CAMPING AND DIVING

Ras Mohammed National Park, Marsa Bareika

Marsa Bareika is a large open bay in the Ras Mohammed National Park. The bay has a handful of moorings along its western beaches which are used by daily boats and the occasional safari boat overnight, but the rest of the bay is off-limits to boat-related activity, such as diving and snorkeling, due to the turtles that nest on certain beaches in the area throughout the year. It is usually a very quiet body of water.

The popular daily snorkeling coach trips – heading to the most southern point of the Sinai, the Sinai Peninsula – bypass Marsa Barieka to visit the more well known beaches of Shark Observatory or Yolanda reef, and the mangroves and underground lake. Marsa Bareika is a no for such trips and, as such, its beaches are very quiet.

On some of Marsa Bareika’s beaches you’ll find several eco-campsites run by the desert-savvy Bedouin. And I do mean eco-friendly. There is no electricity in the campsites for a start; light is provided in the first instance by the sun and later by candles. With no generator running to produce electricity, the only sounds at night are those of conversations, the water lapping at the edge of the beach and, during winter, the crackle of a campfire. The campsites create no light pollution; so at night you have a real good view of our portion of the Milky Way and shooting stars galore.

The Bedouins provide three meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner), and a constant supply of

Tea (Bedouin or European), coffee, soft drinks and water. If you enjoy a beer or two at the end of a day’s diving, you’ll have to provide your own, but the Bedouin will allow you to use their cool boxes if you haven’t brought your own. There is even a shower block with flushing WCs about ten minutes walking distance from the campsites. Running water in a desert? Marvelous.

The surrounding desert may appear barren but is in reality teeming with life, such as the very cute desert foxes, the Rock Hyrax, and various lizards, snakes and insects.

“Arrgh! Except for entomologists and those weird people who keep snakes and lizards for pets, who wants to go camping surrounded by wildlife like that?”

Calm down, calm down. The desert is quiet and desert creatures like the quiet. If you have a permanent campsite, the desert’s usual inhabitants eventually move away from the area. Unluckily for the entomologists and those weird people, like the wildlife you’d need to move away from the camp area in the hopes of seeing them. Also, the Bedouins pitch the tents when needed and dismantle them the day you are due to leave. This ensures that no creepy crawlies have established colonies under your tent. Desert-savvy, the Bedouins, savvy?

If you’re lucky, at night you may see desert foxes on the scavenge, you’ll certainly find their paw prints all over the campground in the morning. If you’re unlucky, you’ll fail to see any of the hundreds of hermit crabs and ghost crabs than run riot along the water’s edge at night and in the early hours of the morning. Be sure to take a torch if you go for a stroll along the water’s edge, unless you want crushed crab and broken shell between your toes.

The dive site around the campsites is comprised of a shallow (0.5m) sandy ledge that slopes sharply down to a expansive plateau which ranges from 8m to 20m at where you encounter the drop-off. Scattered over the plateau are large coral pinnacles and coral heads, with them becoming more predominant the closer you venture to the drop-off. At various places in the shallows you’ll find large and small patches of sea grass.

You don’t need to be deep here to see lots of things, and there are no strong currents, so most dives are unlimited and often unguided. At any point you can decide “that’s enough” and just exit the water (although I recommend doing so close to the camp as a long beach stroll, carrying your scuba equipment, in the desert sun, isn’t much fun). Unlike the daily dive boats which generally have a timetable and need to stop at 2 or 3 different sites, shore diving allows for a greater flexibility of your time. It is a seriously relaxed way to dive; before, during and after.

With no boats deploying divers, nor coaches disgorging battalions of snorkelers, the corals in Marsa Bareika are largely pristine and almost virgin. It really is a case of “like being in an aquarium” when diving around them with all the reef fish. As it is a bay, the shallow waters are very sheltered and you’ll often find juvenile marine life, such as frogfish, pufferfish or lionfish, the size of a fingernail. You’ll often find the cryptic hairy pygmy pipefish here, sheltering in the seagrass as well as robust ghost pipefish, doubled-ended pipefish and sea moths. With numerous nudibranchs, slugs, flatworms and crustaceans, I believe this to be the best location for macro photography close to Sharm el Sheikh.

There’s not just good macro in Marsa Bareika though, with regular sightings of turtles, rays (such as eagle rays, honeycomb whip rays, and the famous blue-spotted sting ray), and the occasional shark. Marsa Bareika has also seen whalesharks, dolphins, guitarfish, mantas and even, on a couple of very odd occasions, whales.

It just shows, as with a lot of dive locations, you never can tell.

Tips for Camping

  • ¬†You’ll need your passport and, if you’re staying overnight, a copy of it, too.
  • ¬†Strangely enough, there are no shops in the Sinai desert – make sure you stock with sunscreen, toiletries etc. before arriving.
  • Make sure your electronic devices are fully charged and you have enough batteries for strobes and torches.
  • Don’t be fooled by the sun, at night the desert can be a cold place, so check what the average night temperature is for the time you are visiting and bring the appropriate clothing.
  • It’s a good idea to bring a pillow with you – All mine so far have been as soft as a block of steel.
  • The campsites provide three meals of generous proportions but if you want nibbles for in between meals, stock up on those too.
  • Some of the Ras Mohammed’s better known sites are also accessible from shore – such as Shark Observatory & Eel Garden – for an additional charge ( please contact us)
  • Don’t leave your shoes, especially if made of leather, outside the tent at night for the foxes to steal.
  • ¬†Seriously, there’s good eating on a leather upper for a hungry fox.

The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.

Jules Verne Science Fiction Writer