EGYPT and Suez Canal
|Map 7 – Port Said, Egypt
About Port Said
Port Said is situated at the northern end of the Suez Canal with a population of around 700,000 people. It’s economy is based on fishing, chemicals, processed food and cigarettes, and is a major exporting harbour for cotton and rice. It was founded in 1859 when the Suez Canal excavations began.
It was built on the western bank of the canal which locals call the African side. Its sister city of Port Foard (pron. fo-ard) was built on the eastern bank and referred to as the Asian side. Free ferries run constantly day and night between the two sides carrying vehicles and people for free.
Some of the buildings still show pockmark bullet and shell damage from Isreali forces particularly around the New Cornishe area, when they attacked the city during the Arab-Isreal wars in 1967 and 1973. Most of the inhabitants evacuated the city at the time.
Right: Grounds of the SCA Yacht Club
1300hrs: Quarantine Doctor arrives with Felix and sticks a device against my ear which goes beep. He says, “Good”. The fee for this is $80.00 US Dollars. Glad I didn’t have to bare any unmentionable parts. Would probably have cost a small fortune.
One of the rally boats Cobbles comes in. Learn later the skipper’s name is Maurice and that he’s South African. He must be pretty tired because we don’t see him emerge after tying up. Take a power nap myself.
1430hrs: The official measurers arrive to measure the boat so they’ll know how much to charge for us to go through Suez Canal. We don’t get to find out how much until the day before we leave which doesn’t leave much time to dispute it. They don’t actually do any measurements at all but simply accept what we hand over. Sayid drops off our passports with appropriately stamped visa’s for one month duration.
1600hrs: Head for the showers. Cold water only. Turn on the tap and somebody else loses water. Group of young lads swimming around just off the dock. Seems to be some sort of training thing with a bloke there being quite active using a whistle at them. There’s a couple of ladies wearing full burka’s sitting at tables under the trellised covered area looking on while a group of Dad’s stand around along the edge of the dock.
1630hrs: Roger and I set out to go into the local town of Port Foard while Andy naps. He hadn’t had much sleep after his night watch and of course is very tired. We’re challenged by a policeman wearing a heavy woollen black jacket and trousers with bright buttons, complete with holstered pistol. Demands to see our passports and leave passes. Leave passes? Seems he thinks we must be crew off one of the ships, even though we’re in the yacht club area and our yacht is tied up here.
Luckily Mezzine is nearby and comes over but our policeman chap remains adamant about those leave passes. Eventually he reluctantly accepts just our visas after some pretty lengthy conversations with Mezzine. We’re now allowed out of the gate. In fact there are three big iron gates guarding the yacht club area from the streets.
Port Foard is a disappointment as a first introduction into Egypt. Seedy kind of place. All the grassed areas are uncut and full of potholes. Severe graffiti marks monuments. Dilapidated buildings with people living in them. Dust covers everything and is quite thick on the ground. So is litter and other rubbish including all types of animal poop from various cats, dogs and donkeys. Oh … and food scraps complete with clouds of flies.
It really shows they don’t get rain very often here to clean the place up a little bit. Nothing looks clean except for the local mosque, a rather magnificently sculptured building with tall minarets. Bins are rare to find so rubbish collects in heaps where numerous cats sift through scattering it even more. Everyone just ignores the cats which look totally unconcerned as you walk near.
|Fruit sellers in the street outside the SCA Yacht Club||Horse and cart vegetable sellers.|
Evening: Other rally boats start arriving. Felix’s agents will be kept busy during the night meeting the boats as they come in dribs and drabs. Dock area is well lit up with powerful lights mounted on towers, so much that no torches are needed to move around outside.
Sun 8 Nov 09
0930hrs: Lots of black mosquitoes in the boat this morning. Don’t hear them but can certainly feel them biting. Nine boats have arrived during the night and are tied up to the dock. Nice looking day. Egyptian workers are cleaning off rust and painting electrical distribution boards and big steel plates on the dock itself.
Mezzine walks by wearing a vest with the words Port Alacai across the back, which is a Turkish port. He greets us with a “Good Morning” and tells us he has friends all over the world, though has never left Egypt himself.
Lo Brust is the rally organiser and is travelling in his own yacht Mistral, with two young Indian lads from Cochin as crew. He drops by and steps into the cockpit for a chat. He hands over our rally T Shirts, caps and yacht banners, and gives a briefing as to what’s happening next. One of the problems with the organisation of this rally is that different services will require payment in different currencies. We are going to need Egyptian pounds (£), Euro’s (€) and US Dollars. Okay, so we’re all going to have to go to a bank.
Midday: Take a ferry across to Port Said. Spend about an hour walking around trying to find a place to draw money from an ATM and change it into other currencies. A helpful local takes us to a money exchanger who offers me 1Euro for $2 AUS. No way José. The rate is closer to $1 AUS being about .60cent Euro. This is the start of my education in dealing with “helpful” Egyptians. With hindsight from later experiences my helper would most likely have been on a commission for bringing customers.
Spend more time looking around for a bank. Find one displaying various exchange rates. Know this is going to be difficult because I have Aussie money to change to Euro, then I’ll have to buy more Euro plus some US Dollars. Takes about an hour with many explanations to various people who line up to see if they can help. Repeat explanations. Finally get it sorted out at a fair exchange rate.
Outside the bank I find a local shop owner has latched himself onto Andy and Roger who have been waiting patiently. It’s a mistake to stand too long in one place. The fellow is persistent as a fly. Wants us to go to his shop so he can give us beer, coffee, tea, coke or whatever. Quite insistent. He seems a nice enough chap so we acquiesce and go along since he obviously isn’t going to go away by himself. In his shop he gives each of us a coke, plying us with questions all the while.
Notice an old guitar in the shop window. It’s in quite good condition though badly out of tune. The steel strings are only a short distance from the 12th fret indicating the neck isn’t bowed, and it can be played without any buzzing noises. He wants 400 pounds for it (about $80 AUS). I’m not really interested but he persists. Andy offers to go halves. Finally our man accepts 220 pounds (about $44 AUS) for it. He then presents each of us with a little gift for our wives. Andy being the Captain gets a necklace while Roger and I get a bracelet each.
Roger and Andy still napping but get up when I return. 12 boats have now arrived. Relax on board until dark. Mossies start coming back again. Felix’s agents turn up with our 70 litres drums of diesel.
1730hrs: Two more boats arrive making 14. One of the boats had to turn back to Cyprus and will catch up with us later at Hurghada in the Red Sea.Evening: Easy night aboard. Tugs travelling up and down the canal send waves crashing into our docking area causing boats to jolt about. Gets to be a bit annoying after a while.
Mon 9 Nov 09
Leisurely rise. Do some washing of underclothes, sheet, pillows and towel.
1000hrs: Meeting of all rally participants conducted by Lo Brust under the timber trellis area of the yacht club area. Gives out all the information we need including what to expect from the pilots and the documents for passage through Suez. With this last item we find Felixs’ agents very helpful and efficient giving each skipper careful attention. Congenial atmosphere amongst the yachties. Sayid arranges for tea, iced water and cans of soft drink to be delivered.
1145hrs: Andy and Roger start refuelling the boat from the 70 litre drums. Maurice from Cobbles comes by. Introductions all around. Shows us a handy trick that can help prevent spillage of diesel into the sea. He sticks a short tube down alongside the siphon hose into the drum, seals the hole with rags and blows into it. This sends the fuel straight into the fuel inlet without getting a gobful of diesel from sucking on the siphon hose to get it started.
Beautiful sunny day. Cloudless. Warm but not hot. Bought some local pears yesterday. There’s a strong but nice smell coming from them which fills the saloon area of the boat. Smell is somewhere between a passionfruit and persimmon. Almost doughy flesh with a large seed pod in the middle with dozens of pale seeds. Quite nice if unusual.
Afternoon: Maurice goes with us back across the canal. Return to the bank to draw some more Egyptian pounds. Do some minor shopping – food and bits and pieces. Walk for miles passing through the New Corniche, a more upmarket area along the beaches of Port Said facing the Mediterranean Sea and which serves the large cruise liners that dock here. Trendy shops, restaurants and hotels. Much nicer looking area and much cleaner.
