May 2003
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Week ending 3 May 2003 (Bob) 

Waiting for Weather - For 7 days we sat in Suakin, downloading weather forecasts and listening to the Red Sea net (8173 kHz at 0500 UTC) as 20-30 knot winds were reported throughout the Red Sea.  But all things pass, and finally the high pressure system over the Med moved north-east and winds promised to ease for an extended period, and yachts started to move again, and we joined them.  Our stops? 

  • Port Sudan - We ducked into this busy port, fended off the 'agents' who approached us within minutes, and settled down to anchor for the night.  The police sent someone to get a crew list, and port authorities politely asked us to fill out their forms even though we were not going ashore.  The flies were plentiful, the port noisy, but we slept well and met up with our traveling buddies on Herodotus.
  • Marsa Fijab - 25 miles north of Port Sudan are 2 'marsas', Arun and Fijab and we pulled into Marsa Fijab after motoring 5 hours into moderate headwinds to see a car parked on the island sand spit at the entrance.  As we anchored closer examination showed it to be a 4WD with a guide and snorkelers in the water who had driven through shallow water from the mainland.  Other surprises:
    • 4 trawlers tied to a sunken boat far back in the anchorage, looking like they were out of service
    • a family riding their camel walked out on a narrow spit of land  to play in the sand and look for food on the reef
    • ospreys who decided the top of our mast made a better vantage point than his normal low channel marker

We had several visitors, once from boys offering shells and camels rides (we declined and offered them some provisions), and from fishermen asking for water (they gratefully accepted 5 gallons).  An over-nighter with a brief rain drizzle (first in months) and lightning on the shore brought us to:

  • Khor Shin-ab - Sudan LP in Khor Shin-ab.jpg (7939 bytes)This spectacular anchorage is one of the cruiser's favorites, and now we know why!  Three miles of twisting channel lead one from the Red Sea to perfectly sheltered basins with hills on all sides.  A geologist would have a great time as the surrounding terrain seems to have volcanic rock, river-bed rocks, piles of scree that look like glacier moraines and layered hills with all sorts of colors.  The waters have turtles, dolphins, and coral gardens and flamingoes wading in the shoals.  On the shore camels wander looking for something to munch and the occasional truck lumbers by on the dusty coast road.  We hiked to the top of the nearby hill and had great views of the anchorage and surroundings.  Although it looks like rain hasn't fallen for ages, and there is no habitation in sight, it is still a starkly beautiful spot.

Reflection on Sudan - Sudan has been a interesting place to visit.  It is really poor, and political instability has made it an investor's nightmare, so it has little in the way of foreign investment.  Arabian countries have tried to use it as a base for growing vegetables and cotton, but poor management has led to problems.  The locals in Suakin seemed to live on virtually nothing and along the coast those we have seen seem to have little.  Rainfall is rare and it is hard to believe how anyone can eke out an existence on this land.  In Port Sudan there is a little more to do, and the tourist industry consists of  taking tourists to dive on the off-shore islands.  The coral we have seen so far is mediocre and the water not nearly as clear as the Caribbean or Great barrier Reef.  As virtually everywhere, the people we have met are friendly, and although more of them will ask for things here, they have so little it hasn't really bothered us.  We would have liked a little more time to take a trip to Khartoum.

 Week ending 10 May 2003 (Bob) 

Continuing North - The forecast of 5-7 days of light winds has been true this week, and we, along with our sailing companions on S/V Herodotus, have taken advantage by motoring north on our way to the Suez Canal.  We stopped at:

