June - July 2017
  • Day17

    Return Flight and Reflections

    July 16, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    The return journey started with its own unique set of challenges. We were initially booked on Qatar Airways, but then had to rebook when all flights between Qatar and several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, were suspended due to political reasons. We rebooked on British Airways. Then, 3 days before our return flight, we found out that there are some changes in the baggage policies, similar to those of the US for Middle Eastern countries. As a result, we had to leave our powerpack and reusable batteries in Cairo; not even checked baggage was an acceptable location. Frustrating since we had no head notice, but understandable if that's deemed necessary for security reasons.

    Also, the 20 hour journey gave us plenty of catch up on blog posts! Unfortunately hygge is hard to maintain when returning to LAX, given the massive delays and congestion. But alas, it was great being on the road for 17 days!


    The Egyptian history is some of the richest in the world, and much of it is incredibly well preserved despite being more than 2500 years old. Still, Westerners were few and far between, likely due to the perception of instability since the 2011 revolution. Don't get this wrong, we don't want the place to be overrun with Western tourists, but it's unfortunate for a country dependent on tourism to leave airports deserted and craftsmen without demand for their products. Especially with the immense history of people that are likely all our ancestors. We plan to return to Egypt to see the Valley of the Kings in Luxor in the future.

    Many people asked us about safety concerns before leaving for this trip, but never once were we worried while in Egypt. All public spaces and hotels had security and metal detectors, and there was a noticeable police presence on the roads. Accidents or attacks can happen anywhere, but we're not going to let that stop us from traveling (within reason).

    The Red Sea diving is quite good and very affordable. We'd recommend it for someone interested in a liveaboard trip somewhere new, and to combine it with some fascinating history.

    What's next? That's still in the works, but there's one (inhabited) continent we haven't checked out yet.
    Read more

  • Explore, what other travelers do in:
  • Day16

    Cairo / Giza

    July 15, 2017 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 38 °C

    Warning that this is a very long post. We wanted to include enough historical context to remember how fascinating it was to revisit high school history class experientially.

    We woke up early to grab breakfast, pack up, and check out of the hotel before our pyramids tour. We grabbed a taxi to a nearby hotel where the tour would begin. We happened to be the only ones on the tour so we set off right away to get to the pyramids in time for opening time at 8. Mahmoud, our guide, explained that we would be using a side gate to avoid the crowded main entrance and would get to experience the pyramids alone, at least for a little.

    The pyramids were built to house the body of the Pharaohs and their treasures so that the soul could rejoin the body in the after life. The pyramids at Giza were part of the oldest era. After the tombs were frequently robbed post-mortem, the burial for Pharaohs thereafter was moved underground to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. The majority of those were also robbed, but some remained undiscovered - more on that later. The Great Pyramid is the only remaining of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. It's still unknown exactly how the Egyptians had the technology to build such structures. If it were to be deconstructed, the stones could form a 2 meter high wall around the perimeter of France - that's absolutely mind-boggling.

    We started with a view of the 3 main pyramids and the Sphinx. The only other people were vendors and camel keepers getting ready for a long, hot day. Even at 8, the temperature was already at 35C. We chose an 'adventure' tour, of course, which would include walking from the Sphinx to the main entrance by the Great Pyramid. It wasn't a great distance, but the heat and flies made it seem long enough.

    Mahmoud insisted that we take a typical tourist shot kissing the Sphinx so Brittany continued with the Egyptian tourist photo ways. We really did have the place to ourselves until other tourists began to trickle in as we neared the main entrance. We were going to go inside the Great Pyramid, but it was already very crowded by the time we reached the main entrance to buy tickets, so we decided to try the smallest pyramid instead.

    Our tour bus took us to the panorama plateau where one could capture the 3 pyramids together. A dusty layer of fog sat low in the sky that made the city behind the pyramids vanish, making it even more surreal. Even with the multiple tourists, taking more touristy photos, it was great way to take in one of our world's greatest wonders.

    The smallest pyramid, fortunately, was a lot less busy and we got the experience of going inside the inner chambers to ourselves. Our guide had taught us how to say thank you in Arabic ('shokran') and it was helpful in politely declining the tacky souvenirs and pushy salesmen that we encountered multiple times.

    Not wanting to participate in camel riding, our tour of the pyramids ended a bit early. As part of the tour, we were to experience Koshary, a typical Egyptian meal. However, Mahmoud felt it was too early at 1030 since it was typically eaten at lunch time (which is at 5, our dinner time) so he offered falafel sandwiches for breakfast (lunch). We weren't yet hungry so we visited a "proper" papyrus shop first.

