Archive for Egypt

Dec
27

My Favourite Photos of 2012

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The problem with writing about all the wonderful places I’ve visited in 2012 is that I simply couldn’t do them justice in a single blog post. Instead, I’ve chosen my favourite photos I’ve taken this year.

Donbass Arena

Donbass Arena, Donetsk

Donbass Arena, Donetsk

I travelled to the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine for the Euro 2012 match between England and France. It was a beautiful summers day and I had time to look around the city and soak up the sun. The game was played in the Donbass Arena, a magnificent, modern football stadium. As it as the summer, there was still a hint of sunlight after the game and I was able to capture this photo.
http://bbmexplorer.com/donetsk-euro-2012-host-city/

Blue Dragon Nudibranch

Blue Dragon Nudibranch

Blue Dragon Nudibranch

In April, we took a family holiday to Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, a place where I have dived many times before. I’m not sure what was different about this trip but I seem very tuned in to find different nudibranchs and slugs whilst I was diving. I found this Blue Dragon Nudibranch on the wreck of the Yolanda at the very tip of the Sinai.
http://holidayblog.easyjet.com/dives-in-egypt-rob-atherton/

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour is one of the main tourist areas of the city and is wonderful place to be during the long summer days. It is also the starting point for a number of short cruises around the many beautiful fjords and inlets.

Scallop, Aldeburgh

Scallop, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Scallop, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

There are some lovely towns and villages along the Suffolk coast. Aldeburgh is one of these places and although it is probably best known for its wonderful fish and chips the Scallop just to the north of the town has been the cause of discussion. This sculpture is dedicated to the composer,  Benjamin Britten who used to walk along this stretch of beach. Some people think it should be taken down as it is inappropriate for a man made object along such a beautiful setting.

Liverpool

Liverpool Skyline

Liverpool Skyline

I’ve been spending a bit of time in Liverpool recently and although the city is the butt of a number of jokes, parts of the city are absolutely wonderful. One evening I took the opportunity to head over to the Wirral on the other side of the River Mersey and took this picture of the Liverpool skyline at night. It shows the iconic towers of the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building, the Port of Liverpool Building, the Echo Area and in the distance, the Anglican Cathedral.

Avebury Stone Circle

Avebury Stone Circle

Avebury Stone Circle

The stone circles in the Wiltshire village of Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain. It dates back to 2,600BC during the Neolithic period and today is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Titan Triggerfish

Titan Triggerfish

Titan Triggerfish

I wasn’t sure whether to include a second underwater picture but I really like this picture of a Titan Triggerfish. These fish can grow up to 70cm long and are sometimes incredibly agressive. I’ve been attacked by them a few times although luckily, I’ve never been bitten. The thing I like about this picture is I was able to get so close to it head on.

Dec
31

My 10 Top Travel Photos of 2011

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2011 has again been a good year for me to discover wonderful new places in the world. Rather than bore you with a very brief and inadequate description, I thought I’d rely on the old saying of “a picture paints a thousand words” or rather in this case a photo. Here are my favourite photos I took during the last year.

Kronborg Castle

My first trip of the year was to the Danish capital of Copenhagen. I’ve been there many times and decided to head up the coast to Helsingor and the famous Kronborg Castle. It is said to be the setting for Shakespeare’s famous play “Hamlet”.

Kronborg Castle – One of Northern Europe’s finest Renaissance castles

 

Sveti Stefan

I spent a couple of days on the Montenegro coast at Sveti Stefan overlooking this iconic iselt.

Sveti Stefan – Famous visitors here include Elizabeth Taylor and Sophie Loren.

 

Mandarin Fish

My first diving trip to Manado was extremely rewarding. On a night dive I managed to capture a couple of pictures of the elusive Mandarin Fish on a night dive.

The elusive Mandarin Fish on Bunaken Island, Manado, Indonesia

 

Queens Colours 1/24th Regiment

The Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 was the greatest defeat a British force ever suffered at the hands of a native army. On that fateful January day, the Queens Colours of 1/24th Regiment were lost in the Buffalo River. Two weeks later, against all odds they were recovered. Queen Victoria added a wreath of immortals around the crown as reminder of what happened to those colours at Isandlwana. Today, they are hanging in the Havard side chapel in Brecon Cathedral, Wales.