  • Sharm Luli - After 2 nights enjoying Khor Shin-ab, the next 2 were spent listening to the drone of diesel as we ticked off the miles - 230 of them - to find this small opening in the reef.  Our guide book listed all of the provisions we would be able to get there, but on shore was a small police hut and a few fishing or dive boats hung on moorings - hardly exciting stuff, but there was a very modern paved highway that ran right by the anchorage.  As we sat in this barren anchorage, we watch semis, tour buses and very nice automobiles run back and forth.  We reconciled ourselves to press on in the morning with no supplies, but in the afternoon Mustafa, a friendly Egyptian with a bevy of friends approached and offered to get any supplies we needed. By 1800 we had 60 liters of fuel, fresh bread, and fresh oranges - all for a reasonable price.  After a peaceful night's sleep we set off for:
  • Safaga - This is the first port of entry for Egypt, but we anchored north of the main anchorage and plan to move on and check into the next port, Hurghada.  The light winds held until 12 hours before we arrived, and then picked up to 15 - 22 knot headwinds, that created a nasty steep chop and slowed us down to 2.5 or 3.0 knots, a walking pace - plus spray flushed the deck and took some of our Sudan sand overboard.  It was a very unpleasant 8 hours as we slogged our way to shelter and finally made it into the anchorage in front of a fantastically beautiful resort hotel mid-afternoon.  We were reminded how lucky we have been on our trip so far since this is the first case (so far) where we have been caught out in these conditions.

Drama! - As we cleared a narrow opening in the reef at Safaga and we thought we were in deep water, the yacht lurched, and the wheel started to vibrate! Depth gauge still showed 60', but every time we engaged the prop, the vibration resumed.  Nothing to do but go overboard and investigate.  In a flash Judi suited up (resisted the temptation to go overboard fully clothed), grabbed a knife and mask and within 5 minutes had cut loose a large plastic bag that wrapped itself around the prop.  This is always a danger when in waters of countries that throw their trash in the water, and we have seen more in Egyptian waters than any other Red Sea countries.

Week ending 17 May 2003 (Bob) 

Reaching the end of the Red Sea - After a mere 6 weeks (it seems like months!) we have reached the north end of the Red Sea, with the windy Gulf of Suez and Suez Canal ahead before the Mediterranean - and we are happy to be here!  Considering the reputation of the Red Sea, and the likelihood of headwinds, we were happy to have had only 2 days of contrary winds - but it was still quite a stressful trip as we fixated on weather reports for the entire trip.  During our last couple of days we stopped at:

  • Hurghada - This was our port of entry for Egypt and the anchorage from hell!  The trip from Safaga took 5 hours (1 of them at 2 knots) and we arrived in the afternoon and called the 'agent' recommended by the marina as most cruisers do on arrival.  The process was one of our more frustrating experiences as:
    • We could find no good anchorage spot, and finally dropped the hook in 40' of water on smooth bottom with nothing to hold the anchor.  
    • The young man from the agency Fantasia came to the shore quickly, but had no way to get to our yacht, so we had to launch the dinghy and row into the construction site that served as a landing.  
    • Back on board he collected our passports, ship's papers and we rowed him ashore - to wait.  
    • An hour later we found he had forgotten to get one paper, so we had to get it to him.
    • One more hour later we checked and he said "the doctor is on the way".
    • The doctor came to check our health situation (they are paranoid about SARS since they had had no cases in the country) - he cleared us so we had to take him back to shore.
    • The agency's copier was broken, so they told us we could go, and he would deliver the papers to the marina the next day.
    • Of course by this time it was too dark to re-anchor, so we were stuck beside the ferry terminal, beside charter dive boats playing 'bumper boats' for the night.
    • When we complained to the marina about the agent the next day, he said "Oh, they have really improved, you should have seen them before..."
  • Abu Tig Marina - The richest man in Egypt is in the process of developing El Gouna, a resort complex with a dozen hotels, golf courses, villages, 2 marinas, and airport, and more.  Abu Tig is one of the marinas, and we arrived on cue and backed into our first Med-moor situation.  It was a harrowing experience since the skipper had not made proper allowance for the wind on our beam, so we threatened all vessels within 50'!  Fortunately Judi was able to fend off all dangers, and we arrived with our paint intact and egos a little marred.  We think we will stay here a couple of weeks and visit some of the highlights of Egypt. It is nice to be able to:
    • Hose it - Wash the boat with copious quantities of fresh water
    • Wash it - Have our laundry done in clean, fresh water
    • Eat it - Eat ashore at pizzerias and steak houses.
    • Silence - Have electricity without running the engine several hours per day.

