ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “sea

BRIDE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, Alexandria, Egypt

2006.06.04.

After an isolated retreat at Siwa Oasis, I once again headed back onto the road. This time, the destination was my home in Toronto. The journey from the Egypt’s Western Desert to Canada took me first to Alexandria and Cairo by land, and then Athens and Zurich by air before touching down on the North American soil. I took an 8-hour night bus leaving Siwa at 22:00, and arriving Alexandria in early morning the next day. I sat beside a friendly old lady who kept on offering me peanuts. After some snacks and chat, I felt asleep with my headphone music. When I get up, Alexandria was just minutes away.

Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, Alexandria is the largest city by the Mediterranean and the second largest city in Egypt. In the Classical era, the city was well known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and its Great Library, the largest library in the Classical World with 400,000 scrolls. The city itself was once the largest city in the western world before overtaken by Rome. Alexandria remained as the capital of Egypt for a thousand years from Ptolemaic Egypt, throughout much of the Roman and Byzantine era until the Muslim conquest in 641 AD, when the political centre of Egypt was shifted to Cairo. By that time, the magnificent city that once rivaled Rome and Constantinople was already largely plundered and destroyed. In the modern age, Alexandria regained a part of its former glory as an important port of international trading, connecting Egypt and its products (such as Egyptian cotton) to the outside world.

Before leaving Alexandria for Cairo by train, I had a bit of free time to wander around the port city.
I slowly found my way through a number of residential neighborhood towards the sea.
Between 1882 to 1956, Egypt was under the British colonial rule. Buildings from the colonial era became a major part of the architectural heritage as Alexandria entered the modern age.
Beautiful ornament on an old building in downtown Alexandria
Behind the 1.2km sea mole known as Heptastadion, the Great Harbour of Alexandria or Al Mina’ ash Sharqiyah (Eastern Harbour) is a safe haven for fishing boats.
The Minaa El Sharkia Beach near Citadel of Qaibay is also a popular spot for locals seeking for a moment of relaxation.
Boys swam in the water at the Minaa El Sharkia Beach.
I walked along the Minaa El Sharkia Beach towards Manar El Islam Mosque and the Citadel of Qaitbay.
The Citadel of Qaitbay is a 15th century fortress built by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay. The Qaitbay Citadel is an important defensive stronghold at the Mediterranean coast. Formerly known as Pharos Island, the citadel is situated at the former site of the legendary Lighthouse of Alexandria.
Known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse was damaged by a series of earthquakes from the 8th century to the 14th century. The massive earthquake in 1303 caused a decisive blow to the structure. The remnant was then built over by Qaitbay Citadel in 1480.
The legendary lighthouse was long gone, but the 3rd century BC Heptastadion continued to harbour the people of Alexandria.
Grey Mullet, Red Mullet, Sea Bass, Red Smelt, Bluefish and Sole are some of the fish found in the Mediterranean near Alexandria.
The downtown of Alexandria and the waterfront Corniche unfold along the waterfront of Eastern Harbour.
After spending some time by the waterfront, I slowly walked through Downtown Alexandria to the railway station.
Alexandria is full of buildings of distinct character.
Finally I arrived at Sidi Gaber Railway Station, the oldest railway station in Egypt, for my train back to Cairo.

SECOND DIP IN THE RED SEA, Dahab, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt

2006.05.26.

Another day of snorkeling. I rented the snorkel and flippers at Big Blue, and headed to a dive site called the Eel Garden. I snorkeled in several lagoons at Eel Garden. Apparently the reefs at Dahab was significantly better than the ones in Aqaba. At a depth of 3-5m, I saw an abundance of marine life including fish, sea urchins, and of course, coral of different colours. In the afternoon we snorkeled at another dive site called the Islands. The reefs and marine wildlife there were equally beautiful. At one point, I passed by an area of open water towards the beautiful coral mounts. The coral mounts were spectacular. Perhaps those mounts could be what the locals consider as the underwater “islands”.

After the “Islands”, we went to the southern tip of Dahab to do some more snorkeling. There was not much corals in the area, and the water was a lot deeper and colder, despite it was 40 to 45 degrees Celsius above water. On our way to the south beaches, we passed by dozens of resort hotels facing the sea. Perhaps due to the recently terrorist bombing, all resorts seemed extremely quiet. We didn’t see any foreign guests, but only local staff killing time with card games and gossips under the shade. In the evening we returned to Bishibishi for dinner and took some rest before departing for our tour to Mount Sinai.

