June 19, 2019

Coral-ing in the Red Sea (March 2019)

I am what I read, what I see. What I do and experience. I am whom I’m with and who takes me along on these splendid journeys. I am, because bit by bit this fabric of my life begins weaving itself together and I’m about to share with you a bit of that fabric today.

For the months leading up to this Egypt getaway on a yacht in the Red Sea (an image that still makes my heart skip a beat when I look back), I prepped myself with museum visits and documentaries, mapped out pharaoh periods and the many Gods. I spent very little time researching marine life in the Red Sea and decided this part of the trip would be a surprise.

We landed in Cairo and caught connecting flights to Marsa Alam, hopeful and expectant. Driving to Port Ghalib across stretches of barren lands made us wonder if all life was beneath the ground. Lacadives has this uncanny ability to attract the right people with the right vibes, so even though a mixed bunch of strangers, acquaintances and friends all met at the airport, we knew we were ready to spend the next week aboard together and it would be a blast.

 Beneath the arid and life-giving Egyptian soil lay the most pristine communities of corals and aquatic life. Here we were, keen travelers stepping foot in to the doorway of time dating back 5,000 years.

Image by Vinay Mathew

Our journey itself took a little while to kick start what with an evening of arriving on Blue Horizon via ribs and then checking gear, getting ourselves accustomed to the boat, meeting the crew and other divers, taking in Port Ghalib and swapping stories; by the next day we simply couldn’t wait to be flagged off by the Port officials.

Diving from a liveaboard can be an extremely luxurious and unique experience. Knowing that you’re far away from land and about to jump straight in to the open sea is humbling. The sunsets and sunrises are stellar and the waves roll well in to the horizon. The infiniteness is acute and we were so grateful for this solitude that we could share with a small group of warm people.

Apart from our first day when we ate in to quite a bit of the morning to set sail, we began our daily diving rituals with a pre-breakfast morning dive. Come 6:00 a.m. we’d hear a wake up call and we’d plod upstairs to the sun deck, finding ourselves coffee and pastries ahead of the briefing. Prepping and sufficiently being layered up with 5mm suits still didn’t compensate for the cold Egyptian water and any dive beyond 45 minutes got most of us shivering.

Getting accustomed and used to good buoyancy and regulated breathing always takes up much of the first few dives but that certainly didn’t take away from the spectacular coral life we saw while we were at it. Towering monoliths of pinnacles in every shape and colour; glorious networks of fish and zooming cities blending one in to the other, this was by far the most intricate and vast coral life we had ever seen! Imagine 18-20 meters of columns of corals, extending from the surface all the way to the sea bed. Now plonk many of these in close range and connect them through a series of tunnels and archways. Draw these interesting and misshaped arms protruding out of them horizontally and allow a new family of fish to settle down and make it their colony. This was the Red Sea’s magnificent coral ecosystem for you.

Image by Tanuj Mehta

The rest of the day called for a sumptuous breakfast with personalised omelette orders (so custom made that the chef introduced new combinations for the fillings for us!) followed by the next dive. We’d return to rest, dry off and fill out Dive Logs before seating ourselves for tempting spreads for lunch. Lazy afternoon naps and evening caffeine kicks would be the perfect prep for our evening dives.

While some dive sites had these towering pinnacles, others had rather flat and low lying beds of coral. Around them were seen some usual suspects, the blue spotted stingray and plenty of varieties of the butterfly fish. Large Moray Eels, however, caught our attention on occasion and we even stumbled upon a rusted upright tray standing on the sea bed; that housed about 5-6 rusted bottles that just stood unperturbed by the mild currents. How peculiar!

One of the most fascinating experiences was swimming along side a giant Napoleon Wrasse. Watching it weave in and out of the corals, toward us and away and majestically drop to a 90-degree angle to feed was a sight to behold.

Image by Tanuj Mehta

From nearly losing GoPros to the sea to watching schools of dolphins dive around the boat; closely monitoring a graceful oceanic white tip glide under the night stars to exploring the depths of wrecks, spotting reef sharks from the distance to turtles up close and most of all filling our days and dives with miles and miles of distinct corals, the Red Sea was all spectrums of colours and joy.

A special part of this trip was our moments spent on the boat. We giggled the nights away, squeezing ourselves between sun beds, cosying up for evening chatter before and after dinner. We ate delicious food all the time, sometimes even being treated to snacks from the motherland made by enthusiastic friends. We reveled in so much beauty and attempted to capture these moments in every way we could. We took extensive photo shoots and found time for solitude. Time stood still for us, above and beneath the surface.

As each day blended in to the next we grew comfortable with this alternate way of life. The ultimate highlights for Hussain and I would have been spotting Mantas, Red Sea Nudibranchs or schools of Dolphins in the sea. Alas, we weren’t lucky, but we shall continue seeking. Until such time, we will keep calm, and carry on.

There is a stillness that engulfs you when you descend in to the sea. It’s a stillness that speaks volumes. It is a silence that is deafening with wonder. It is a peace that is personified in bubbles and immaculate light streams that pierce their way through the voluminous blue. It is a silence one craves for once they have been bitten by the diving bug. And once bitten, there is simply no going back, except to surface from time to time to detox- quite literally before being able to descend again. Those moments are enough to make you want to come back for more. And come back, we shall!

Krithika Radhakrishnan, Lacadives guest