Egypt so Far - We have not seen at lot yet but life is much more expensive than Asia, and the people are not as outgoing and friendly as the last few countries - they are more neutral - more like people are in the US.  This is probably because they get many tourists here, and thus Westerner's are a constant source of funds rather than novelties. 

Planning a Tour - The rest of the week has been consumed gathering information about destinations in Egypt, and ways to see them.  With 5000+ years of history on display, we can't see it all and so we must narrow the options to what we can afford in 1-2 weeks.  The prime candidates are:

  • Luxor
  • Aswan
  • Abu Simbel
  • Cairo

Tune in next week and see what see have selected.

Two Weeks ending 31 May 2003 (Bob) 

Visiting the Wonders of Egypt - As we set out we knew it would be hard to do justice to 5000 years of history in such a short time, and we were right!  But what a great introduction to 'Egyptology'.  By the end of the trip Judi knew many of the gods and their relationships, we recognized hieroglyphic numbers, and we were suffering a little from 'temple fatigue'.  We did a loop from the marina at Abu Tig overland to Luxor, hopped on a Nile river-boat to Aswan, flew to Abu Simbel for a brief visit and then took the train to Cairo for the museum and obligatory pyramid visit and finally a bus back to Abu Tig.  The highlights of the 10-day trip:

  • Luxor - After a 5AM alarm, Egypt temple at Karnak.jpg (20209 bytes)we rode by bus to Luxor, a tourist Mecca that has grown up around ancient Thebes.  We were introduced to huge temples, built around 1500 BC, with wonderful carvings and statues, many in very good shape.  The main temple at Karnak covers over 60 acres and connects to the temple at Luxor by an avenue  lined with sphinxes.  All are surrounded by hotels, internet cafes and souvenir shops - takes the edge off a little, but we were impressed by their good condition.  Across the Nile are more temples and the Valley of the Kings (and Valley of the Queens. These are burial grounds for pharaohs, their wives and noblemen.  These burials used to be done in the pyramids, but tomb-robbers dug them up, thus interrupting their journey into the hereafter.  The new approach, of burying them in unmarked complexes in the mountains did not work either - grave robbers emptied most of these as well.
  • Trip up the Nile - The next stage was a cruise ship experience -Egypt Nile from sundeck.jpg (13993 bytes) 3 days of relaxation, too much food, and daily stops at more temples - this time Esna and Kom Ombo.  Again, fantastic architecture, carved figures, with brightly painted walls after 3500 years.  The Nile has more than 250 boats that ply the route between Luxor and Aswan, and most were idle because of a drop in tourism and the fact that we were traveling at the end of the season (soon it will be 42°, or 106° for people with old-fashioned measurement systems).  The trip really drove home that fact that all life in Egypt depends on the Nile - within a mile of the shoreline the desert intrudes with dry rocks and sand, and no vegetation.
  • Aswan - The Nile was originally dammed in 1906, but this was small potatoes compared to the Aswan High Dam built in the 1960's with a 300-mile lake that extends into Sudan providing 70% of the electricity for Egypt.  Aswan is the center of Nubia, an old empire that used to vie with Egyptian pharaohs for control of the Nile.  We stayed at the Aswan Oberoi hotel on Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile, with a great view of the river.
  • Abu Simbel - OneEgypt Abu Simbel.jpg (21969 bytes) of the downsides to the Aswan High dam was that it buried thousands of square miles under 200' of water, and many historic sites and temples now rest in a watery grave. One of these sites was Abu Simbel, a temple with 75' statues carved into a mountainside and marvelous painted carvings on the interior walls.  UNESCO funded the disassembly and reconstruction of the mountain on an island facing Lake Nasser just as it faced the Nile thousands of years earlier.  The scale of the project was staggering and the result seen to the right was amazing. 