Go into a more upmarket looking than usual internet cafe. Get a direct connection to the internet with my own laptop using a cable supplied by them. With my online security covered am able to send off some emails, do some internet banking and visit a couple of websites. Payment takes the grand sum of one pound (approx 20 cents AUS).
|street scene Port Said||horse and sulky rides for tourists from the cruise ships|
|another imposing mosque in Port Said||stalls in the bazaar area of Port Said|
|Left: the new and old ways of selling in the streets of the Port Said bazaar.|
Dusk: Sundowners in the cockpit with Maurice. He wants to get back to the east coast of Africa but is undecided which way to go, given the current situation with pirates around Somalia and Madagascar. Lo comes by to tell us Jenzminc and Cobbles will be leaving day after tomorrow.
Approx 1800hrs: Andy is beginning to prepare dinner. Mezzine comes by saying we’ll need 10 passport photos by early tomorrow morning. Off we go across the road to a photographer. He won’t be able to do anything until 6am tomorrow morning. On telling Mezzine this he dispatches a young man named Achmed to take us over to Port Said to get the photos. Achmed is in his mid to late 20’s and still lives at home with Mum and Dad. Quite tall and sturdy but tending towards getting slightly chubby. Doesn’t want to marry because it is too expensive. Pleasant and helpful young man.
Port Said is just as bustling by night as by day. Achmed says it’s like that 24 hours a day. He saunters around for what seems like ages before finally arriving at the photographer’s shop, who doesn’t seem too inclined to do the job. However we’re individually taken upstairs, posed precisely by moving us around instead of the camera and then flashed, then told to come back in 45 minutes. Achmed takes us to a cafe in the bazaar area where you can buy just about anything. We order coffee and settle down to watch the people.
Moving around by night in Port Said is interesting to say the least. Probably the main difference is that car headlights are very much optional, as is where you can walk; footpath or street – doesn’t matter. If a driver doesn’t flash his lights or honk then move quickly because he hasn’t seen you.
Pick up our photos after an hour and return back across the canal. Pick up my laundry. They’d done a top job repairing my jeans. Seamless work.
2030hrs: All back at the boat and pretty tired now. Just had some soup for dinner. Early night for all.
|Map 8 – the Suez Canal, Egypt|
Tues 10 Nov 09
Being a later riser that I am, Andy tells me when I get up that the first lot of seven boats left at 0600 this morning. We wait for our agents to take the rest of us over to the Immigration Office and get our visa’s extended from the usual 30 days to three months since we’ll be in Egypt until the New Year.
Take a closer look at an Atlantic 55 fibreglass sloop with a Greek name tied up at the end of the dock. Looks a bit sad sitting there. Apparently it had been engaged in people smuggling and been seized by the authorities. The teak inlaid decks are splintered, twisted and broken. Hull is horribly marked with black stuff. Bowsprit looks like it’s been pulled partially out of the hull and the boom is detached.
Right: Dilapidated Atlantic 55 after being seized for people smuggling.
Seems it’s been sitting in the water for some time so one can only guess at any potential osmosis in the hull. No bets on how old the rigging might be. Motor may be okay since we’re told the authorities had motored the boat from Alexandria.
Sayid says it could probably be bought for between 60,000 and 70,000 US Dollars. There’s no way it’s worth that. Might be an acceptable risk at 10,000 US Dollars if it doesn’t have osmosis in the hull and could be safely towed or motored to Finike in Turkey. But that would require it to be lifted out of the water here and surveyed.
1000hrs: Achmed and another man turn up with a minibus and a car to go to Port Said. There’s about a dozen or so of us but we don’t get far before a guard wants to see all our passports. Stand around while this is being done. I suspect a couple of passports get inadvertently checked twice. There’s a different guard at the main front gate this time so passports are checked again before we’re allowed outside. Finally manage to get back into our vehicles and drive them onto a ferry.
As we travel through Port Said the consensus view is that if a critical eye can be put aside, the place could actually kind of grow on you. It has its own special exotic attraction. Talking of eyes, the younger women in particular usually have quite striking eyes being a distinctive almond shape, very dark brown moo-cow pupils and clear with long lashes.
Eventually pull up outside a nondescript building. Stand about on the footpath outside for the next hour and a half whilst our visas are being attended to. None of us actually see any official, only Achmed and the other chap who run back and forth with various bits of paperwork.
The walls in the foyer of this government building are adorned only with painted Arabic notices and chipped paint. Rusted and faulty fluoro lights decorate the ceilings. The corridors haven’t seen a broom probably since the Yom Kipper war with Israel and it appears it must be a good place to drop and leave stuff if you don’t want to carry it around. Decrepit furniture is jammed against the walls at the end of a darkened corridor. Some of the offices with workers inside only have a single door. I don’t go upstairs but I can see from the worn stone slabs that form the stairs they’ve seen a lot of traffic over the years. Maybe the stairs are worn because the internal lift doesn’t work though the lights inside do.
1245hrs: Achmed finally comes out waving our passports with an expression of triumph on his face. Pile back into the vehicles and take off. On the suggestion of some of the British yachties we pull up at Cecile’s, one of the few restaurants in Port Said that sells alcohol. It’s a Chinese restaurant, at least it’s run by a Chinese looking gentleman but with an Egyptian waiter and it takes about an hour and a half to have your lunch. According to the waiter every meal is a special one. Only after you make your order are you allowed to tell him if you’re thirsty. After leaving Cecile’s we trudge around to the bazaar area to get some groceries. We learn that what we thought was a pear was in fact a kind of guava. Thus enlightened we return to the boat.
1630hrs: Arrive back at the boat and unpack the groceries including a slab of coca cola. Easy afternoon.
1900hrs: Andy cooks rissoles and rice for dinner. Somebody comes around later to tell us we’ll be leaving Port Said tomorrow at 1300 hrs.
Suez Canal – 1st Leg
Weds 11 Nov 09
Spend the morning just waiting around again, talking in groups with the other yachties. Really interesting to hear their stories. Between this relatively small group of 40 or 50, several yappy dogs and at least one cat there’s probably not many places left in the world where these people haven’t been, although few seem to have ever been to Australia.
One particularly friendly couple Hale and Alan on Alice had left Australia in 1986 and are still cruising around the world. Alan is Australian and Hale (pron. harley) originally came from Turkey, I believe somewhere to the NE of that country. We all soon became friends.
1100hrs: Refill water tank. Wash down the boat with detergent. Agents still haven’t appeared. Waiting. Waiting. Dinghy secured to foredeck, power cable recovered, boom secured as we will be motoring. Boat generally made ready.
1300hrs: Activity happening. Our rally agents appear and set up a table under the timber trellised area and yachties begin to assemble. Jenzminc is the first called. Andy sits down and is presented with a bill for USD $465.00. This covers our extended visas at $30 each, harbour fees, port clearance fee, quarantine fees, yacht club fees for 5 days at $20 per day, boat measurement fee and expenses (unstipulated). We still have a sailing permit fee of an unknown amount to pay but will probably be around the USD $180 mark, at Port Ghalib when we will leave the country.
1315hrs: Start the motor and pull in most of the lines while awaiting the arrival of our Egyptian pilot. He appears soon after, a rather ebullient character named Mohammed who steps on board and identifies himself as the pilot. Last lines are slipped and we’re underway. Pull in and stow the fenders. Jenzminc is the first of the seven boats. Sunnies on because it’s a really glary day and then stand by to act on any instructions from the pilot. They’re not long in coming.
“Drink of soft drink please?”
A finger is pointed to my Vasco da Gama rally hat, “Have you got one?”
Andy gives him a fairly new white Hamilton Island resort cap.
He then wants a Vasco da Gama T-shirt.
This is politely but adamantly refused. He accepts this with a large smile and a shrug but it’s only postponed to be dredged up again later.
|Suez Canal Pilot – Mohammed||Leaving Port Said|
1340hrs: The banks of the Suez Canal on the outskirts of Port Said would pretty much be the same as any other waterfront in any other large city. Lots of large ship building and repair facilities, huge cranes everywhere, cargo yards filled with containers, berthed ships.
1400hrs: Mohammed is proving to be a jovial sort of fellow. Makes himself quite at home. Asks for binoculars and spends time minutely examining various things ashore. Occasionally he pulls out and inspects items around the cockpit pronouncing each one “very good”. Upon sighting the fishing gear he becomes inquisitive about Australian tuna for some reason.
