Besides the kittens, the rooftop bars, the seafood and the fireside lounging, Dahab is about two things: the Red Sea and the Sinai desert.
And in the Red Sea, the single most famous spot is, of course, the Blue Hole Dahab, a submarine sinkhole surrounded by a 900m wall of coral that drops away deep into the ocean. Just…
…Well, just try not to open your mouth in awe, yeah?
Although Z qualified as an open water diver in Thailand, the absence of what I call blubber and the larger pro diver calls “bioprene” meant the Red Sea in March, at 21C, was simply too cold for him to cope with.
So a scheduled cruise over the top of the Canyon in the morning at the boy’s regulation 12 metre maximum turned into rather a more adult dive.
Now, the Blue Hole is the site that Dahab is most famous for, with the Thistlegorm wreck, far away though it is, probably second, but the Canyon is a truly impressive dive.
A sinuous fissure with dramatic overhangs, carved by an earthquake into the prehistoric coral reef that forms the Red Sea bed around here, it drops away from 18m to around 50m – where there is, for technical divers, an exit through a low arch onto a vertiginous wall.
Me? Well, I’m not a technical diver. I’ve dived amazing wrecks in the Philippines and an undersea volcano in Indonesia, but, even if I were better at diving than I am, I’d still have absolutely no interest in going to depth with multiple tanks when breathing from the wrong one by mistake can kill you.
Which means I dropped into the Canyon, descending those dark, dark walls, and, basically, ambled around at 30m or so, gawping gently at the brilliant shards of light piercing the marine cliffs from up above, with schooling fish sparkling and silhouetted against the surface.
It’s a dramatic landscape of light and shadow, a world of blues and blacks. And the gentle swim up and around the Fish Pool, a pretty coral garden with the odd Napoleon fish among the fluttering smaller reef species makes a lovely contrast.
I’ve met people who have dived The Canyon three or four times, and to be honest, I can see exactly why. The combination of architectural drama and a descent into such a narrow fissure is incredible; the coral garden’s a charming end point; and, yes, there’s the arch, if that’s your thing.
And, at all points, importantly, I refrained from opening my mouth in awe.
Second dive of the day, after lunch at one of the beachfront cafes? The Blue Hole, naturally.
Now, the first few minutes of this dive are the single most dramatic dive I’ve done. Even if, for those of a sensitive disposition, the walk past the memorials to the many divers who have died here is on the nerve-inducing side.
There is an easy entry, but the best way is via a jump into The Bells, a short, tight fissure so named because it’s narrow enough to echo with the clank of tanks rattling hitting the sides. A fast descent and a few strokes brings you to a narrow chimney, where you upend and dive, headfirst, through the tunnel, dropping to 26m, and then…
… And then you emerge from the confines of the Bells out into the blue, the void of the deep blue sea, the wall that forms the outside of the Blue Hole dropping away for 900m below you, a sheer, savage cliff, with reef fish flirting among pretty corals behind you, but nothing ahead but the blue – and your whole body just goes, ‘Wow! I’m flying!’
And, gentle reader, it was shortly after my body started going ‘Wow! I’m flying!’ that I, slightly light-headed with nitrogen narcosis, rolled onto my back to look up at the view and actually opened my mouth to go, ‘Wow!’
This is not a particularly good idea underwater.
So, all of a sudden, I’m light-headed, out in the blue with no way of orientating myself and no bottom for almost a kilometre, with water in my mouth and mask, and a sensation fairly close to underwater vertigo.
In fact, neither of these base problems are particularly challenging. You can breathe around a mouthful of water and spit it out underwater. Cleaning a mask under water is one of the basic skills you learn in diver training. I do both of these things on reflex.
All the same, I find myself in a state of diver panic, pulse racing, close to hyper-ventilating, slightly trippy, panicking about the prospect of sinking into the blue, and wanting nothing more than to push the blue button on my BCD, inflate fully and head to the surface at speed.
On the plus side, I can report that basic diver training does stick well. Heading for the surface fast from depth is a recipe for the bends, and, if you’re stupid enough to hold your breath into the bargain, can kill you with lung over-expansion injuries. (There are two decompression chambers in Dahab, but I had no intention of visiting either of them.)
Hyper-ventilating is not a good idea on all sorts of levels, either.
So an unsightly period of internal dialogue commences. Which goes roughly as follows:
“No, you’re not sinking! Calm the F*CK down, woman. Just breathe.”
“Must go up! Going to die! Going to die! Must go to surface and breathe REAL AIR!”
“No! Do NOT touch that button! That way you really WILL die!”
“Aaarrggh! I’m going to die! Going to die! Going to touch the button and I’m going to die!”
“Am I buoyant? Must adjust buoyancy! I’m sinking! No, I’m not sinking! Must NOT touch button!”
In conclusion, given there is only me and the lovely Tamer, the instructor I’m diving with, around, I figure I’ll go and panic on him as he’s probably used to it. Plus, if I do somehow have a complete spaz fit, inflate and ascend, he’ll be able to stop me. (I know from conversation that there is absolutely nothing more a diving instructor loves than a panicking diver fully inflating. It’s the sort of thing they punch you for.)
So… I fin over. Grab poor Tamer by the arm, and, though the panicking diver face is pretty universal, alternate “up” signs and “loco” signs until he takes me up to 15 metres, signing helfpul things like “keep on breathing”.
And, amazingly, calms me down.
The rest of the dive? Well, it’s an amazing wall: there’s nothing quite like seeing a tiny clownfish with an even tinier baby defending his nest on a giant underwater cliff. The blue is spectacular, and the swim through the saddle into the Blue Hole itself is interesting.
Frankly, there’s not much by way of coral or marine life inside the Blue Hole, but there are free divers practising stunts in the centre, and technical divers hanging around at depths where the Arch provides another spectacular exit onto the wall.
And, honestly, next time I come to Dahab, I would do both dives again. The Canyon for the dive itself, and the Blue Hole for those first amazing few minutes.
Just, hopefully, I’ll keep my mouth shut next time…