Thursday, 26 April 2012

... Jordan: Finding Nemo

I was up at 5am and on the back of a camel by 530. Just another regular day then!


"Earl" (as I named him) had eyelashes that many females would die for, one hump and huge flat feet. Sounds gawwwwwgus huh? He seemed quite placid, that is until another camel bit him on his arse. Then he wasn't quite so placid, and unsurprisingly neither was I. After  what was likely a lot of profanity in camel speak we were able to continue on our way. "You strong lady" said my guide.  I think it had more to do with the fact I held on for dear life! By the end of the trek I certainly felt like I'd had a workout. I am sore in places I never knew existed!


Once we had reached our vantage point it was a quick scramble up a rock face just in time to sit and watch the sunrise.  Dawn is as magical a time to be in the desert as sunset and the early wake up call was more than worth it. Then it was time to hop back onto my camel and make my way to the bus.


Continuing south on the Desert Highway, Aqaba was my next port of call. This currently still-small seaside town is perched on the Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea) and it is really just a matter of time before the tourism explosion occurs. In fact it is already beginning, as I learned thanks to a conversation with a local. Huge hotel complexes, a university, marina, golf course, malls & lagoons are already taking shape. In fact the Jordanians are willing to move the actual Port and the industrial area further south so they can redevelop the land. The potential has been recognized and the Jordanians are grabbing opportunity by the throat. Right now, however, it still maintains a relaxed atmosphere and is a popular local holiday destination. It has 3 borders in its vicinity, Jordan-Israel, Israel-Egypt and Jordan- Saudi Arabia and you can see both Israel (Eilat) and Egypt from the beach. It's also an obvious place to come to do some fantastic & reasonably priced diving in the Red Sea! You can guess what I was here for.


I arrived just after 9am and it was already 28 degrees. By the time I jumped in a cab to head 8km south around midday it was 34! Thanks heavens I was going into the water, although the sea breeze certainly does make it more bearable. The Red Sea  has a legendary reputation as a world premier marine destination and I was very excited at now having the opportunity to dive here having not had enough time during my visit to Egypt. Unlike neighbouring Egypt, the relatively small number of visitors to Jordan means the reef system is incredibly pristine. The Red Sea is teaming with over 1000 species of marine life including some critters you've to be wary of: lionfish, turkeyfish, blowfish & stonefish.


The diving company, Seastar Watersports, with whom I'd picked to dive are based at Club Murjan located on the south beach. They have 3 magnificent house reefs and offered daily snorkeling trips and guided dives by shore or boat to all the sites in the Aqaba Marine Park. They also provided free daily hotel transfers which was a great added bonus although today due to my arrival into Aqaba I took a quick cab ride there. I was going to be doing two dives today then squeezing one more in in the morning before my return to Amman. My first dive was with DM Thaen to First Bay & Cazar Reef, which were directly opposite the club. When one of my first sightings was of a seahorse I knew I was in aquatic heaven! There was quite the current which gave you quite the workout for the first half of the dive. Black coral, fire coral, ghost pipefish, frogfish, lionfish, glassfish, groupers... To name but a few. It was amazing. Cute & somewhat amusing moment was being bombarded by two clown fish who were incredibly annoyed that I was looking at their eggs. They got right in my face and basically told me to bugger off. Coming back to shore was obviously a breeze, quite literally, the current did most of the work. The viz was pretty good to say it was kind of choppy - apparently the sea is flat for only about 50 days a year. The sea is also really really salty, obviously not Dead Sea standards but a mouthful will send you over your daily intake allowance. This is due to the desert climate, some unique geographical features and the high temperatures. Also no river flows into this sea.

After sufficient surface time lounging in the sun it was time to head back into the water. This time I was heading out with DM Lana, originally from Russia, and an older British couple who had been diving for eons. We geared up, hopped in the van and headed south for a short drive to another dive site. This shallower dive site was the Seven Sisters: a series of pinnacles and then Fairy Ring which just teamed with life. There were shoals of fusiliers and lots of Big Eye Emperor & bright orange anthias everywhere. It was also here that I saw an octopus coiled up within the coral. It was such a beautiful purple colour. The shallower depth meant lots of bottom time to enjoy the wonders.  As we continued south my eyes widened. Here was what we had come to see, a decommissioned American M40 anti-aircraft vehicle "the Tank". My face lit up like a kid on Christmas Day. The Tank was scuttled back in 1999 to create an artificial reef and it is coming along nicely. However, you should only play around it and not on it as the corals are beginning to colonize.

One thing I did notice at this dive though was the amount of trash underwater. We filled a bag and probably could've done even more.  Pop cans, plastics cups, picnic-type stuff that had likely blown in from the shore.  Unfortunately plastics in particular are a serious threat to marine life. Turtles will eat it thinking it's jellyfish. Lana told me that there is a huge effort to educate people to better look after their environment. It wasn't just limited to underwater, I had basically traveled the length of the country kind of wondering why there was so much litter every where. Hopefully the effort will pay off.

After washing all my gear and myself free from salt it was time to be driven back to Aqaba. After a day of amazing diving I have to admit I'm being a tad hypocritical and am about to head out for dinner at Floka, to try some delicious seafood which the town is well-known for. Nemo would want it that way!

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