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Dahab, Egypt: Camel Dive Safari

October 28th, 2009

The Osprey Brand Team, a group of ambassadors reporting from the field at consumer outdoor events across the country as well as reporting on adventures in their own neck of the woods, delivers the latest from new team member Aimee Cebulski who is on a 6-month world travel adventure. She’s taking an Osprey Sojourn 28 with her (from our new Travel Collection). This is her sixth (and final) update coming to you from Egypt…

One of the top things we both wanted to do during our time in the Middle East/North Africa was to camp somewhere in the desert under the stars…Until we got to Dahab and heard about the Camel Diving Safaris, we hadn’t even thought about combining the desert camp with diving and an ocean view!

Like Baja California, Most of the Sinai is desert right up to the water. As a result, you have several small Bedouin (local) villages set up just along the shore. Buildings are no more than huts with no real walls or roofs to speak of. Since it rains maybe one day a year in the Sinai for about 15 minutes, this isn’t a problem.

Many of the villages (especially those close to interesting dive sites) welcome visitors to stay overnight in one of the many available huts and even cook you dinner and breakfast for a small fee. We decided to do a Camel Dive Safari out to Ras Abu Galum, an almost untouched dive site with far fewer visitors than other parts of the Sinai.

Ras Abu is only accessible via boat or camel – No roads. Many dive shops organize Camel Dive Safaris where you hire a local guide and local camels to take you and all the necessary dive gear out to Ras Abu. You can choose to do an out and back day trip (leaving early in the morning) or an overnight stay, leaving later in the day and doing most of your diving the next morning. We elected the overnight stay to be able to camp under the stars.

On our way to the location to meet the camels we stopped for a midday dive at Rick’s Reef, another less frequented location and had a nice quiet dive with just us and our guide April (who was my course instructor – she’s awesome as both a guide and instructor!).

We met the camels in the mid afternoon and watched the Bedouin locals load up all the camel bags with our gear (regulators, BCDs, masks, fins, overnight equipment, sleeping bags, food, even the air tanks for all our dives). These animals are amazing creatures, quiet and steady, workhorses that are the transportation backbone for this region.

This was my first time on a camel and let’s just say it’s quite bumpy and my butt was quite sore after just a short time. After a short ride on the camel I hopped off and walked the rest of the way – Ras Abu is about 4 miles from Dahab. It was a beautiful, breezy night and the walk right on the coast was spectacular.

We arrived at camp just as the sun was setting and we were treated to gorgeous colors in the sky, along with a few local children and women trying to sell us bracelets and scarves (of course). As the sun went down, we ate dinner by candlelight and took in the millions of stars.

Jeff & I elected to take our sleeping bags outside and just sleep under the stars. We did see a few remnant shooting stars from the Orionoids shower and fell asleep to the sound of the water. However, the sand was quite hard and even with a sleeping bag and pad, neither of us got a full night sleep. Oh well! The view was totally worth it.

We woke up with the sunlight coming over the back of Saudi Arabia (across the Gulf of Aqaba) and geared up for an early morning dive. The conditions, the reef and quality of marine life were out of this world! No one was out there but us and we saw tons and tons of fish (some really big ones) and amazing colors of coral.

We got out of the water, had breakfast, and then went in for our second dive, going in the opposite direction of the reef. We were greeted by a sea turtle, an octopus and a school of barracuda. Super cool!

After the second dive and cleaning up, packing the gear, it was almost noon and time to head back to Dahab. Unfortunately, the hike back was not nearly as fun as the way over with blazing sun, no clouds and 90+ degree temps. We all rode the camels for a while since we were tired, but it’s actually hotter and slower up there, so we got off and hoofed it back.

Jeff & I checked into our new place, the Dahab Coachouse, which is a lovely small B&B run by a Danish couple, took massive showers, wolfed a big dinner of the local meatloaf surprise cheeseburgers and promptly crashed! Today we are taking it easy; I might do yoga tonight again here at a local class. Tomorrow is our last full day in Dahab before making the trek to Petra, Jordan.

Dahab has been the perfect stopover after the craziness of Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh and the fast pace of the European leg of the trip. Super excited to see Petra and then move on to Eastern Africa when we touch down in Nairobi on November 1.

Sojourn 28

Sojourn 28

Features of the Sojourn 28 wheeled convertible pack: Our StraightJacket™ compression system has always been well-suited to the rigors of travel. Add the High Road™ Chassis to the mix and you’ve got the Sojourn. For those who want to reduce the hoist component of their haul time it can’t be beat. When you do need to carry the Sojourn our superb zip-away suspension is on the ready. You’ll also find foam sidewalls for keeping the load secure, while handy mesh pockets, clothing straps and front panel daisy chains maintain your organization. Colors available: Earth, Charcoal, Pepper. Click here for more information – Sojourn Series.