Not knowing whether the luncheon meats on board contain pork we give him tomato sandwiches along with a selection of dried apricots and nuts. Follow this with coffee. He tells us that of all the boats that pass through the Suez, Australians are #1. On the Mohammed scale of approval the English came in at #2, United States #3 with a scrunched face and wobbling hand. But the Chinese are no good – big time!
Left: One of the Police Posts and a watchtowers that appear regularly along the banks of the canal.
1430hrs: Wild grass, scattered trees, some bushes and occasional buildings line the canal on the west bank (African side), but the east bank is bare dirt. Nothing grows. Mohammed says nobody lives there. Can’t see past over either bank into the interior of the country all along the canal. A train trundles past on the west bank and a road runs alongside it. At evenly spaced distances a watchtower appears. Andy and Roger mentioned later that there were machine guns mounted on top. Every now and then a Police post appears. Some look fairly Spartan while others are complete with bushes and trees growing around it.
Mohammed spends considerable time going back and forth to the VHF radio chatting to various people, particularly at control stations where official boats are refuelled. He also seems to like talking somewhat animatedly on his mobile phone.
1515hrs: A long line of big ships pass by going the other way. Mohammed tells us there are 17 in this group. They can only let the big ships travel in groups one way at a time. Suez is fairly wide but not wide enough to allow them to go both ways. A large Hong Kong registered container ship passes by. The Chinese are “good” now, having been promoted for some reason in Mohammed’s view.
|Big ships passing within a stone’s throw away.||Container ship heading north in a bypass canal.|
|Left: Containers stacked 17 wide and 6 deep on this ship – and it’s not the smallest one.|
A black shoe floats by right way up along with other intermittent detritus such as plastic bags and bottles, sundry garbage and vegetation. Every now and then we pass by a small rowing boat with two or three raggedy looking men aboard fishing with lines or nets. Some wave. Others ignore us. Occasionally one of these boats has some kind of sail made of whatever material they can scrounge such as plastic sheeting. Apart from such interesting observations there’s really not that much else to see and it starts to get pretty boring after a while.
Right: Fishermen using a plastic sheet for a sail.
1715hrs: Dusk. Pass under a massively high bridge. Mohammed calls it “Jaban” but the small township at its base is identified as Al Qantarah (pron el kantara). The town spans both banks of the canal. Andy and Roger say they saw two military tanks on the east (or Asian) bank, and they didn’t look they were just monuments. Along with the watch-towers it’s another reminder of the tensions that can exist between countries in this part of the world.
1915hrs: Coming into Ismailia which was built on Lake Crocodile and extends into a large harbour area off to one side of the canal. Very dark with the moon not yet up. Don’t know what to expect but it’s still a surprisingly big place considering it’s out in the middle of a desert. Confronted by a sea of lights. Lots of resorts.
Mohammed identifies a hospital right alongside the water. He’s back on the phone again in another animated conversation. I wonder if he’s intending to take us on a land tour because the depth sounder is reading really shallow and starts alarming. Given that we all become pretty animated ourselves pointing to the depth sounder he responds, “No problem – no problem,” and gets us back out into the main channel where a highly visible yellow fairways buoy (middle of the channel) is flashing away.
1950hrs: Anchor goes down while reversing into the docking area. Tie up with plenty of willing hands from the first group standing around to welcome us in, some of whom are already a little more celebratory than usual. Probably the drinking water. Get the power cable connected to a shore outlet.
We’d been warned the pilots would try to make the run as fast as possible and that they’d urge skippers to speed up. In some boats going above certain speeds can put a strain on it so a maximum limit of six knots had been suggested. We weren’t in convoy and had covered 45 miles in six hours 25 minutes. Some of the other yachties were impressed with our time. Others with a blinkered view less so.
In Jenzminc’s case she can do seven knots at 2,500 rpm easily with no strain on the motor. And in any case we’d kept a radio scan going on Channel 72 which had been proscribed for use by any of the group that might strike problems.
Mohammed launches his second attempt to obtain a Vasco da Gama rally T-shirt which is emphatically but politely refused again. Gesturing to his newly acquired cap he now urges Andy with what sounds like, “beebee”. Finally work out he wants a Vasco da Gama cap or shirt for his baby. We’d established earlier that he had a daughter. Andy ends up giving him 30 Euro and he appears happy with that. We were to learn later that many pilots have babies that probably have babies of their own.
Similar stories come from other boats about hats. Some pilots apparently taciturn. Others greedy and yet others with no problems at all. They generally seem to come onboard not wearing any hat. One wonders how many of these hats the pilots can collect in a year and what do they do with them? Even so some of the yachties seemed a little hostile and could have been be a bit more tolerant I think.
Right: SV Storm Dodger secured to the end of the dock at Ismailia.
2300hrs: All yachts have arrived and are secured to the dock. Most seem to be socialising with other crews on other boats. New friendships are being made and groups starting to bond.
Two boats Cobbles and Storm Dodger had problems within a few hundred metres of the dock after running over an unlit fishing net set by a couple of young lads in a small boat. One of the lads dived down and cut Cobbles free but Storm Dodger’s propeller had become fouled. She was towed to her berth with the guidance of several chiefs and fewer Indians. As she neared the dock she was warped along with a couple of cases of anxiety here and there until secured sideways along the end.
|map 10 – Cairo|
Cairo was founded in the 10th century and has something like 18 million people. It’s huge. Beautiful hotels rise next to old neglected buildings. Smog hangs over it like a dirty blanket. Dust settles on everything and is not removed except at street level. Giza is a suburb to the south of the city and stretches into the desert to abut the ancient Great Pyramids and The Sphinx. Eventually it will probably even encompass them.
Sat 14 Nov 09
0530hrs: Early rise. Take some photos around the marina in the early dawn light. Still and calm. Beautiful time of day really.
0600hrs: Andy, Roger, Maurice and I meet up with our driver Mohammed outside the main gate. He’s in his early 30’s with a dark complexion and full bushy black beard. He’s also a practicing Muslim as evidenced by a curious mark on his forehead quite common among Egyptian men, which comes from touching their forehead to the mat on the floor while doing prayers. Another taxi is also waiting and will be travelling with us. Mohammed’s father will be driving this one. Two Brits from Dwanty, a Nauticat 55 and two people from Full Flight, an approx 40 ft vessel similar to Jenzminc stand by ready to go.
The trip to Cairo takes roughly two hours including a stop for fuel along the way. Our driver refuels with gas at 45 piaster’s a litre (approx 9 cents AUS). 100 piaster’s makes one Egyptian pound (£) which is about one-fifth of an Aussie Dollar i.e. 20 cents.
Right: an unusual house on the way to Cairo. There are some elaborate houses but they’re not common.
Our route follows the Clearwater Canal in a westerly direction then south to Cairo following the extremity of the Nile delta. We find Ismailia is a sprawling place with most of the area between the Nile River and Ismailia being urbanised, industrial and agricultural for at least half the distance to Cairo. We never really run into any large patches of desert. There are always people and buildings.
On the outskirts of Cairo our taxi blows a rear tyre. Our man Mohammed is now driving and handles the car quite nicely bringing it to a smooth halt on the side of the road. Pulls out a jack and changes the tyre in pretty quick time while cars whiz by inches away, and so we get underway again.
Traffic is chaotic and most of the drivers mad. A two lane highway can accommodate three or four cars abreast. Just give a beep if you intend to pass someone. If you need to push in just wave to the other driver. Don’t use an indicator, or else just leave it blinking. Later that night we decide that headlights must be considered an unnecessary drain on power, better conserved for the liberal use of the horn. Yet despite the apparent chaos, traffic seems to flow well without any major jams, even if the cars stop at intersections literally inches apart fender to fender at all kinds of converging angles.
Maybe the area we’re travelling through is one of the poorest in the city, but it doesn’t leave a very good impression. It’s sometimes hard to determine whether some of the buildings are actually being torn down or going up, giving the area a somewhat bombed out appearance. Rather slummy looking. They seem to be mostly apartment blocks some of which are quite high, or high rise flats. Additionally, most buildings have an unfinished appearance with metal reinforcing rods poking up into the sky waiting for concrete columns to be put in to support a new floor. Perhaps a taxation thing.
