SUEZ CANAL AND CAIRO, Egypt
- THE RED SEA
Although we were expecting the wind
to pick up to 18-20 knots, we had benign conditions and had to
motor the entire 200 miles. We took it easy on the engine,
running at low RPMs and the engine held out, albeit it got
noisier and leakier as the hours past. We picked our way thru
unlit oil platforms, burning wells, numerous ships, and other
hazards strewn in the black water.
36 hours later, we reached Port
Suez, where the Suez Canal begins. It was dark by the time we
entered the channel but our agent, prince of the Red Sea, told
us to continue on into the marina. It was frightening sailing
alongside huge freighters and when they were bearing down right
behind us we wondered if they even saw us in the darkness of the
Suddenly the Police boat came
roaring straight at us, yelling in Arabic and waving their arms
for us to get out of the harbor. We tried to explain that our
agent gave us permission to enter but it took some persuasion
before they left. Finally, Mohammed came and led us into the
marina in his brand new power boat. A very old man paddled out
in his row boat and helped us tie us to a mooring ball in the
darkness of the night. Mohammed came on board and collected our
papers and passports (and some money) to make sure that we
didn't use another agent before morning came!
Morning came and the realization of
the surrealist fact that we actually made it through the Red
Sea. A wealth of emotion, part elation, a sense of relief,
but most of all a sense of achievement. We had overcome what was
every Red Sea passagemaker's worse nightmare....losing the
engine. We hoped that low point in our lives was well behind us
now that we had met the challenge.
We were busy completing our paper
work, organizing fuel and someone to measure the boat to
determine fees for our transit through the canal. Since we
arrived Easter weekend, everything was closed, which drug our
schedule down severely as we still had 2 twelve hour days of
motoring and then a 200 mile transit from the Port Said to
Turkey before May 12.
We were tied to a mooring ball,
being charged a ridiculous daily amount. As with all dealing
with Egyptians, we were also losing our battle with overpriced
fuel, and facing outrageous checkout prices. I'm afraid that our
lasting impression of Egypt will always be sand and thieves!
Since we could not join a convoy
through the Canal until Tuesday, 4 days away, we thought we
would do a quick trip to Cairo to see the pyramids.
We took a local bus from Suez
driving through military check points and roadside guardhouses
with guns pointing out through holes in the sides of the
shelters. In about 2 1/2 hours we arrived at the busy dusty and
dirty city of Cairo with its 20 million people jamming the
streets in jumbled chaos, cars and donkey carts vying for every
available space on the roads in haphazard reckless fashion. I
did not see a car the entire time we were there that didn't have
scraped sides and pushed in panels. They yell and honk
continuously through the congested streets.
No one spoke English so we couldn't
find a taxi that knew where our backpacker hotel was even though
we had an address. So we started to walk. We passed streets
where the sidewalks were packed with men on their knees, head to
the ground, praying. We noticed that most men had a bruise or
scar on their forehead from this 4-times-a-day practice! Our
impression of the women were that they were not very attractive,
all had their heads covered, but not all wore the full black
burkes and veils here. The young girls wear the oddest fashions,
trying the emulate the Western styles, mini skirts over jeans,
tank tops over long sleeved shirts, always with the scarf
covering the head!
We found an underground Metro and
for 25 cents got within 4 blocks of our backpacker, although it
took several attempts and lots of asking of directions to find
it. People were friendly and would ask "Where you From?"
When we said Canada, their faces would light up and they would
say "Canada Dry"!! and laugh. It seemed to be a
standing joke everywhere we went in Cairo.
Finally we found our hotel, which
was marked with a tiny sign above the old Indian Embassy "Ramses
II hostel 12th floor." We hoped there was an elevator until
we saw it! A bank of 3 old elevators revealed that the only one
that still worked was behind a warped metal door, its window
missing the glass so that if you got your hand in there it would
be chopped off when the elevator arrived! Definitely not quite
to code. It ground to a halt and we opened the door and entered
a tiny compartment. Really reminded me of the ride that we took
at Disneyland where an elevator took you to great heights then
failed and free fell...my worst nightmare! But we reached the
12th floor and checked into our little room, basic without
towels, soap, a bathroom light or a top sheet, but affordable!
We took a chance and stepped out
onto our rickety balcony which overlooked the city, it's
interesting combination of architect, old and new, along with
the ever present garbage adorning the rooftops.
KT from Billabong were already checked into the hotel
so we joined them for lunch at McDonalds.
Later we walked to the Egyptian
Museum but were told that the museum was not open that day
and we should go to the Bazaar instead. We already knew this
trick from Chiang Mai in Thailand and were wise to it. We pushed
past to the museum entrance and spent several hours wandering
amongst the old pharaoh statues and exhibits from King Tut's
tomb. Amazing and almost surrealistic to think that so many
beautifully crafted artefacts were done with such precision
thousands of years ago.