Reaching the gap between coral clusters, I could feel the stream of much cooler water from the open sea.
Under the 40 degree Celsius heat of early summer, it was much better to stay in the water.
Snorkelling aimlessly over the reefs was one of the most relaxing thing I have experienced throughout the trip.
The corals seemed pretty diverse in the waters of Dahab. In fact, according to some recent research, the coral reefs in the Red Sea have fare much better than other reefs in the world to avoid bleaching in the rising temperature.
Some researchers suggest that corals in the Gulf of Aqaba actually came from the warmer tropical seas to the south. In the typically cooler water of the Gulf of Aqaba, the corals actually have inherited a much bigger tolerance of rising sea temperature than other tropical reefs around the world.
At this rate, the corals in the Gult of Aqaba could be the last surviving reefs by year 2100.
The fish I saw at Dahab was amazing diverse.
It was just a joy to linger in the water near Dahab.
In 2006, memory of Pixar’s Finding Nemo was still fresh when I snorkeled in the Red Sea.
The majestic coral formations near Dahab didn’t disappoint us for even a single moment.
A school of blue fish near Dahab.
An even larger school of fish beneath me.
It was always a curious moment when I reached the edge of a coral reef.
Wandering in the maze of corals at Dahab was such a delight that hopefully I could have a chance to return there once again.

A DIP IN THE RED SEA & FERRY TO EGYPT, Aqaba, Jordan

2006.05.24.

After the legendary lost city of Petra and epic desert of Wadi Rum, we finally arrived in Aqaba, Jordan’s only coastal city right by the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea. Serving as an essential port for the Middle East, Aqaba is also popular among tourists, thanks to its regular ferry services to Egypt and the world famous Red Sea coral reefs in the area. Before heading over to the land of pharaohs, we decided to spend a relaxing day in Aqaba.

In the morning, we took a shuttle bus from Crystal Hotel to the Royal Diving Centre. After paying a 10 JD entrance fee, my friend and I, who had never dived before, went for an introductory session. Then we spent the afternoon snorkeling with a disposable underwater camera. We saw some nice corals and a lot of colourful fish. We snorkeled for a few hours and returned to the diving centre. Upon leaving we tried to get the refund of the entrance fee. Their policy was that whoever diving at the centre would not require to pay the admission. The staff hesitated for a while and told us the cashier was closed for the day. We had no choice but to return the next morning. The next morning we returned to the Royal Diving Centre for our refund. The staff tried to avoid us. We expressed our discontent and at last a manager came out with a big smile and gave us the refund. Leaving the diving club behind, our hired taxi took us to the passenger ferry terminal. It took us over an hour to go through the customs and deal with the departure tax. At last we were led to board a shuttle bus that drove onto the ferry along with the passengers.

Once on board, we found the Egyptian custom officer to stamp our passports. The ferry didn’t leave the dock until way over 11:30, over two hours since we got to the terminal. At last, the ferry sailed slowly southwest towards the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, with Saudi Arabia to our east. At around 14:30 we arrived at the Egyptian port of Nuweiba. The hectic scene of Nuweiba was our first impression on Egypt. At the minbus station we met three Australians. The six of us hired a minivan to Dahab, the popular backpacker resort at the Egyptian side of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Dahab seemed pretty quiet to us, probably because of the recent terrorist bombing a month ago on April 24th, which claimed 23 lives in total. The town looked very young and causal. At the station we met Alex, a staff from Bishibishi Garden Village, a relatively new hotel in Dahab. We met Jimmy the owner and decided to stay at one of their air conditioned triple rooms. After dinner, we strolled around Dahab, dropped by an internet cafe, and bought another disposable underwater camera for the following day.

