EMYR blog, Week 7

Dick and Irene Craig
Sat 21 Jun 2008 17:44

We arrived at Port Said, Egypt, 24 hours later than scheduled, because bad weather had delayed us at Ashkelon, Israel.

We left the anchorage soon after 6.30am, dressed the boat all over and made our way, in ascending group order, across the Suez canal. Once we had traversed the canal, a pilot boat approached an kept asking for shirts, gifts, something, anything. I told them that I had nothing, emphasizing the threadbare state of the clothes that I was wearing. Eventually he moved on to pester other boats. It transpired later, that we had paid 52 US dollars per boat for a pilot boat.

The fleet, now reduced to less than 60 boats, were all tied up, along 2 of the 3 sides of the dock. The boats looked very pretty, dressed over all.

The fleet size has reduced because a number of boats have left the rally, to do their own thing. For example, at least one of the boats was sailing back, in the direction of Herzliya, to fly from Tel Aviv, to spend several weeks touring Egypt. Some of the boats were left at Ashkelon, their crew having managed to do the trip to Port Said, on a boat belonging to another participant.

Having already been to Cairo, Caroline and I decided to remain on the boat while Lucy and Dick joined the overnight excursion. Dick had also been to Cairo but decided to join the excursion as company for Lucy. Day 1 of the tour included the museum at Cairo, the pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the Valley Temple, as well as a visit to a papyrus factory and a sunset felucca trip down the Nile. Day 2 included a visit to the Khan Khalili, a huge bazaar with hundreds of shops and restaurants. They visited the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, the burial place of the grandson of the prophet. Leaving Cairo, the coaches stopped at the Citadel, dominating the Cairo skyline. The fortress was started by Saladin in 1777. While in the Citadel, they will be able to visit the impressive Mohammed Ali Mosque.

Lucy had managed to contact an Egyptian friend that she knew from the US and she arranged to meet him at lunchtime on the first day, missing the afternoon excursions and the felucca trip. As it turned out, the friend was not able to meet with Lucy until the evening so it was not necessary after all, to miss the delights of the afternoon excursion.

She even managed to fit in a camel ride.

While Dick and Lucy were away from the boat, Caroline and Irene were able to catch up on much necessary chores, such as mending the sail-bag, cleaning the teak floor in the cockpit, attacking the rust spots on the decks, not to mention the dreary task of changing and washing towels and bed-linen.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy so, as relaxation, Caroline and Irene were able to explore Port Said, admire the colonial architecture, absorb the ambience of this busy port town. We made some purchases and managed to buy 15 bread rolls, a bunch of bananas, 2 melons, and still have change from 2 euros. The local people were friendly and welcoming.

During the afternoon on Saturday, there was a constant humming sound which pervaded the air. It continued for hours and was obviously the devout, offering their prayers. All of the women we saw, those that walked past our boat and those that we passed in town, were all dressed in long, enveloping clothes, mainly black but some dressed a little more colourfully. One woman was dressed entirely in white, all the women had their heads covered and many had just a slit in the fabric, for their eyes. We passed one woman who didn’t even have a slit for her eyes, just a fine fabric, covering them.

There were clothes shops displaying many all-enveloping garments but more which had clothes on display which would not have been out of place in a Disco in St. Antonio bay, Ibiza.

The evening that Lucy and Dick returned from Cairo, we had very little time to prepare for the evening festivities. A meeting was to be held immediately by the rally leader, for group leaders who then, arranged a meeting to prime the skippers of the boats in their group, with regard to the plans for leaving the following day. The meeting for our group finished with little more than 10 minutes, to return to our boats and get ready, prior to boarding the coaches at 8pm. This was quite an impractical time scale and many of us arrived at least 15 minutes late. Lucy and Caroline went ahead and I waited for Dick. Although the security guards had checked our passports, complete with the visa stamp, when we left the dock and on our return, this evening they just counted us through. However, I felt it important to wait for Dick who might have tried to leave, after the rest of us had moved on. Without a passport it might have caused problems.

A couple, from one of the boats in our fleet, decided to walk outside the gates, while the rest of us waited within the gates. They immediately had to show there passports.

Coaches returned and we all climbed aboard, with our police escort in front and behind the convoy.

When Dick and Lucy had traveled by coach to Cairo, they also had a police escort for at least an hour from Port Said, on the outward and inward journeys. They also had a guard on board, equipped with a heavy machine gun.

We arrived at the hotel and walked from the coaches, up the incline, to the entrance where a group of young children waited to greet us, after we had passed through the security arch. Walking through the large hall, we exited from the hotel towards the pool area. As we walked down the steps from the hotel, a line of teenagers flanked either side of the steps, waiting to greet us. I made a point of thanking all the children, for their welcome.

Before dinner, the children entertained us with various energetic dances. A chap who must have been a whirling Dervish before he realized that he had potential to make money, whirled amazingly. He was dressed in several layers of skirts, all multi-colored.

He whirled initially with discs which he used to pep up his performance, then, discarding the mult-colored discs, he used umbrellas to add some more spice. He removed the top layer of skirt and then illuminated the other 2, as well as his bodice, with blue lights. All the time he was whirling and was certainly more entertaining than the performance of the whirling Dervish, that Lucy and I attended when we were in Istanbul, last September.

