ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “sea

RUNNING BELOW THE SKYLINE, Central (中環) – Wan Chai (灣仔) Promenade, Hong Kong

In 1997, the first Standard Charter Hong Kong Marathon attracted 1,000 runners. As love for the sport grows universally, the annual event in Hong Kong has gained popularity and attracted about 70,000 runners (pre-pandemic) from around the globe, defying the humid conditions to run in the subtropical heat. Despite the dominance of East African runners in the race, local participants have increased in both numbers and results in recent years. In fact, the sport has become so popular in Hong Kong that more and more running related shows are broadcasted on television, and more and more sports equipment shops have popped up in busy commercial neighbourhoods in recent years. Runners are everywhere: on sidewalks and waterfront promenades, or in parks and on trails in the countryside.

Some run for health benefits, while some run just to loosen up their minds after a long day of stress. For people who have had enough time sitting in air conditioned offices, doing an evening run is a decent alternative for going to the gym. For a city as dense as Hong Kong, it might be surprising to find that pleasant running routes are never far away. For residents on the Island side, many choose Bowen Road in Wan Chai, or Lugard Road at Victoria Peak, while on the Kowloon side, West Kowloon Art Park or Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade are the obvious choices. In recent years, the government put efforts to transform the once out of limits harbourfront areas on the north shore of Hong Kong Island into public promenades. These promenades have become instant hits for local runners. Harbourfront scenery is particularly pleasant between Central Piers and the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai when the urban skyline lit up after dusk. With such amazing backdrop, there should be no excuse for anyone not to put on their running shoes and headphones, take in the lovely views and seaside breezes, and burn some calories.

The iconic skyline of the northern shore of Hong Kong Island forms the backdrop of the waterfront promenade between Central and Wan Chai. [2020]
From Central Piers, the curvilinear Convention Centre at Wan Chai waterfront is just 1.5km away. [2020]
In recent decades, the business district has extended from Central all the way to Wan Chai. [2020]
From Central Piers, the waterfront promenade passes by the Harbourfront Event Space to Admiralty (金鐘), the commercial neighbourhood between Central and Wan Chai. [2020]
Leaving Central Piers and the setting sun behind, the promenade heads east along Victoria Harbour. [2020]
The towering Two International Finance Centre (2IFC) dominates the skyline. [2020]
In front of the government’s headquarters in Admiralty, construction work was underway to provide pockets of recreational spaces for children and families. [2020]
A runner passed by the neon light artwork on the construction hoarding in Admiralty. [2020]
In 2021, the recreational areas in front of the government headquarters opened to the public. [2021]
All these recreational spaces enjoy views of Victoria Harbour and the distant skyline of Kowloon. [2021]
Leaving Admiralty behind, the promenade arrives at the public spaces adjacent to the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. [2020]
In a clear day, the Convention and Exhibition Centre offers fantastic views of the skyline of Central and Admiralty. [2020]
There are plenty of spaces to chill out near the Convention and Exhibition Centre. [2021]
Many runners would take a break at Convention Centre to watch the sunset. [2020]
Red skies would appear occasionally over Victoria Harbour. [2020]
From Wan Chai, spectators may notice just how narrow Victoria Harbour has become (Central of Hong Kong Island at left and West Kowloon Art District at right). [2020]
The magical moment would appear just after sunset when the skyline of Central and Admiralty begin to lit up. [2020]
The view of sunset and urban skyline from Convention Centre is breathtaking. [2020]
A few would test their luck on fishing during sunset. [2020]
Many come to photograph the sunset and Central skyline at Wan Chai Promenade. [2021]
The Convention and Exhibition Centre (香港會議展覽中心) New Wing was completed in 1997 and hosted the Hong Kong handover ceremony. [2021]
The sculpture at Golden Bauhinia Square (金紫荊廣場) adjacent to the Convention and Exhibition Centre was a gift from China for the handover ceremony in 1997. [2021]
Responsible for search and rescue, the Government Flying Service has one of their helipad outside of the Convention and Exhibition Centre. [2021]
In 2021, the Wan Chai Promenade extends eastwards to Causeway Bay. [2021]
On the newly reclaimed land, temporary public spaces have been constructed along the Harbourfront of Wan Chai. [2021]

