Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Suez Canal

May 24, 2008
It is rather fun to run with the big boys here. You are surrounded by the largest container ships you can find of every possible shape and size. They say that two times a year someone runs aground there and we had the fortune of front row seats for one of them. The first cruise ship to be exiting the canal at the south basin suddenly called something out over its speakers, dropped anchor in a last effort to save itself and ground to a halt. We watched as the other ships began to stack up behind it trying to slow their progress toward it. In about an hour, a tug managed to pull it off and the flow was going again, but impressive none the less. These big boys can’t really stop on a dime.

First we anchored in the South Basin and our blessings continued. We managed to arrive on a Sunday at 1pm and were out the next morning at 10am with our fuel having been delivered at 11:30 pm under the cover of darkness for just the right price. In the morning, we were boarded by out pilot to help us navigate. It is really just a technicality since it is a very deep and wide straight shot to motor through. We heard stories of it taking people 10 days before they were allowed to transit. Apparently the canal closes frequently due to “our” military ships going through it. In short, it looks a lot like any other canal you have ever seen, irrigation or otherwise, flowing water with a sandy bank on each side. It does flow north though which surprised us. Only this one is 50 to 90 feet deep, wide enough for a container ship and a sail boat to pass each other, 121 miles long and, dotted with young, bored, military men every half mile. Good thing they gave them binoculars for something to do and us to wave at as we go by. There are the occasional tent towns and tanks as well and a tunnel somewhere that goes under it. Surprisingly there is a lovely suspension bridge that goes over it, and a second one that can twist to connect the two sides of Cairo to the Sinai Peninsula each day. At the north end, the Port of Said is just like any other hustling busy shipping port complete with cranes, cruise ships and ferries.

Half way up is the town of Ismailia, a small harbor where we med moored for a few days before finishing our transit of the canal. It must be the first upper middle class town we have seen in about a year. From here we again with our pals on Luna, we made a quick one day trip inland to Cairo to wrap up our Egyptian experience, complete with camel rides right up to the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Very fun and very worth it but Bruce says it is his last camel ride. It is inspiring to view these monumental hand built creations 3 to 5,000 years old still standing. Just as in the temples of Karnack and Kings it looks as though Disney has opened a new wing in their world to explore, just standing there for you to touch, original rocks, colors and paintings. The Sphinx was a bit smaller than we expected and the sprawling metropolis of Cairo literally across the street is a bit odd but the splendor of the pyramids standing amongst the camels can hardly be dampened.

Most distressing though is to see the state of every other building standing. They are either left half way completed or half way broken down to complete disrepair. There is no effort or engineering going into the housing by the looks of it and we know they have the knowledge. We’ve seen the pyramids that are still standing and the shining examples of gorgeous minaret’s all around. The capabilities are there, why not follow through?

We are so glad we had a chance to experience Egypt and we are glad it’s done. The omnipresent and omni-greedy military gets to be a bit too much. In their shining white uniforms and black beanies demanding their baksheesh, they has become as much of an icon as the rest of the historical landmarks. Baksheesh may be like a tip to them but a bribe to us. A demanding one at that and everyone wants and will have no problem telling you if it is not enough. If they ask for a shirt or shoes, and you offer them one, they will undoubtedly ask if have anything newer. They’ll ask for cigarettes and turn their nose up if it’s not Marlboro’s. The scrutinizing of passports, the waving of hands is exhausting. Though we had no troubles with them, smile and pay accordingly, things go smoothly, reap what you sow and all, we know some who did have troubles. Simply, don’t make noise or draw any attention. The citizens we met, by contrast, were beyond kind beyond reason and somehow, as always, they love America and those that reside in it!

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