So we left Israel and during the night started our transition through the Suez Canal. We’ve been through the Panama Canal a number of times, but this trip through the Suez is a first for us. Unlike the Panama Canal, which was built with “locks” to help the ships meet the oncoming waters by raising or lowing the ships as needed, the Suez Canal is a sea-level waterway. It is located in Egypt and connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. It was constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869, officially opening on November 17, 1869. The canal offers watercraft a more direct route between the North Atlantic and northern Indian oceans via the Mediterranean and Red Seas, thus avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans and reducing the journey distance from the Arabian Sea to London, for example, by around 5500 miles. The original canal featured a single lane waterway with passing locations in the Ballah Bypass and the Great Bitter Lake. It contains no lock system, with seawater flowing freely through it. In general, the canal north of the Bitter Lakes flows north in the winter and south in the summer. South of the lakes, the current changes with the tide at the Suez.
The United Kingdom and France owned the canal until July, 1956 when the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized it – an event that which led to the Suez Crisis of October-November 1956. The canal is owned and maintained by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) of Egypt. Under the Convention of Constantinople, it may be used “in time of war as in time of peace, by every vessel of commerce of of war, without distinction of flag”. Nevertheless, the canal has played an important military strategic role as a naval short cut and choke point. Navies with coastlines and bases on both the Mediterranean and Red Seas (Egypt and Israel) have a particular interest in the Suez Canal.
I finished the crossing of the canal and left with more questions than answers. We saw a number of small military camps along the canal that had less than a dozen buildings each, camps spaced out a couple of miles apart, but appeared to have almost no military personnel on station. Usually we would see 3-7 people in uniform walking around and all the buildings appeared to be empty. A few military vehicles were neatly parked in rows under carports. In between the military camps there may be ONE guard posted on the bank, standing in or around a shack the size of a porta-potty who appeared to have the job of waving at the ships going by. We also saw a number of pontoon bridges lining the banks, ready to be deployed across the canal. These were also spaced a few miles apart. Don’t have any idea what they would do with these since it doesn’t look like they feel like messing with Israel again.
Day Eight on the ship – the lines in front of Guest Relations, Internet, etc. on the ship are almost gone, but we still hear rumblings of continuing cabin problems. We were lucky.
The ship docked in the port of Safaga, Egypt for the next two days. While Safaga has its share of charms, including renowned healing properties of the mineral rich waters of the Red Sea, nearby Luxor is where the main attractions lie. Known as “the world’s greatest open air museum”, the monuments, temples, and tombs found in Luxor are amongst the most impressive in the world.
Nestled in the heart of the city, the Luxor Temple is a great place to start your ancient journey of discovery. Nod to the two massive seated statues of the most celebrated and powerful pharaoh, Ramses II, as you pass en route to the chapel of Alexander the Great. Then, continue on your way to Egypt’s second most visited tourist site, Karnak, the largest religious site in the world. Marvel at the sheer enormity of the Temple of Amun, count all 134 columns in Hypostyle Hall, and then explore the array of smaller temples, sanctuaries, and shrines.
But wait, there’s more! The Valley of the Kings is just a quick jaunt across the Nile. Here, you can see more than 63 tombs of Egyptian pharaohs and nobles, including the infamous final resting place of King Tutankhamen. End your day onboard a felucca (a traditional wooden sailboat) and sail back to the east bank as the sun starts to set over this mysterious land.
Since we’ve seen just about all there is to see of Egypt in our past trips, including a week long river cruise up and down the Nile, we decided to skip the Shore Excursions and just relax in our “almost empty” ship that we had pretty much to ourselves. We did attempt to take a walk to the shopping area to see what they had, but evidently Friday is a holiday for Muslims…...EVERY Friday!! (so 99% of the stores were closed). We did find ONE store open about a mile away that sold water, soda, etc (like a 7/11) so I stocked up on my Pepsi for the upcoming five days at sea. Whereas “civilians” charge between $1.00 and $2.50 for a 20 ounces soda in town, the ship charges $3.60 for 12 ounces. They don’t appreciate you bringing your own drinks on board (go figure).