The business centre of the town seen from a distance doesn’t offer much in the way of scenic views through the smog which blankets the city in a thick layer. Dust is thick in the air. Despite this the overall impression improves once into the city proper. It’s much cleaner in the streets than anything we’ve seen in Egypt so far. Some of the buildings in parts of the city look quiet nice, vibrant with colour and modern looking. What a pity they’ll probably just be allowed to run down. Am getting a definite impression that it must be bad luck, taboo or something to put a second coat of paint on anything. Cairo could be such a beautiful place at least in the more modern parts of the city if they just kept the paint up to it.
The Great Pyramids have stood for 4,500 years. There are three of them along with smaller attendant pyramids for royal wives, and tombs of various princes and nobles, plus The Sphinx. The mummification of bodies and erection of the stone monoliths was not a fascination with death. It was a religion where the Pharaoh was believed to be a son of God. His immortality provided an ongoing link to keep the people in the good books with God.
All up there are 80 pyramids in Egypt. The age of pyramid building actually only lasted a few hundred years starting in the 27th century BC. The pyramids of Giza were erected some 100 years later. Pits were even dug into the bare rock to hold the Pharaoh’s Barque (boat) which was to take him to the afterlife. All entrance passageways face north, tomb chambers face west to the Kingdom of the Dead, Mortuary Temples face east towards the rising sun.
The Sphinx is carved almost entirely from one huge piece of limestone. It’s 50 metres long by 22 metres high. During the Ottoman Empire the Turks used the Sphinx for target practice. The nose and beard are now in a British museum. Restoration work can be seen underway on the site.
Approx 0800hrs: Go straight to the Giza area of Cairo where the Great Pyramids are. As we approach we can see the top of one suddenly appear through gaps among the roofs. Urban creep has reached into the desert so far that the pyramids are just on the edge of the city. Large numbers of tourist buses, mini vans and taxi’s are lined up in a huge car park. Hundreds of people move or mill about near the entrance. Police in their thick black woollen uniforms with shiny buttons and berets are thick on the ground everywhere controlling things, even riding around on camels.
It isn’t too hard to work out what to do or where to go, but the situation could benefit from some simple signage. There is none except for a price list. It costs £60 to enter the area. Other tickets are optional if you want to go inside any of the three pyramids, or enter the boat museum where a boat once used to bring the big sandstone blocks down the Nile to the pyramid site has been restored. Tickets to respective venues are only sold at particular windows, none of which are identifiable and sometimes manned or not. No credit card facilities, just cash please. People trying to buy more than one ticket are being turned away to stand in another line and hope that it’s the right one. Other people stand around with confused looks. Entrance into the Great Cheops Pyramid is closed so we opt to enter the second one which cost 30 Pounds.
Once inside the entrance gate we encounter a barrage of highly skilled hustlers, self appointed and unwanted guides, people selling souvenirs and camel rides. In fact everyone is on a hustle and they’re very good at it. The main angle is to shove a cheap Arab type headdress into your hands which you instinctively clasp to stop it dropping. This is their “gift” to you. You are then expected to give a gift back, anything up to £200 ($40 AUS). The one –sided dialogue might go something like this:
“This is free … for you. It is my gift to you … Welcome to Egypt”.
“No, no, no, I do not expect anything from you Sir, it is my gift”
(pretends to start walking away then comes back)…
“Where you from?”
“Good! G’day mate!” (atrocious accent)
“Sydney? Melbourne?” A blank look if you mention Darwin, Adelaide or Cootamundra.
“You look like an Egyptian … yes … I like you … I give you special price £200 Pounds … please don’t tell anybody”
Or they may do you some favour like taking your photo posing with a camel using your camera. They have a finely tuned method to make you feel bad if you don’t accept their help or gift. Try to give their gift back and the response will tug at your guilt strings….
“Why do you not accept my gift? It is free for you … I give it to you … you don’t want it?”… “Why ….? “ (plaintive question).
Even a Policeman offers to take my photo against a backdrop of the pyramids then starts rubbing his fingers together in the universal sign for money. Although I must say he’s more discreet and cautious about it.
“Sorry mate, don’t smoke”, seems to work and I can leave the area feeling confident he won’t chase me.
The three Great Pyramids were built by Cheops, his son Chephren and his son Mycerinus. The Egyptians refer to them as the father, the son and the grandson. The first pyramid Cheops is the oldest and largest in Egypt at 146.5 metres high. It was built in 2,600 BC and used 2.5 million limestone blocks. It took 10 years just to build a causeway from the river to bring boulders to the site, 20 years to build the pyramid itself and cost 100,000 lives. It originally had a solid gold cap on the top which would have been awesome to see. Cheap at half the price I suppose according to the standards of the day.
The second pyramid Chephren is almost as large as Cheops and still has part of the original alabaster casing at its peak but which is slowly falling away. The third pyramid Mycerinus is only 62 metres high but was originally cased with solid granite rocks forming a smooth wall that shimmered in the sun. Today there are only a few layers of the granite facing rocks left around the base. Either they never finished the pyramid or the stones have been taken away over the ages and used elsewhere.
|Pyramids from left to right – grandfather Cheops, father Chephren, son Mycerinus and the remains of a small pyramid for one of the royal wives.||The Great Pyramid itself is the only one of the seven ancient wonders still intact. It was originally covered by casing stones that are no longer there. It was the tallest man-made structure for over 3,800 years.|
|The pyramid of Cephren is the second biggest in Egypt. Local guides say the pyramid was originally faced with alabaster stone.||The pyramid of Mycerinus is the third biggest in Egypt. The sarcophagus that was in here ended up at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea when the ship carrying it to England sank.|
One of the so-called guides approaches me. He likes me too because I look like an Egyptian (with my blue eyes and caucasian skin). On learning I have a wife and two daughters he hands me four stones called scrabes which will bring me luck; one for my wife, one for each daughter and one for the baby. I didn’t mention anything about a baby. Maybe Delma and I will become grandparents soon.
A man calling himself Mohammed (are all Egyptians named Mohammed?) comes up identifying himself as the caretaker of the third pyramid.
Yeah right …
All officials usually have some kind of uniform. Egyptian workers often wear clothes that generally look like bags of potatoes tied in the middle. Mohammed the Guide on the other hand wears one of those simple white frock smocks, carries a stick and has glasses. He promises to show me a secret entrance only discovered three years ago.
Yeah right …
He then starts reeling off lots of facts and seems to know what he’s talking about, enough to pique my interest so in the absence of an official guide or guide book, plus the prospect of some photographs I wouldn’t otherwise get, ask him how much.
“Up to you Sir”
“Okay” (downcast eyes, shuffling feet … he’s obviously disappointed and I’m probably starving his family).
Right: A guide leading the way to a “secret” entrance. A young lad hovers around on a camel hoping to sell a ride.
Takes me around the back of the third pyramid talking all the while about various things as we walk past them. He takes me to an area where a ramp, according to our guide, had been built from the Nile River along which the rocks were pulled by buffalo. Remnants of the ramp can still be seen quite easily. He gives me some tough grassy type of material he says is the base for a type of grease used on the slope of the rock ramp to slide the big rocks. He says it took between 26 to 34 years to build each pyramid because the workers were only available for four months of the year due to Nile flooding and harvests and religious festivals.
|Remains of a ramp that was built down to the Nile River. Buffalo were used to drag the big stones up to the work site on one of the pyramids.||This is allegedly the door through which they brought the Pharaoh’s mummy. The scale of the limestone rocks can be seen by the man standing at top left of the doorway.|
We then visit an area of flat basalt rock slabs that were used to grind the softer sandstone, and then look at some huge granite rocks lining the base of the third pyramid. They originally covered the entire pyramid, shaped to make a smooth sloping surface that shimmered in the sunlight. Everywhere we go hieroglyphic writing is carved into door frames and walls. My guide explains some of the symbols. We finally look at one of several deep holes carved out of bare rock in which a timber boat with a curved hull had apparently been placed to take the Pharaoh to his afterlife.
|Flat basalt rocks like these were used to grind the softer sandstone blocks by rubbing them back and forth until smooth.||The hole which originally housed the Pharaoh’s barque which would take him to the afterlife.|
Mohammed tells me the ancients used to use the Lotus flower to make a perfume for the mummified body of the pharaoh because it lasted three days. The Pharaohs’ Queens also used this particular perfume.
