By Victor and Irina
Autumn in Egypt is as colorful as in Europe, but we definitely prefer Egypt. What a sea color. Even the sand is bright. What a variety of colors under the sea!
October-November might be the best time for visiting Egypt for snorkeling and excursions. It is not so hot in Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Taba Heights, or Sharm El Sheikh, but the sea is still soft and warm.
This time, we decided to explore a tourist region new to us, and traveled to Taba Heights. This is the best place for excursions to Jordanian Petra and Israel. It is only 20-30 km to the border with Israel, and a ferry to Jordan is only 40 minutes. We were not able to deny ourselves such a pleasure.
Taba Heights can be called an oasis of Sinai: beautiful hotels are surrounded by mountains, wide sandy beaches, and turquoise waters.
In contrast to the bustling Sharm El Sheikh, here is nirvana! No animation, no discotheques—complete relaxation for really tired people. The location of Taba Heights is very interesting. Living on one side of the Red Sea, you can contemplate three countries—Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia—on the other one. Excellent views, especially at night, when the other side is lit up.
Snorkeling in Taba Heights is good enough. Near some hotels, you will find a rich coral reef and vibrant marine life: sea urchins, lionfish, clownfish, stingrays, moray eels, and a lot of young turtles. The shallow entry into the water is stony, but a golden sand begins after several meters.
But the main story today is about a completely different place.
Since we can’t lie quietly on the beach for hours, and the desire for adventure does not leave us, we needed something new, something with a rich coral reef and a nice beach, something special…. We found it in Sheraton Sharm El Sheikh.
You might ask, what’s the attraction? The abandoned Sheraton villas. Most tourists never even heard about them, but we found it very interesting to jump back in time and explore Sheraton as it was in the middle of the last century.
The way to the old villas is simple—go to the hotel’s beach, turn right, and go straight ahead. We walked about 20 minutes. The beach was becoming more and more empty, which meant that we were close to our goal.
Keep in mind that the sun is fierce in Egypt, and you should not follow the example of Irina. She is highly resistant to sunburn and can allow herself a walk for half an hour with bare shoulders. For most people it can result in burning, but not for her.
Soon, you will see a bower on the right. From there, it is possible to reach the territory of the old Sheraton villas.
At first, a veranda with very unusual furniture. You can sit and imagine that this is your house by the sea, and there is a bucket with ice and a bottle of white wine near the table.
Armed with a flashlight you can go to inspect the inner rooms.
Sharm El Sheikh—a young city, just like the Sheraton Hotel, so you will not find medieval artifacts, as in France or Italy, but you will see already forgotten interiors of the last century. These trees inside are partly real, partly artificial—it is very difficult to distinguish.
Mosaics, lamps, oval grill, and even the great wash basins are well-preserved and kept their former luxury. It was so strange to see all that. We enjoyed this “journey through time,” walking through the old and beautiful walls, so mysterious and romantic. Such “antiquities” would have been stolen at some other places, but here, we can see the carved doors with colorful stained-glass windows, the kitchen furniture, wardrobes, stylish sconces, and elegant stair railings.
It seems the Sheraton was a hotel of a higher class in those days. However, now it is not bad as well. We were impressed by the endless Sheraton beach, and often went out to meet the sun on the empty morning beach, or to tell it goodbye at sunset time.
The air temperature in the beginning of November is stable, +30, water +26. Sunny. The sea is calm.
The pontoon reef is not so interesting for snorkeling; a lot of fish, but nothing rare. However, we never snorkeled near the hotel; this time, we investigated the reef located near a wild beach and abandoned villas. The day before we left the hotel, this distant site in the sea prepared a royal gift for us.
Our first meeting with a manta ray
Irina continues the story:
That was the day when fish bustled near the shore from the very morning, and both of our cameras—the tried-and-true Sony covered with the underwater box, and a new friend, the underwater Canon–were very busy. When evening came, we decided to swim to the abandoned villas, and met a couple of snorkelers on our way–also fans of long swims. At five o’clock, we got stuck in the water just like the floats. Victor was shooting the reef, and I started to get impatient–it is cold to return after sunset!
For lack of anything better to do, I started to scan the bottom when suddenly I heard a woman’s horrible yell not so far away. I thought that somebody had attacked our neighbors. Victor kept on shooting.
Curious, I looked out of the water and saw that the couple was coming back at high speed! Then, I noticed a huge shadow moving in the deep parallel to the reef and drifting by the snorkelers.
In a moment, I swam up to Victor with bulging eyes and furious gesticulation, but he did not understand!!! With a gentle motion (fortunately, it is easy in the water) I turned him to the deep and gestured “shoot!” pushing him with all my strength toward the unknown creation. There was a big manta ray already drifting behind us with power and grace!
A white nose, a white belly, a spotted spine, a lot greater than myself, 2-3 meters in diameter, she was magnificent as a Stealth! Now she was tracked by two more people. We had just a couple of minutes. I have never worked my flippers so hard, my legs cramped, but still we lagged behind the animal. Finally, the beautiful manta ray went into the depths.
On our way back home, we noticed a little spotted eagle ray below. It was a day of surprises indeed!
We visited Egypt three times, but it was the first time we saw such a miracle. We should return to this country. Today, it’s a hard time for Egypt, but the ancient pyramids saw even worse periods. All things will pass. Our whole lives lie ahead of us.