The grand canyon of southern Egypt

By JP Bresser

It is 06:30 in the morning and we are hauling our gear back from the big zodiac speedboat after a thrilling early morning (or late night) dive on the famous Elphinstone reef. When rinsing my gear Ahmed, the local dive guide, starts talking to me because I’m diving a back plate, wing and long hose just like him and he probably feels some kind of connection. We start talking about technical diving and cave diving and I show him some of my photos on the display of my still dripping underwater housing. “So you like caves eh” he asks, obviously very unaware about my regular sub-terra activities and I decide to keep a low profile and just tell him I do. He starts looking around, moves a little closer while lowering his tone and whispers…. “Are you interested in a very special dive?” I almost feel like being offered an indecent proposal but respond that as an editor for several dive magazines I’m always interested in very special dives. “I will talk to the management and see what I can arrange”, whispers Ahmed and walks away in the direction of the dive manager’s office leaving me and A-M behind with about a 100 questions unanswered.

Later that evening Ahmed sneaks up to us during dinner and tells us to be at the jetty at 08:30 the next morning with all our gear assembled. He will take us to an unknown reef he regularly used to dive and keeps kind of private because it is a place easy to damage and stir up. On rare occasions he takes some very skilled divers (credit to GUE for our training) out there to amaze and impress them with his secret location and we are one of the lucky few. When lying on our bed that night, A-M and I talk and fantasies about the dive to come. I have images of big canyons with radiating beams of entering light but we decide that it will probably be another silty and sandy cavern area somewhere in the middle of nowhere….

08:30 at the jetty and we get our briefing. The reef is 6 miles away and 2 miles out of the coast and consists of several connected pool areas. The connections between these pools are sort of canyons which can differ in size from really small to ballroom dimensions. He tells us that the tour through the canyons will last at least 45 minutes and A-M and I look to each other smiling, whilst already imagining ourselves swimming through coral canyons for almost an hour. The fast and very bumpy zodiac ride last for about 30 minutes until we reach a shallow reef in the middle of the sea. The water is crystal clear and the submerged reef sparkles with an array of colors.

After our checks we roll backwards in the warm water of the Red Sea and follow Ahmed though a small entrance into the reef. The beginning of our little journey is quite restricted and we take our time working through the small tunnels trying not to touch any of the environment. Occasionally Ahmed stops us and points at a corridor or room which is of exceptional beauty; I look for a good position and direct A-M to where I want her for the next shot. The light entering from all sides is spectacular and a real challenge for me to capture on the CCD of my digital SLR camera. One huge room leads into another one and the light effects are starting to have an almost hallucinating effect on us. I have flashbacks from my cave dives in Mexico where some of the cenotes offer a similar sensation. After about an hour of playing hide and seek in the hidden labyrinth we exit the canyons and swim with our eyes partially closed to protect them from the sudden sunlight. We are drifting over a very healthy and pristine coral reef covered with huge shoals of tropical fish as the icing on the cake of our dive.

Back on board of the zodiac we thank Ahmed from the ground of our hearts for this amazing experience and promise him to keep this location a secret. On one hand it is a shame that I cannot share this location with others, on the other hand imagine the sudden excitement when on one day you are approached by a dive guide who will start whispering in your ear.

Read the whole story of JP Bresser’s trip to southern Egypt in an upcoming edition of GUE Quest

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