During all this a young lad mounted on a camel hovers nearby waiting. Finally I’m asked if I’d like a camel ride up to an adjacent ridge where I can get the best photos.
In all the tour takes about half an hour and I have to say was well worth it to the extent that I give him £100 instead of the agreed £50.
He still wants £200.
“Okay – Welcome to Egypt – thank you Sir”.
Go looking for Roger and Andy and meet them coming back from the second pyramid after they’d been inside. Andy tells me not to bother but I’m curious. Front up to the entrance with ticket in hand but can’t get in with a camera. Have to go find Mohammed the Taxi Driver to look after my camera for me. He’s not far away. In fact he chased me back across the rocks and dust to the car park. Give him the camera and retrace the trek back to the second pyramid.
After passing through the entrance there is a small tunnel of about one metre square that requires bending over horizontally at the waist. It leads down for about 100 metres or so into a small chamber where you can uncoil, then another small tunnel leads upwards into a high vaulted room with bare walls and a large sarcophagus at the end, the bottom of which can’t be seen because it’s too dark in there. Nothing else of interest. Turn around and head back, sidling past the continuous line of expectant sightseers coming the other way.
Find Mohammed and get my camera back. Meet up with Andy and Roger and join Mohammed who takes us on a tour of his own. Visit some of the minor tombs in the area which belonged to royal wives, princes and nobles. They usually consist of a few rooms; an ante chamber, a burial chamber and a prayer room. Some have figurines carved into the walls, others just have hieroglyphic writing carved into them. The rooms would have once been filled with earthly possessions to make the after life comfortable.
|Inside one of the smaller tombs in the area.||A fully restored barge the ancients used to carry the large blocks up the Nile River is housed in it’s own museum here.|
Notice some of the female tourists while walking back to the cab, lots of young and not so young wearing tight jeans showing much of their maidenly charms. Mohammed grabs me by the arm in the friendly manner that Egyptian men seem to have with each other but decidedly unsettling for a westerner. He proceeds to tell me he would like to marry one of them especially if she was blond with green eyes. But I do think he was just joking as he looks around at the passing parade of European talent. It’s unfortunate that so many people in a foreign country just simply don’t respect the local sensitivities. There can be no doubt a negative message about westerners in general is being sent to middle-eastern religious eyes.
Meet up with Maurice and drive over to the Sphinx. Hundreds of people, so many it’s not possible to swing my arms without hitting someone. There’s some sort of concert going on with huge speakers belting out Egyptian rock music. A bloke starts speaking over the microphone thanking Nestles chocolate and other sponsors, droning on and on. Police everywhere again. All armed. Several of them standing around in positions where you would expect perhaps one policeman to be in Australia, if at all. Walk down to the wall surrounding the Sphinx and take some photos. Don’t go inside the enclosure.
Get back into the cab and we take off through Cairo to go for lunch, followed closely by the second cab with the other group of yachties. On the way Mohammed explains that a big football match will take place in Cairo tonight. Egypt is playing Algeria and needs to win to get into the finals. That explains the Egyptian flag draped over the top of the taxi. Hyped up revellers in taxi’s and even buses drive alongside tooting horns in a bip, bip, barp, barp, barp cadence. Soon several cars are tootling along all pumping away at the horn including Mohammed. Men drive past in other taxis waving flags and pumping arms into the air. Mohammed rewards this by again bip barping away on the horn. Time and time again. Even cars going the other way pick it up and carry the collective noise away into the distance. People are hanging out of windows and balconies waving flags, walking along the streets banging drums and cymbals and chanting.
|Left and Above: Cairo street scenes|
We pass groups of large Police trucks surrounded by armed policemen standing around. Other police are manning various guard posts in two’s and three’s. Yet more can be seen standing around singly but within shouting distance of each other. All are armed, some with automatic weapons. Obviously the Egyptian Government is not taking any chances. Another reminder if one was needed that terrorism has been felt here before and that the country has real enemies close by.
The famous Cairo Museum houses more than 100,000 relics and antiquities from almost every period of ancient Egypt from the Old Kingdom through the Greco Roman and Roman Empire periods. It is also the home for the treasures of King Tutankhamen.
Mohammed parks the taxi in a car park near the Cairo Museum and near to a statue on a pedestal of General Montgomery staring down the avenue. Monty seems to have an excessively long right arm. Perhaps it’s just the angle. We walk for several blocks past beggars, shoe polishers and shisha smokers to a restaurant. Walk up the narrow stairs and seat ourselves in a smallish room at a plain wooden table with plastic tablecloth and wooden chairs. The meals are almost westernised and quite good, costing the grand sum of around $10 AUS each including drinks and lunch for our driver Mohammed.
After lunch a man collars us in the street and entices me into his shop. It’s a perfume shop so I ask about the lotus flower perfume. He pulls a small numbered clear bottle half filled with some liquid off one of the shelves, takes out the cork and rubs some perfume along my arm with a wick telling me it’s from the Lotus flower. It’s really quite a lovely aroma. Apparently this same perfume was used by nobility around 4,500 years ago. The shop owner tells me that wearing this perfume brought the wearer luck, love and happiness.
Yeah right …
The other yachties leave for a hotel to stay the night in Cairo while we go to the Cairo Museum. This costs £60 entrance fee plus negotiating a security scanner at the front gate, then another scanning at the main entrance door to the museum itself. Once again I’m told we can’t take cameras inside and have to go back outside to find the relevant office in the garden. After exchanging the camera for a numbered wooden token am able to enter the museum.
This place is simply wonderful. Lots of sarcophagus’ and artefacts but once again it could be better presented. Faded typed paper notes pasted into the corner of display cases can be hard to read in the subdued lighting, and there doesn’t seem to be any particular progressive timeline order. Displays are housed in elaborate separate sections but it’s pretty much up to hired guides to give you more details about what you are looking at. The whole place is pretty much a big maze spread over two floors. Take a bit longer in the Tutankhamen display. The amount of gold in there is awesome. No wonder about the level of security needed.
About an hour or so of looking at stone coffins, statues, jewellery and weapons is enough for me, especially in the absence of any detail about how the ancient Egyptians lived their daily lives. Go outside to wait for the others. Grab a coffee from a mobile cart and wish I hadn’t. Bloody awful. Sit down and an Egyptian man comes up and sits down beside me:
“Where you from?”
“Australia … Sydney? Melbourne?”
“Darwin?” (blank look).
This chap speaks very good English and admits to being a tourist guide. Says he speaks several languages and his name is not Mohammed or Achmed. It sounds like Wiley – as in Wile E Coyote. Wants to know if we have pork flu in Australia. He’s surprised to learn it’s actually called Swine Flu. Do I need a guide? No?
Lots of tourist type people just standing around. They’re quite easy to identify. None of the Egyptians wear shorts and all the women, even girls wear full length clothes. There’s at least one young group of tourists with Aussie accents across the way.
1600hrs: At the appointed time we leave the museum and walk out to the main road in time to see Mohammed waving enthusiastically across the road. Problem is how to get across there without becoming Egyptian mulch under the constant stream of cars. A middle aged man sees our problem and simply walks out waving his hand, and the cars flow around him enough to encourage us to do the same. That doesn’t mean they actually slow down. Manage to get across the road okay and return to the taxi.
On the way back to Ismailia we skirt Cairo heading in a north-easterly direction. The pleasures of Horn Beeping has not lost any of its tempo. Patriotic displays among the population are keen and constant wherever we go. Pass by the stadium where the big event is to be held later tonight. Even though the match is hours away the crowds are dense. Police in even thicker numbers run around blowing whistles the sound of which is lost in the din, and wave urgently at vehicles to keep moving. Mohammed points out the dais alongside the road where Anwar Sadat had been assassinated, while keeping the horn blowing in between making mobile phone calls.
Once clear of the city we start to see more open stretches of desert. Nightfall comes down. Stop on the way back to refuel then again later and buy some mangoes at a roadside stall.
1800hrs: Return to the boat. Mohammed’s fee was originally set at £200. We each feel he deserves more and give him £100 each totalling £400.
“Wow, wow, wow”, he says. “If you need anything, anything, just call me”.
