I arrived in Sharm a couple of weeks ago after worrying if I would ever get there, as The Revolution kicked off the day after I booked my holiday. There was no need to worry as friends eventually assured me that life was carrying on as normal in Sharm. But what is normal?
Although a full flight out, there were still plenty of seats available on the outbound flight from Gatwick. Most of the passengers were English and were just looking for a bit of sunshine as the rates were quite reasonable. There were very few passengers that looked like divers – but then again, I really don’t look like a diver either.
On arrival, I was met by the same gentleman as on my last trip in September. It was so good to see a familiar face and he fast tracked me to get a visa. I was the only person on the transfer bus and on the way to my hotel, we had a little conversation about recent events. He seemed to be very happy about the new situation but was very sad that many countries had stopped flights into Egypt and particularly Sharm. It hit home to me what he meant as there was no road traffic whatsoever going through Na’ama Bay and the pedestrian area was practically deserted.
At breakfast the next morning in my hotel, there were reduced portions of food on offer compared to when I was there in September. Although the hotel is quite small, it was still less than half full. Upon checking in for my diving that day, I noticed that there were only two boats going out. They added a third boat later in the week, but that was reserved for Blue Ocean Diving (where I got some of my kit from) who had taken a large group to Sharm. It was pretty much like that for the two weeks I was diving in Sharm.
We dived locally for the first day. It was strange to see the beaches empty or with just a few people. Snorkelling has been banned on all local sites and on some sites in Ras Mohammed. Swimming is restricted off the beach on most of the hotels since the terrible shark incidents. These restrictions are in place because of the stupidity of certain individuals. Some people have stayed away from Sharm because of this and some countries are still not allowing their people to travel there because of the current political situation.
From a diver’s perspective, this is great news! It was such a joy to dive a site where ours may have been the only boat there. What a joy to dive Shark and Yolanda without a queue! The respite from divers and snorkelers these past months have given the reefs and their inhabitants a chance to recover and get on with their normal cycle of life rather than being stressed out by photographers, divers and snorkelers splashing around and frightening them to death.
It was wonderful to have a bit of peace and quiet in-between dives without a snorkel boat parked up next to you and blasting crappy loud music for the next hour or so. I was able to rest or have a quiet chat without being disturbed for a change. We are supposed to be out and enjoying nature and not make it into some kind of disco! If you think I am not very fond of snorkelers, well, you may be right about that. Most of what I have seen hasn’t impressed me. They have been loud, they have fed the fish, and some even stand on the reef. Most of them don’t know what they are doing and just flap about all over the place. Basically, they cause havoc and damage. That is the majority. There is a small minority of snorkelers that are not like that and I include myself in that category when I occasionally don my snorkel, mask and fins. I prefer to dive, so I don’t snorkel very often.
I’ve been told that the diving conditions in Sharm are similar to what they were about 10 years ago, so this is a great time for divers before the bucket and spade brigade arrive for the summer. Denmark has just started flights into Sharm and soon other countries will be following suit.
So, although the diving conditions are wonderful right now, tourism to Sharm is at an all time low and it is affecting many businesses. Redundancies are high as there are not enough tourists to warrant staff in certain venues. Some hotels have even closed for the time being. Many restaurants and outside venues are deserted in Na’ama Bay and vying for attention by offering deals. For me, it was a pleasure to walk around without bumping into anyone as there were no crowds. The taxi drivers still take the piss and try to take advantage to make up for their losses, but they will settle for reasonable fares offered. Having been to Sharm a few times now, I know how much it costs to travel to certain places. One still gets hassled at the markets and shops, but it has gone low-key. No-one seems to want to scare off the few tourists that are around. Certain bars are offering happy hours with reduced rates on drinks to bring the customers in and there are many deals to be had at the resorts.
Apart from the lack of tourism, the other noticeable difference is the way security and the police are dealing with things. The buses to the ports are rarely stopped and checked as previously. The police are still in their usual hangouts, but they are keeping a low profile these days. Every once in a while they do their usual checks, but it seems to be a bit more relaxed than what I had experienced before. I am not really going to comment on the politics of the police here, but from what I have witnessed and heard, things are better now.
So, if you are a diver, go to Sharm, now! Especially before the crowds come back.
If you are sun seeker and a member of the bucket and spade brigade, go, but have some respect, consideration and some common sense. If you sunbathe, keep your kit on. It’s primarily a Muslim country, so have some respect. Have some restraint with your drinking and try not to be too obnoxious – especially when you are going back to your hotel when other people are asleep and need to get up early for their diving.
And last but not least: DON’T FEED THE FISH. DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING IN THE SEA. DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FROM THE SEA, AND DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING IN THE SEA.