    In the papyrus shop, we were shown how paper from the plant was made and how durable it is - durable enough to have survived for 1000's of years. They had beautiful artwork on the papyrus that was available for purchase. We chose to get one with the Egyptian calendar and one with Bastet, goddess in the form of a cat.

    Since we were the only ones on the tour and had mentioned interest in going to the Egyptian museum, Mahmoud offered to continue as our guide. We asked to combine it with a visit to one of the city's great mosques and a walk through the historic market (Bazaar). We took him up on his offer since he was very knowledgeable and $50 for a private tour and driver was quite reasonable. Lunch was a bowl of Koshary, and rice pudding for dessert, all for around $1.

    After lunch, we were off to the Egyptian museum. We started off with a discussion about the Rosetta Stone - the real one is located in London, so a replica was displayed at the museum entrance given the historical significance. For the majority of AD history, very little was known about the meaning of the Egyptian artifacts due to a lack of understanding of hieroglyphics. The Rosetta Stone, found in Luxor, contained the same text in 3 languages, including Greek from the time when Alexander the Great ruled Egypt after the last great Pharaohs. This provided the key to deciphering the meaning of the wonders of ancient Egypt, including their writing and calendar.

    As was mentioned before, most artifacts from their Pharaoh burial sites were stolen over the succeeding millennia. But one site was only partially robbed, and the sarcophagus was completely untouched. In 1920, the tomb of the child Pharaoh Tutankhamun was excavated in what was the greatest archaeological discovery in history. For context, Tutankhamun only ruled for a decade, and was not known as one of the great rulers, but the vast collection is preserved in the museum covering a large part of the second floor. Included in this collection were chairs, chariots, sandals, and games made out of pure gold, precious stones and other exquisite materials. The attention to detail in these artifacts was immaculate, and would be considered high quality even by today's standards. We'd have to keep reminding ourselves that these artifacts are over 3000 years old. The highlights of the collection were the 11 kg golden mask and the multiple sarcophagus shells within which the king laid. It was absolutely unreal to get this much insight into this ancient civilization: their writing, arts, crafts​, calendars, deities, enemies, and everyday life. Even those not into history (Brittany...) are left in awe.

    Next up, fast forward a few millennia to the Islamic history of Egypt. After the Greco-Roman and Byzantine periods, Egypt was "islamized" in the 7th century by crusaders from nearby Saudi Arabia. In 18th century, the French invaded Egypt. The Independence movement was led by Muhammed Ali, who later ruled the country. A great mosque was built in his honor, on the hill overlooking all of Cairo, in an area known as the city of the dead where the extremely poor live atop buried Muslims' tombs; acting as caretakers of the deceased. Our guide Mahmoud is Muslim and was willing to teach us about the history and principles (known as the 5 pillars) of Islam. The mosque itself was quite beautiful, with a large courtyard area, two tall minarets (towers), and a vast interior under the domes decorated with various scriptures from the Qur'an. It also contains the tomb of Muhammed Ali himself. It was quite interesting to learn more about this religion firsthand.

    Our last stop was the market, aka Bazaar, located within the old city walls. We visited another mosque, much older and built in a different architectural style, and walked through the narrow streets and alleys where almost anything could be bought. At this point, after having spent several hours outside in 105 deg F weather, we were happy to settle for some cold waters and get picked up by the van.

    We picked up our luggage, got a ride to our hotel by the airport, and then jumped in the pool just before sunset to wash off the filth and sweat accumulated throughout the day. It was a jam-packed 10 hours of touring around the city, but well worth it for the amazing history.
    Read more

  • Day15

    To Cairo

    July 14, 2017 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 35 °C

    Today was primarily a travel day. We woke up at 6 after only 5 short hours of sleep from the night before. We said our goodbyes to the other divers over breakfast and then took off on our 3 hour transfer to Hurghada airport. The Red Sea was in view almost the whole drive; other than that, there were multiple unfinished buildings that sporadically dotted the desert landscape.

    While there are lanes on Egyptian roads, they're regarded only as suggestions. Our driver spent a lot of time driving in the left lane, and only cutting over to the right lane to avoid oncoming traffic. Fortunately the van's ceilings were high because he rarely slowed for bumps which would send us up in our seats. Nico's phone once flew out of his hand on one such bump. Needless to say, we didn't get to catch up on sleep on the drive.

