Ashore at Port Said

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PART 2
EGYPT

Port Said

map 7 port said
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.

Sat 7 Nov 09 (cont)
0930hrs: Quick tidy up of the boat. Chap named Mezzine calls by. Identifies himself as working for the rally’s agent Felix and starts to process our paperwork for entry into Egypt and passage through the Suez Canal. Heavily pockmarked face, sturdy man, balding, friendly disposition.Another of Felix’s’ agents named Sayid arrives soon after accompanied by two young blokes, who quickly disappear soon after. Sayid is a swarthy looking gentleman with stained teeth and a wide smile, who acts as if he’s the boss cocky of our Egyptian hosts. He quotes 70 cents Euro per litre for diesel. Said that would be the price for everyone in the rally. The diesel comes in 70 litre drums so we order 140 litres. Wait for the “Quarantine Doctor” to arrive. Mezzine departs saying he’ll return later with our passports and visas and then we can go ashore. Until then we must wait.
Water is available on the jetty. Toilets and showers are at the end of the jetty. No Wi-Fi internet access here so we’ll have to go to an internet cafe to send emails etc. A large docking area has been reserved for the rally yachts. It’s a rather grand title for this place being the Suez Canal Authority Yacht Club. There are areas of uncut grass, sun lounges, a timber trellised covered area, two toilet blocks, security guard room, prayer room and a couple of other vacant buildings. Security guards hover about 24 hours a day.

Right: Grounds of the SCA Yacht Club75 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.

76 rubbishLeft: Rubbish in the street next to an unfilled bin. a kitten (centre photo) sifts through the rubbish.

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.

Right: Imposing mosque at Port Foard.
77 mosque pt foardCarts pulled by donkeys, motor bikes or people are parked along the street just outside the marina. Some have nice looking fruit but have limited vegetable supplies. Takes me a couple of days to track down where the proper local market is. There’s lots of carts selling wafer biscuits which are popular, plus other junk food stuff. Very few supermarkets in the vein of Woolworths. Most shops seem to limit themselves to a smallish range of goods. I did actually find a Woolworths in Port Said later but the area of the interior of our boat was probably bigger than the shop.
78 road stalls 79 vege seller
Fruit sellers in the street outside the SCA Yacht Club Horse and cart vegetable sellers.
People seem to be perhaps more curious than friendly however it becomes common for passers-by to inquire where we are from. When told Australia they often react with something approaching wonder, as if we’d said something like Timbuktu or Antarctica. Then with a big smile will invariably say, “Welcome to Egypt”. However they are nearly always friendly if you approach someone and prove to be polite and helpful.
Traffic goes everywhere and in all directions. Horns beeping. Seatbelts are optional. Mobile phones can be used extensively as you drive around and children can stand up and hang out the windows. A lot of women wear full burka’s but it seems optional. Was told later that some women are obliged to wear them because their husbands order them to do so. Most young women are in modern clothing and they do seem to like their bling bling. Men too. Find an internet cafe but it’s dark inside and kind of dinghy. Don’t go in.
Find an ATM but am unable to get it to give us any money. Decide we don’t want to risk having a meal anywhere. In fact we don’t even want to be out in the streets after dark. In any case we aren’t sure whether the gates will be closed on us if we stay out too long. Return to the boat hoping it will be better over at Port Said tomorrow. A different security guard challenges us again at the gate again demanding our passports. He checks each one carefully and dismisses us imperiously with a flick of the eyes but looking otherwise disinterested. I think Andy is looking forward to going out for a feed but we have to tell him the good news to forget it. Sit and chat in the cockpit and have steak and veges for dinner.

 

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

Right: Yachts arrived overnight. Maurice standing at right.80 fleet comes in

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.

81 ferry  82 street scene pt said
Car and people ferry across the Nile River street scene Port Said
 83 board games  84 sidewalk coffee
Board games are popular along sidewalks Maurice, Andy and Roger waiting for coffee. Men smoking “sheesha” in the background
 85 fish on sale  86 fruit seller
Fish for sale in the open air of the bazaar. An uninterested looking donkey stands patiently while his owner tries to sell fruit in the middle of the street.
1430hrs: Back on the boat and have some lunch. Take a load of washing to a local laundry and am quoted 42 pounds for 13 items being shorts, jeans and shirts. The laundry offers to repair my ripped jeans and wash them for 10 pounds. With the exchange rate of about 5 pounds per $1 AUS it’s going to cost all up just over $10 AUS. I figure, “What the hell and give the items to them”. Go for a walk on my own. Find a large market several blocks away.
Walking back I’m struck by the incongruous sight of two well dressed young teenage girls posing gracefully before a bush taking photographs of each other, amidst scattered litter and unkempt street gardens. Not the best of backdrops for a photograph of pretty girls.

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.

87 fleet meetingLeft: Vasco da Gama yacht rally members being briefed by the organiser at the SCA Yacht Club.

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).

 88 street scene pt said  89 street scene pt said
street scene Port Said horse and sulky rides for tourists from the cruise ships
 90 mosque pt said  91 street scene pt said
another imposing mosque in Port Said stalls in the bazaar area of Port Said
 92 old and new 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.

MORE TO FOLLOW

 

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