Queens COlours of 1/24th Regiment that were lost and later found after the Battle of Isandlwana in January 1879.

 

Burning Bush / Fire Extinguisher

High in the Sinai Mountains in St Catherine’s Monastery. It is a hugely significant religious site and  this picture is of the Burning Bush. I found it slightly amusing that there is a fire extinguisher next to it…just in case.

In 2011, the Burning Bush is less of a safety risk that back in the days when it was described in the book of Exodus thanks to a fire extinguisher.

 

Soldier on guard, Hall of Valour

The Battle of Stalingrad was an horrendous fight to the death for hundreds of thousands of Russian and German soldiers. Today at the Hall of Valour at Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, there is a permanent guard.

A soldier stands guard in the Hall of Valour, Mamayev Kurgan, Volgograd

 

Petra through the Siq

The Siq at Petra is a long passage all visitors have to travel through to reach the famous Red City. As you approach the end, you get your first glimpse of the Treasury in Petra.

Nearing the end of the Siq and catching a first sight of the Treasury at Petra.

 

Kotor – cruise ship

The old walled town of Kotor in Montenegro is a popular cruise destination.

A cruise ship docked at Kotor, Montenegro

 

Pufferfish

This photo isn’t so much a favourite, I just want to highlight a problem (excuse the blurriness). When threatened, Pufferfish expand their bodies. Its a rare sight and is incredibly stressful for them. On this night dive in Aqaba, the guide annoyed this Pufferfish enough for it to puff out it’s body. I was really annoyed that someone meant to educate and protect the marine environment could do this. It was at a 5* PADI centre in a marine park.

This poor Pufferfish was annoyed by our dive guide and felt it had to expand it’s body to defend itself.

 

Ma’In Hotsprings

If you want to visit a fantastic spa resort in a stunning setting, the Ma’In Hotsprings 260m below sea level in Jordan will not disappoint.

The main waterfall at the fabulous Ma’In Hotsprings in Jordan.

 

I regularly update my Flickr account with my latest photos which you can find here:

http://www.flickr.com/bbmexplorer

Please feel free to add me as a contact.

Thats all from me for 2011, now I’m looking forward to 2012 which will take me to more new places and the Euro 2012 Championships in Ukraine.

Dec
18

Learning to Identify Marine Life

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When I was learning to scuba dive many years ago, I remember getting back on the boat after one of the training dives and my instructor was all excited.

“Did you see the Guitar Shark?”

“The what??”

I had never heard of a Guitar Shark. Since then, I’ve logged more than 200 dives and haven’t seen another one so I guess they are pretty rare. Today, I take a camera with me on every single dive and I love nothing more than spending the entire dive trying to take that perfect picture of a little marine creature I haven’t seen before. The display of colours on the coral reefs are spectacular but unless I know the names of what I’ve seen, the experience isn’t complete. Imagine going on safari and telling people you saw a massive grey thing with big ears and a long nose or a big cat with black dots. It wouldn’t seem right, would it?

Massive Grey Things With Big Ears

Back on land, I download the images to my lapt0p and start editing the best pictures. I normally just delete about 60-80% for any number of reasons such as being blurred, bad colours or missing the shot. The best ones are filed away and then I start tracking down the names of the fish in various books. That itself is no mean feat. On my last trip to Bunaken Island, the instructor was also a marine biologist so we spent hours trawling through books to identify more than 250 images but we got there in the end.

I like to think some of my pictures aren’t too bad and I do receive a few compliments. Identifying exactly what I have taken a picture of is sometimes as much of a challenge as getting the shot in the first place. Underwater a reef may seem vast but certain types of fish can usually be found in the same place. If you want to see an Anemonefish (aka Clownfish), you need to find an Anemone. Moray eels are often found hidden in holes in the reef with just their head sticking out. Larger fish such as Tuna will be ‘out in the blue.

Spinecheek Anemonefish

Generally, I take as many pictures as possible. If I know a particular reef, I may well trying to find a specific type of fish. On my next trip to Sharm el Sheikh, I hope to find a Long Nose Hawkfish on one of the large Gorgonian Fans in the Straits of Tiran. They are beautiful little fish but very hard to photograph.

