Saturday, April 14, 2012

Finding Nemo: Snorkeling in the Red Sea

After living in Saudi Arabia for 4 years, I finally got an opportunity to go out on a boat to the beautiful coral reefs of the Red Sea and go snorkeling. The Red Sea is considered one of the best places in the world to snorkel, and it did not disappoint. I’ve been fortunate to have snorkeled in many places around the globe when I was younger and in the travel business – the Great Barrier Reef, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico, Fiji, Tahiti, to name a few – but I hadn’t been snorkeling in many years. And now at age 60, I wondered if I had the stamina for it.

Our group consisted of at least 20 mostly expats from various countries, like South Africa, Scotland, Lebanon, Iceland, Yemen, and others. Part of the group opted to go scuba diving while the rest of us snorkeled. The entire day trip, operated by a very professional outfit called Desert Sea Divers and which included a hot lunch of biriyani, cold drinks, snacks, and the rental of my snorkeling equipment cost a total of 225 Saudi Riyals, or about $56 US. We set out early in the morning on one of Desert Sea Divers lovely and well maintained boats. Everyone on the boat had to don the requisite orange life vests as we passed through the inlet to the Coast Guard checkpoint that led to the deep blue Red Sea. The women were also able to then remove our abayas and scarves and feel the delightful wind through our hair. Since this group consisted of expats, the gender segregation thing and the abaya thing once we were out in the open waters of the Red Sea were not a concern.

The weather in Jeddah in mid-April was warm and hit a high that day of about 35C. The anticipation was building during the 90 minute boat ride out to the reefs where we would be exploring the wonders of the Red Sea. Along the way, the captain slowed down in one spot where there were dozens of playful dolphins swimming alongside our boat. The astounding creatures put on quite a magnificent show for us, happily leaping out of the water through the air. We all felt sheer delight at seeing these handsome creatures. I was told that we were lucky and that this was a good omen for our trip since dolphins sightings like that don’t always happen that often.

We arrived at the first of three reefs we visited that day, and everyone busied themselves in preparation for entering the glimmering turquoise waters. I was really anxious to get into the water by that point. I jumped in and the seawater felt great. The temperature was just right. But boy, I have to say that the Red Sea is extremely salty!

The snorkeling was absolutely amazing. The colors in the coral reefs ranged from purples to blues and greens and reds and oranges and yellows. There were large areas where the reefs were extremely close to the surface. We were careful not to touch them. The fish were equally as colorful in stripes, dots, two tones, shiny metallics, and half and half. The clownfish we saw, like the ones made famous in the animated movie Finding Nemo, were bright orange, with white and black accents, but like many fish we saw, they appeared to have a mesmerizing neon glow to them. Many of the smaller fish traveled in regimented schools. We also were bedazzled by the sheer numbers of the glittering transparent purple neon jellyfish.

We spent about an hour at the first site before moving on to the second spot, not too far away. I carefully reapplied sunscreen before going into the water again, but unfortunately I forgot about my lower legs which were exposed and I suffered a bad sunburn on them. A few of us daredevils jumped into the water from the top deck. I should have held my nose – I swallowed a big mouthful of the salty seawater and it went up my nose too. The snorkeling here was just as spectacular as the first place. We broke for lunch and enjoyed chatting with each other. It was really a fantastic and diverse group of adventurous people, most of them in the kingdom for work and determined to make the most of their time in Saudi Arabia.

The third reef we explored was called Marble Gardens and was the largest and most outstanding reef of all. One sea creature that we hovered over in wonder looked like a foot long sea cucumber with a snakeskin pattern on its body and a spectacularly crowned head. It was also cool to see the scuba divers below us getting a closer look at the reefs further below us.

With the day nearing its end, we headed back in late afternoon. As we got closer to our port, we were entertained by some Saudi hotdogs on jet skis, who dangerously crisscrossed our boat at high rates of speed and shot into the air like rockets. At least one guy flipped over and he wound up in the water with his jet ski on its side. I wonder how frequently that happens and how many of these guys are injured (or worse) each year.

It was a full day jam-packed with fun, excitement, great people, and incredible sights. I was totally exhausted and slept like a baby last night. The pain I am feeling today on my sunburned legs was well worth the wonderful time I had. I’m already signed up for next month’s outing!

Further Information:

Desert Sea Divers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

To learn more about why coral reefs are so darn colorful, this National Geographic article is a fascinating and informative read.

21 comments:

  1. Unbelievably beautiful! Thanks for sharing this with us.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Susie....thanks for taking us along. Your photographs are breathtaking.
    Such color! So glad that you were able to do this...something different and a pure pleasure without all the rules. Good for you!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I wish I could say that I took those breathtaking underwater shots, but I didn't. I just took the two that were taken out of the water. I bought an underwater camera, but it wasn't working right unfortunately.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It sounds like you had a wonderful time! I wish everyone could have the chance to snorkel near a reef. The first time I snorkeled was in the Florida keys. I was thirteen and couldn't believe what I saw -- those life forms looked so unreal, I couldn't believe we shared the earth with such creatures! It is truly a great opportunity. So glad you got to enjoy it!