He then takes off to watch the football game on TV. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll repair or replace his blown tyre. Andy tells us that it hadn’t been fixed in Cairo and we’d come home without a spare. Roger says he has the goods on me being extra friendly with Mohammed at the pyramids. I simply remark, “When I was in the Army on operations we never left our mate’s behind!
Pt Said to Pt Suez
|Location of Ismailia
just north of the Great Bitter Lake
Sun 15 Nov 09
A group of 13 yachties take off in a minibus this morning bound for Cairo leaving the marina with a deserted look. Some cleaning up taking place onboard.
Groups of young men, obviously Army, Navy and Air Force are wandering about the marina concourse area. They gather in clumps here and there peering into boats but generally keeping to themselves. They appear to be having lectures upstairs in the marina building and coming out for breaks from time to time.
The Army guys wear heavy dark brown woollen battle dress reminiscent of the old British uniform worn in the Second World War, and until recently in the Australian Army during winter. They have red tags on collars and some have wing badges on the left breast. All have shoulder boards, a khaki shirt and dark brown tie. The Air Force guys wear a dark blue battle dress of similar design and the Navy guys wear black suits similar to that worn by navy people everywhere. What is it with these hot uniforms here? Point out to Roger that some are walking about arm in arm. They must be good mates.
Afternoon: Easy day aboard. Roger goes up to the internet cafe. Scores big points with the rest of us by returning with a big bar of chocolate and tasty Pringles potato chips.
Evening: Set up the laptop and we watch a movie after dinner. Very quiet in the marina all day. The group of travellers who went to Cairo return somewhere around 2200 hrs or so.
Mon 16 Nov 09
0800hrs: Still no word when anybody is leaving but people start to prepare their yachts anyway getting fuel and stocking up on food. Andy and I set out for the internet cafe while Roger stays behind to do what he calls housewifely duties around the boat.
The internet shop is closed. Shop owner next door indicates he will be open by 0900hrs so I decide to take a quick walk around nearby. Locate a post office, a KFC which won’t be open until 1100 hrs next door to a Pizza Hut. Return to the internet cafe to find Andy sitting on the stone gutter merrily chatting way to wife Jenni on Skype. The Wi-Fi signal can be picked up outside the shop. Send off an email of my own.
|Street scene – Ismailia||A worker laboriously picks up rubbish in the street using a push-cart|
|A sheesa and coffee house||Sign in the internet shop –
“Despite paying excessive tax on tobacco products, you are no welcome in public places! Go away, get cancer and drop dead!”
0900hrs. The internet guy turns up. Andy asks him if he can fix his Dell computer which isn’t working after giving off a burning smell. The guy cleans the fan with a blower then indicates it’s probably the power unit blown up. Can’t fix it because he doesn’t have an electrical plug adapter for the Australian three pin plug and the Egyptian two pin plug. Andy will have to return with the adapter.
On the way back to the boat meet up with Roger on his way to the Metro grocery shop. Andy and I return to the boat to fetch a shopping trolley and adapter plug and return to the internet shop to meet Roger. I get online and have a Skype chat with Delma. The shop owner decides he can’t fix the Dell computer because he hasn’t got the part.
Down a few shops is Egy-Tech, another computer shop.
“Yes, yes, can fix. Come back 9 o’clock tonight. Okay?”
Have lunch at KFC. Go to Metro shop and get groceries. Return to the boat with the groceries while Andy and Roger go for a beer at Georges. After unpacking groceries go to the Ismailia Museum which costs £15 to enter and I’m the sole customer. Three attendants stand around inside and four police security guards outside. The museum contains a few thousand smallish artefacts consisting mostly of jewellery and small statues, probably used as decorations on shelves around the house similar to how we have porcelain and glass keepsakes sitting on shelves today. A 4th century AD mosaic is laid out on the floor behind a roped off area. Out in the garden are various stone works dating back to Ramses II. It’s a long walk back to the boat.
During the afternoon Alan from Alice comes around looking for empty fuel jerry cans so he can refuel his boat with the cheap fuel available in Ismailia. After completion of this Hailá (pron hiley) offers to take Roger to get fuel for Jenzminc. Hailá does all the bargaining including the paying of baksheesh to the guards on the gate and not letting anyone get away with anything. She refuses to be bullied or patronised by chauvinistic Egyptian males and with a sharp tongue soon puts them back into their place. Roger is impressed telling her she’s a tough lady, at which she laughs.
Evening: Andy cooks roast lamb in the stainless steel barbeque attached to the stern railing in the cockpit. Alan and Hailá come onboard as guests for dinner. They’ve been cruising around the world on and off since 1986. Hailá was originally from Turkey growing up near the Syrian border. She became a dentist and immigrated to Australia where she met Alan. She’s a delight with a wonderful sense of humour, but can be a terrier if nudged the wrong way. Alan smiles that if anyone gives them any grief he just siks Hailá onto them.
Am concerned to learn the shower facilities here in the marina are uni-sex. We’d all thought the ladies had their own shower but they’ve been obliged to use the one’s we thought were the men’s showers since it has male urinal facilities. It’s also the laundry. I thought about the previous night about to get under the hot shower when an urge to piddle came upon me and walked out of the stall toward the urinal in the nutty. Imagine if a lady had walked in at that moment. “G’day – nice day hey?” doesn’t seem to quite cover the situation. Given the prudish culture of our hosts this does seem to be somewhat negligent in their treatment of tourists not to supply separate facilities. Hailá is understandably annoyed with it.
An official interrupts the dinner to tell Hailá that Alice will be leaving for Port Suez early in the morning, and that they need to pay their marina fees right now. Hailá heads off to attend to this and soon returns with a receipt.
Andy has to depart to go collect his computer and returns later with computer unfixed. They had agreed it was the power supply but it would have to be sent to Cairo to be fixed. No thanks.
It seems Alice will be more or less taking the same timeline as Jenzminc going to Oman, although I think they’ll be leaving later than we will. They propose at this stage to visit Cochin in India, maybe visit the Maldives and then bypass Sri Lanka. They haven’t made up their minds about their final route yet, but they know they’ll need to be out of the Indian Ocean by around May when the cyclone season starts. They mention they have friends from Gone Troppo back in Darwin.
They leave around 2200hrs or so with promises all round that we’ll keep in touch. Seems there is another Australian boat already in Hurghada further down in the Red Sea, but no one knows its name. Maybe we’ll be able to catch up with them, or maybe not.
Late in the evening Lo Brust drops by to tell us we’ll be leaving the day after tomorrow.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Tues 17 Nov 09
0800hrs: Nothing much happening around the marina. Nobody has left yet. All those who are supposed to be leaving today are sitting around just waiting for their pilots to show up.
Approx 1130hrs. The pilots start arriving. A chubby fellow with moustache, wearing dark sunglasses, a sleeveless jacket and heeled shoes approaches Patricia from Moody Times. She asks him to remove his shoes after climbing aboard as she’d just finished scrubbing down. For some reason he gets offended, throws an arm into the air with a dismissive gesture and storms off, loudly making comments and gesturing back to Moody Times. Obviously wants a different boat. Dickhead. Another younger man comes along indicating he’s prepared to take off his shoes … no problem … and with a big smile climbs onboard.
All the departing boats start releasing lines, some using voluble and urgent instructions to a wife on the bow and start making their way out of Ismailia harbour towards the canal. They’ll be arriving very late in Port Suez tonight. See you there tomorrow. Alice is the last to leave, slipping away quietly and calmly. Hopefully we can get away earlier in the morning.
Afternoon: Nothing left to do. Have a nap. Laze around the boat.
1930hrs: Order pizza’s for dinner.
2030hrs. Watch a movie on board. A man turns up to tell us we can pay our marina bills now which is a good sign we’ll be leaving early in the morning. Andy goes over to the area where a table has been set up on the concourse and is presented with a bill for USD $147 being $21 per night – same rate as Port Said.
Resume the movie. Another man comes around to confirm Jenzminc will be leaving at 0500hrs in the morning. Name of our pilot will be Sayid. Only five of the remaining seven will be able to leave early as two of the pilots have had to work back late tonight. The last two boats to leave will be Esper and Rhumb Do at 1000 hrs.
Midnight: Finish movie and go to bed.
Suez Canal (2nd leg)
Weds 18 Nov 09
0500hrs: Rise and shine. Confusing babble of voice issuing from the many minarets around the area which keeps up for arund 15 mins. Disconnect the power from shore.