I upload my better pictures to Flickr. I normally create different sets for each trip but I’ve also finally got round to grouping my underwater photos into sets. Hopefully, that will help both myself and others in trying to identifying marine life. I’ve got plenty more pictures to add and with more trips to come. I may even get to see a Guitar Shark.

If you want to browse my underwater photos on Flickr, you’ll find them here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbmexplorer/collections/72157628128068434/

 

Aug
21

Impressions of Dahab in the Sinai

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Dahab means ‘Gold’ in Arabic and this laid back resort about one hour north of Sharm el Sheikh and less than an hour from the airport is a treasure in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. Sharm is geared far more for tourists whereas Dahab was always a more relaxed environment traditionally where backbackers would head for in search of a quieter destination. Although the popularity of the resort is growing, it is still a great place to visit for those in search of more low key destination.

Most first time visitors to Egypt will head for the major resorts of Sharm el Sheikh or Hurghada but Dahab has a charm of its own that people returning to Egypt discovered. All along the main bay are a number of small cafes and restaurants, some with their own little piece of beach. People come here to sit back with a drink and gaze over the clear, blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Dahab is also a popular place for scuba divers who travel here to dive the famous ‘Blue Hole’. The dive centres at Sharm el Sheikh and Nuweiba often bring divers here for a day trip which gives an indication of the attraction of the dive site. Of all the wonderful dive sites in Egypt, the Blue Hole in Dahab is considered one site that every diver should experience. It isn’t the only dive site in the Dahab area and the water is teeming with colourful fish and beautiful coral formations.

For those in need of a bit of retail therapy, there are plenty of the traditional souvenirs available along with places to buy jewellery, perfumes and other fragrances. It is always possible to haggle with the market stall owners to try to get yourself a bargain and haggling is also part of the shopping experience in any of the regular shops regardless of what they are selling.

Dahab is also a great base to head out and explore the Sinai. Snorkelling trips are popular as are quad bikes out in the desert. Day trips to St Catherine’s Monastery high in the mountains are worthwhile, even if you opt for the very early departure to see the sun rise from Mount Sinai. For those looking for a relaxing destination with a bit of character, Dahab is certainly worth considering.

Categories : Big Blue Marble, Dahab, Egypt
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Pharoah's Island Snorkelling

In line with virtually all other sea side resorts in Egypt, snorkelling trips are available for visitors to Taba and Taba Heights. The destination is Pharoah’s Island and it is also known as Farun Island. It lies just off the Sinai coast around 40 minutes sailing time from Taba Heights marina. On the island, the most prominent landmark is the old fort built in the time of the Crusades by the Saracens.

The snorkelling trip is operated on a wonderful boat with masts and plenty of deck space so you can soak up the sun. The setting in the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba is wonderful with the mountains of the Sinai on one side and spectacular views across to Jordan on the other. However, the exceptional views are found beneath the clear, warm waters.

Before you put on your mask and enter the water, the guide will brief you on a few points about the snorkelling area. Dive boats also visit Pharoah’s Island so although its easy to just look down and watch the array of marine life, you have to be aware of other boats, divers and where you are.

Once the formalities are complete, your snorkelling group enters the water and you are an observer on a magnificent underwater world full of life and colour. Many people believe that scuba diving is the best way to see the amazing marine life on the coral reefs but snorkelling has one big advantage. Normal scuba gear is what is known as open circuit. In Layman’s terms, this means that when you breathe out using scuba gear, you release a stream of bubbles into the water.  This tends to upset the fish so it’s harder to get close to them. However, there are no bubbles when snorkelling and you can drift along in your own silent world and you’ll be amazed at how just close you can get to the little fish without frightening them away.

Clown Fish, Pharoah's Island

The array of fish and things to see while snorkelling at Pharoah’s Island is quite simply mind blowing. Ideally you should try to get closer to the coral as many of the creatures stay close to it but remember not to touch as there are plenty of things such as Fire Coral and Lion Fish that can give you a nasty sting. It is quite possible you will see the little Clown Fish which everyone loves. If you are very lucky, you may even see a Frog Fish which is found in this part of Egypt. Trips to Pharoah’s Island  are popular and run on a daily basis.

