 5 of us working at reception, not including the managers who also helped out on a daily basis. There were 2 German speakers (one from Germany and the other from Switzerland) to deal with all the German speaking guests, a Russian girl for the Russians, an Italian for the Italians and me for the French speakers!! Fortunately for me, most of the guests were German, followed by the Italians and the Russians depending on the time of year. And Roberta, the Italian receptionist, also spoke French, so between us we dealt with the few French speakers. There were of course English speaking divers too, mostly from Britain, but there was one couple from Ireland and some from countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland – basically anyone who’s language wasn’t catered for by us receptionists had to speak English! So we all had to deal with those guests. At this dive centre, divers had to check in and check out – I’ve never seen such an organised dive centre in all my years diving! All guests would be given a tour by one of us receptionists to explain all the dive trips available, where they could buy cold drinks/store their gear etc and to try to promote courses and sell stuff (there was a small shop at reception) if we could.. During their stay we would give them the keys to their lockers (where they stored their equipment) everytime they needed them (so I learned my numbers up to 250 in German and Italian quickly enough!), deal with any problems they’d have – the usual customer service stuff.. At the end they’d pay their bills with us too.. Basically we were the face of the dive centre and as such had to be smiley and happy and helpful as much as possible! I can’t say I loved my job, but I didn’t hate it either. One of the worst parts was the fact that I was on my feet ALL the time! And I much prefer to be sitting down!
So why is it difficult for the dive centre to get people to stay??
Well, in a nut shell, we spent 6 months there, but after 3 we’d had enough. The problem with life there wasn’t that the sun shone everyday and the sky was almost always blue. Nor was it the balmy water temperatures that we get to dive in for free on our day off ( it was close to 30° when we got here and had dropped to about 25° by the time we left). Nor was it the people with whom we worked, who hailed from a mix of nations and were for the most part lovely. Nor was it the actual work, altho’ only having one day off a week for 6 months totally sucks! No, for me, well for the two of us, the problem with life at Coraya Divers was that there was NOTHING to do there when we weren’t working. And when I say nothing, I really mean nothing! We were literally perched between the desert and the deep blue sea. Around us were just the 5 resorts – nothing else. Ten minutes drive away was the modern and recently (10 years ago) built resort town of Port Ghalib, that oozes an atmosphere of nothingness despite the harbour being the starting and finishing point for alot of liveaboard dive boats that visit dive sites to the south of us. It wasn’t easy to get there and when you got there there was precious little to do anyways apart from a few restaurants (Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays and others of that calibre) and cafes. The closest real authentic Egyptian towns were both an hour south (the town of Marsa Alam) and an hour north (El Quesir). Again there was no official public transport network; so hitch hiking was the only way to get there, and neither town particularly interested us. To the west was the desert and to the east the Red Sea.. When we arrived there first we did have time between work and dinner to play volleyball on the beach or go for a swim, or something else like that. But when Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting, among other things, during daylight hours) began in late August, the entire country put the clocks back one hour into winter time so that daylight hours would end an hour earlier and those who were fasting could eat sooner.. Naturally, as over 60% of the staff here are Muslim, the dinner-time also changed to coincide with the setting sun and the call from the minarets that said it was time to stop fasting.. And so came an end to our daylight playtime until the following year! So after that in the evenings we have the choice of playing cards, watching a movie, reading a book, playing cards, watching a movie...am I starting to sound repetitive?! Well that’s because life there was repetitive!
Ok, I exaggerate slightly – we did go quad biking in the desert one evening in July which was great fun...altho’ a little scarey once the sun had set...night time quadbiking was not what I had signed up for! And another evening when we spent an hour at the local water park with cool slides which was also great fun. There were a couple of parties, for example one where we all dressed up as pirates to celebrate new Divemasters finishing their training.. However, I must point out that when I mention the word party, you must remove the picture of an alcohol fuelled event from your mind – these were alcohol-free events as pretty much all of the muslims we worked with didn’t drink at all. In fact, and this is no exaggeration, but I can literally count on one hand the amount of evenings where a small amount of alcohol was consumed over the entire 6 months! I reckon my liver was completely detoxified and healthy by the time I got home to Ireland for Christmas – and a good thing too given that it was to be abused back to normality while in Ireland!
Anyways, it was an interesting experience overall, but not one I’m going to repeat anytime soon! Gone are notions of how exciting it could be to spend a couple of years in Antarctica doing research or how amazing it would be to work in a dive centre on the Maldives.. I’ve learned that I can’t spend 6 months in a 10 km square area – I need more freedom than that! But the diving I got to do was pretty cool – I really enjoyed my one day off a week! I got to play lots with the underwater camera I’d bought myself – that was fun! And, back to our bottom line when we were looking for the job – myself and Antonin did have 6 months living and working in the same place so we could earn money and get to know each other better.. So can we complain? Not really..!
Oh, and we did get to spend 3 days in Luxor at the end of November when Antonin’s parents came out to visit. That was lovely! We visited the usual sights of Luxor – the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Karnak and some others and we did a sunset cruise on the Nile in a felucca (a small sail boat). We almost lost our jobs in the process of asking for the 3 days off (!?) but that’s a rant I won’t start because I wouldn’t be able to finish! Egypt really does have lots of history etc to offer tourists, and November was a perfect time to visit Luxor as temperatures didn’t go above 30° (in summertime they rarely fall below 40°!!). Actually, one of my favourite bits about Luxor was the location of our guesthouse – it was right in the heart of Egyptian suburbia away from the rest of the tourist accommodation. That meant that walking to and from the city centre was very interesting, especially as one of the days we were there was a national festival where families butchered their dinner on the streets outside their houses… There were lots of pools of blood and decapitated bodies of goats on the way to town that day! Not a sight one sees very often!
I’m going to stop there because if I don’t send this today I’ll never send it!
Take care all,