Journey to Mohammed Qol

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Mohamed Qol - 19/10/2012 - written by Steven Kessel

I am writing this from a platform close to the water’s edge, finally we have arrived in Mohammed Qol. Getting here has been a mission and we are far from being squared away and ready to tag some manta rays. Following the last log entry we had another day of meetings in Port Sudan. We met with various people from the Red Sea State University, who were all very positive about the project. Then we met with the Department of Fisheries. Finally we visited the Marine Environment Protection Agency, where our fixer Mohammed Younis had stored some equipment from a project in 2002. Amazingly most of it was still there, including a barely used dive compressor. We took it back to the boat, Claudio fiddled with it a little and it started first time, amazing! We have air.

The following day was spent shopping for last minute items for the trip. It is always fun, at first. I hate shopping as much as the next guy, but the bust streets of Port Sudan, the chaos of the market and the constant bartering over prices it is most definitely an interesting experience. However, in the blistering heat after a couple of hours, Nigel and I had already had enough and we weren’t even close to being done. We powered through and lost a lot of water weight in sweat. They say that it gets considerably hotter here in the summer, I can’t even conceive that having been drenched from head to toe for the last three days. After a solid day of shopping and another full morning of the same we were done.

We had good news in that we had been granted permission to travel. So today we packing up our things and left. This involves ferrying lots of gear from Don Questo to the shore. Loading it all into a Wildlife Administration (WA) truck, unloading and repacking several times until finally we were all packed into the WA truck and Mohammed Younis’ (aka the desert sheep) monster truck of a land cruiser. I would just like to take the time to once again offer our sincerest thanks to Lorenzo for allowing us to stay on Don Questo while he was in the middle of some serious reservations. It was time to say goodbye to Port Sudan, and although we hold it very dear to our hearts, it was definitely time to leave.

Last time we made this journey, in 2007 during another Cousteau Society’s mission in the Red Sea, the road was under construction. This meant that it took an extremely long time to navigate through the desert. Now the road is finished, Mohammed Qol is only a 2 hr drive from Port Sudan, and what a drive. You leave the town and head out into the increasingly barren desert. You begin to see a mountain range in the distance that gets closer the further north you drive, eventually bordering the road. You regularly see camels grazing on the low bushes and small settlements of people. Finally as you approach Mohammed Qol you can see the blue waters of the Red Sea. Last time I remember one of the most stringing things was seeing the colorful coral reef directly adjacent to the barren desert, it still impressed me the second time around.

We were very happy to arrive at the Ranger Station, until we saw it. At first glance it looked ok, then I realize it had been heavily neglected since we stayed there in 2007. It was complexly covered in bird poo, and I mean completely. Inside and out since it was designed to let the air pass through. Gaps between the roof and ceiling – great for keeping cool, bad for keeping clean. All the rooms were full of bird poo and sand, awesome. If getting hit by a bird poo is really lucky then this station was most definitely due a lottery win. It got worse all the toilets were broken, I knew we would be roughing it but now there was no question. All the beds were destroyed and there was no way to get water, it was going to be less than camping. Mohammed Younis made some angry phone calls and after an hour said that he had found us some other logging nearby. This was good news although I would have appreciated it if he had told us he was trying to do this before we unpacked everything and before I had spent the last hour cleaning the walls and floor of the kitchen. Oh well.

And here we are, this place was used as a camp for the Egyptians who were building this section of the road. It has pros and cons over the ranger station, but essentially serves the same purpose. Right now, limited running water, minimal electricity from our Chinese generator and we are sleeping outside on the floor, but we would do that anyway, we enjoy it. We have made it as livable as we can tonight and we will try to improve the situation some more tomorrow when it is light. Overall though, we are just happy to be here, closer to open water and closer to the manta rays.

That is all for now, I will write again soon, hopefully when we have managed to get out on the water.

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