 

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Positioned in the North East of the Sinai, Taba Heights is a private resort centred all round an 18 hole PGA standard golf course. It’s position on the foothills of the mountains offers remarkable views over the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan and Saudi Arabia just 6 miles away. The location together with the fact it doesn’t get crowded makes Taba Heights among the most beautiful places in Egypt.

With over three miles of natural beaches there are plenty of secluded places offering excellent snorkelling opportunities. Dive boats head out from the international marina daily and there are a number of shops and places to eat in the area beside the El Wekala referred to as the Uptown. Weekly in Uptown, there is a street festival where guests and residents come together for an evening of entertainment. For anyone staying in the hotels down the sea front, complimentary buses operate shuttling people around the resort.

A variety of hotels are dotted round the golf course making this a wonderful desert setting. The 5* hotels are situated alongside the beach and further up the hills at the highest point of Taba Heights is the 4* El Wekala Golf Resort. It’s an all-inclusive hotel that also has its own section of beach with a bar and pool. There is also a Dine Around Privilege allowing guests to sample the dinner at various restaurants in different hotels in Taba Heights.

The holiday resort is a superb base to explore the surrounding area in addition to excursions to Eilat and Jerusalem in Israel and the spectacular Petra in Jordan. For all those unwilling to travel too far, St Catherines Monastery is a renowned trip and this can be coupled with a trip to the casual resort of Dahab.

For those seeking to explore the coral reefs, there are choices for scuba divers and snorkellers as well. Farun Island (or Pharoahs Island) is a common spot for boats with both snorkellers and divers. There’s an ancient fort on the island built by the Saracen Salahdin during the time of the Crusades. The excursions all leave from the harbour and for divers, there are many outstanding sites suitable for all abilities of scuba diver presenting an amazing array of marinelife. For now, Taba Heights is still a rather unknown gem in the Sinai however with so much to offer holidaymakers it is becoming more and more successful.

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On a recent diving trip to Taba in the Gulf of Aqaba, I took literally hundreds of photos underwater as I normally do. There were plenty of the normal suspects such as clownfish, moray eels and lion fish and I was able to identify all of them….except one.

Some of the dive sites in Taba have expands of sea grass and they are fantastic for finding lots of little creatures that live there. Its also a good reason why when you are diving on such sites that its no problem to crash onto the sea bed. It was here that I spotted a little slug which was about an inch long (2.5cm) and I managed to get a good clear picture of it.

One of the other divers had a laptop and we managed to get the image on the screen in between dives to get a good look at it. However, we checked a couple of marine guides and the dive guides had never seen it before. When I returned to the UK, I searched the internet trying to identify it but to no avail.

One possibility is that is a juvenile slug which has not yet developed its adult colours. It is common in the marine world for juveniles and adults of the same species to have very different markings.

I did see a number of Ceylon Gymnodoris and I’m starting to wonder if the little slug I took a photo of is a juvenile.

I’d be interested to know what you think and if you could identify my little mystery slug, that would be even better.

These are just two photos I took in Taba and you can see the entire collection from my diving trip on my Flickr page;
Taba, Egypt in April 2011

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Apr
25

A Day Trip to St Catherine’s Monastery

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One of the many interesting places to visit on a day trip from the seaside resorts in the Sinai is St Catherine’s Monastery. This UNESCO site lies right in the centre of the Sinai Peninsula high up in the mountains and dates back to the 5th century. The story of St Catherine is that she was a Christian from Alexandria. Her father had raised her as a pagan but as well as converting herself to Christianity, Catherine also converted among others, a Roman emperor’s wife. According to the story, after her death angels transported Catherine’s body to Mount Sinai and it is her that the Monastery was established and it is the oldest working Christian Monastery in the world. Around 25 monks live there and Orthodox pilgrims are able to stay overnight here.

If you plan to visit the St Catherine’s, you need to be aware that it is only open for a few hours in the morning. At midday, it closes its doors and visitors aren’t allowed in. However, this isn’t a problem as a number of excursions arrive here around 2am. This allows people to take the 3hr climb up the footpath to the top of Mount Sinai to see the spectacular sun rise. After that, they descend and visit the Monastery.

There are a number of little shops around the car park and visitors are swamped by people trying to sell books and all sorts of souvenirs. The walk up to the Monastery from the car park is a couple of hundred yards but you do have the option to ride a camel up there. The slope isn’t too challenging so we chose to walk. As it turned out, the biggest problem was a series of locals trying to sell us books and other assorted tat.