After the entertainment, the plaque giving ceremony took place. However, for the first time that we had attended a rally dinner, there was no flag ceremony. This, I believe, was because the rally committee had been very dissatisfied with our welcome to Port Said.

Certainly, the costs had been well in excess of the prices paid last year. Further, the cost of fuel for the boat was 3 times pump prices. Anyone that needed fuel took fuel cans to the local 24 hour fuel station and paid the normal price for the fuel that any local would pay.

Unfortunately, the sore throat that had started in the sulphur-laden air of the Dead sea, had moved on. The broken glass in my throat was back but I had now developed a cough which racked my body, causing me to have developed flu-like pains and nausea. I am generally something of a party pooper but on this occasion, I was not even able to accept the invitations from the children to dance with them. I wasn’t even able to eat a meal, not even all those lovely puddings in which Turkey, and the middle-eastern countries seem to excel.

At the end of the evening, we all returned, under police escort to the dockside, quite exhausted. No change there then!

The plan was to leave Port Said at 9am next morning, after everyone who required fuel, managed to obtain it. We had expected the exit visa to be stamped in our passport from 8.30, the next morning, but the officials were available from 8am. Despite this, it was soon after 11am when we exited the harbour, crossing the channel under sail, with 2 more groups following us.

We continued sailing until shortly after midnight, minutes after we lost all information on the auto-pilot. It rectified itself very quickly but it was still necessary to set up again, the passage plan. The loss of the information was presumably a similar problem to that which occurred when we approached Israel territorial water, when sailing from Lebanon.

We arrived at Herzliya marina at mid-day and tied up alongside. The customs officer was waiting on the quayside as we approached. He had taken our lines and waited patiently, with his 2 companions, until we had made the boat safe. He escorted Dick round the inside of the boat, asking what was under each bed and in each cupboard. He lifted the mattresses on Lucy’s bed to check. Fortunately, of the 3 beds, that one has the lightest mattresses, being smaller than the others.

We spent the next 2 hours going though the formalties of having our passports checked,  form filling and waiting in queues. Some people have no concept of a queue and just move right in to the next space, as they see it. This causes some irritation to Brits who, by their very nationality, don’t understand an alternative to queuing.

We now had free time until tomorrow evening which meant that until then, we could chill out. We really needed to do that. The EMYR has been so exhausting and we had been keeping our heads above water for almost 7 weeks.

The final rally dinner was held at Herzliya marina on the evening on the 18th June. However, the dinner was preceded by 6 separate group meetings starting at 6pm the same evening. All members of the EMYR rally, which had berthed in Herzliya marina, attended the group meetings, and everyone received a framed document, which recorded the participation of that individual. In addition, each boat which had participated, was presented with a plaque commemorating the event.

When they sat down to dinner, the company was probably 7 sheets to the wind by the time they had sat through all the other ceremonies before being able to collect their food.

The wine flowed, the music was catchy and everyone, without exception, had a wonderful evening.

We joined the tour to Jerusalem. My recollections from the bible didn’t  locate the cross on Calvary, just 12 metres away from the cave where Jesus was subsequently laid to rest.

We visited many places such as the Garden and the church of Gethsemene,  we walked along the path that Jesus took when he carried the cross to the top of Calvary. However, we did it in reverse order. We went up to the Wailing wall, men on the left, women on the right. We just managed to get to the Holy of Holies, the Temple on the Mount before it closed to non-Muslims. It would probably have been better that we had not done so because, 5 minutes after entering, we were told to leave because we were not Muslims. Only Muslims may remain in this area after 14.30, pretty much at the risk to your life.

Our party had dispersed all over the site, which seemed to double up as the garden of Eden and the place where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

As our group left, having been encouraged to do so by armed guards, we could not find Lucy. We told our guide, she spoke to the guards, they radioed to other guards inside the gates. The guide asked a chap who was selling water and fresh orange juice to help and he went inside to talk to the guards. Dick refused to exit through the gate and was being threatened by the guards with the guns. Eventually, about 15 minutes after the initial time we had been instructed b to meet, with a view to leaving, we gave up and Dick and I made our own way to the Wailing wall to meet the rest of the party.

Just as I walked along, once again, past the Wailing wall, from behind the entrance for men, towards the entrance for women, I spotted Lucy, sitting on the floor, her back to a wall, lost in thought. It transpired that she had got lost somehow, as we made our way past the Wailing wall towards the entrance to the Temple on the Mount, so she phoned the tour guide to tell her she would wait for us all, at the Wailing wall. The timing corresponded with the security guard instructing our tour guide that we were not permitted to be in this area. When asked later why she had not told us this had occurred so we need not have been so concerned, she just said she didn’t know our names and hadn’t remembered Lucy’s name, even though it was less than 30 minutes from receiving the call and having lost Lucy.

I, and a great many of our group, did not find Jerusalem a very holy city but I think we also felt this, with regard to Nazareth.

We are very glad to have had the opportunity to participate in the EMYR. It has been more exhausting than we could possibly envisage. We have had snapshot visits into exotic countries and will retain some amazing memories.