Saturday, February 23, 2008

Smoked cat for breakfast, banana fish for dinner

Alistair Hennessey: How are things going with your - what are you calling it? Leopard fish?
Steve Zissou: Jaguar shark.
Alistair Hennessey: Jaguar shark! So tell me - does it really exist?
Steve Zissou: [hesitant] You know, Allie, I don't want to give away the ending.
- The Life Aquatic

This week I did one of the coolest things I've ever done (thus far), which was to get certified to scuba dive in Dahab, a town on the Red Sea. Our group had about 14 people, and we had to go to class twice and practice in the pool once before we went to Dahab. I took the class through a company called Scuba Plus, which was only a few minutes walk from my dorm. The scuba center is decorated inside with mermaid posters, dive charts, and bumper stickers saying things like, "Divers work well under pressure," and "Have you gone down lately?" Our instructor's name was Osama, and he was very nice and super patient, which is good because diving can get kind of complicated.

We left for Dahab around 7:00 pm Thursday evening, and were told that it would take about 7 hours to get to our destination. It did not take 7 hours. It took about 9.5. We were stopping a lot and moving pretty slowly, and I think we really started to roll our eyes around 2:00 am, when all of Osama's diving buddies stopped for a sit-down meal and we waited in the bus. It was absolutely freezing outside, and a cat started yowling with the force of a fog horn right outside our door. (There are cats absolutely everywhere in Egypt.) The cat went to the back of our bus and curled up by the exhaust pipe, and someone started saying that the cat was going to be a lot darker tomorrow if that was how it wanted to stay warm. We were all pretty tired, and soon the conversation turned to the fact that we were going to smoke the cat, get stuck in the middle of the desert, and then have to eat the cat for breakfast. This was for some reason hysterical, at least to me. Luckily, Osama and his buddies got back on soon, and we drove for a few more hours to Dahab and our hotel.

The next morning we got our gear together and jumped into jeeps to drive over the sand to our dive spot. (I had yogurt for breakfast, not smoked cat.) The water was incredibly blue, and it was amazing to jump into the water against a backdrop of huge, jagged desert mountains in the background. I use the term 'jump' loosely, because when you're wearing a weight belt, a wet suit, a vest, flippers, and a giant tank, you have to wade in very carefully and slowly to make sure you don't fall and break anything.

The first day we did two dives, and once I calmed down and got over the fact that I was breathing UNDER WATER, I had an amazing time. We saw beautiful coral, jellyfish, rays, eels, and tons of other tropical fish. During our classroom sessions earlier that week, Osama had told us to watch out for something that sounded like 'banana fish.' I asked what a banana fish was in class, and everyone just laughed at me. Osama said that sometimes he could not pronounce his 'p's very well, and I realized that he was trying to say piranha. I'm sure he was kidding, since the last time I checked, piranhas are indigenous to the Amazon, although I could be wrong. Anyway, we did not see any 'banana fish', but when we went to a restaurant for dinner that night, they did have baracuda on the menu. We all had a great time sitting at this restaurant that was in an open-air beach cabana. Full moon on the Red Sea, great company, good food, and it all glowed a little bit because of all the nitrogen we'd absorbed earlier that day. Pretty fantastic day.

The next day we went to a different dive site, and rolled out of Dahab around 4:00. We made it back to Cairo by 11:30 (amazing!), and I'm now sitting here, exhausted, but very happy with an incredble weekend. If you ever have the chance to go scuba diving and/or join Team Zissou, I would highly recommend it.