With only 15 miles of Red Sea coastline, Jordan doesn’t have too many dive sites and beaches, but the ones near Aqaba are quite lovely.
The turquoise water at Aqaba was a big contrast to the red dunes and rock mounts of Wadi Rum.
I took along a disposable underwater camera with me while snorkeling in Aqaba. The resulting photos are not the best quality but still serve the purpose of documentation, and has offered me s whole lot of joy while exploring the water world. One of the first fish I encountered was a regal blue tang.
I followed one fish after another while snorkeling near Aqaba.
The coral reef is the main draw for the vibrant tourist scene in Aqaba.
Floating atop corals and fish was one of the most relaxing experience I have ever had.
There are many species of corals in the water of Aqaba.
Acknowledging the value of coral reefs, Jordan has been putting effort in protectig and restoring the corals. Starting from 2012, corals were placed in baskets and metal structures to replant at damaged reefs.
The water at Aqaba was cooler than I thought.
To the west of Aqaba lies the arid landscape of Israel.
We could see the turquoise Gulf of Aqaba from our room at Crystal Hotel.

KERAK CASTLE, King’s Highway, Jordan

2006.05.19.

In a foggy afternoon of December 2016, gunfire broke the silence at the remnants of Kerak Castle.  Following a series of attacks on police patrols and station in Al-Karak, five ISIS terrorists seek refuge at the 12th century Crusader castle as the Jordanian force was closing in.  The government force besieged the castle and eventually killed all terrorists.  14 people were killed in the shootout, including one Canadian tourist.  Terrorist attacks are not common in Jordan, but the 2016 siege of the Kerak Castle and the unstable conditions in Syria have hampered tourism of Jordan in recent years.  Built in the 12th century, the former Crusader stronghold Kerak Castle was not stranger to military siege in history, with the siege of Saladin’s force in 1183 being the most famous.  The siege by Saladin, the Muslim leader from Damascus, coincided with the royal wedding inside the castle between Humphrey IV of Toron and Isabella of Jerusalem.  The siege ended when the force of Baldwin IV, the King of Jerusalem, came for rescue.  The historical incident serves as the background for the 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven. 

* * *

It was Friday, 19th of May in 2006, a weekend holiday for the Muslims.  At Wahadat Station in Amman, buses were running on holiday schedule.  It took us sometime to find a bus bounded for Kerak Castle.  Our goal for the day was to make our way on the King’s Highway from Amman to Wadi Musa, the popular base for tourists visiting the splendid lost city of Petra.  It was a two hour bus ride from Amman to the town of Al-Karak. When we got off the bus, the driver told us that there would not be any public transportation from Karak to Tafila on Fridays.  Our original plan was to visit Kerak Castle, take a bus to Tafila, and then hire a taxi onwards to Shobak and Wadi Musa.  Without public transportation, we had to settle with hiring a taxi driver for the day at 40 Jordanian Dinar, taking us uphill to Kerak Castle, and then to Shobak Castle and Wadi Musa.

Kerak Castle is one of the largest castles in the region.  Compared to Krak des Chevaliers, Kerak has a simpler design and rougher craftsmanship.  Kerak Castle has a nice little museum.  I enjoyed reading a little about the history of the castle, the Crusades and the Muslim conqueror Saladin at the bookshop.

Road to KarakWe were lucky to find a bus going to Kerak Castle that was running on the Friday holiday schedule.

Karak Castle 3The castle looked spectacular from the town of Al-Karak.

06ME35-19The scale of Kerak Castle is enormous when viewed from the town below.

06ME35-16The castle was empty, but a large portion of the structure remains intact for over 800 years.

06ME35-17Due to the large size, tourists dispersed all over the castle once inside the complex.

06ME35-18Kerak Castle contains many covered passages protected with thick defensive walls.  During the 2016 terrorist attack, most tourists were hiding in a separate part of the castle to avoid contact with the attackers.

below Karak CastleAl-Karak lies 140 km south of Amman, on a hilltop 1000m above sea level.  The Dead Sea is visible from the castle.  Beyond the Dead Sea, the Holy city of Jerusalem is just a short car journey away.


DEAD SEA, near Madaba, Jordan

2006.05.18.