0540hrs: Our pilot Sayid appears at the stern of the boat and introduces himself. Politely asks if he may come aboard. Takes his shoes off unbidden and steps across the small gap. Lines slipped. Anchor up. Coffee for the pilot. Ease out away from the marina into a foggy half-dawn light. First boat away again.
Right: Sun comes up over the Suez Canal near Ismalia.
0600hrs: Sayid at the helm. Picking our way through the many small dinghy fishermen using hand-lines and stringing nets. Sayid calls out to them now and again, I assume to confirm where they’ve run their nets so we can avoid them. In a short time we’re out into the main canal and being overtaken by a large cargo ship.
0730hrs: Clear overhead but still quite foggy. Visibility is down to a couple of miles. Enter the Great Bitter Lake, an inland sea of about 5 miles wide by 15 miles at the widest and longest parts. Uneventful trip so far. Sayid sits in the cockpit steering and seems to be reciting or praying to himself while looking down at his mobile phone which he carries in his hand.
Sayid is an unassuming man probably in his late 30s with laugh lines at the corners of his eyes, slender build with a full bushy black beard and wears one of those white brimless crocheted caps. Has thick black trousers and a black jacket which he wears all day even when it got quite warm. Unlike our first pilot he doesn’t ask for anything not directly connected with the running of the boat. He keeps Andy informed about navigation and other important details and only talks on the radio twice during the entire trip. In all a professional and pleasant man who earns our quiet respect.
0800hrs: No land in sight. Plenty of anchored ships appearing out of the gloom all around. At one point I count 13 of them. More appear at the front and back as they catch up to us in the channel. Sayid tells us the anchored boats have to wait here until a convoy passes through from the south before they can resume their own passage to Port Suez. Also a few tug boats around. One of them is tied up to a channel buoy with the crew hand-line fishing over the side. Sayid calls out something to them. Waves and smiles exchanged.
Sun is starting to give a little warmth. Fog, smog or smoke or whatever it is starting to lift. Doing seven knots with a slight headwind of just a couple of knots.
0815hrs. A small felucca fishing boat sails past with its triangular sail set and a crew of three men aboard. Several others appear at various places out to the horizon.
1130hrs: Out of the Great Bitter Lake and back into the canal proper. Suez is tidal and we’re pushing against 1.4 kts of current. Other yachts later report currents up to 2.5 kts but I suspect they may have been out in the middle of the channel more. We stick constantly over to the side. Wind from the north is at around four knots. It’s not as wide here as between Port Said and Ismailia and even less interesting scenery. Banks are higher but occasional breaks afford a glimpse into the interior of the western side. Nearly always some kind of vegetation including date palms, tall grasses, trees and sometimes buildings. The eastern bank is nearly always completely bare.
There is a heavy military presence along this stretch of canal. There’s at least one military base. Every couple of miles or so we come across groups of big square steel bridge pontoons on the western side of the canal. These are mounted on angled concrete bases fitted with rollers so that they can quickly be rolled into the channel to form a heavy duty bridge across the canal. Each pontoon has interlocking tabs on the sides to keep the bridge straight.
Every now and then a curious little white beehive structure with little arched windows cut into the sides appears high up on the western bank. These turn out to be sentry boxes. Later at different places a soldier can be seen standing beside one of them with a machine gun mounted on a fixed monopod, which is pointing into the interior. They usually stare and wave, then turn and desultorily kick a few stones or take a seat inside the sentry box to get out of the sun. A military truck filled with soldiers in the covered back moves down the road probably to relieve the sentries along the canal.
1230hrs: Approaching the outskirts of Port Suez. High mountains in the distance to the south-west and east. The yacht club comes into view shortly after.
1255hrs: Tie up at the Suez Canal Yacht and Rowing Club. Total distance 43.66 miles which took 7 hrs 10 mins. No anchor required. Long bow lines are attached to embedded buoys. Stern lines are fixed to a floating, almost plastic pontoon finger which comes complete with water, power and lighting. A few power yachts are tied up to some fore and aft moorings nearby. The area looks quite nice with reasonably tended gardens, at least relative to what we’ve seen so far. Andy remembered it’s Roger’s birthday today. Happy Birthday duly sung.
|Ocean going ships travel passing out into the Red Sea||The Port Suez Yacht Club is actually quite close to the actual canal and subject to prop wash from the big ships|
Afternoon: The anchorage is tending to be quite rolly as the big ships move past just a few hundred metres away in the canal proper. Waves from their prop wash regularly send moored boats bobbing around. Lo Brust introduces us to the Felix representative Mr Magdie who presents each boat with a small gift box of cakes in welcome.
More boats start to arrive and are getting slightly squeezed together side by side with only a small distance between. A man calling himself Mr Kar Kar identifies himself as the Felix contact man. Pleasant young man who busies himself going back and forth between the yachts adjusting stern lines from pontoon, then uses a dinghy to adjust bow lines so that masts won’t touch as the boats jump rock around in the regular swells. Later he asks if we have any empty gas bottles to fill. We give him a small bottle which cost £52 to fill.
Go to check out the toilet facilities ashore but which is still inside the marina enclosure. Don’t even reach them before a plain clothed man sitting under a tree wants to check my passport. C’mon fellas, let’s get real.
Late afternoon: Sundowners in the various cockpits around Jenzminc. Cobble to starboard, Full Flight to port, Esper directly across the other side maybe two metres away and others. Several others within comfortable talking distance from our own cockpit. Crews collectively sing Happy Birthday to Roger.
Evening: Take a walk outside the gate to find a restaurant to shout Roger a birthday meal. None of the guards seem interested in checking passports this time. A soccer game is being projected onto a big screen near the front gate. Seems the soccer game between Egypt and Algeria has to be replayed tonight because it resulted in a draw last week, even though Egypt had won the game 2 to Nil. Egypt eventually lost the game.
Turn left at the gate to what looks like a seafront restaurant. Politely told, “No foreigners” at the gate by a security guard. Go to the nearby Red Sea Hotel. A little sign in the lift says Mermaid Restaurant on 8th floor but the button doesn’t work. Go to the 6th floor instead and find the Mermaid Restaurant here. Order meals. Nigel and Debbie from Roam II turn up and join us at the table. Reasonable meal except the caramel ice cream didn’t arrive. Cancel it and get the bill. Soup and the main meal cost £300 (about AUS $60) for the three of us.
Return to boat. No one checks our passports. Early to bed.
About Port Suez
Port Suez was almost destroyed during the 1967 and 1973 war with Israel. Some of the devastation from the bombing can still be seen in places around the city but is slowly, slowly being rebuilt. They don’t do things quickly here. However the main streets particularly at night look vibrant with lots of flashing lights. The shops actually look quite enticing as you drive through the city at night, if you can ignore the constant litter and broken rubble lying around on the footpaths and streets. Much of the waterfront area in the vicinity of the Suez Canal Yacht and Rowing Club actually seems quite depopulated; empty apartment buildings with locked doors, closed shops.
This isn’t a tourist town. It’s basically just a transit point for ships and yachts passing through the Red Sea, as well as a rest stop for Muslims making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Thurs 19 Nov 09
Morning: Lovely day again. There is no Wi-Fi network detectable from the boat but have found an unsecured Wi-Fi network if I take the laptop to an nearby garden inside the marina grounds. There’s an open covered building complete with tables, and there are power outlets so it’s apparently expected to be able to use the network. Andy has a chat with wife Jenni on Skype while I manage to get some emails sent. We really should see if we can buy an USB Wi-Fi antenna booster so we can access the internet from the boat.
Nothing much else happening. Spend most of the day getting our washing done including waiting for the one machine to become available. In between washing cycles we do odd cleaning jobs about the boat.
Nitheesh and Gipson, the two Indian lads from Lo Brust’s Mistral arrive to collect money for a trip to St. Catherine Monastery in the Sinai Desert. Cost is USD $20. Andy and Roger aren’t going so Lo Brust subsequently comes around to ask them for the $40. When told, “No” Lo complains of being out of pocket because he says people change their minds. I believe we’d told him on at least two occasions that they wouldn’t be taking the trip. The whole thing could have been avoided if he’d simply circulated a clipboard sheet for people to tick yes or no to the various organised trips. Lo is consistently proving his organisational ability isn’t all that good.
