Exploring the deep blue hole

Trip Start Jun 11, 2011
Trip End Jun 27, 2011

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What I did

Flag of Egypt  ,
Friday, June 17, 2011

This glorious bright sunny day, typical for the Sinai, lifts our moods, setting high hopes for amazing sea creature sightings at the Blue Hole. We've finally arrived, transported to this magical spot on the back of an open aired Jeep, baking in our beachwear.  The sea enthusiastically laps the dock, beckoning us into its refreshing coolness.  A warm breeze blows from the north, providing little relief from the rising temperatures and chopping the water into a lemon meringue topping. 

Here, fanatical adventurers can experience thrilling dives on the edge of sanity, pushing the limits of human fortitude.  Scuba divers in the Blue Hole can try to swim through an elusive tunnel, leading out of the Blue Hole and into the open sea.  Unaware divers can easily miss this tunnel, and descend dangerously deeper and deeper, suffering potentially fatal hypoxia.  Help is far away.  There are no lifeguards here.  

I am aware of the inherent risk of this desolate place.  Although I love to experience a thrilling discovery, I have a stronger sense of safety and self preservation.  Today, I will not invite danger at my doorstep.  I feel older and wiser, and somewhat responsible for the safety of all in my group, although I have no lifeguard experience, and my CPR certification is ten years out of date.  Thankfully, no one in our group brought scuba tanks and gear.  Only those confident in their swimming abilities will risk navigating through this coral wonderland, floating near the safety of the surface. 

I grab my gear from the informal outfitter by the side of the road.  These sun-tanned Egyptians determine equipment sizes based on feel and looks, not from any official numbering system.  Since I was near the end of the line, the choice of gear was limited.  I opted for rental fins two sizes too big, rather than the pair one size too small.  Nevertheless, I still feel like a dorky oversized penguin.  After stubbing my toes in my first few steps of these ridiculous fins, I quickly learned to walk unnaturally on my heels, with wide sweeping steps, toes pointed outward, in my best duck-like swagger. 

After hitting the water and determining my first snorkel mask leaked like a sieve, I headed back to the outfitter’s stand to trade it in for another set.  The second mask stuck to my face a little better, but the attached tube was missing a large chunk out of the mouthpiece.  I could only bite down and grasp it from one side of my teeth.  Why would a prior snorkeler gnaw this mouthpiece to death, gee, maybe from fright?  Or maybe aggression?  Or hunger?  Many questions remain unanswered, yet this equipment failure heightens my awareness that my mouth is now where theirs was, as if I’m French kissing a stranger.  I should have brought my own mask. 

Two options entertain each swimmer when choosing to enter the water.  The first, a rickety wooden dock with slats missing and nails sticking up at various locations, offers a hand railing on one side, providing a dubious sense of security.  The other choice, a big blue plastic buoy flotilla, looking like square water jugs tied together, wobbles and bobbles with each swimmer’s step.  It was already crowded, with a half dozen people marching across it, it was as stable as a bounce house.  Afraid I might lose my footing, or resort to scooting on my butt like an idiot, I choose the slippery haphazard wooden dock in disrepair.  My obnoxiously awkward fins only added to the technical challenge of gingerly inching across it, finally reaching the dock’s terminus and the deep blue waters beyond.   

Although there are no traditional waves as in a large ocean, the water is choppy from the brisk breeze agitating the water.  Dipping my feet in first, I feel the sea’s pleasant temperature, the inviting dampness at my fins.  I ease myself in backwards, and push off from the deck, committing myself completely to the sea’s enveloping embrace.  Once I’m floating, I realize its deceptive nature.  Although there are no waves, this sea bellows, as breathing a life of its own.  Up and down, up and down, the water rises and falls, I floating on its unstable surface, like a tiny water bug at the sea’s mercy.  I dunk my head underneath the surface, seeing fairly plain coral and little wisps of sea weed.   As the sea billows, I am drawn closer to the sharp coral, realizing I quickly need to distance myself from it, or risk being ripped to shreds.  I swim closer to the center of the blue hole, claiming it as my refuge.    

Unfortunately, floating near the center of this deep blue hole provided no safety at all.   At the center, the sea breathes its deepest.  With each breath, a wave of water cascades over me, every third or fourth one being so strong it fills my snorkel tube.  I inhale the salty sea water through my tube, gasping, shattering my na´ve trust in my breathing apparatus.  Now, I take each breath with timid apprehension.  I look down, but see nothing but deep blue emptiness.  An unseen gravitational pull seems to hold me in the center, swimming moderately I would only tread water.  I feel trapped in the middle of the blue hole, like an invisible hand or chain holding me in its grip, sucking me into a vortex.  Panic builds from a faint whisper to a drum roll.  To liberate myself, I push forward with all my effort, flapping my finned feet as vigorously as I could, struggling and forcing.  Then it happens again – my second swallowing of salty sea water.  I cough to release the extremely unpleasant briny water from my lungs, gag gag.  After swallowing nauseating sea water for the second time, I was done, without ever getting a decent look of any coral or fish.  I swam hard back to the disheveled dock, moving so fast I almost collided with a fellow snorkeler.  I lifted myself out, grabbing on the battered railing, I feeling as miserable as it.  I took off my fins, marched across the dusty road, and plopped myself on a cushion in the shaded rest area, laying down in defeat.  I felt exhausted and nauseous, as if I just drank out of a dirty fishbowl.  If only I had a breath mint.

Once recovered, I thought of what I could do better next time.  Here’s my list.

1.   Stay near edge of coral – sure, it’s shallow there, in some places less than three feet deep.  Swim at a safe distance near the edge, then go further out tracing the coral boundary to see some amazing sights.
2.   Bring your own mask and tube, maybe fins too

3.   Bring a decent underwater camera.

4.   Wear a vest to make floating easier in choppy water, especially for average swimmers like me. 

5.   A small tube of antibiotic cream will come in handy to heal cuts and stings from various pokey, sharp and biting sea creatures.

Being shut out of the fish and coral sightseeing, I’m sharing friend’s photos who had better luck than me.  Yes, wonders do exist.  I have proof.  Yes, it’s worth going.  I would try it again if I had the chance.    
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