We sprung the extra money for a look
at the actual Mummy Room where 11 royal Kings and Queens
lie in peace, kept in a climate controlled room. The bodies were
wrapped in shrouds but the faces and hands were visible and you
could actually see the facial features, hair, teeth, fingernails
and all. I was surprised that the Mummys were so tall.
We got together with Chris & KT for
dinner. Pizza Man was very talented as he spun
the dough high into
the air, proud of his talent as he posed for us.
Later that evening we took a taxi to
the Main Bazaar area. It took a while to push our way
through the traffic grid lock and throngs of people to arrive at
street after street of shops full of souvenirs, clothing, shoes,
shoes and more shoes... household items, alabaster carvings,
papyrus paintings and everything else. The area was mostly
locals and so we were quickly spotted by a man who "befriended"
us and said he would take us to a special non-touristy place
that we would really enjoy. We decided to play along and
followed him down ominous alleyways, twisting and turning until
I was sure I was hopelessly lost in some kind of foreboding
Finally we reached a little shop
(surprise, surprise!). It was full of the little wooden boxes,
the kind that I had seen everywhere in the souvenir shops
throughout Egypt and then again in Turkey. However, these boxes
were obviously of superior quality (and superior price)
supposedly made by the father of the young man in the shop. They
were truly beautiful, hand-made from inlaid Mother of Pearl,
camel bone, teak and covered inside with velvet. He explained
the differences in quality and technique of workmanship that
made his boxes so special. Of course, since I collect boxes, I
had to purchase a small one, my only souvenir of Egypt.
After we found our way back to the
Bazaar, we ended up getting lost in the labyrinth of clothing
shops and couldn't find our way out of the maze for the longest
time. We must have walked 10 miles! We eventually found a subway
and got back to the hotel very very tired.
The next morn, we left with the
Billibongs for a day at the Pyramids. However, Chris and
Kt had to return to the hotel before boarding the bus because of
stomach upsets. On the bus we were soon singled out by a
friendly man proclaiming to work at the hospital and giving us
helpful advise on how to see the pyramids cheaper.
We were not yet completely wise to
the tricks of the relentless touts that are part of the huge
ring of con jobs in Cairo. The Egyptian people pretend to be
your friend, welcoming you to Egypt, but they are all after
"Baksheesh" (a handout, gift or bribe). This is the way of life
in Egypt and you cannot escape it.
So of course, we were shuttled off
to the "Government" stables where we were coerced into a package
deal (that didn't really turn out to be a deal) but we climbed
on our camels and set out for an adventure.
Camels and Sand
I always wanted to ride a camel
across the Sahara Desert with the Pyramids looming in the
background and my wish was being fulfilled.
The camels were not as easy to ride
as one might think and I can't imagine riding one for any length
accompanied by a young man on horseback and a kid leading our camels
up the sandy hill through the blazing sun.
Great Pyramid of Giza
When we first sighted the largest
and oldest pyramid in Giza it was overwhelming.
The Great Pyramid is the only remaining monument of the Seven
Wonders of the Ancient World.
||The Great Pyramid is
thought to have been erected around 2600 BC.
It is composed of over 2 ½ million blocks of limestone, which weigh
from 2 to 70 tons each.
The world's oldest structure is so advanced that it can't be
duplicated today, even using current technology.
Next to the Great Pyramid stands 2
additional large pyramids
Pyramid is 454 feet high which is equivalent to a modern 48-story
building. There are currently 203 steps to its summit.
Cairo can be seen off in the distance as urban development reaches
right up to the perimeter of the antiquities site.
The Great Pyramid did not always look as "rough" as it does today.
Originally it was encased with a layer of tight-fitting, highly
polished 20-ton stone slabs of polished white limestone, marble and
After the Pharonic Period, stone
from the monuments were taken and used to build buildings in
Cairo. Many of Cairo's oldest buildings are built partly from
stones from the pyramids.
It was possible to enter the pyramids (for a price) but we did not
as all three pyramids stand empty, probably plundered during the
political unrest that ended the Old Kingdom when the monarchy
The sides of all three of the
pyramids were astronomically oriented to be north-south and
east-west within a small fraction of a degree.
Archaeologists believe that the
Great Pyramid was built by tens of thousands of skilled and
unskilled workers who camped near the pyramids and worked for a
salary or as a form of paying taxes until the construction was
completed. The worker's cemeteries were discovered in 1990 by
Pictured left is what was thought to
be the housing complexes for the workers.