    When we arrived at the airport, we said goodbye to our fellow diving friends from Denmark and Germany who were dropped off at the international terminal before we were taken to the other terminal. Our terminal was eerily quiet (it was the same one we arrived in) with only a few airport staff and security lingering around. To our surprise, we were denied entry and told that we needed to go to the other terminal by taxi. When we pointed to a sign that read "Free shuttle bus between terminals" he shook his head no and said "taxi!"

    We proceeded to the lower level where we found a taxi driver who wanted to charge us 20€ to get back to the other terminal. As we were walking away, we haggled a lower price down to $5, but it was still too much for the distance. We would have walked, but there was no easy pedestrian access (perhaps by design - taxi drivers need work) and in the 40C heat, it wouldn't have been pleasant. Once aboard the plane, we fell fast asleep on the short flight to Cairo.

    Our drive to the hotel in Cairo was just as exciting, or possibly more so, than the drive earlier that morning because of the additional traffic and lack of lane compliance. We fit between spaces that didn't seem possible and somehow made it safely to the hotel. It reminded us of the taxi ride in Jakarta and we were happy to have arrived at our cocoon in the chaotic city. We had a great view over the Nile river from our room.

    We ventured a short distance out of the hotel for dinner at a quaint little pasta shop in the 26th of July district. Crossing the street was a fun challenge. We also noticed several youths riding bikes without a front tire. It was an early bedtime for an early tour start to see the pyramids the next day.
    Read more

  • Day14

    Diving 6

    July 13, 2017, Red Sea ⋅ ☀️ 34 °C

    Wake up was at 530 to get an early start on the final day's diving and to return to Port Ghalib. The first dive was called Elphinstone. Sonia told us we were very lucky to catch a calm morning since typically there is a strong current that doesn't allow one to see parts of the reef. We started by going out to the tip of the reef and a little into the blue to see if we could spot sharks. We were unlucky in that aspect and instead zigzagged across the reef. The reef was beautiful and extremely healthy, but also quite crowded. Even with an early wakeup, we were quickly joined by divers from the other moored liveaboards as well as day boats. At one point, multiple divers were surrounding a small turtle for pictures and a couple of them kicked him while passing by; some divers are just hopelessly unaware. One of the divermasters finally took his reg out and released air in front of the turtle so the others wouldn't get a good shot... hopefully leaving the turtle alone.

    After the dive, we cruised over to a bay closer to the port. We were to do two dives in the bay at the request of the captain due to unfavorable winds at the final site. We decided to call it a dive trip after one dive in the bay, and 17 total over 6 days. The visibility was quite bad and we were looking forward to some relaxation on the boat. Even with poor visibility, we were lucky with what we came across on the dive. A huge sea turtle, several lionfish, pipefish, a large porcupinefish, and a protective clown fish that was attempting to keep us away from the anemone.

    At lunch, Sonia presented a cake to celebrate crossing the 100 dive threshold on this trip, for both of us and Mike the Canadian. It was a fun way to celebrate the big milestone and to get excited for many more (#1000!). We sunbathed on the deck and went for a few dips in the water.

    After the rest of the group completed the third dive, we headed back to port. The majority of the group opted for dinner on the boat. Afterwards, we continued to the Wunderbar for drinks. Sonia told us about her life as a dive guide and the trips she arranges for her friends. As a preference, she spends most of her life on the water, and only visits her apartment in Hurghada once or twice a month. Her vibrant spirit, laid-back style and smile proved that true happiness can come from having less when you're doing what you love.

    The pack of dudes, and Brittany, continued to a bar close to the boat where the Thai group had dinner and were well on their way to a late night with shisha and 'tequila' shots. There was a live performer that was covering mainstream songs making it a lively place. After a few beers and a tequila shot or two, Mike found his way to performing for the crowd - it drew more people on the dance floor and made for some good laughs. We stayed until the bar closed at midnight and proceeded to pack to the best of our abilities for our early departure the next morning.

    Looking back at our diving experience in the Red Sea, we were very happy with the abundance of marine life and we're thrilled to see big sharks. The life was noticably less diverse than in the Indo-Pacific coral triangle, though, so there were not as many colors of coral or number of reef fish species as in Palau or Indonesia. Still, it was great to see healthy reefs and an attitude of preservation. At $1000 pp for a week, the liveaboard offered great value for the money. The facilities, service and food were quite good. Comparable trips generally cost 2-3x.