VICTORIA HARBOUR (維多利亞港), Hong Kong

Before the pandemic, Hong Kong was a highly popular tourist destination in Asia, ranked among the top cities in the world for the number of international visitors. Just like many tourist cities around the globe, tourism in Hong Kong has suffered enormously during the pandemic. The numbers of foreign visitors have plummeted, and the once crowded sights across the city have been largely tourist free. Despite the loss of tourist activities, this situation is prompting the return of Hongkongers to places they would normally avoid before the pandemic. Apart from popular museums, beaches, amusement parks, and shopping centres, waterfront promenades along Victoria Harbour, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui at the tip of Kowloon Peninsula, has always been packed with tourists before the Covid. Just like our childhood years, today we can once again wander freely on the Avenue of Stars or linger in the shadow of the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower without bumping into aggressive tourist groups. At night, the undulating reflections of neon lights, LED billboards, and glittering building facades in the water provides the perfect foreground for the skyline of Central, backed upon the silhouette of Victoria Peak. For decades, this postcard perfect Harbour panorama has served as the impeccable visual representation of Hong Kong’s prosperity and vibrancy, illuminating the legend of a city that never sleeps. Beyond the charming skyline on both sides of the water, the busy Victoria Harbour has much more to offer than just its visual glamour.

In Feng Shui, the traditional Chinese practice that harnesses the energy of surrounding environment, the element “water” is often associated with wealth and fortune. For Hong Kong, this water element can be definitely identified as the Victoria Harbour. From founding of the trading port, to the establishment of Far East’s finance and servicing hub, Victoria Harbour, the 41.88 km2 stretch of sea between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, has always played a vital role. The Harbour is indeed where the story of Hong Kong begins. Known for its deep and sheltered water, the natural landform of the Harbour was one of the main reasons why Hong Kong was chosen by the British in 1841. Since the mid-19th century, the British put a great deal of effort to establish Hong Kong as their subtropical metropolis in the Far East and commercial gateway into China. The Harbour and its waterfront developments have been at the centre stage of Hong Kong’s evolution every since. To sustain population and economic growth, major land reclamation projects have never ceased to transform the urban extent of the city ever since 1840’s. More office towers, residential complexes, hotels, shopping centres, government buildings, museums, convention centre, stadiums, cruise terminals, promenades, piers, etc. would be erected after each reclamation scheme, redrawing the urban coastline at least once in every generation.

For many neighborhoods in the city, Victoria Harbour is always just a few blocks away. Exploring the everchanging waterfront areas is an interesting way to understand the past, present and future of Hong Kong. Our next series of posts will do exactly that.

