Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Under the Sea, It’s Gotta Be Under the Sea

As we made our way to Ras Mohammed, the Egyptian equivalent of Yosemite National Park to us American’s, I couldn’t help but hear the Disney theme song from The Little Mermaid “Under the Sea” playing in my head. Ayman Sharm, our new friend and taxi driver turned tour guide, is speeding along the rare blacktopped highway towards Cairo to the checkpoint where they inspect passports, Egyptian visas and Ayman’s ID. Could you imagine having your ID or passport checked going from PA across the Walt Whitman Bridge to the beach every weekend during the summer? Can you say traffic jam?

The drive through the Sinai desert is amazing as the sun reaches its hot peak and as we twist and turn through small mountains and flat sandy roads we make our way to the first tourist deserted cove. The benefit of a “local” guide is that you don’t run into too many tour buses but deep inside your subconscious you feel that pang of discomfort that we’d be hard to find if our Egyptian guide wanted us to be lost forever. It is amazing how much trust you need to have in your fellow man to really experience a country. From Russia to Turkey to Israel and now Egypt we count on the Golden Rule: “Do unto others.” I’d say so far so good.

The Irish tonic is flowing as we lather up Team Glavin with SPF 500 and hope for the best. The Sun God Rah is laughing as our light haired, freckle faced boys are donning their snorkels and flippers headed to the Red Sea. They look like “creatures from the white lagoon” headed back to the Sea. It is comical as Seamus and Pearse are trying to master their flippers as they launch and spray sand at each other with every step as the flipper snaps back. With their sunscreen as a fixative, by the time they reach the sea they look like sugar coated butter cookies.

The water is cool to the touch and you can see the different temperatures and depths of the water by the distinct colors of the white, aqua and deep deep blue water. The sea bed is uneven right from the start and you footing is unsure almost immediately. As you submerge your face into the water you know that you are in for a special experience as the sea flora starts to change color almost immediately. It only takes 15-20 ft from shore before the first of many treats comes into view. The sea floor undulates and with each change there is an amazing coral spectacle of orange, blue, green, pink etc. and like I tell Eamon and Pearse about those girls, just because their beautiful doesn’t mean you can touch them. It was a hard lesson learned by all of us and we have the red rashes to prove it. Another early lesson learned is that you can’t hear mom yell “Oh S--- that hurt” under water.

Amazingly the water warms as you move towards the deep blue as if it is inviting you to share in the wonderment it has to offer. The boys are flitting back and forth and Ann, surprising all of us, looks like she is auditioning for a role on the TV show Flipper. Pearse has some issues with his mask and mastering the “mouth breathing” but he works hard trying to keep up and wants to see everything like his brothers. As we make our way to the “shelf” the fish are plentiful and the view under the ocean is staggeringly beautiful. With each stroke you seem like you enter a different world of tropical fish. There are red and green, orange and grey, yellow and blue and the occasional “Nemo” or something resembling that lost pesca. We see 3 ft fluorescent green eels or “snake fish” as their called here and fish as big as Pearse. The water is almost intoxicating as you want to go further and further out to see what else it has to offer. Before you know it you are looking down and the sea floor is 20-30 feet below. The schools of purple fish and green fish beckon you to follow but one gulp of sea water reminds you that God didn’t make us with real fins!

We wait patiently to see if the underwater camera will capture our Jacque Cousteau like day. We left Ras Mohammed tired, gratefully lily white, and filled with images burned in our minds that remind us of the day we saw life “Under the Sea.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

If Pharaoh Ramses Had a 4x4 Quad

The travel day was long, 18 hours or so, and the atmosphere in the last plane from Cairo, Egypt to the coastal town of Sharm El Sheikh was hot and surely a test group for “Old Spice”. As we walked down the aisle some folks were definitely “deodorant” and others definitely “Antiperspirant.” Pearse looked at me, raised his eyes, cocked his mouth to the side and if you couldn’t understand what he was thinking then the thumb and forefinger he used to pinch his nose pretty much said it all. As we sat on the tarmac all we could hope for was that the flight would leave “on time.” Seamus summed it up “You think they can turn on the air?” Imagine his disappointment when I said “It is on!”

