January 19-21, 2010 (Suez Canal & Egypt)

JANUARY 19 – SUEZ CANAL

Can anyone guess how much a “one way” trek through the Suez Canal costs? Answer below. Don’t peak.

Linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas was an ancient idea. Pharaoh Necho submitted the first documented plan in the 6th Century BC. Nearly 100,000 workers, most of them slaves, died during the construction effort and the Pharaoh was forced to abandon his dream. There were many attempts throughout history to complete the canal, but since there were no established communities along the route to dredge and maintain it, the project repeatedly failed.

In 1845, a french engineer came up with a promising plan, although rumors circulated that the project was impossible because of a 30 foot elevation change between the two Seas – and all that would result was a huge waterfall. This was found to be false. There is, remarkably, only a 3 foot difference, making locks unnecessary. Construction started in 1856 and was completed in 1869.

We started our transit through the Canal at 3 AM. We were the caboose of 15 ships in the first of two daily southbound convoys, spread out with a good distance between us. Remember – ships can’t step on the breaks – so tailgating is a no no – especially without a slow lane. There is one northbound transit each day. Since the Canal is “one way”, the two convoys pass each other in Bitter Lake (6 miles long and 4 miles wide), and conveniently at the half way mark. In the lake, 32 HUGE ships, glided past us. Container ships (like the one in the attached photo) has over 1,100 containers on it! I kid you not. 1,100! We also saw massive car carriers and oil tankers. The Canal is about 100 miles long and it took us 12 hours to complete the journey. Maximum allowed speed is 8 knots, which helps control erosion on the banks.

We were glued to the scenery from dawn to the bitter end, mostly because it was so utterly foreign to our habitual rhythm of life. On the western side, jagged barren mountains were the backdrop to patches of green, irrigated by the Nile River. The eastern side (Sinai Peninsula) is by contrast, an utterly flat and endless desert. The military was everywhere. Forts on both banks and guards toting machine guns every half mile, kept watch from tiny cement shelters. I thought about the heat they must endure in the summer – when it reaches 122 F with no relief. We passed a convoy of armored tanks and thousands of soldiers involved in tactical training exercises – as the ship’s Reggae Band was banging out lunch time tunes. I think my brain stopped functioning for a time as it tried to process these starkly juxtaposed images.

We were definitely the featured attraction as very few passenger ships, let alone the QM2, take this journey. We were whistled at, photographed, and studied intently through binoculars. Kids would run to the canal banks and jump up and down waving so vigorously they fell over with exhaustion! The local people were in awe (so were we). When we reached the town of Suez at the end of the canal, there were hundreds of people lined up on the promenade to see us pass by. I am told this will happen frequently, especially in “maiden call” ports. Steve and I waved regally from our stateroom balcony. Princess Diana would have been proud.

If anyone guessed $750,000 USD for this little jaunt (I will pause briefly here as you shout out the appropriate expletives), give yourself a pat on the back.

We Parted the Red Sea after we left the Canal. I told you we had clout.

Container Ship in the Suez Canal
Kamikaze ferry darts between ships in the Suez Canal

JANUARY 20TH – SOKHNA, EGYPT (Port for Cairo)

Some of you know that Steve and I spent two weeks in Egypt on our honeymoon back in 1989. We explored Giza and crawled deep inside the innards of the Great Pyramid. Tourists aren’t allowed to do that anymore. We went at a good time, there were far less people visiting 20 years ago. We rode and got spat on by a camel. We visited with the Sphinx. We soaked up the Cairo Museum and saw all the treasures from King Tut’s tomb. We shopped in souks. And, Steve, tried to sell his new bride for 1,000 camels (but that’s a story for another time). It was in a word, unforgettable.

So, we opted not to take the trip to Cairo from Sokhna – with most of our shipmates – due to the distance. 6 hours round trip on a bus, with only 4 hours of exploration time sounded very unappealing.

Unfortunately, we docked at the commercial port and town wasn’t close enough to walk to. Taxis were nonexistent. The only entertainment was to walk the blacktop in front of the ship and check out the tables laden with souvenirs. I had 300 Egyptian Pounds (about $36 USD) in my pocket left over from 20 years ago and I was determined not to leave the country with them again. The “Destination Speaker” a few days earlier had warned us about souvenirs to avoid…
Stuffed Animals (camels mostly) that are filled with dirty “nappies”. I found out later that “nappies” are brit-speak for diapers. How nasty is that? By the time you sniff around your stateroom and ask… What. IS. That. Smell… the seller is enjoying a double expresso while fanning himself with your cash.
The Egyptian version of the Snow Globe is filled with lighter fluid so the sand floats down dreamily over the mighty Sphinx. If you haven’t blown up your stateroom as the globe slowly leaks through the cracks in the plastic… then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the full body strip search at the airport.
I went to take a look and nearly guffawed when I saw these items, front and center, on the merchants tables. I did resist picking up a camel and taking a whiff. Better that they don’t know, I know.

After all the dusty travelers returned to the ship we headed 200 miles south to our second Egyptian port.

JANUARY 21ST – SAFAGA, EGYPT (Port for Luxor)

Safaga is a 4 hour drive (one way) to the historic sites in lower Egypt, so we skipped the excursion again, having been there already. 8 hours on a bus. No thanks.

We walked to town and amused ourselves by hanging out on a park bench watching life unfold. An alien landscape with no Walmart or McDonalds.

When the passengers returned from the tours to Luxor, I overheard a woman complain about being scammed. She was charged $10 to get on a camel… then once the ride was over, she was charged $100 to get off. And she paid it! She almost dropped her new snow globe as she ranted. Silly Silly Woman. Such is life in the QM2 melting pot.

We will be At Sea for the next four days before arriving in Muscat, Oman.

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