Today we had opted for a trip on a glass-bottomed boat just off the coast of Sharm El Sheikh, which is situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in Janub Sina, Egypt, on the coastal strip between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai.
The history surrounding this particular area of land stems from the Sinai conflict of 1856, when Israel captured it. Originally a fishing village, then a major port and naval base for the Egyptian army, it was not restored to Egypt until 1957. A United Nations peacekeeping force was stationed there until the 1967 Six Day War when it was recaptured by Israel.
Sharm El Sheikh remained under Israeli control until the Sinai peninsula was returned to Egypt in 1982 after the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979. Once the Sinai peninsula was restored to Egypt the government began an initiative to encourage continued development of the city. According to our guide on the day, the city as it now stands didn't exist 35 years ago - most of it was just desert. A lot of foreign investors (some of whom has discovered the potential of the locality during the Israeli occupation) contributed to the spate of building projects. There are currently environmental zoning laws in place which limit the height of buildings in Sharm El Sheikh in order to preserve the natural beauty of the surroundings.
Our initial impression as we drove towards the coast-line through the town was of a very modern, very clean area - in stark contrast to the other major towns and cities we'd driven through in Egypt so far. Hotels, restaurants, casinos, MacDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Express - combined with traditional fish restaurants, of course- all built to attract the tourists.
The lower image of the two posted above is the view from our cabin as we docked at the Passenger Terminal, Berth No.8 in Sharm El Sheikh. I am assuming that the monument on the tip of the landscape is some sort of light-house, but cannot be sure.
Once we arrived at the venue for boarding our glass-bottomed boat, our hearts sank. The overall impression of the beach along the coast of Sharm El Sheikh was, in our opinion, awful. Neither of us really like beaches - unless we are viewing them from up on the coastal path looking out to sea, or if we are the only ones there - but this particular one was just nothing like that! Every available grain of sand appeared to be claimed by tourists lounged out sun-bathing, drinking beer, smoking and generally making a lot of noise for some reason. Burger bars and vendors were everywhere - we had to thread our way slowly through a mass of golden, bronzed and possibly even frazzled bodies. I'm sure many people would love to spend their whole holiday lazing around on the beach getting sun-tanned, but it's just not my cup of tea.
Anyway, we were soon directed to our glass-bottomed boat - the only tricky aspect was negotiating the platform leading to the boat - best described as a sort of floating pontoon. The easiest way to ensure a steady walkway was to use the very central part of it only and to walk in a continuous motion - if the person in front of you slowed down or stopped for any reason, then your balance would be very much upset!
|The blue & white floating pontoon that we used.|
Once on board the boat, we all went below deck to sit around the viewing area. Although a vast area, we were slightly disappointed with the design, as it was a flat bottomed boat with many different "windows" along it. This meant that the sea-water underneath could not flow across the glass smoothly and pockets of air were continually being trapped against the panes of glass- making the views slightly restricted. Having said that, we managed to see some fantastic examples of hard and soft coral - one of my favourites was the aptly named "Brain coral". I took plenty of video footage which is still being edited (I'm writing this blog up in September 2010!!!) along with all the still photographs we took to create a final film of our exciting holiday.
Here you can see the view we had from our position inside the glass-bottomed boat. We think that one continuous curved sheet of plexi-glass along the underneath of the boat would have been much more conducive to spotting all the fish and coral.
We were on one of two boats that went out together that morning - here's a photo of the other one, to give you an idea of the overall style of the boat.
Some of the shots that Keith took were too poorly defined, and even the ones I've included below are not ideal, due to the problems I mentioned previously. However, you can at least get some feel for what it was like. I found it very relaxing, just gazing at so much coral and seeing the fish pass by. The shapes and colours of the coral were so beautiful to look at. The funniest thing was when I spotted what I thought was a dead tropical fish at the bottom of the sea. I murmured such to Keith, then gradually other people spotted it, too, as we drove towards it. As we got closer, we all realised that we were actually feeling sorry for a discarded pair of bikini pants!!! Sorry, I don't think we got a photo of them so you will just have to use your imagination!
After a while, we came to a halt and moved to the upper deck for refreshments and a general view of Sharm El Sheikh from the Red Sea. The area is very popular with divers and keen water-sports fans - there were plenty of people enjoying rides on these banana boats - they looked like a great ride. They were transported by a speed boat, making for some very high bounces in the water and tight turns, too! More like a fairground ride, actually.
The view of the coast from the sea was beautiful. We were told that many celebrities have stayed in Sharm El Sheikh and that some (including Tony Blair) have villas here - not surprising, really, since the weather is guaranteed to be hot regardless of the time of year. Even in the winter, it is still hotter than your average British Summer's day! It has its own airport, too, with many chartered flights arriving daily.
After a leisurely journey back to shore, we arrived back at the coach which took us to our ship just in time for lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon on our balcony reading our books until it was time to get ready for our evening meal. What a wonderful day it was today. Very relaxing.