If you’re after a weekend getaway similar to Cairo then this isn’t exactly your thing. If you’re into five-star hotels, pampering and luxury you had better look elsewhere. If however you want top-notch diving (arguably the best in the country), being in direct contact with nature and staying at an eco-lodge with African-style huts, then welcome to the Deep South.
Hadabet Om Tondoba, 14km south of Marsa Alam, houses the Deep South eco-lodge situated on the breath-taking Red Sea. Environment conservation is the eco-lodge’s priority and is the reason why the huts stand 745 metres away from the sea into the desert. “So that sewage doesn’t pollute the sea and destroy the coral reefs,” declares Deep South’s environment manager.
The huts stand on high ground and each has a name and character all of its own. You can choose to stay in Passion or Moonrise with the inner walls painted with coloured murals of dolphins, turtles, deep sea fish, corals or even silhouettes of people. In every room, a verse in English from the Rubaiyat (written by Egyptian poet Salah Jahin) is painted on the wall – an invitation to ponder on man’s foolishness and flaws.
The restaurant and bar at Deep South are open-air and offer an extensive view of the sea and desert. The staff are genuinely warm and inviting and can easily become your friend soon after your arrival. Human interaction at the eco-lodge occurs simply and casually, reminding one when man used to dream of a better world. At Deep South, it is indeed a better world. Enhancing the spirit of the eco-lodge is the awesome character of its owner Karim Noor whose standing word to everybody is “peace”. The word surprisingly quickly spreads.
Upon arriving at the eco-lodge, guests are offered a course in underwater environmental awareness. ‘Doing it right’ is the staff’s approach and the title of the diving course provided by the eco-lodge’s diving centre. To them, it serves as a reminder that diving is not only about enjoying the azure water and magnificent sea creatures, but also about preserving the environment that contains the first in the chain that keeps the planet from deterioration and extinction.
There are different types of seating at the beach at Deep South from chez lounges, wooden tables and chairs, to hammocks and a tent with Bedouin-style seating, and for cooler days a cove. The fire by the beach is a classic, of course.
Galaan nature reserve: Out of Deep South and a further 84km south lies Galaan. Many will swear there is nothing like this has been seen before ̶ anywhere. Shades of blue blend with the sky across the horizon and mangrove trees grow in the midst of the water.
In Galaan, the water is perfect for snorkelling due to clear visibility. There is a good chance you’ll spot turtles swimming right next to you. Turtles are not shy in Galaan.
This nature reserve is an excellent spot for bird-watching with abundant ospreys and seagulls. On the beach, men from the Ababda tribe treat visitors to shisha and gabanna coffee. This is green coffee, the ingredients of which are non-toasted coffee beans, ginger and cardamom. Sugar is added but not stirred – emitting only its aroma. Ababda Bedouins bury their shisha in the sand to prevent humidity from entering the pipe.
Honkorab nature reserve: This is another virgin beach north of Galaan and is superb for a stroll along the white sands and rocky plateaus. Honkorab is also overflowing with mangroves, which despite their rapid decline in the past 50 years provide energy for their respective ecosystems. Besides their crucial importance to the environmental system, mangroves add structural complexity and biological diversity to the shore. Young fish seek the mangrove’s high biomass of food and find refuge from larger predators in its nooks and crannies.
Diving sites in Tondoba Bay: There are dozens of excellent dive sites around Tondoba Bay. They all enjoy gigantic coral formations which thrive on countless fish species that differ in size, shape and colour. Of all the dive sites, 14 stand out.
Dive masters in Hadebet Om Tondoba say the Samadai Dolphin Sanctuary is “one of the hottest spots”. This is a protected park 20m off Marsa Samadai Bay, seven kilometres north of Tondoba Bay. The reef is popular for its high diversity of marine life. It comprises two big hard coral gardens and a cave on a shallow depth of five to seven metres.
The Elphinstone, or Shaab Abu Hamra, is for advanced divers. Worldwide it’s the third best site for encountering sharks, manta rays and other pelagic fish. It’s a healthy reef wall since its 13 miles off shore and hence exposed to strong currents. Its slopes go deep from 85 to over 100 metres.
Erg Al-Torfa is the Elphinstone rehearsal. It is highly recommended by dive masters for its high diversity of marine forms. It comprises two huge pinnacles and enjoys the strong possibility of visuals of white tip sharks, rays and turtles. The Amphora dive site houses an old Roman pot located under one of two huge pinnacles in the middle of Tondoba Bay.
Other interesting dive sites include the Tondoba Checkpoint, Marsa Tondoba, Tondoba Drift, Marsa Mikki South and Marsa Mikki, Torfa Mikki Drift, Torfa Saif, Marsa Naizak and Erg Tondoba
Amateur divers who are not willing to go that far into the sea can simply dive in the House Reef of Deep South, which has won the Best House Reef award.
Lars Bosman is a Deep South community member. He provided the video and photos for this article. For more of Bosman’s works visit http://www.larsworld.com/