Great Sphinx of Giza
To the south-east of the Great
Pyramid lies the Sphinx. the half-human, half-lion statue,
standing 73.5 meters long and 20 meters high and built around
Sphinxes were used as temple
guardians placed in association with royal tombs or religious
Our exploration of the pyramids over
we attempted to find transport back to our hotel. We wandered
into a shop looking for directions and found an interesting
collection of Egyptian artefacts and antiques with a friendly
proprietor willing to spend time with us without any pressure
for us to buy (Almost everything in the store was thousands of
He directed us to a bus stop and we
were soon back at the hotel to collect our belongings and head
back to Port Suez.
Expenses to visit Cairo
(in Egyptian pounds)
bus for 2 - 62
meals - 90
entrance fees - 560
taxi/bus - 16
Total 848 ($162)
The day after we returned a convoy
of boats left to transit the canal but we couldn't go because
the wind and current was too strong for us to motor into. The
following day, a warship was scheduled to come through so the
canal was closed to small boat traffic.
Preparations for the transit of the
Canal involves getting an official onboard to "measure" your
boat to determine the costs. It is suppose to involve a
complicated formula, and the idea is that it is based on the
circumference of your vessel determined by running a rope around
the widest point. However, our measurer only measured the
distance from the bottom of the bilge to the floorboards, took
info off our registration papers and accepted his baksheesh.
We compared all the quotes with
other boats in the anchorage and ones that had just left with
the convoy. Some boats protested the amount they were assessed
but we felt that ours was in line and accepted the quote of $157
transit fees for our 37.5 foot boat. (Plus $80 agent fees, $40
check out fees, stamp, which we never actually got, $15, moorage
$75 and diesel at $25 or $.60/litre)
Our transit was scheduled so we
anxiously awaited the arrival of our pilot, mandatory for the
transit. We were hoping that we got an amiable pilot as there
have been so many horror stories about the behaviour of these
pilots. Reports are abound about pilots who continuously demand
high baksheesh, grope the women on board, overtax the boat's
engine, and even run boats aground.
We were lucky. Our pilot was a
cheerful young man. He didn't actually steer the boat much and
was happy to use the autopilot as the canal is extremely well
marked with no dangers.
We were at the end of the convoy so
didn't have many ships pass us, but there were some southbound
ones. Being within meters of a huge container ship in tight
quarters racks your nerves at first.
It was 44 miles and an 8 hour day,
traveling through a straight boring ditch the width of a
football field. Not much to look at...barren sand banks with
Egyptian army posts sentries toting their machine guns every few
miles and military pontoon bridges standing ready for
deployment. There are no locks in the Suez Canal.
|Once we reached
Ismailia, we followed the customary ritual of surrendering baksheesh
to our pilot; cigarettes (purchased for this
purpose) $15, a t-shirt, hat, nail polish for the wife and beads for
the grandkids and a letter of recommendation. This was in addition
to his wage. He promptly stuffed all the packs of cigarettes in his
socks so the police would not take them away as he also pays
"baksheesh," a way of life in Egypt.
Ismailia is the halfway point along
the Suez Canal where there is a concrete dock to tie up the
boat. We enjoyed our stay in Ismailia which is a clean modern
town not so influenced by the traditional strict Muslim regime
and not at all touristy.
The first night there we all went
out for pizza, a really nice change. The dock was full of boats
waiting for good weather because no one particularly wants to
stop in Port Said but would rather continue on into the Med.
I took advantage of a washing
machine at the marina and was able to top up my supply of
groceries at a nearby store. Gord hauled diesel in jerry jugs
for $.17/litre getting as much on board as we could possibly
carry at that price!!
The day had come to set out on the
final leg of our transit through the Canal. We thought it
might be a very long day indeed. There were about 10 other boats
scheduled to make the transit with us. However, the pilot for
one of the other boats did not show so our pilot was to act as
their pilot as well, and the other boat would just follow us,
with the pilot onboard our boat.
We were in an optimistic spirit with
the promise of good weather and the engine purring along
like its old self. We were again at the very back of the convoy,
only the boat sharing our pilot following us.
But we only got about 15 miles from Ismailia when
suddenly the engine revved up but our forward momentum just stopped. We turned
off the engine, realizing that we had a transmission failure!!! The one thing
you do not want to do is have to be towed in the canal by a tug with the fee
starting at three thousand dollars!
We were so fortunate that the sailboat boat behind
us agreed to tow us back to Ismailia. You could tell that the pilot was unsure
if this should be allowed but since he was pilot for both boats and it was a
short distance he allowed it.
It was such a disheartening feeling to know that
Egypt still had a hold on us and our departure was not to happen that day.