The Monastery itself its fascinating, Inside the main building you will find a typical Orthodox place of worship with numerous icons. Photos may not be taken inside the Monastery building and both men and women are required to cover legs and arms out of respect when entering. Once outside, you can see the ‘Burning Bush’ which is mentioned in the Bible and to be on the safe side, there is a fire extinguisher next to it. After the tour of the St Catherine’s is over, it is recommended that you make the short climb up the hill opposite to get a wonderful panoramic view of the Monastery and gardens.

Excursions to St Catherine’s operate most days from the resorts of Taba, Nuweiba and Sharm el Sheikh. There are variations on the itinerary to suit with some leaving early to see the sun rise while others depart just after breakfast and also include a visit to Dahab for something to eat and a bit of shopping.

 

Apr
24

Diving at Taba Heights in Egypt

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Located at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, Taba is one of the lesser visited diving areas of Egypt and although it doesn’t get the larger life such as sharks and manta rays, the dive sites offer a colourful and diverse selection of marine life.

One of the great things about diving in Taba is that there are only a few dive boats operating so often you will be the only people at the dive site which is in striking contrast to Sharm el Sheikh a couple of hundred miles away at the southern tip of the Sinai. Although the diving is superb in Sharm, the number of boats at popular sites like Jackson Reef or Shark & Yolanda means that it does get quite busy underwater.

The dive sites around Taba Heights don’t take long to get to which means there is usually the option of a 3rd dive of the day…never a bad thing !!  The site that attracts most boats is Farun Island (aka Pharoah’s Island). There is an old fort and lookout post on the island built during the times of the crusades by the Saracen Saladin who was the great rival of Richard the Lionheart. As well as being a popular dive site, it is also the destination for snorkelling trips. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely setting and an easy site to dive.

Taba is a paradise for underwater photographers. The sites are generally quite shallow and there is a superb array of marine life just waiting to be captured on film (or more likely, on memory card). One of the more unusual creatures found in the area is the Frogfish. It is a type of Anglerfish, has a face only a mum could love and is fairly immobile. They are ambush predators and an attack can be as fast 6 milliseconds. Their mouths move so fast that no other animals can see it happen.

Other marine life that can be found in Taba includes a number of species of Moray eel, colourful nudibranchs as well as the ever popular clownfish, lionfish, sea stars and shrimp. The one thing that isn’t allowed in Taba is night diving. This is due to the fact that it is so close to the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel so dive boats aren’t allowed to operate at night. It’s a real shame as there is no doubt that night dives in Taba would be as spectacular as diving during the day.

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For several days in late 2010, the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh was in the spotlight as a number of shark attacks in between Middle Gardens and Ras Nasrani struck fear into travellers. Four travellers were injured and a 5th was killed. It was the first deadly shark attack in Egypt for a year and the 1st in Sharm for 6 years.

As with any shark attack anywhere worldwide, there is mass hysteria. The authorities shut beach locations and diving operations though some holidaymakers still ventured into the ocean. It was not very long before two sharks were caught and exhibited the world as the ones to blame. However, the Oceanic White Tip to blame for one attack was photographed by scuba divers and had different markings in comparison to the one that was captured.

Just as unexpectedly as the attacks started, they ended. Shark gurus had travelled to Sharm from just about all over the globe to try to explain what actually transpired. The behaviour definitely wasn’t natural which means the only real conclusion was that some sort of man-made intervention was to blame.

In more distant parts of the Southern Red Sea, shark feeding really does happen though it is illegal. A much more likely conclusion was that the boat carrying live sheep to Saudi Arabia threw dead livestock into the sea. The busy shipping channels close to the Straits of Tiran aren’t far away from the place where the shark attacks happened.

In reality, the reasons may never be known but things have to be kept in perspective. Though shark attacks are horrific, they are extremely rare. In contrast, three tourist coach crashes in October, November and December took an overall total of 22 lives yet still received relatively little coverage. Gratefully, tourism in Egypt is very strong and it has recovered powerfully in the aftermath of a number of tragedies. Sharm el Sheikh is Egypt’s most well liked holiday destination and will definitely be going strong in 2011.