British, American and Dutch ships and Chinese junks sailed through the calm waters of Victoria Harbour in 1855, under the shadow of the majestic Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. [Painting by unknown painter, Public Domain]
165 years later, Victoria Peak has been dwarfed by the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Throughout history, Hong Kong has always been a gateway of the Far East for the West. In the past 180 years, uncounted vessels have passed through Victoria Harbour. [Photo of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon Peninsula beyond, taken by Felice Beato, 1860, Public Domain]
Taking in the business district of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsular across Victoria Harbour from Victoria Peak (太平山) has always been one of the most popular panoramic views for tourists. [Photograph by Denis H. Hazell, 1925, University of Bristol – Historical Photographs of China reference number: Bk09-05, CC BY_NC_ND 4.0]
Today, the iconic panorama from Victoria Peak (太平山) is dominated by the closely packed skyscrapers and the splendid bend of Victoria harbour. The serenity of the Harbour during the pandemic was a rarity in the city’s 180 years of history. [Photo taken from Lugard Road, Victoria Peak, 2020]
After several rounds of land reclamation, the coastline of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon have gone through dramatic transformations. The width of Victoria Harbour has been drastically reduced in the past century and a half. [Display about land reclamation of Hong Kong Island since 1842. Photo taken at Wanchai (灣仔) waterfront promenade, 2021]
In the mid 19th century, the extent of the city’s commercial district was limited to Central (中環) on Hong Kong Island. [Photography by John Thomson, 1868/1871, Public Domain]
While Central (中環) and Sheung Wan (上環) continue to serve as the city’s central business district, the panoramic skyline of Hong Kong has dramatically expanded along the north shore of Hong Kong Island, and the waterfront of Kowloon Peninsula across the Harbour. [Skyline of Central taken in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The northwestern limit of Victoria Harbour is dominated by Kwai Tsing Container Terminals (葵青貨櫃碼頭), once the world’s busiest container port between 1992 to 2004. Serving as the biggest intermediary trading hub between China, Southeast Asia and the West, international logistics means big business in Hong Kong ever since the 19th century. [Kwai Tsing Container Terminals taken at the waterfront of Sheung Wan, 2021]
Before WWII, the Triangular Pier (三角碼頭) at Victoria Harbour in Sheung Wan (上環) was one of the busiest trading ports in Asia. The pier has long disappeared after land reclamation, but the century-old trading companies and shops selling all kinds of imported dried seafood, spices, herbs, and food merchandises survive to the present day. [Photo taken at intersection of Eastern Street and Des Voeux Road West, 2021]
From West District to North Point, a 5.5km promenade along the north coast of Hong Kong Island is set to open at the end of 2021. [Photo taken at Admiralty Waterfront, 2021]
The western end of Victoria Harbour is marked by the District of Kennedy Town (堅尼地城) on Hong Kong Island (left). Beyond the Kennedy Town and the small islands of Green Island (青洲), Kau Yi Chau (交椅州), and Peng Chau (坪洲), the ridges on Lantau Island (大嶼山) form a distant backdrop for the Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The reclamation land of West Kowloon is split between the 17-venue West Kowloon Cultural District (西九文化區), the high-end residential and commercial development of Union Square and the High Speed Railway Station. [Photo taken at Sai Ying Pun Waterfront, 2021]
Since 2014, the 60m Ferris wheel known as Hong Kong Observation Wheel in Central offers visitors a new vantage point to enjoy the scenery of Victoria Harbour. [Central Piers and HKOW as seen from Admiralty Waterfront, 2021]
The parabola gesture of the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀) marks the southern tip of Kowloon Peninsula. [Photo taken at Wanchai Waterfront, 2021]
The Ocean Terminal Deck offers the perfect place to take in the iconic skyline of Hong Kong, especially after dusk. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
For a fare less than 0.50 USD, the Star Ferry offer the most pleasant way to enjoy Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The 88-storey, 415m International Finance Centre (IFC) on Hong Kong Island (left), and the 108-storey, 484m International Commercial Centre (ICC) in Kowloon (right) tower above the tranquil water of the Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Wanchai waterfront, 2020]
A number of typhoon shelters dot around Victoria Harbour, offering safe refuges for fishing boats and yachts during typhoons. [Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣) Typhoon Shelter with skyline of Central beyond, 2020]
The West Kowloon Cultural District (西九文化區) is finally taking shape after 20 years of planning and construction delays. In a few year’s time, a few more cultural venues would be constructed below the 108-storey ICC. [Photo taken from Tai Hang, 2018]
The northeastern waterfront of Hong Kong Island is dominated by the vehicular expressway Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊). [Photo taken from Hung Hom Waterfront, 2020]
The waterfront of Eastern Kowloon stand the new business districts of Kowloon Bay (九龍灣) and Kwun Tong (觀塘), and the former airport runway of Kai Tak (啟德). [Photo taken from North Point Ferry Pier, 2021]
Between Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門) and Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣), the narrow passage of Lei Yue Mun marks the eastern gateway of Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken from Devil’s Peak in Lei Yue Mun, 2020]
The best moment to appreciate the panoramic view of Victoria Harbour is the magic moment at dusk. [Photo taken from Red Incense Burner Summit, 2020]

STAR FERRY (天星小輪): Nostalgic Journey in the Victoria Harbour (維多利亞港), Hong Kong

In 1888, the same year when Peak Tram began operating up the slope of Victoria Peak, “Kowloon Ferry Company” was also established for managing the first regular steamboat services between Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island. Soon, the company expanded to a fleet of four ferries, and was renamed to “Star Ferry Co Ltd” (天星小輪), the name that is still in use today. Named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime” and topping the list of “Top Ten Most Exciting Ferry Rides” by the Society of American Travel Writers, it is no doubt that Hong Kong’s Star Ferry has been on the radar of international travelers for quite some time. For about HK$4 (US$ 0.50), anyone can enjoy a moment of peace crossing Victoria Harbour. In the past century, as a series of land reclamations have shortened the distance between Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island, piers in Central and Wanchai have been moved numerous times, and ferry rides across the Harbour have become shorter. No matter how short the ride has become, the star ferry experience still offers some of the most rewarding views of Hong Kong’s skyline. To have a moment of relaxation, we always prefer taking the ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side when time allows. The ride is particular lovely at sunset and night.

