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Published: November 28th 2013
The only way to claim you have dived the world…is simply…to dive around. My first try at the Red Sea was back in the summer of 2008 on a live-aboard, for a week of diving in the South of Egypt out of Marsa Alam diving places like Daedalus. At the time, I found the experience pretty average. Since that day, I have also dived out of Aqaba in Jordan, another rather average experience, but one which is easily enjoyed before or after the magnificent Wadi Rum or the wonders of Petra. Aqaba is a perfect dive trip for a day or two…
But there is more to the Red Sea. I have dived Djibouti, but that’s not really anymore the Red Sea. I will dive sooner or later Saudi Arabia…but for now, here I am diving the best Sudan has to offer on a week long live-aboard. For the occasion, I’m on the MV Suzanna. The Suzanna is an Egyptian live-aboard who can accommodate up to 20 guests, we were 13.
First note, live-aboard and
diving in Egypt is cheap, especially for Europeans. This leads to a very bad habit for Europeans who are pretty keen to rate diving in the Red Sea as some of the best in the world. Well, if you have dived only there and in Europe, it may be. But the truth is far away from there. Diving the Red Sea is good, it’s not great! For great…you know, there are places like Socorro, Galapagos or Rangiora and Fakarava or again Sipadan, Tubbatuha, Palau or Protea Bank…Red Sea is nowhere near there…sorry for those who haven’t have the chance to compare!
I’m going on holidays in Sudan…that sentence alone made more than one of my friends smile. Sure, they will answer…why not…what is your job again? Why not, at the end of the day, there is no proper diving in Afghanistan, Iraq or even Mali these days….but there is in Sudan. Oh, and I look around on travelblog, let me introduce you to the first blog about diving in Sudan…
I plan this trip few months ago. Best time of the year to dive Sudan is not Autumn, it’s rather between March and June
when the big stuffs are around. I mean the sharks! The reputation of the place for big and in numbers should hold…or maybe not. So now…how many is many hammerheads spotted at the same time…answer from the DM…oh, in April, we have groups of 20 or 25 together…and up to 10 grey reef sharks at the same time. This is not “what if”…this is the fact of those who dive here for years. Now backtrack just a week…back in Protea Bank in South Africa…you know, last week…we had up to 1,000 hammerheads on a single dive…straight on, I knew that I would enjoy water at 28 degrees rather than 22 degrees in Protea Bank…and way fewer sharks! But life goes on…
Guests on live-aboard to Sudan used to take a flight from Cairo to Port Sudan, but these were deemed too “unreliable”. So for now, everybody is flying the once a week flight on FlyDubai for the 4 hours flight from Dubai to Port Sudan. On the way back…you see the same people…sun tanned, and do with them Port Sudan to Khartoum and then back to Dubai. When I mean everybody…it’s everybody…meaning there must have been 40
divers on the 60 passengers on the plane. The French are going on the Baron Noir, the South African went on a smaller boat direction the South to spear fishing. Then there was a mix crowd on the MV Elegante, four more Italians on another boat, and our crowd of 13 on the MV Suzanna. That’s Sudan diving industry! Not really Phi Phi type…
Reaching Port Sudan airport is pretty interesting…you see the Sea from the plane, and the desert…this is it. Once at the airport, the only thing the customs are looking for is alcohol…as in Saudi Arabia, it is illegal to import your preferred wine or liquor here. I knew it would be a pretty dry week on the boat…and wet one below the boat!
13 divers on the MV Suzanna. That’s one couple, one single 55 years old lady…and 10 guys…average age around 50 years old. Hey, it’s a live-aboard, and in funny places it’s always like this. The only cute girls I ever met on a live-aboard…I brought them with me and paid for their trip…bring your food…or don’t eat they call it….we are here to dive!
There is a group of fun Spaniards, 7 of them (hiding a nice French guy with them). Then there is everybody else…two Swedish, one Finn, one Italian, one German and myself. We are assigned Sergio as a divemaster…more on the character later on. The Spanish end up with Valeria…a mix of Belgian, Italian and Spanish…lucky Spaniards! My fellow divers are a group of very nice people. I wouldn’t call them fun, that’s for the Spaniards…but nice and all pretty good divers for the various level of experience they have…
So on a liveaboard…there is the boat, and the diving…and obviously here…the sun…and nothing else…but this is what we come for!
The boat is a huge one for the size of our group. The boat is not very old, but it is ageing already. Don’t forget a simple fact, liveaboards in the region are cheap, so do not ask for too much! I’m lucky, I land my own cabin, and that alone make it for a pretty good week. Make it easier to nap whenever I want, which is a lot!
The food was basic, but adequate. I wouldn’t survive here for
a month, but a week will do perfectly well. They had bad Egyptian wine and Egyptian beer…I went for a fully dry week…yes, it does happen sometimes! The local staff was really cool and nice…lots of fun moments…
Then there is the diving. They plan 3 to 4 dives a day. As we dive pretty deep here, it is like this, forget about 5 dives a day. That gave me the time to pick up on some of my travel magazines reading…lots of reading, lots of napping….life is not that bad after all…even without internet for a week!
Most itineraries do Port Sudan-Port Sudan in a week, diving the Umbria, Sanganaeb and Sha’ab Rumi. Our itinerary was a one way up…adding to it Merlo and Angarosh. We took a bus on the way back for the 200km back south to Port Sudan.
