Camels form an orderly line upon the golden coastal sand, moments from the Egyptian town of Dahab, in the East Sinai Peninsula. They slowly traverse the Red Sea shoreline until one dramatically takes rest halting their progress. Bedouin children filter behind the vehicle and offer friendship bracelets as we pass in our Jeep.
The unblemished sky adds clarity to the distinctive blue hues in the cove in front. A darker, angrier central blue gives way to softer tints radiating from the 130 metre deep submarine sink-hole. ‘Jameel, Jameel’ or beautiful in Arabic, a snorkeller shouts to his shore-side companion, emerging from the depths. Above, in the searing heat, with only the sight of snorkels peeking through the water, it all seemed unimpressive.
I ungraciously slide on my flippers. My goggles suction to my face as I try to breathe through my nose. ‘Don’t go to the arch; people have been killed and injured’ a man explains in an intentionally non-euphemistic demeanour, mistaking me for an expert diver. The sites notoriety owes to ‘the arch,’ a long deep tunnel connecting the Blue hole reef to the open water.
Eventually, I find a narrow opening in the rocks to begin my submergence. Sea urchins and anemones cling to the side-rock; pushed aside as if the sea were rejecting it. Soon the sounds of fellow snorkellers dissipate and only the faint underwater echo of air bubbles can be heard as I approach a clearing. A mass of white corals gives way to a large underwater cavern. A lone diver can be seen searching the water bed. From nowhere comes a seemingly disorientated vibrant orange Goby fish, followed by a vast school of orange. I turn as they pass, and an array of luminous corals comes into vision.
A radiant set of lilacs, shady yellows and baby blue textures charge at me. The more delicate pieces of coral sway mellifluously in the weak current. I follow a long glowing white reef, aligned neatly as if it were an underwater runway. It led to an isolated, yet brimming collection of corals, which hid a wandering odd pair of Parrot and Butterfly fish. They hover arrogantly unstirred by my presence; ostentatiously displaying their silky scales like underwater peacocks. They soon scatter as the ominous shadow of a large Angel fish hovers above.
It became apparent that I had entered an underwater aquatic jungle. The ambiguous sign, dramatic verbal warnings and the flutter of snorkellers provided a backdrop to the calming but vibrant flora and fauna in the reef itself.
I inadvertently surface alongside a diver; we both gaze at the ensuing people chaos on the shore. ‘Its what’s under the surface that counts,’ she whispers, submerging once more.