  • Train to Cairo - We had read that the way to travel to Cairo was on the Wagon-Lits luxury overnight train, so at $60 a pop, we gave it a shot. It was clean and comfortable and a good way to pick up lodging for a night, although a day-train might have been more interesting.
  • Cairo and the Egypt Museum - As we had heard, the traffic in Cairo was harrowing, the air was almost unbreathable, and it is BIG and vibrant!  We only stayed 3 days, long enough to see the pyramids and visit the storehouse of Egyptian artifacts at the Egypt Museum.  We went twice, and even so barely touched the surface of the 1000's of exhibits they have.  It is a wonderful collection although it is not well organized and many priceless artifacts have no climate protection or legends.  Hopefully the new museum being built near the pyramids will display this amazing collection in a more modern way.  Cairo deserves a longer visit to see Islamic sections of town and the many market streets. 
  • The Pyramids and the Sphinx - The 'must-see' ofEgypt Pyramid Sphinx and Bob.jpg (24983 bytes) course are the pyramids and the Sphinx.  Our first day at Giza was a wipe-out - 25 knot winds created a sandstorm so we could not see the pyramids from 1/4 mile away. On our second day, we rode south to the pyramids at Saqqara and Dahshur, these were the earliest ones built, around 2700 BC, and include some experiments - one pyramid with stepped sides, another one starts steep and then flattens out near the top and others reduced almost to rubble.  Only 8 miles from downtown Cairo stand the pyramids of Giza, including the Great Pyramid of Cheops, aka The Pyramid of Khufu, built around 2478 BC.  It is an amazing sight, and the smaller pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure stand nearby.  These were all burial sites, each was a place to bury a pharaoh and all of the accoutrements needed in his after-life such as food, chariots, boats, gold, statues, and other offerings.  Beside the Great Pyramid sits the Sphinx - a man with the body of a lion.  It is impressive although it does not seem quite as large as the pictures make it out to be.  All in all, a fascinating couple of days, and we missed most of the 109 pyramids scattered around the Nile valley.
  • Bus back to Abu Tig - With our 10 days behind us, we decided to save a few $$ and take the VIP bus (only $8) back to the marina - 6 hours from Cairo.  It started out inauspiciously as the bus arrived almost 3 hours late, but at 120 kph we made up time and rolled into our bunks at 0100 in the morning, tired but happy from our trip.

"Welcome to Egypt - what country are you from?" - After the thousandth time of hearing this greeting from a 'friend' who wants to get you a taxi/a camel/sell you papyrus/etc. we became a little short in our answers - often avoiding eye contact completely or replying in Spanish (which often did no good, many could speak Spanish also).  It was a shame because we like to strike up conversations with local people when we visit, but it was not worth sorting through the 99% who had a scheme from the 1% who just wanted to be friendly.

Security - In 1997 terrorists attacked at Luxor in an attempt to bring down the government of Mubarak and killed  40 tourists.  Since then, Egypt has responded in spades - all tourist attractions are surrounded by barricades and armed guards.  Tours normally have well-dressed men with an Uzi under their jackets; we were escorted from the train station by a heavily armed guard.  At the pyramids armed Tourist Police on camels stand silhouetted on the ridges around us and metal detectors are in evidence at all hotels, malls, and attractions.  They are serious about protecting their assets and the tourists that frequent them.  One aspect of this security is traveling in convoys.  Foreigners are not allowed to travel alone, and buses are placed in convoys - we rode from Hurghada to Luxor in a convoy with 20 other buses and armed guards front and rear!Arabic numbers with english numbers.

So you thought you knew Arabic numbers? - When I was growing up, I was taught that we used Arabic numbers.  Here in Egypt, I find that of course they use Arabic numbers too, but they look different.  By the end of the week we were pretty good at spotting our bus numbers as it whizzed by at 30 kph.  

 

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