Alexandria and Cairo, to Suez Canal


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Africa » Egypt » Mediterranean » Port Said
October 20th 2009
Published: October 20th 2009
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On the morning of the 19th we were effectively becalmed and mired in thick smog/fog/mist. We could see dozens of ships at anchor on the outskirts of Alexandra harbour: the crew dropped the sails and started winding the way through to the unseen harbour. On this ship you often don't know what to do first even though it is small. In this case participate in Tai Chi, enjoy another huge breakfast, listen to the historical commentary about the famous library or lighthouse of Alexandria, or watch the crew deal with the pilot and ubiquitous tugs - Greg took the tugs, Catherine took the Tai Chi. Finally into the harbour which was pretty decrepit. There were actually half-submerged hulks to one side and we wondered what mooring fees must be 😊. There was no mistaking our arrival into harbour. We had two tugs, a pilot and perhaps three police boats with sirens blaring, circling around us and shepherding inquisitive locals away. It was 10 by the time we headed towards the bus, Alexandria and Cairo. We picked up an Egyptologist as a guide and she was thirteen to the dozen for the rest of the day about every aspect of Egyptian history and life. We traveled with a security guy plus an escort (only lightly armed): apparently this is normal for tour groups!

Alexandria not particularly memorable though clearly where they could they renovated or preserved the historical sites. Within 10km we were coming into the Libyan desert which is rarely rolling sand dunes and rock - more often new settlements and struggling farms. Huge diversity in dress from Bedouin robes and full head coverings, to clothes like Elise and her friends would wear - even with more colour. Dates, guavas and figs were available beside the road.

Two and a half hours later we were coming to the outskirts of Cairo and the traffic was thickening. About 5km out we got our first glimpses of the Pyramids through, unfortunately, thick smog/smoke/haze. Nothing can disguise the profile though. Quick lunch and then to the Citadel of Salah Al-Din (The Mohammed Ali Mosque). It was about 35C and very dusty. The mosque is important in the history of Cairo and Egypt via the housing and inspiration of M. Ali. The building itself had architectural features from East and west. Then to the Egyptian museum which had a truly wonderful and overwhelming collection of Egyptian antiquities including the vast majority of the pieces from King Tut's pyramid. More gold than Hong Kong. Maha our guide, took us to a small selection of the collection and added great richness. Highlights for us were Tut's death mask, his jewelery and unrenovated chariots. The issue of the British museum's collection came up again as in Greece and the Balkans. From there through the evening crush to the cliched but brilliant, Pyramids Sound and Light show. In brief: about 300 tourists are positioned in from of the Sphinx and below the three major Pyramids at Giza lights and lasers show up features of the structures while a pommie (originally Richard Burton) narrates a brief history of ancient Egypt. As much Hollywood as Thebes but still we wouldn't have missed it. A particularly interesting point related to the "sweet" angle (52' 52") and dimensions which guaranteed a pyramid of achievable height from hand cut and positioned massive stones.

Through the crush of buses and touts to the Meridien Hotel for the night which was nice but positively sterile compared to the hostels we have stayed in so far. Greg went to sleep realising he had only 28 more days of this journey!

Up early and out of the Meridien to do our customary walk to watch the neighbourhood wake up. We found the Hotel's Pyramid-viewing platform but more importantly we found the local bus stop directly across the road. Here there was a bustle of people, taxis, donkeys, minibuses and other beasts of burden. People seemed friendly and inquisitive and we struck up a conversation with a young woman who works in Cairo. We should have accepted the sweets she offered us, but I guess we were not that relaxed. After early breakie onto the bus to Saqqara and the first temple and Pyramid built in 2850 BC: Djoser's stepped Pyramid. Lovely entrance hall with the precursor of all marble columns. In the huge courtyard Catherine cut a deal for gifts amongst the sand and rubble. We also saw the table-topped building which housed the tomb of Djoser's physician. It was brilliantly decorated with wall carvings in relief and hieroglyphics which told the story of his work, his recreations and the community life around him. Spectacular colours images and insights into life 5000y ago! Of course Maha was there to highlight particular features which one could easily miss, like the Egyptian's fascination with people with dwarfism, or their meticulous observations of wildlife.

The number of tourists was building during the day - including ourselves of course - and there were plenty of local salesmen to hassle us about postcards or books and the like. At one place Catherine, or more specifically her parents, were offered 10K camels for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately Greg wasn't around to show a picture of Elise as well, otherwise camel herder he and Graham are!

The last visit was up to the Giza plateau and to the base of the three main Pyramids. The area is about 100m higher than Cairo and the space carefully arranged so that so that the greater pattern in the arrangement of Pyramids- also blocks out Cairo conurb, These are spectacular monuments from any distance but up close the coarseness surprises. Around the tourist buses there was constant bustle of camel herders, horses and buggies, police (some seeking contributions.) And of course tourists. Finally we walked through a granite temple to the side of the Sphinx. All great as the photos will eventually show (still working from the Blackberry). After a great
Catherine and the SphinxCatherine and the SphinxCatherine and the Sphinx

We had to do it!
lunch including exotic fruits, salads and desserts the bus set off for Port Said at the entrance to the Suez Canal. Amazingly, though apparently not uncommonly, our bus was given a police escort along the highways to PS. So much for a low-profile arrival! The ship was there to meet us and after one or two more items purchased, we were happy to get back onto the moving decks.

The ship will become part of the southern convoy transiting the canal starting sometime tonight and all tomorrow and this package should be another experience not to miss.


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