Due to the fact that I fly home tomorrow at the ungodly hour of 245am local time, it meant I was restricted to just one dive this morning for altitude reasons. That was more than fine and I was, naturally, extremely willing to take what was on offer. Pick up was at 9am on the dot and Lana with her Russian lilt asked "you ready to be amazed today?"
"There's more? You already did that yesterday!" I grinned like a Cheshire cat. This is one of the big appeals of diving in Jordan, despite a low-key experience with a down tempo pace, the DMs are all obviously so in love with what they do for a job. It is kind of infectious. Together with the same couple from yesterday we geared up and I had a chuckle at wondering how I could forget that NO-ONE looks good in a wetsuit. Then it was time to discuss the dive plan: this morning's dive was going to be to the coral-encrusted remains of Jordan's most famous dive site, the Cedar Pride wreck. Again it would require a drive in the van, albeit short, so I took the opportunity to talk to Lana some more about the public-awareness campaign for preserving the environment. As well as the public, Jordan's only port ( and thus the region's major shipping lane) and the resort were wrecking havoc on an already fragile marine environment. The response was to establish the Aqaba Marine Park 15 years ago which extends for most of the public beach area and the top notch diving spots. Now all that remains is to continue to keep that fine balance between tourism and preservation. Lana believes it is working, slowly but surely. Environmentalists have managed to ban fishing in the area and limit boating. Jetties have been built so people don't have to walk over coral from the shore as well as reduce your risk of walking over a poisonous stonefish. Park rangers have been hired and trained to further enforce strict laws. The nearby Marine Science Station is heavily involved and many of the dive clubs participate in underwater clean ups, research and educating the public. She seemed to think these were baby steps but to me it all sounded like pretty fantastic giant leap in the right direction.
The beach was heaving with people, today being a holiday. Interestingly, many Arabs cannot swim hence the signs at the water edge in Arabic warning them of dangers. Yet they seem to flock to the beach for picnics and to hang out with the family, eating & smoking sheeshas. They look at you as you make your way down the beach with a bemused look on their faces whilst the little kids delight in saying hello and having you say it back. Again there was a pleasant breeze making the crazy hot temperature seem a tad more bearable. However, I tend to freeze my fins off when I dive even in tropical waters and so today I decided to wear a hood after an attack of the shivers yesterday. Think more frogman than ethereal mermaid. I looked bloody gorgeous. *cough*
The Spanish-built San Bruno, renamed the Cedar Pride after its purchase has an interesting story. Whilst hauling a cargo of potassium and phosphates a serious fire broke out resulting in one fatality, although the ship itself refused to sink. Not sure why nor how this was allowed but the owners simply thought "sod this" and quite literally jumped ship leaving it to sit along the shoreline where it rusted for a further 4 years. Thankfully, for aquanauts like me, the World Wildlife Fund took on the initiative to sink it as an artificial reef. Even the King of Jordan gave his backing and the freighter was towed back out to see and sunk. Today she lies on her port side at a depth of about 75 feet.
Even before we reached the wreck I was in heaven. Zillions of fish and so many beautifully coloured soft & hard coral. Most of the variety of fish here are closely associated with the coral reef. It's not hard to see why people want to protect it. To name but a few:Grouper, wrasse, parrotfish, snapper,goatfish, flounder, clownfish, triggerfish, butterfly fish,sponges, sea cucumbers, sea slugs, nudibranch and tiny jellies that I suspected could quite possibly pack a punch if I got too close. Nothing wrong with admiring from afar.
And then there she was. First you notice the stern bathed in sunlight and then you see corals of every colour imaginable. That's quickly followed by all the marine life. There were plenty of local residents including a very ugly looking frogfish that seemed to look at me as if to say "what are you looking at?" and a lionfish that could very well have been saying "come closer little girl" before introducing me to its poisonous spikes. The still intact main mast and crows nest were not only adorned with coral but a huge shoal of glassfish. It was absolutely beautiful. I hovered and took it all in. Surely it couldn't get any better? But it did, when we went inside the wreck. As we slowly moved through the wreck, keeping an eye out for any sneaky lionfish hanging around, angelfish flitted in front of my mask. They didn't seem to care that I was there. Lana pointed upwards and I saw the mirrored surface of where there was a large pocket of air, likely due to divers & their tanks. It was one of the coolest things ever. We weaved our way through the ship and just as we came out at the main mast a Napoleon fish swam in front of us. I know I had the hugest smile on my face because I had to make sure I gripped my reg just that little bit tighter with my mouth. Wrecks are certainly one of my favourite kind of dive. I did have a small moment of embarrassment however. I eagerly signaled to everyone to let them know I had a huge spotted Moray on view.... As I got closer however I started giggling. It was a pipe cleverly disguised as spotted Moray eel and instead I had my three fellow divers looking into a hole with a "huh?" expression on their faces. Which idiot put that there!?!
As we made our way back through the sea grass to make our safety stop I added another seahorse to my list for a wonderful end to a fantastic series of dives. As we headed for shore in amongst the swimmers that were out there, I waved up at some of the kids in their floatation devices to have them wave back. Then it was time to return to dry land and back to the reality of a 4-5 hour drive back to Amman.
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