    We chatted with many experienced divers on the boat about potential next destinations. The current frontrunners are the Maldives, Philippines and Galapagos. Hopefully we'll see some of the same people on a boat again. Very soon... Because you know us - we're never still for too long.
    Read more

  • Day13

    Diving 5

    July 12, 2017, Red Sea ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    The fifth dive day got off to an early start since we were due to start the journey back towards the mainland that afternoon. The first dive turned out to be the most memorable of the trip. Shortly after descending into the blue, we noticed that the first group was already photographing below. There were multiple hammerheads circling just below. We happily joined in as it almost got a little too crowded. Two more hammerheads joined the party, and we got within 2-3 meters of these graceful creatures. A Silky shark, which is another species just slightly smaller than the hammers, also started circling. He had a noticeably different swimming style with much more swift and inquisitive movements rather than the slow circling of hammers. This dive was definitely one of our favorites due to how close we got to the sharks.

    The second dive, in the same spot, was a dud as we spent most of the time staring into the blue with no shark in sight. But that's expected when diving with sharks in their natural environment. Out of the 7 shark dives we did at Daedalus, we had amazing, up-close experiences on 2, saw some sharks at distance on 3, and got nothing on 2.

    Dive 3 was back in the anemone garden. Anemone always makes for spectacular pictures due to the vibrant colors and otherworldly shapes of the polyps.

    After last dive in the afternoon, we took off on our overnight journey towards Elphinstone reef. Everyone had a few drinks together on the top deck and bow as we cruised into the sunset.
    Read more

  • Day12

    Diving 4

    July 11, 2017, Red Sea ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    The fourth day of diving was back at Daedalus with the same objective: to spot hammerheads. This day didn't prove to be as successful as we had hoped under the water as we only saw one shark from the distance. We mixed it up for the third dive, opting for a dive location on the island's other side known for an anemone garden and a 15 meter long, egg-shaped coral formation. The wall was abundant with colorful coral and small critters. We were bummed to find out that the other diver group, on the same site 20 mins earlier, saw a school of 10+ hammerhead sharks.

    On the surface, between dives, we popped out of our suite as several people were yelling "shark"! An oceanic whitetip (aka longimanus) was swimming near the boat, surrounded by a group of pilot fish. While slightly smaller than the hammerhead, the oceanic is bigger in girth and typically hunts near the surface. It's a species that makes one think twice before hopping in the water, although attacks on humans are still quite rare.

    After the third dive, we piled in the zodiaks (dinghies) to check out the lighthouse. The part of the island above surface isn't more than 100 meters across, but shallow coral reef extends much further so that a long dock is needed for visiting boats. The lighthouse is manned year-round by two Egyptian Navy officers who make a little money on the side by allowing visitors and selling t-shirts. We climbed to the top for some cool views of the reef and moored liveaboards.
    Read more

  • Day11

    Diving 3

    July 10, 2017, Red Sea ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    After an 11 hour trip through evening and night, we arrived at Deadalus reef. Wake up was at 630 for a 700 dive time. The goal of the dive was to see the hammerhead sharks which congregate around the island. The dive consists of dropping down to 90 ft along the coral wall and then swimming out into the deep blue to wait. Not just a little distance, but far enough so that the reef wall is only barely visible. The ocean floor is several hundred feet deep at this point. And then you wait, patiently scanning all directions for the shadow of a shark. We were unsuccessful on this dive, and after just over 30 mins in the blue, we returned to the wall to gradually shallow up. From afar, the reef wall looks grey and lifeless, but as one approaches, it comes to life as marine life movement and color start to appear.

    The second dive of the day had been a good one the entire trip, and this one didn't disappoint either. Shortly after dropping down to 100 ft, we spotted a hammerhead, and soon several others joined and circled below us. It was surreal to watch the hammerheads for nearly 15 minutes, swimming slowly around us and sometimes playfully turning on their sides. In total, we saw 5 different sharks at once, and everyone was elated upon surfacing.

    The third dive wasn't quite as exciting as the second, but we still spotted a grey reef shark and a hammerhead in the distance. Even when there isn't much to see in the blue, there's still the pretty wall on the ascent.
    Read more

  • Day10

    Diving 2

    July 9, 2017 in Egypt ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Day 2 was the start of the real diving. We cruised north 7 hours to the Brothers Islands in the middle of the Red Sea. First up was the smaller of the two, Little Brother. The current was quite strong and required a negative entry, in which one enters the water with a fully deflated BCD and descends rapidly in order to not miss the dive site due to the current. At around 30 ft, the reef provided enough protection from the current. The reef was in great shape but we didn't see any big pelagics on this first dive.