For more information about Aimee, check out her bio page here.

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Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

October 15th, 2009

The Osprey Brand Team, a group of ambassadors reporting from the field at consumer outdoor events across the country as well as reporting on adventures in their own neck of the woods, delivers the latest from new team member Aimee Cebulski who is on a 6-month world travel adventure. She’s taking an Osprey Sojourn 28 with her (from our new Travel Collection). This is her fifth update coming to you from Egypt…

Are we in Egypt or Las Vegas?  Sharm El Sheikh turned out to be much more of a resort town than we thought.  Once upon a time this was a diver’s haven, a little strip of land right on the Red Sea.  Now, it’s a super developed, all-inclusive style of resort town.  Not really our scene (but it does have a Casino!).

There are countless 5-star resorts and a sea of buffets (along with people stuffing their faces) – And diving is a big business here.  We almost fell over with sticker shock when shopping for a hotel.  We scored a sweet deal at the Iberotel Lido – which is actually a very nice property, right on Naama Bay, with a killer view.  We nabbed a rate of only $180/night – includes breakfast and dinner.  This is a steal here.  Needless to say, we dramatically changed our plan to spend only a few nights here and then move quickly out of the area.

We’ve enjoyed the hotel, relaxing on the pool deck and taking in some of the local seafood at restaurants here.  Our main purpose to come to the Red Sea was to do some scuba diving.  For the last 2 days, we’ve been heading out with Camel Dive Club, one of the oldest dive shops here.

It’s a well-oiled machine, extremely organized and also very focused on diver safety, which is excellent.  Jeff says it’s the most he’s ever paid for diving, so again, we are not staying here as long as we first planned.

We’ve done 2 dives each day over the last 2 days.  The water conditions are outstanding, warm, clear and blue.  Tons of fish, amazing coral (color, styles and variety) but not as much wildlife as we have seen in other spots (turtles, reef sharks, etc.).

A videographer accompanied our group on our dives today out in Ras Mohammed National Park and she produced a video for viewing before we were even back at shore!  You home video fans (dad!) would have been super impressed at the video quality underwater and the production value of the finished piece.  However, at 45 Euro (about $68) for a finished copy, purchasing one was just not in our budget!  We were shocked at the price.  At 45 Euro, no one bought one.  If she had priced them more like 10 Euro, she would have sold out!

We’re staying here until Friday (not diving tomorrow) and then heading to the coastal haven of Dahab.  This is much more of a backpacker’s place and more like the experience we are hoping to get out of the Red Sea.  We booked a cool little hotel called the Alaska Camp & Hotel (go figure) – Our 7 nights there will equal ONE night here.  Insane!

We haven’t taken too many pictures – but a few here of us and the Red Sea.

Signing off for now, hopefully will blog again in Dahab, our hotel is supposed to have free WiFi.

sojourn28Features of the Sojourn 28 wheeled convertible pack: Our StraightJacket™ compression system has always been well-suited to the rigors of travel. Add the High Road™ Chassis to the mix and you’ve got the Sojourn. For those who want to reduce the hoist component of their haul time it can’t be beat. When you do need to carry the Sojourn our superb zip-away suspension is on the ready. You’ll also find foam sidewalls for keeping the load secure, while handy mesh pockets, clothing straps and front panel daisy chains maintain your organization. Colors available: Earth, Charcoal, Pepper. Sojourn Series.

For more information about Aimee, check out her bio page here.

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The fourth installment: Cairo

October 6th, 2009

The Osprey Brand Team, a group of ambassadors reporting from the field at consumer outdoor events across the country as well as reporting on adventures in their own neck of the woods, delivers the latest from new team member Aimee Cebulski who is on a 6-month world travel adventure. She’s taking an Osprey Sojourn 28 with her (from our new Travel Collection). This is her fourth update coming to you from Egypt…

We’ve now left Europe behind and are starting our African portion of our trip…We landed in Cairo, Egypt on October 1. We’ve been here for the last four days and there is just too much to say!

Neither Jeff nor I had ever been to Egypt and really didn’t know what to expect. We had heard everything from fears of harassment and constant scams, talk of unsafe neighborhoods and overflowing garbage and a general overall consensus that Cairo was best to “get in, see the sights on a tour, and get out…”

We were blown away at how wrong our perceptions were. From the moment we arrived in Cairo and met our driver from the hotel (the historic Windsor Hotel in downtown Cairo), we have been treated with respect, kindness and courtesy. Friendliness and chants of “hello” and “welcome to Cairo” followed us almost everywhere we went.