We arrived at Madaba by a morning bus from Amman.  Madaba was a decent sized city during the Byzantine era.  Today the town is frequented by tourists enroute to the Dead Sea.  There are a number of archaeological sites still under excavation in Madaba.  What makes tourists (including us) to stop by Madaba is a 6th century mosaic map depicting the Holy Land of Jerusalem at the Greek Orthodox Church Saint George.  We stopped by the archaeological museum briefly to see other pieces of mosaic from the Byzantine era, before heading over to Saint George.  The church was packed with tourists, all crowded around the mosaic map of the Biblical World.  The mosaic map centered around Jerusalem, with other towns and geographical features such as River Nile, Mediterranean Sea, and Dead Sea, in the surrounding.

After checking out the mosaic map, it was time to get a dip in the salty water of the Dead Sea to get a taste of the floating experience.  After some bargaining, we hopped onto a taxi for the Jordanian Dead Sea beaches.  From Madaba, our taxi sped through the rough arid landscape towards the waterfront.  Along the way, the driver pointed towards the Moses Spring at Mount Nebo and Moses Memorial Church as we passed by the holy sites. At the waterfront, we entered a whole new world of luxury resort hotels.  The contrast to what we have seen in other parts of Jordan and Syria was phenomenal.  We knew we had arrived at the touristy Dead Sea coast. Our driver dropped us off at Amman Beach Resort.  We paid 4 Jordanian Dinar admission for entering the beach.  We took our turns swimming in the water.  Just for fun, we grabbed a bit of mud and apply it onto our skin, tried the unique floating experience, and took a few typical Dead Sea photos.  It was hot and humid at the world’s lowest point 422m below sea level.

As many researchers point out, the Dead Sea is in deep trouble, as less water from Jordan River is feeding the salty inland lake every year.  Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel all rely on the area’s limited water resources, such as the Jordan River, for their growing population and agriculture usage.  In matter of decades the Dead Sea may disappear altogether.  We heard that the Jordanian government is planning to divert the water from the Red Sea to feed the Dead Sea.  At the beach, we could clearly see traces of the old water level.  Just like seeing the retreating glacier on the Swiss Alps, witnessing the gradual death of the Dead Sea made a huge impact on me.  People in the developed nations may never have to worry about their water supply, and understand the alarming situation of the Dead Sea. Sustainable water management in the Dead Sea area is crucial, not only to the survival of millions, but also to the political climate of the region. Successful cooperation of water management offers the basis of peaceful co-existence of the region’s major players.  If that fails, dispute fighting over water supply may not be too far away.

800px-Madaba_mapThe magnificent 6th century mosaic map of Jerusalem is the biggest draw for tourists coming to Madaba.  (Image: Public Domain)

road from dead sea to madabaIt was hard to imagine where grazing of the sheep could take place in the arid landscape near the Dead Sea.

06ME35-01The arid landscape at Dead Sea is actually susceptible to flash floods.

near dead seaThe Jordan Rift Valley is a long depression between Israel, Jordan and Palestine.  The valley’s lowest spot is the lowest point in the world, located in the Dead Sea at 790m below sea level.

06ME34-35Despite touristy, we amused ourselves in the salty water of the Dead Sea.


ANADOLU KAVAGI, Istanbul, Turkey

2006.05.03

Situated at the mouth of Bosphorus into the Black Sea, Anadolu Kavagi, which literally means Control Post of Anatolia (Asia Minor), has been an strategic outpost and fishing village since Roman times.  Today, a small fishing community remained.  The village also serves as the last stop of the Bosphorus tourist cruise.  Compared to the bustling scenes of cosmopolitan Istanbul, the tranquil village expresses a distinctive ambience that keeps on luring foreign tourists and Istanbul inhabitants to come for a brief getaway.

After getting off at Anadolu Kavagi, the first thing that caught our attention was the street food vendors right by the dock.  We picked a seafood restaurant, climbed the stairs to the upper floor, and ordered fish buns, fried mussels, fried calamari, etc.  After lunch, we ascended the hill behind the village to the ruins of Yoros Castle.  We wandered around Yoros Castle a little bit before finding ourselves at an open lookout overlooking the Bosphorus and the Black Sea.  Some say the towns along the Black Sea coast are quite picturesque and interesting, but we would have to leave them for the next time around.

06ME09-27Anadolu Kavagi appears as a lovely fishing village.

06ME09-28The waterfront of Anadolu Kavagi is occupied a cluster of fishing boats.

06ME09-34During our brief visit, several fishermen were busy fixing their fishing net while chatting causally.