    Brittany skipped dive #2, so Nico buddied up with a 5-pack of dudes. He was thrilled to get the first glimpse of a hammerhead shark, one of the larger species (~12 ft long) with the distinctive face, which congregate in the blue near off-shore reefs. The shark was at least 10 meters away, but circled just below the divers for a little while. Seeing hammerheads was one of the goals of this dive trip.

    The third dive started on a wreck at around 100 ft, a transport vessel called the Aida which sank in the 1940s. The stern sits at 180 ft, outside of recreational dive limits, so we could only check out the middle half. From there, we swam along a beautiful coral wall. A juvenile Napoleon wrasse followed us the entire way, opportunistically looking for prey loosened by the bubbles. The wall was unbelievably colorful and abundant with marine life. There was also a scrawled filefish down below, and numerous cornetfish along the way.

    After the third dive, tuneage was bumping on the top deck and the bar was open for cocktail hour. It's great comradery to enjoy some cold beverages while watching the sunset after an accomplished day of diving. The Thai delegation was leading the party train, and had stocked up on hard stuff at the airport duty free, so we enjoyed chatting with them all night long. Probably a little too long since we didn't get the best sleep that night...
    Read more

  • Day9

    Diving 1

    July 8, 2017, Red Sea ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    The modus operandi over the next week was eat, sleep, dive, and repeat. A bell on the main deck indicates that it's time for the dive briefing or that food is ready. To figure out which one it is, just keep it mind that it alternates. So if you last dove and hear the bell, it's time to eat. There are a number of potential origins for the name of the Red Sea: 1) the abundance of red athias, 2) the red-glowing sunsets, or 3) the infrequent red-colored algae that can be found on the surface.

    On the first day, we cruised north along the shore for some easy checkout dives. These dives were relatively shallow at 50ft with nice coral. We saw two smaller turtles that were very cute and swam close, a bluespotted stingray hiding in the sand, a crocodile fish also hiding in the sand, nudibranch, various fish and a fat eel.

    We watched a very pretty sunset over land. Shortly after sunset we had our final dive briefing for the day - a night dive. With 3 night dives under our belt, it still causes Brittany some anxiety but has gotten noticeably better with each dive. There was some additional anxiety about the battery life of the torches we brought from home so we borrowed one as a secondary. Luckily we did because both of our torches went out and we only used the borrowed light. Surprisingly, even with one light, Brittany felt much calmer and didn't start to get spooked until we left the group to return to the boat. It was a successful, although short, dive because we saw a little cuttlefish and a Spanish dancer.

    We ate again, then went to bed shortly after, to do it all over again the next day.
    Read more

  • Day8

    Emperor Elite

    July 7, 2017 in Egypt ⋅ 🌙 30 °C

    We arrived in Port Ghalib a little after sundown. The area was quite different than the traditional Muslim villages that we had just driven through. It was obviously geared towards tourists with fancy hotels, restaurants, shops, bars and a number of large ships, many of them dive boats. The Emperor Elite, our home for the next week, looked quite stunning all lit up in the harbor.

    It's the biggest liveaboard we have been on, and welcomes 25 divers plus a crew of around 12. It has 3 floors, each with ample room for sunbathing or relaxing, a large living room and dining room and a huge dive deck. Our dive instructor / tour leader Sonia is Swiss but grew up in Colombia and has now lived in Egypt for 20 years. She can speak English, German, Spanish, Arabic, and who knows what else, fluently.

    We sat down to dinner with 6 others who were first to arrive that evening. A Canadian, Egyptian (who now lives in Bahrain), 2 Germans, a South African and Guatamalen (who both now live in the UAE). It was already shaping up to be a very international bunch.

    After dinner, Sonia showed us to our room and joked that we would need walkie talkies to speak to each other due to the size. We were somehow upgraded to the 'Executive Suite' and it rivals the size of our apartment back in LA. It has its own shower room, which is usually shared with the toilet, a full wardrobe, mood lighting and a TV (not sure anyone would watch TV?). Needless to say, Ming approved of his crib.

    We headed into Port Ghalib to grab a beer. While the waterfront area was nice, it was about as authentic as Playa del Carmen. By the time we returned, the rest of the divers showed up, and 11 different nationalities were represented overall.
    Read more