I was greatly disappointed that our cruise on the Aegean Odyssey would not be stopping at Suez due to the continuing ‘troubles’ in Egypt. Apparently rioting was taking place in the very place we would dock in order to visit the Pyramids at Giza and several people had been killed during the demonstrations. But I was still excited about my first transit of the Suez Canal. Sunday morning at about 2:00am I was already awake and waiting as the ship manouvered into place at El Suweis. Our convoy of over 26 vessels which would take 12 hours to pass through from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and we would travel without having to stop for traffic coming from the other direction. Seawater flows freely thourgh the canal and there are no locks. Probably the most interesting part was passing through the Buheirat-Marrat-el-Kubra (Great Bittern Lake) and watching fisherman wading in the shallow water near extensive sand bars. The city of Isma’iliya was very built up, with requisite minarets soaring above the not particularly interesting buildings. The Suez Canal begain to be constructed in 1858 and 1.5 million workers were involved in the project. It took 10 years to complete the 160km channel. The average cost per ship is $251,000 to use the passage. Sailing under the stunning and thoroughly Egyptian looking Al Qantarah Bridge, which connects the continent of Africa with Asia, was definitely the highlight of the transit.
It is early Saturday morning, the 26th of November, and I am on the Aegean Odyssey travelling up the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. The obilgatory note has come through my cabin door to say our excursion to see the Pyramids at Giza has been cancelled due to the unrest and demonstrations in Egypt. There will surely be a sigh of relief when the rest of the group read this. Reports on the ground and on the news have confirmed that the demonstrations are increasing in number across all of Egypt and now include Alexandria and also Suez. Two days earlier, when crossing the desert by coach between Safaga and Luxor, our tour guide was talking about the pyramids when several bleated naively ‘We are going to the Pyramids…not to Cairo!’ but, of course, the pyramids ARE in Cairo said the guide.
Yesterday we were in the Valley of the Kings and I notice that the vendors seemed more aggressive than usual, with one finally pleading with a tourist to buy something as he was hungry. As I made my way through the site, I am embarrassed to say that I frequently would not make eye contact with these sellers and would mutter ‘No, thank you’ in Arabic. But to visit Tutankamen’s tomb, with much of the wall engravings and paintings still intact, for the first time, as well as seeing his remains (that, frankly, looked like a big piece of beef jerky) was indescribable. Something I wouldn’t have missed for anything.
The Egyptians called the circumpolar stars The Indestructibles and believed their Kings and Queens ascended to this place, which they also believed to be heaven, after death. Todays Egyptians seem to be indestructible in their desire for democracy. I hope they attain it soon before there is any further destruction and blood shed.