Back at the harbour the tow lines were released and our plan was to anchor, get
the dinghy off the deck and deal with the lines to Med moor back up to the wall
(there was no other boats left there to help us).
As we drifted apart I prepared to drop the hook. But
when I deployed the windlass.....nothing!!! What more could go wrong.
Somehow we managed to drift into a spot on the wall
as there was lots of room with the other boats gone. We got Ascension
tied up and just collapsed. Gord had not felt well at the start of the day and
now it was compounded 10 fold to the point that he just had to book off for a
After taking the transmission apart,
Gord discovered that a coupling we had made in Thailand broke.
So he set off pounding the streets of Ismailia to find a
machinist to make a new part. 9 hours later he returned with a
shiny new piece, better than the old one was. He had quite the
adventure with the language barrier and their limited equipment
but with a combined effort, the job got done.
Now, to deal with the windlass.
Looks like the brushes are at fault as a result of the soaking
on the way to Salalah. So the rest of the day was spent
painstakingly taking the windlass apart which was chock block
full of salt and welded to the motor with rust. After a thorough
cleaning and rewiring, bypassing our remote switch, we were back
The weather window to Turkey had
apparently closed for us but our itchy feet and lack of time
remaining overruled our common sense and we scheduled our last
leg of the Canal transit. We were all patched up and will
continue on with the band aid on the motor. Hopefully our only
fight will be with Mother Nature from now on. Wind was
forecasted at 30 knots but we could deal with that.
We were delayed getting started into
the canal waiting for a US warship to get through before our
Pilot arrived. We set out around 9am trying to make conversation
with our pilot whom seemed rather surely at first. I think as
soon as he found out we were not American, his personality
changed and he was very congenial. It also helped that we
supplied him with cigarettes as his chain smoking habit depleted
his own supply within an hour! We also gave him a hat as the sun
was a killer that day.
We really rejoiced when we passed
the point where we had to turn around 3 days before! However,
about 3 miles later, we heard a loud THUNK, the engine
slowed and my heart sank (in fact I am sure it stopped beating).
In panic we raced to the helm in time to see a large chunk of
wood pop up behind the boat. We had hit it with the prop. No
damage done. I cannot even begin to tell you the relief. It made
us realize just how much stress we were under to react like
Out of Egypt!
The remainder of the transit was
uneventful and when the Pilot boat at Port Said came
alongside Ascension to retrieve our pilot, laden
with his gifts of cigarettes, money, t-shirt, hat and toiletries
for his wife, we were ecstatic to be out of Egypt!
Some thoughts on the Red Sea
In retrospect, our journey through
the Red Sea was the source of a mixed bag of emotions. The
weather definitely controls your every waking moment because you
don't want to be caught out in a sudden blow, with the short
steep seas, combined with strong northerlies that last for days,
make sailing into the headwinds near impossible. You sit
somewhere just waiting the wind to die down,
We actually made good use of weather
windows because we were willing to wait. But when the weather
dictated that we must leave, there was no time for adventure or
snorkelling and we felt that we missed a lot as a result of
trying to rush through. Anchorages were plentiful although many
not very interesting. The water earlier in the year (May) was
really cold, and that combined with the abundance of blue
stinging jelly-fish, was a deterrent for swimming in the sea.
Fuel was never too much of a problem
(except in Massawa) and the prices varied from .75/litre in
Aden, $1.15/litre in Massawa, .70/litre in Suakin,
.80/litre in Port Galib, .35/litre in Hurghada, .60/litre in
Port Suez, but best of all only .17/litre in Ismailia!
Since we have a watermaker, we did
not have an issue with having to get water. The best grocery
store for provisioning was in Salalah with a smaller but ample
grocery store in Aden. But then it is not until Hurghada that
there is much choice of provisioning again, other than local
markets selling a minimal amount of produce (onions, eggplant,
ochre, tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers).
The biggest issue for us was what a
filthy place the Red Sea was; dust, sand and dirt in everything,
combined with salt that was caked on the shrouds, sheets, lines,
dodger and sails. Washing with fresh water would not remove the
grit embedded right into the gelcoat and when we got to Turkey,
we literally had to sand it out, a square inch at a time and
The scenery is lunar, desolate and
bleak but the purple crinkly mountainous backdrop displays quite
a magical setting. Not much vegetation or foliage even for the
The Islamic culture is extremely
interesting but the oppression of women is shocking compared to
our Western culture. The people were all very friendly although
the men are far more aggressive that what we had experienced in
Thailand. The poverty is heartbreaking.
I am glad that we experienced this
part of the world, although much of our attitudes about our
experience were slanted because of all the frustrations of
having an engine that didn't work!