First day diving…and it’s 3 dives in the wreck of the Umbria. The Umbria is an Italian freighter sunk the first day of Second World War. The ship is 146 meters long and one of the two best wrecks in the Red Sea. If you remember well, I’m not
a fan of wrecks…well, after this, I may consider adding Truk to my wish-list.
The first dive is an introduction to the Umbria, and also a check dive for those who haven’t dived for a while…well, you know…On the second dive, we went in for a serious ride into the Umbria…so much fun, such a cool experience, I could do it again tomorrow. Then came the night dive…no penetration in the wreck for a night dive, but a pretty cool unguided buddy dive.
The next day, we are on for the “serious” reef diving, with Sanganaeb reef. The place is also one of the three light-houses you can visit in the Red Sea…I did Daedalus, here is my second one. First dive is seriously boring…we are trying to find sharks…down deep…and nothing. Good news, the last few minutes of the dive we have a nice pod of dolphins passing by…short visit…but always amazing. This would have made my week…if I didn’t have another interaction with dolphins just 5 days ago. I know, I’m way too spoiled…way too spoiled!
Beside the dolphins, our first three dives at Sanganaeb are pretty boring before
moving to another boring night dive. Good news, the visit of the light-house was pretty fun. Next day, we are moving to Sha’ab Rumi, supposed to be another jewel of the Red Sea…another pretty boring day if it was not for the Precontinental Shelf II experience. I hear you, what is the Precontinental Shelf II? You were maybe like me not born in 1963…but you know for sure Cousteau….you know, the guy who has dived every single great place in the world…more than once!
Back in 1963, Cousteau had the great idea of running a…funny...experience…having humans living for a full month below the water. They had a full “underwater spatial station” settled…here…in Sha’ab Rumi. This was also the first proper try of Trimix, the mix that would allow deep diving, seriously deep diving.
The “submarine” garage is still there, as well as few shark cages and few other little stuffs to explore around. Funny to see how scared these guys were of sharks back in 1963. That night, we had the DVD movie from Cousteau that won few international prices. Fun to first see how many errors there are in the movie…even more fun
to see how divers were viewed back in 1964…and yes, that movie is nearly 50 years old…we had a good laugh that evening…and how much I would have loved to have been part of that experience…what else is left to discover when it comes to diving today under the oceans?
Than we moved to Merlo and Angarosh. Forget about Merlo, the place to dive is Angarosh…each dive go deep…easily to 44 meters…and my housing and camera did survive multiple 44 meters dives. There is also strong current…making it not that easy for everybody. The Swedish guys have only around 70 dives each…and current and deep is not really what they did before…so we end up losing one on a dive. So back to our DM, Sergio. The guy has maybe thousands of dives in Sudan…but somebody needs to explain to him that when you dive in a group…the weaker diver is the weak point of the chain, and as a DM, you take care of your weak point. You don’t tell them…you better follow me or you are on your own. Good news, lost diver doesn’t mean bad diver…and our Swedish friend did everything he had to
stay safe…while Sergio, lost it for the remaining part of the dive.
Let’s continue on our “not so funny” DM who behaved like a little chef. His idea on each dive was to spend 15 minutes at over 40 minutes to find the sharks in the blue. Well, these is not the season for hammerhead sharks…in a week, we spotted a single one of them...just a lonely juvenile. Who goes into the blue in Palau to find sharks…nobody…you stick to the reef….you rather stuck yourself on the reef and you wait for the silver tips, the white tips and the grey reef to show up just above your head. Doing this means less air consumption due to the heavy current. But little Sergio wouldn’t listen to other…so the great news…with such a guide…it’s so easy to say bye under water…and that I did…to enjoy my own private proper encounters…and coming they did…when some other were lonely in the blue…
Don’t get over-excited…over a week…we saw less shark interaction than you would see in a single dive on Protea Bank or Fakarava…but that I knew…I may be spoiled, it won’t stop me to continue exploring
new places…and Saudi Arabia, I’ll come to say hi one of these springs.
On our last afternoon, we went snorkeling with the mantas. They regroup to feed in a lagoon. You only find them at the surface, the lagoon has a sandy bottom at 5 or 6 meters, so useless to try diving with them. You jump in your swim suit and mask, and leave the fins in the boat…and they are coming at you…close and closer. We may have seen a good 20 of them. This activity is not without risks. Beside the mantas, there are thousand of small fishes….and some of them love to fly out of the water. Over the one hour snorkeling, I must have been hit by flying fishes (about 20 cm longs) 3 times…right in the head. And twice, those were pretty strong impacts. We had a seriously laugh about it…imagine…you swim nicely in the sea…and suddenly…impact…it’s a fish in your face…better than in Asterix!
Next morning, we left the MV Suzanna in a small port/village…in the middle of nowhere…for the 3 hours drive south to Port Sudan, around 200km. Well, we broke down once, but 10 minutes
later we were back on the road…ready for our flight back to Dubai…and one or two more flights for me.
Diving Sudan…done…that was country 41 in terms of diving. I still want to dive Saudi Arabia even if it is not going to wow me…more diving coming pretty soon before this for sure. I’m actually writing this high on the middle of the Pacific…less than 36 hours after leaving the MV Suzanna. Enjoy the pictures…in few days time I’m finally going to be reunited with Tiffany and Leslie…but for now…just one or two stops on the way…
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