LANGUAGE barriers are part and parcel of the travel experience, comic, confusing…and…sometimes dangerous. Especially when it comes to adventure tourism and if that experience matches what was advertised in brochures – as Booked.net‘s Svetlana Malukha discovered.
It was meant to be a diving experience off the coast of Hurghada – an Egyptian city and tourist centre on the Red Sea coast – and it could have gone horribly wrong.
Stepping aboard the dive boat we quickly realized none of the crew spoke English or our native Russian. It’s hardly a promising start to our diving experience.
The four of us had never tried diving before, but wanted to give it a go, even though we knew nothing about the process and techniques of scuba diving.
A few days earlier at our hotel we found out about the opportunity to dive for only US$70 per person, which includes two immersions, the first for 7-10 minutes and the second for 20 minutes, the deal included a dinner and transfer to and from the hotel.
The excursion was brilliantly advertised, we were told we will work only with highly-trained instructors from Russia with corresponding diplomas, experience and quality equipment, so our concerns faded as soon as we paid and we were looking forward to it.
The long-awaited day arrives and we go aboard the dive boat. As soon as I see our instructors I feel anxious and worried, instead of the Russians we were promised they are Egyptian, aged between 18-25 years with dubious dive experience and education. In addition, they do not speak English or Russian, and we have to resort to sign language.
With barely disguised fear, we board the boat to sign some papers before the dive.
Mercifully, there was a Russian-speaking girl, who worked as an assistant,and she handed us contracts to sign. The content of these contracts did little to allay our fears.
After I read it and looked into my friend’s eyes and she looked squarely back at me, I guess we were reading each others’ minds.
The contract said there is a possibility to get injured during diving, and what’s more there was no decompression chamber on board or nearby, which could save our lives if something went wrong and any of us developed “the bends”.
The last line of the contract was possibly the most alarming- “In case of my death, please contact ___________”.
I wrote my mother’s phone number, imagining her reaction should she get this particular call from Egypt.
One man from our group refused to sign and instead went to the upper deck of the boat to have some food and take in, what had become for him a sea cruise. How wise of him….
Later we were given wetsuits, weight belts, air cylinders, snorkels and masks. The girl divided us into four groups, because there were not enough air tanks for everyone and with my good luck I was placed in the fourth group.
This meant three people had used the tank before me and there was less than half the air left when it came to be my turn.
I asked, “will it be enough for me”, but no one seemed to understand and nobody replied. “Hmmm, OK,” I thought.
Finally, I am in the water, treading water as I wait to make my dive.
We had had a brief tutorial before, during which it was explained what to do under water, were schooled in sign language to communicate with instructors whilst under water and how to react if water leaked into our masks.
An Egyptian showed me the “OK” sign and we slowly started to immerse.
I should admit, everything was initially calm and I forgot my nerves.
It was a temporary calm.
For the first few seconds I didn’t care about the beauty of the Red Sea and what could be seen below its’ surface. I was more consumed with trying to breathe properly and the uncomfortable pressure in my ears.
Then suddenly, just when I had almost relaxed and even started to enjoy it…water seeped into my mask.
We had been shown how to get rid of it under water, but the lesson was haphazard and I was not sure I could do it properly.
So…I just closed my eyes and waited.
Luckily, within a few next seconds we resurfaced. Removing the mask was a relief.
The second dive was a much smoother experience (by the way, with another instructor) and I even enjoyed it a little.
In hindsight, was it worth it?
Now, almost a year on from this dive, the short answer is “no”.
While nothing went drastically wrong, there was potential danger. This coupled with a product that simply wasn’t “as advertised” keeps me wondering.
I chalk it up to experience, it’s a story to tell to entertain my friends – but it is an experience I am unlikely to repeat.