In 1888, Indian Parsee businessman Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala established Kowloon Ferry Company and operated the first regular ferry service between Hong Kong and Kowloon, taking bread, cargo and passengers with his steamboat Morning Star. In 1890, three more boats, Evening Star, Guiding Star and Rising Star joined the service. Upon retirement, Mithaiwala sold his ferries and company to another British-Indian businessman Sir Paul Chater’s (遮打), one of the first business mogul who was responsible and involved in establishing many large corporations in Hong Kong, including Hongkong Land (置地), Hongkong Electric (港燈), Dairy Farm (牛奶公司), Kowloon Wharf (九龍倉), etc. In the 20th century, the fleet of Star Ferry continued to grow as different generations of ferry piers were erected in Central, Wanchai and Tsim Sha Tsui. Today, the Star Ferry has eight boats in total, with an average age of 58 years old. Since the completion of Cross-Harbour Tunnel in 1972 and the Harbour crossing Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in February 1980, Star Ferry is no longer the main means of public transportation between Hong Kong and Kowloon. It does, however, carry a sense of history and collective memory of the bygone era. For both locals and tourists, the ferry also offers arguably the best way to enjoy the skyline of Hong Kong. Taking the MTR or driving through the Cross Harbour Tunnel, one can hardly notice the famous harbour.

“Night Star” [Photo: Gordon Arthur Richards Collections, University of Bristol Library (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1920’s]
Built in 1963, the second generation Night Star (夜星) was painted in the colourful dragon motif to promote Brand Hong Kong, Asia’s World City. [Star Ferry near Admiralty, 2020]
As of 2020, there are eight boats in the fleet, serving the two main routes in Victoria Harbour. [View from Ocean Terminal towards distant skyline of Causeway Bay and Tin Hau on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Both of the two main routes depart from the pier of Tsim Sha Tsui in the Kowloon Peninsula, where the Clock Tower, Museum of Art, Cultural Centre, Planetarium and Ocean Terminal Retail Complex make up one of the most popular tourist area in the city. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, Cultural Centre and Star Ferry Pier, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Night Star (夜星) usually serves the route between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Wanchai on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Sailing in the Harbour during sunset is a relaxing way to enjoy urban Hong Kong, away from crowded streets and busy traffic. [View from Ocean Terminal towards Wanchai on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The decades-old ferry offer an open experience to take in the sea breeze and scent of the ocean. [Star Ferry, 2020]
For Hongkongers, the wooden seat on Star Ferry is part of their collective memories of the city. [Star ferry, 2014]
In summer, the front end of the boat would sometimes come with air conditioning. [Star ferry, 2014]
Everything from the lacquered timber to the metal window pulls have been around since the mid 20th century. [Star ferry, 2020]
Taking the Star Ferry would allow passengers to experience the busy boat traffic of Victoria Harbour. [Star ferry, 2020]
As Central Pier 7 and 8, the Star Ferry Pier in Central is the fourth generation. It was part of the Central and Wanchai Reclamation project in the 2000’s. Despite the controversy of mimicking the past, the Edwardian building design was based on the historical second generation pier at Ice House Street from the 1910’s. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Every Sunday, the upper deck of the pier would house the city’s largest organic farmer’s market, selling local produces from New Territories and Outer Islands. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2014]
Star Ferry occupies Pier Number 7 at the Central Piers in Hong Kong Island. [Central Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Despite much controvesy, the building was built based on the historical second generation pier. [Wanchai Star Ferry Pier, 2021]
The present third generation Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui was built in 1957. Built in style of Streamline Moderne, this pier once echoed the now demolished Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, the third generation Star Ferry Pier in Central. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
The 1950’s Star Ferry Pier and Clock Tower of the former Train Station have become icons of Tsim Sha Tsui. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Watching the decades old ferry docking at the pier is a relaxing sight in Tsim Sha Tsui. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
Signifying the arrival of Kowloon, the passageway connecting to the ferry platform hasn’t changed much during the past half a century. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
It is a pleasant surprise that Tsui Sha Tsui Pier can survive so many decades in the fast changing Hong Kong. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
After so many years, it is interesting that a passageway taking no longer than a minute to pass through actually leaves a lasting memory in my mind. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
After leaving the ferry, a flight of steps leading passengers away from the ferry platform. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]
The pier at Tsim Sha Tsui is a tourist attraction to photograph the skyline of Hong Kong Island. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2021]
The Tsui Sha Tsui waterfront is particularly lovely during sunset. [Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, 2020]

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. 

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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.