1300hrs: Finally manage to get access to the washing machine. Each wash cycle takes forever, lasting as long as it takes for a piddle, a cup of coffee and another piddle. It tends to sit for much of the time doing nothing while it tries to decide what to do next. I have two loads to put through so this is going to be a long afternoon and a good test for the bladder.
Approx 1800hrs: A rally barbeque costing USD $5 per head is being held in the marina grounds. It’s going to be an official function and an area with tables joined together are set up and well lit with brilliant spotlights. A ghetto blaster by default detonates with Egyptian rock music but is turned down on request so that we can talk to each other at the tables. The food is good. A semi spicy dip of hummus, a small bowl of cucumber and tomato, three pita breads, coleslaw and a large selection of barbequed meat consisting of chicken pieces and small clump-like rissoles are given to each person. Lo Brust makes presentations to the Felix Agency representative for Port Suez and to the Manager of the Port Suez Yacht and Rowing Club. In return the Felix Agency guy presents each captain with a small metal figurine featuring an Egyptian god of some sort.
Some yachties will be leaving for Wadi Dome further down the Red Sea in the morning, while others will be going to the St. Catherine Monastery, so the night winds up reasonably early as people begin to filter away.
St. Catherine Monastery
|A “resort” on the West Coast
of the Sinai Peninsula
After we turn easterly into the interior of the Sinai the mountains start to get bigger and bigger and we steadily climb higher. The bare, rocky high mountains and peaks of the Sinai in this area are where the Children of Israel are said to have wandered 33 centuries ago. Very forbidding kind of place. They must have been pretty good at finding water. There are some occasional areas of sorry looking date palms and even sorrier looking stone huts and people. These are apparently what some of the once proud Bedouins have come to, relying on selling dates and some vegetables and living in poverty, having given up their once nomadic lifestyle.
1415hrs: Arrive at St. Catherine airport, a dubious name given that there doesn’t seem to be any airstrip around, or else they just use gyrocopters on a flat piece of land lined by rocks that I can see in the distance. In any case we’re told in no uncertain terms not to take any photographs and charged another unexpected £16.50. This is supposedly a government tax for which a receipt is not required to be issued (yeah … right) but you do get a ticket … obviously Lo didn’t know about this either.
1430hrs: Stop at another checkpoint. Driver gets out of the car at this one. Sit and wait for a while. Driver comes back and drives 50 metres or so into a car park and we’ve arrived. Climb out. Rather chilly wind blowing. Everyone but me starts pulling out windcheaters or jumpers. I hadn’t given any thought to it thinking the Sinai was flat and hadn’t brought one. I suppose I haven’t been the only tourist to be caught out because a number of little shops are lined up next to the car park that sell various clothing articles, rugs and things. Am able to purchase an American made fleece lined jacket for £150 bargained down from £200, complete with fleece lined hood liner and plenty of pockets. Everyone walks the dusty road up to the monastery.
Right: St. Catherine on the Sinai Peninsula on the site of the biblical burning bush. Has operated continuously as a monastery since being built in 565 AD.
The Monastery of St. Catherine is an Orthodox Christian monastery that has existed for almost 1500 years. It consists of a stone wall several metres high arranged in a huge large square. Several monasteries were established around this time in the southern Sinai to escape the pagan Romans. The monks certainly did it really hard back then but they’d bought slaves with them to help out. This monastery was erected 527 to 565 AD and has been under the respective protection of Mohammed the Islam prophet, Arab caliphs, Crusaders, Turkish sultans and Napoleon. They all gave special protection to it. It has never been conquered, damaged or destroyed which is quite remarkable, but probably because it is built on a site that is sacred to both Moslems and Christians in the Old Testament.
|approaching St Catherine monastery with Mt Sinai on the right. Mount Moses is behind Mt Sinai.||looking back towards the Catherine township showing mountainous desert country|
Moses apparently first found his future wife on a nearby mountain now called Mt. Moses, and is said to have been spoken to by God through a burning bush where the monastery now stands. The exact location of the various early monasteries and the site of the burning bush has been held in the collective memories of native tribes in the area through the centuries. The monks built an alter right over the site where the burning bush allegedly stood. A cutting of the bush was transplanted several yards away near a well and it still flourishes today.
Mt. Sinai towers behind and above the monastery and is where Moses received the 10 Commandments from God on the stone tablets. There are some 3000 odd steps to climb up there. Tourists have an option to go up there and spend the night and return the next day.
|Views around the monastery.
The pathway up to the top of Mount Sinai can be seen in photo at bottom left, just right of top centre.
Near the monastery is a miserable collection of stone huts, and further around the back stand some tribal villagers with a motley collection of camels. These are for rides to a nearby ridge where there is a small chapel, or to take visitors to the top of Mt. Sinai. The villagers are apparently descendants of Anatolian and Alexandrian slaves who were brought here to serve the monks and the monastery. They still serve the monastery and it’s said they think of themselves as Greek. They are Moslem’s but do observe some of the Christian rituals. The monks themselves are all of Greek descent.
|village huts for monastery workers||villager on camel|
We climb a nearby rocky outcrop and get some photographs, check out the extensive walled garden areas, stand around and eventually find a coffee shop. One of the Greek Monks eventually comes out to talk with some of us and although the monastery is closed, arranges for us to go inside to see the burning bush at 1630hrs after prayers.
1700hrs: A side gate is opened and small groups are allowed inside. We weave through a small tunnel and narrow lanes under the guidance of a young Egyptian guide until we reach a covered stone well. He informs us this is Moses’ Well. This is where Moses used to meet up with his future wife when she brought down her sheep or goats for a drink. Some baddies gave her a hard time and Moses drove them off.
|side entrance into the monastery||a bad omen?
black cat sits next to cross above the door
|inside the monastery||Moses’ well|
We are then taken a bit further up the lane to see a large green bush rearing above the narrow lane. It’s said no cutting from this bush has ever been successfully transplanted anywhere else in the Sinai except for this one, and that it’s the only one of its kind in the whole of the Sinai Peninsula. Unfortunately by now it’s quite dark but there is a certain aura, whether psychological or not I cannot tell, to be standing next to this bush.
1800hrs: Back into the buses and commence the trip back. The driver asks a couple of times if any of us want to stop at a rest house on the way back, but each time is met with an emphatic, “No”. It’s been a long day and everybody just wants to get back. A raffle is started at USD$1 a head, the winner being whoever predicts the closest time we arrive back at the main marina gate. A five-hour outbound trip takes four hours to get back. One of the Indian lads off Mistral wins it.
2200hrs: Back onboard I find a dinner placemat and cutlery laid out with dinner on the stove ready to heat up. Andy and Roger are asleep in bed. Some sort of disco is going on next door but the amplified noise stops around 2300hrs.
Right: Villagers also run souks selling trinkets and clothing to tourists. A chance for some last minute shopping.
Learned next day that while I’d been away gallivanting around the Sinai, Andy and Roger had been having some adventures of their own in town. They’d been walking along the main road towards the city when a driver pulls up and offers them a lift.
Rule #1 broken – they get in without asking a price.
“Do you want to go on a tour”?
“No – we want fruit and vegies”.
He takes them to a market stall with nothing else around it but rubbish in a dirty, dirty, dirty area with flies by the thousands. The driver buy tomatoes and oranges and then fleeces his clients by putting his own price on top of the real price.
Rule #2 broken – don’t let someone else shop for you.
They then ask to go to a grocery shop. Repeat of the above. One shop. Dirty, dinghy area etc. He takes them to get beer. This turns out to be a bombed out place from the Egyptian war with Israel in 1973-74. One garage door has a Heineken sign on it. It costs £360 (about AUS$70) for a carton of 24 cans … but they can’t pick it up until after prayers. Three hours later prayers are over.
They get him to pull over once they get back into an area where they catch another taxi. Ask this new driver what his fees are going to be to get back to the marina. After extensive haggling the price is dropped to £70 (AUS$14). Now that they have a price they continue to use the taxi for the rest of the day. They also manage to find a booster antenna for the Wi-Fi internet. The driver’s son locates this little gem. The upshot of all this was that the total shopping bill should have been about £500 but ended up costing £900 – a superb piece of fleecing that is taken as a learning experience.
END PART 2