We touched down in Sharm El Sheikh and the new circus like canvass topped airport was glistening. This Red Sea beach resort is an unscheduled and only slightly planned stop. We left the Italian Alps 5 days early and decided to squeeze in this trip to Egypt for some R&R or at least to give us a chance to melt away the 4 months of the Alps winter that still chilled our bones. Can you really say you need R&R if you’ve been on an adventure for 9 months away from home and work? I think not!

Our resort is fabulous, the warm breeze with that distinctive smell that is salt water air titillates the olfactory senses and as we pass by the outdoor bar the 2 statuesque belly dancers/singers, tan, beautiful, and scantily clad have the 2 teenage boys looking at each other saying “Oh yeah, we can handle this!” When were we in the Alps?” Our walk to the room is easy since we don’t have any luggage. We’re in Egypt and the 7 bags that contain the “Life of Glavin” are in Rome. I wonder if the Pope needs an extension cord, some Gatorade powder, access to our traveling pharmacy or a body pillow that is stuffed in the suitcases. If he looks hard I am sure he’ll find an olive wood rosary from Israel tucked into one of the bags. I should be careful, I was told not to mention Israel and Egypt in the same sentence.

From the 2nd floor hotel room we can see Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea. It’s not quite the same as seeing Camden from Philadelphia but it will certainly do for the next 4 days. The Sinai Desert butts up against the Red Sea and one can’t help but think of one’s days in Catholic grade school where phases like “The parting of the Red Sea,” “Wandering the Desert for 40 years” “I am Who Am” and “The 10 Commandments” ring in your subconscious. The red hued desert is surprisingly mountainous and a not so subtle reminder that my geography and understanding of the world’s topography is not what it should be for a man my age.

One of the highlights of the trip is the sunset 4x4 Quad ride through the Sinai desert. The 4x4’s are lined up as we arrive and the guides are wrapping scarves around the heads of the riders. Eamon and Seamus are ecstatic when they count the number of bikes for Team Glavin at 4 which, by quick calculation, mean that they each get to drive their own ATV. After I take a quick vote for “Am I dad of the year?” and the quick reply “YES”, you grab these moments when you can, we are off to the sandy and rocky terrain of the Sinai. The kids are wrapped in Bedouin black and white checkered scarves and they look like the Irish PLO in sunglasses. You can’t hide all that Irish skin, try as we might. The engines roar to life and like most things on this trip, we have to “figure it out as we go.” There’s no safety lesson, no guide to “hold your hand.” Basically it is “You signed up, follow the motorcycle guy, have fun and don’t get killed.” Naturally they said all that in Arabic so we didn’t get too much of it, actually we didn’t get any of it!

We bop up and down rumbling in our seats and occasionally I hear Pearse scream to his brother’s, “This is awesome!!” He is smiling from ear to ear and leans right and left hoping to bury the turns and get to the spot, whatever it may be given that we’re in the desert, before anyone else. The red-yellow sun is beginning to tuck its way behind the mountains and the temperature begins to cool. As the 4x4’s come to a brief stop, for Bedouin tea, I look at Ann and she sums it up, “Can it be any more beautiful?” It is a desolate beauty that is one of the few spots on this journey that belies the phrase ‘You gotta see it to believe it.”

As we make our way back from the mountain pass and see the lights of the city of Sharm El Sheikh, I chuckle as I know we are making a bee-line towards the Red Sea. I can’t help but recall during this time of Lent and the annual airing of the epic film The 10 Commandments with Charelton Heston that the Pharaoh, Ramses, would have had a better chance of catching Moses before the Red Sea if he had our 4x4’s instead of his chariots. That’s for sure!