06ME09-35The peaceful fisherman life at Anadolu Kavagi offered a pleasant contrast to the chaotic and busy scenes of Istanbul just 90 minutes of boat ride away.

fisherman at Anadolu Kavagi 1Each fisherman we met seemed friendly and relaxed.

vendor at Anadolu KavagiA handful of seafood stalls and restaurants can be found at the fishing village.

cat at Anadolu Kavagi 1-2Just like Istanbul, we had all sort of cat encounters in Anadolu Kavagi. This cat sat right by the dock looking at the sea.

cat at Anadolu Kavagi 2Even the cats seemed content with their hassle free lives in Anadolu Kavagi.

06ME09-24Located at the hilltop above Anadolu Kavagi,  Yoros Castle guarded the confluence spot of the Bosphorus and Black Sea since the Byzantine times.

06ME09-18From Yoros Castle, we could see the Bosphorus as well as the Black Sea.


RAILWAY BY THE SEA, Galle to Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.16

Day 12 (2 of 3).

Our last train journey in Sri Lanka is one of the most popular railway routes for tourists: the Coastal Line from Galle to Colombo.  In a little less than two hours, our train moved from seaside resort towns near Galle to the old fort and metropolitan area of Colombo. Constructed in late 19th century, the Coastal Line is the second oldest railway line in Sri Lanka.  For much of the journey the train was winding along the southwest coastline of island.  The coastal scenery reminded us of the train scene in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, in which the protagonist Chihiro Ogino boards on a train that runs across water on submerged tracks.  The moving reflections in the water, the tranquil scenery at the far horizon, the evolving lights from late afternoon to early evening, and the melancholy yet romantic train cabin come together to become one of the most remarkable animation scenes ever made.  The train journey to Colombo might not be as romantic as Miyazaki’s scene, and the train was fully packed with standing tourists and locals and could get a bit noisy sometimes, but the late afternoon scenery of the Indian Ocean would live long in our memories.

IMG_8831Galle Station was first established in 1894, and has undergone an upgrade in the 20th century with a modernist concrete building.

IMG_8985The wooden timetable at Galle Station should be an antique that has been around for decades.

IMG_8829The Coastal Line runs between Matara and Colombo Fort via Galle.

IMG_8994Taking a train in Sri Lanka is always a delightful activity and a great way to interact with the friendly locals.

IMG_9006Leaving Galle signified our Sri Lankan journey was coming to an end.  After dinner in Colombo, we would go immediately to the airport near Negombo for our midnight flight.

IMG_9013For the entire journey I was sitting at the opened door between two passenger train cars.

IMG_9017As the snack vendor left the train, it was time for departure.

IMG_9028For the first half of the journey, the train ran along a waterfront road.

IMG_9055Sitting or standing by the doorway on a Sri Lankan train is a pleasant way to enjoy the scenery.  Despite the low speed of the train, certain level of caution should be taken when standing at the opened door.

IMG_9047After the halfway point, the train ran right along the coastline.

IMG_9053Our train passed by a number of coastal resort towns.

IMG_9128These seaside resort towns serve mainly the city dwellers from distant Colombo.

IMG_9114We also passed by a number of impoverished communities by the sea.

IMG_9119The train passed right in front of the houses of the seaside communities.

IMG_9122The southwestern coast of Sri Lanka was badly hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.  Many lives were lost and some communities have never fully recovered.

IMG_9215The Coastal Line was severely hit by the 2004 tsunami.  Known as the 2004 Sri Lanka tsunami-rail disaster, a Matara Express train was running from Colombo to Galle before getting hit by the tsunami at the village of Peraliya.  After two rounds of waves, the village of Peraliya was completely destroyed, and about 2000 people died (including passengers of 8 train cars and villagers who climbed onto the train top to escape the waves).  Out of about 1700 train passengers, only 150 people survived.  The incident is the single worst rail disaster with the largest death toll the world has ever seen.

IMG_9154The Indian Ocean offered us the perfect setting to view the sunset.

IMG_9211We were getting closer to Colombo as the sun was about to set below the Indian Ocean.

IMG_9226After 1 hour and 45 minutes, our train was finally approaching downtown Colombo.  We were ready for the final act in Sri Lanka before flying home.