    ReplyDelete
  5. It sounds like you had a wonderful time! I wish everyone could have the chance to snorkel near a reef. The first time I snorkeled was in the Florida keys. I was thirteen and couldn't believe what I saw -- those life forms looked so unreal, I couldn't believe we shared the earth with such creatures! It is truly a great opportunity. So glad you got to enjoy it!

    ReplyDelete
  6. It sounds like you had a wonderful time! I wish everyone could have the chance to snorkel near a reef. The first time I snorkeled was in the Florida keys. I was thirteen and couldn't believe what I saw -- those life forms looked so unreal, I couldn't believe we shared the earth with such creatures! It is truly a great opportunity. So glad you got to enjoy it!

    ReplyDelete
  7. sounds like an exciting day!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lyola says thank you for sharing this wonderful adventure. I enjoyed it from Oregon!.

    ReplyDelete
  9. WONDERFUL account of a great day out. Last time I went snorkeling was on the Great Barrier Reef out of Cairns and I thought it was really good (I've also snorkeled in Tahiti, the Bahamas and the Carribean) but what you're showing here is more spectacular than anything I've ever seen.

    I hope you manage to go again next month. You certainly deserve outings like this !

    ReplyDelete
  10. wow a couple of years ago i scuba dived in the Australian great barrier reef and it was awesome....one thing in my bucket list is to scuba dive in the red sea....when i scuba dived i took a water proof camera....you can get decent photos only near the surface from 3 meter under
    (unless you use a flash (but i'm not sure) all the colors on film aren't shown expet from blue and green....i have awesome memories but fishes and co in my photos has different tone of blue :-)

    So it's possible to swimm in the sea if you are a woman....just wondering is it possible from a beach for a woman to swimm (without the black sack aka abaya or the burking just a regular swimmsuut)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I can't believe so many years had passed since I last snorkeled, but I had such a great time - and I felt like I wasn't in Saudi Arabia.

    Lyola - I'm glad you enjoyed it vicariously through my post!

    Nathalie - I'd love to take credit for the underwater shots I used in this post, but I pulled them from the net. I did see many fish like Nemo and those purple jellyfish. I am already eagerly anticipating next month's trip!

    CountryGirl - Expat women can wear bathing suits at private beaches here in Jeddah, but at public beaches, all women must be fully covered. I have seen women go into the Red Sea fully clothed in their abayas and scarves. Unfortunately many Saudi women do not know how to swim though, and most Saudi women do not spend much time out in the sun at all.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Looks like you had a great time. Maybe experimenting with the underwater camera next time will produce some awesome pictures. I have to say I envy you on being able to go on this excurison as a vacation only type situation. Particularly as so few people currently will not have such opportunities in this geographic area. Enjoy your next outing you deserve it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Bigstick! Even though Saudi Arabia is off limits - or out of reach - to most of the rest of the world, one can snorkel in the Red Sea by way of Egypt. I would imagine the snorkeling there is similar. Thanks for your comment and bringing that up so I could point out to others that they too can enjoy the wonders of the Red Sea.

      Delete
  14. Susie,
    Wow, beautiful! I am so glad to hear that you are out and about. Keep it up!
    Jessie of the Old Pueblo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jessie - I have actually been out on the Red Sea again since this post, and I am signed up to go next weekend as well. Last week I saw a huge sea turtle (like in Finding Nemo!) and it was just awesome!

      Delete
  15. Carol Trickett JenningsApr 23, 2012, 9:53:00 PM

    Susie, your post brought back fond memories of my one Red Sea diving experience. I've been in a lot of spectacular waters, but the electric colors in the Red Sea are something special. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carol - I'm glad this post brought back nice memories for you and your travels. Hope you are doing well. xox

      Delete
  16. Beautiful underwater shots. And I can relate to the wild dolphins....in British Columbia.

    Are you living in KSA indefinitely?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jean - Yes, I am living in KSA indefinitely. Just taking it one day/month/year at a time.

      Delete
  17. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience specially this one. when this event gonna happened again can i join ?

    Thanks

    Sonia

    ReplyDelete

I had to enable Word Verification due to spam comments - Sorry!
This is my personal blog and therefore it reflects MY personal opinions. If you don't agree with me, that's fine. But if you feel the need to let me know that you don't agree with me, you must do so in a civilized, kind and constructive manner, without namecalling or filthy language, or being rude or offensive. In other words: BE NICE, OR I WILL NOT PUBLISH YOUR COMMENT!