Suez Canal Day 1

St Barbara's Web Diary
Peter & Sue Goldsmith
Fri 25 Apr 2008 10:37

29:56.86N 32:34.44E

12.00 25th April

Well, we are safely back from our whirlwind tour of Egypt. We took 20 days
to sail north to Suez. We took 7 days to travel south, almost back to the
Sudanese border and then we took only 7 hours to get back to St Barbara. In
between we have absorbed so many sights, sounds and smell of Egypt that it
will take some time to relate it all. From Cairo with the Pyramids and a
fabulous museum, onto Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, Aswan with its huge
dam and finally the amazing temples at Abu Simbel. In between there were
train, bus and even horse rides and a variety of tasty foods. Our raconteur
will reveal more while the captain prepares for the first part of the canal
transit up to Ismailia, hopefully today.

When Peter said we would visit the pyramids in Egypt I thought that would be
a wonderful, quick trip whilst passing through the canal. Special thanks to
Jim and Jed from Albert II who spun a far more elaborate plan that involved
the local bus to Cairo and three days visiting the city. Everybody knows of
the pyramids, there's no surprise because of the many images we've all seen
beginning as children. But then, as the bus drives through the houses,
flats, shops, offices, suddenly they are there, despite the city's
encroachment almost to their base, they are still magnificent. We spent
several very hot hours walking around them, inside one and down to the
sphinx before having a very good lunch in a back street cafe, which was
excellent. After the Egyptian Museum, with Tutankhamen, gold, jewels,
statues and more mummies than you could shake a stick at, we took the
overnight train to Luxor.

At the time of booking the tickets we were told the train arrived in Luxor
0500 hrs. For some pleasantly surprising reason it was late and we spent
several daylight hours looking out with the lush, green Nile delta on one
side and the harshest, utterly barren desert on the other. The contrast on
either side of the tracks was startling. I think we arrived around 0800 hrs
and found a super hotel (with rooftop pool) and spent a great day exploring
the temple of Luxor, down-town, relaxing by the pool and an evening felucca
(typical Egyptian sailing boat)
trip on the Nile. The following day, up very early, we crossed the river and
went on a tour of the west bank. We visited the Colossus, temple of Al-Beird
Albari and the Valley of the Kings. All were stunning. The crowds in the
valley of the kings were pretty big and the first tomb we went into,
Ramesses II, was very crowded and so hot. After that we were a little more
discerning and went to two other tombs slightly off the beaten track, we
were at times alone and this, made them all the more enjoyable. Finally we
visited reputedly the most beautiful tomb, Ramesses VI, which had an extra
entrance fee and was almost empty. Again stunning. Reading some of the
narrative about the valley, there were far more pharaohs and other nobility
than there have been tombs discovered. Within that valley there are believed
to be many that remain hidden and some may still be intact!

Another day, another journey, not always easy but creative solutions
forthcoming. Up early and the tentative taxi arrangements from the day
before were obviously lost in translation. Another taxi driver didn't want
to take us to Aswan but explained we needed to go to the bus station, were
we could take the cheap local bus. After a bit of persuasion we went and at
the bus station he came to help us get tickets - first hitch - intervention
of the police who told us and the driver, that we must go in the tourist
convoy (for which you must be registered at $10 per head and anyway, it had
already departed). The taxi driver was genuinely upset, took us back across
town to the railway station so we could try to take a train. Whilst we were
queuing for tickets someone else intervened and said yesterday's night
train was late and was still on the platform, he took us through and after a
little negotiation we were on board and travelling. All a little strange but
the aircon and speed of the journey (about 3 hours) was so much better than
5-6 on a local bus. The desert scenery was just fantastic, passing through
villages that were almost as barren as the sand. Aswan is relaxed and
interesting, we visited a granite quarry in which there is the unfinished,
largest obelisk very made. It is complete on three sides but still attached
to the rock from which it was cut. It seems that after much work a fault
line was discovered and it was abandoned. We had seen a number of obelisk at
various locations, but this one, on its side, carved but still a part of the
ground from which it was to be taken, was so impressive in size and vision.

A nearly good night's sleep and further south, this time by the ridiculous
convoy, which appears to suit nobody except the police (for whom its a good
income for almost nothing). We were picked up by minibus and taken to the
assembly point. All vehicle details were very carefully checked and taken,
then the convoy set off - pretty much alone, racing across the desert for
350 odd kilometres. At the other end, the vehicles were checked in and there
was no real evidence of any other police involvement, all for $10 a head.
The scariest thing about the journey wasn't the mythical risk of attack but
the driving and racing that all the drivers seem to be involved in. The road
is very straight, mainly quite smooth and with little opposing traffic -
except for the convoy coming the other way. But for some reason they just
have to keep overtaking each other and there were times when three vehicles
would be within 2-3 meters of each other, with one on the outside. Hey, this
is Egypt!

Abu Simbel was a very quiet, under-developed town with one attraction - the
temple, and it is priceless. This temple was threatened by the rising waters
of the Nile when the Aswan dam was built. It was moved, block by block to a
new position. That's been done for a number of historic places, so no big
deal, except this temple is carved into a mountain. Not only was the temple
moved but a new mountain was created around it, with all the technical
issues this poses - carving into solid rock is easy, lets face it, they did
that 3000 years ago, piling millions of ton of rock onto a structure pretty
much guarantees its collapse. Lots of thought and ingenuity and the result
is the preservation of a temple that is breathtaking. We arrived mid
afternoon and walked around very slowly, sat in the shade and inside,
looking and watching other visitors. As the coach parties left, by about
1800 hrs there were only a few dozen people and we looked around again, at
times alone. This is just a beautiful temple.

A night with the mosquitoes of Abu Simbel and a very early start for the
airport, two internal flights and a few hours later after some bartering for
a taxi, we were on the road back to Suez and StB. A very, very hot road with
no aircon, the windows down, with hot air and sand to blast our faces, the
cool of the port and evening was welcome.

As I said at the beginning, this was a trip to the pyramids and much, much
more. Fantastic, and we've still got the canal to look forward to!