Like any big city, there have been the occasional moments of someone trying to sell us something, pollution, people cutting in line, etc. – But, we have just been floored at the positive energy of Cairo.

The Windsor Hotel is a turn-of-the century hotel with a famous bar and lounge, old-school gate elevator and even an old-fashioned punch style phone switchboard downstairs. It has the aura of a hotel that was once grand but now a little faded. It is in need of some repair and you can tell things might not work as well as an ultra-modern hotel, but we are loving it! Staff is unbelievably nice and helpful – In the mornings, they always make sure I have a take away for Jeff if I go down for breakfast early and he hasn’t faced the world yet…

The best experience with staff so far was 2 nights ago – I was sitting in the lounge doing some research and a nice gentleman was introducing himself \to everyone in the lounge, making sure they were enjoying themselves. He was the owner, Mr. Doss. I mentioned to him that Jeff & I were going to head out the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar later that night. Mr. Doss volunteered to personally drop us off there on his way home, even though it was out of his way! It was a comfortable ride in his Mercedes, but we were swallowed in a sea of crazy traffic as he pointed out facts about parts of the city we were driving through.

A word about Cairo traffic: Insanity. If you think you’ve seen bad traffic in LA, NY, London, Bangkok, wherever – You haven’t seen anything like this. Traffic lanes are merely suggestions, lights really don’t exist, you cross the street “Frogger” style (hopping from lane to lane) – However, we haven’t seen a single accident of any kind! Cairo drivers are either the best or the worst in the world!

In terms of attractions/activities, there are so many to mention. I’ll let the photos do the talking but I’ll post some highlights here:

(Night 1 – we arrived, went to hotel, enjoyed the lounge…)

Day 1: Over to Old Cairo, walked the maze of streets below the city, underground churches. We left the tourist area (you can easily see everywhere where the tour buses stop and how tourists are shuttled away, never to see the real Cairo)….We ended up walking for miles just checking out local neighborhoods, finding the old city walls, etc. I didn’t take many pictures as we didn’t want to intrude into people’s lives, just a few here…But we were greeted by so many smiles it was wonderful! We were the ONLY tourists we saw anywhere during our excursion; one little boy even said “cheese” and took my picture!

Night 2: We went to the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. Overwhelming! People, stalls, food, scents, sounds, a crazy mix and a fun way to spend a few hours. Got a few cool trinkets.

Day 2: Egyptian Museum in the morning – amazing collection, but it was a bit jumbled and disorganized (as much of Cairo is!) – Royal Mummies were cool but overpriced; favorite part was all the loot that was taken out of King Tut’s Tomb in 1922 – Over 5,000 pieces, including his sarcophagus and head piece!

Night 3: Relaxed at hotel for a bit, then went out over to The Nile Hotel (right on The Nile River) for their rooftop bar – fantastic views of the river, we enjoyed some food and drink and took in a football (soccer) match on TV.

Day 3: Pyramids!!! We started early, went around the grounds, into some smaller tombs – The only bummer was The Great Pyramid was not open to interior visits today due to restoration work, but we plan on going to tons of temples at Luxor so we were OK with that…Walked around the Sphinx, enjoyed cold drinks in the café looking out to the plateau…Obviously, pictures don’t do it justice.

We took our time, watching tour groups getting herded in and out in rapid succession. We even left the grounds for a while, explored a bit of the Giza neighborhood, had lunch at Pizza Hut (one right outside the gates has the BEST view in the world of the Sphinx and Pyramids)…

It’s a trip – The pyramids are right in a suburban neighborhood – you look over in your car and bam! There they are…We went back in, walked around some more, had another cool Coca Light and took it all in before heading back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

Later today, we are heading to Luxor via the night train and can’t wait to see more temples. Cairo has been an absolute blast and we are so glad we did things on our own, used the subway, walked around (and got lost on occasion, but had a great time) – It’s a shame more people don’t venture out of the cocoon of their tour groups and tourist hotel compounds – we feel like we saw a lot more than the average visitor and are leaving with a fantastic impression of the city and the Egyptian people.

My Sojourn continues to serve me well. I wheeled it around the Milan and Cairo airports easily and have found a few new nooks and crannies in the bag (the space behind the straps inside the zip-up portion makes a great space for storing dirty laundry!)

Sorry this is so long – there has just been so much to share! Signing off for now…

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