Rescue Divers(TM)!

The Sinai

Pamela Olson
22 March 2005

I just got back from Egypt with two friends, Anna from Amsterdam and Dan from England. We had a great and beautiful and exhausting and sometimes weird time. Even the weird parts were pretty funny, though.

We left Jerusalem at 5:30 a.m. on March 9, arrived in Dahab, Egypt (on the Sinai on a beach on a branch of the Red Sea), by late afternoon, and spent the rest of that day finding a good place to do our Rescue Diver course (Anna's idea). Rescue Diver is the third PADI course after Open Water and Advanced.

We did an Emergency First Response course all the next day (with a guy named Francois who had an outrrrrageous French accent) and then Rescue Diver manual homework after that.

The next three days involved diving 9-5 with a tall Dutch guy (who constantly had to act out fake problems that we had to fix - doing a Rescue Diver course makes the instructor look like the worst divemaster ever) followed by more EFR stuff, homework, and exams. It was exhausting, but good stuff to know, and it kept us from thinking about anything but diving and horrible (but only theoretical) accidents.

Once we did navigation drills on an early morning about 35 feet underwater out past the Tota restaurant (the restaurants and dive centers are surreally close to the beaches, reefs, and lagoons, at least for a place I can afford). At one point Anna didn't realize how close I was to her and turned around and kicked one of my fingers with her flippers. She was facing the other way and totally oblivious to the inconsequential injury she had caused me. The early morning in cold water had made me irritable, and I threw my regulator out of my mouth and said, "OW!"

Being 35 feet underwater, my yell didn't carry very far; it just kind of bubbled out, leaving me momentarily confused. Then came the rather embarassing recollection that I was underwater and I actually needed the piece of equipment I'd just tossed away in order to breathe. D'oh! I sheepishly recovered it and put it back in my mouth and went on, hoping the instructor hadn't noticed.

I heard reports of another diver who got nitrogen narcosis at depth and started feeling bad for all the fish because they didn't have any air to breathe. He took his regulator out and offered it to several passing fish.

The final drills involved us sitting in the Club Red Dive Center drinking coffee until our divemaster ran in saying he'd lost his dive buddy, and then we had to put our gear together and put it on and jump in the water and do a search and recover and rescue, start to finish. We had to pretend to ask people to call for emergency medical services and get the oxygen ready, which caused some confusion when one guy took us seriously and kind of freaked out. That's the problem with courses like this; every now and then you're not quite sure whether it's a drill or a real emergency.

Anyway, now we're rescue divers, supposedly qualified to drag unconscious divers up out of the water, across the surface, and up to the beach or boat, all the while giving rescue breaths, and then do CPR (if necessary - doing CPR when it's not necessary can actually kill someone). The search and recovery drills were also fun. Most likely I'll never use my new skills, as few divers I'd ever dive with would let their air run out or go deeper than they're trained for, and diving injuries are very rare compared to, e.g., tennis injuries. But it was still a rewarding course.

"Rescue Divers" sounds kind of like a bad comic book, and we'd just finished watching lots of self-important videos with bad actors pretending to be Emergency Responders. So after we got our licenses in Emergency First Response and Rescue Diving, sometimes when we were walking around Dahab (a very un-serious place), we pretended like we were superheroes. If anyone tripped or stubbed their toe or coughed or something, we'd look at each other and say, "Rescue Divers!" Then we'd go up to them (either actually or just pretend to) and say, "Hello! I'm Diver Pam, and this is Diver Anne. We're Emergency Responders. Can we help you?" (That's approximately what we were trained to say as EFRs.)

We had an annoying call sign: A fist followed by the "OK" sign. A closed fist underwater means "danger". Our annoying motto: "Rescue Divers! When there's danger... we make it OK." We were just being campy and ridiculous, making fun of ourselves and PADI's self-important but pretty relaxed courses (especially in a place like Dahab). No one seemed to mind us too much.

We only had one day in Dahab of total relaxation, after the rescue course was finished, during which we slept 'til noon, ate, went on a walk, ate again, and hung out as usual in the Tota's back garden under the stars around the fire on cushions. Palm trees, stars, flowers, cushions, red wine, and the occasional interesting passer-by were our nightly companions.

The next day we did two more dives, at the Canyon and Bells & Blue Hole. They both had very cool descents through narrow rocky shafts, visibility was excellent, and drifting along the coral wall on the way to the Blue Hole, there were millions of little gold fish against a background of deep blue, and some bigger fish and the amazing corals.

We met a very cool American woman named Alison, a librarian for National Geographic, during the dives that day. We hung out with her and a sleepy kitten and a Jordanian banker that night in the back garden of Tota. Good times.

The pictures are from her.

The Blue Hole rest area ~ That's me in the wetsuit

I went through Jordan in order to get a three-month visa at the bridge. (They only give one-month visas at the southern crossing.) I followed the same route as last year - Dahab to Nuweiba to Aqaba to Amman. Last year it was all new and exciting and intimidating, and now it's just comfortable and familiar.

I spent St. Patrick's Day on the long bus from Aqaba to Amman. On Friday I visited Jerash, some incredible Roman/Byzantine ruins in the north of Jordan. Northern Jordan is so blindingly green and gorgeous in the spring. The bus ride there and back was the best part.

Going back through the border at King Hussein/Allenby Bridge, Israeli security called me out and a short border guard girl said, "Give me your passport." I did. She said roughly, accusatorily, "Now give me your other passport."

I don't have another passport, and I said so. "Are you sure?" she asked.

"Oh, you mean THAT other passport. Sorry, let me get it for you."

Actually I said that yes, I was quite sure that I didn't have another passport. She didn't press further. Her ridiculous jig was already up.

The next guard, a scary-looking man, said, "Why did you try to cross into Israel from the northern crossing a week ago?"

I said, "Er, I didn't try to cross into Israel from the northern crossing a week ago." I was in Egypt a week ago.

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure."


They only held me two hours, and they gave me a three-month visa. Sweet. It's good to be back.

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