From Athens to Singapore 5 of 12: Middle East – Egypt

Published Date Author: , June 20th, 2010

Gay Friendly Egypt Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels, and Vacation Rentals

by Mike Shaughnessy, Traveler
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Purple Roofs is happy to welcome back an old friend. Last time, Mike regaled us with tales of his trip through South America. This time, he brings us details from his two month trip from Greece to Singapore. Enjoy!

Egypt

Egypt is one of the oldest countries in the world. My first stop in Egypt was Alexandria or Alex as the locals say, founded in 332 BC by Alexander the Great, second only to Rome in size and power for 300 years.

It was in Alexandria that Julius Caesar drew up the Julian calendar which became our measurement of time. When Cairo was later founded and became the Egyptian capital Alex declined and shrunk to little more than a fishing village.

Today it has grown back to Egypt’s second largest city with 5 million people (but still much smaller than Cairo’s 25 million people).

The port of Alexandria is pristine clean and beautiful, but step through the gate from the port into the city itself and yuck… so much filth. The streets are full of what looks like hundreds of years of garbage and dirt with no attempt at ever cleaning the streets.

The trams are full of dirt beyond belief. I guess the people are born and raised with this filth in the streets all their life to the point that they never notice it or do not know anything different. The thousands of year old ruins I visited were much cleaner than the ordinary streets of today’s Alexandria.

Egypt

The next day, continuing my week long trip thru Egypt, I went to Cairo. The smog here was so thick you could not see the city skyline.

We drove over the Nile and went to the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx which are located on a rise in the shadow of the ever growing Cairo shanty town illegal brick buildings. I was first here 20 years ago when Cairo had 15 million people, today it has 25 million.

The country of Egypt is trying to slow down their growth of population. It was common to have eight or 12 or more children, their efforts are working with an average of now about 3 children per family but the country is still growing at one million people per year.

Egypt

The most impressive part about the famous three Giza Pyramids is their enormous size dominating the Giza Plateau. The last time here I climbed up inside the pyramid thru a very small stairway all the way up inside to the sarcophagus room located inside the top portion of the huge pyramid. This trip I did not do that.

Egypt

Egypt lost the playoff for the soccer game to Algeria last night so the people were somber today… except around the pyramids where they are always extremely aggressive in trying to separate you from your money.

The following day was the transit through the Suez Canal starting from Port Said. After several terminated attempts over more than a thousand years at building a canal here, a lockless canal was finally completed in 1869. It took eleven years to build using 30,000 forced Egyptian slave laborers. Transit in the canal has been stopped at several times do to wars in the area.

EgyptThe canal was originally operated by Britain but in 1954 Egypt’s President Nasser nationalized it to stop Israeli shipping. This caused Britain, France and Israel to invade in 1956 and sink ships which closed the canal for a year. Then the so called Six-Day War in 1967 the canal was again closed until 1975.

The canal has no locks because the sea levels between Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea are not much different. However the salinity of them is very different and the constant flow of saltier water from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean is causing a change in the makeup of sea life there.

EgyptThe canal at some points is only wide enough for one-way traffic so all ships travel in a convoy. There are three convoys per day, two going south and one going north. There is security and pilot boats that keep the ship speed very slow to prevent erosion of the sandy shores.

It takes about 14 hours to transit the 120 mile long canal. The average toll to use the Suez Canal is $250,000 per ship. Over 23,000 ships per year use the canal, providing a significant source of tax revenue to Egypt.

EgyptSomali pirates have reduced the number of ships using it, preferring to take the l

onger, safer route around Africa and hence significantly reducing revenue to Egypt (from over $5 billion to less than $4 billion per year).

The canal is deep enough for all but the largest super tankers but the canal is currently being deepened such that in 2010 even fully loaded super tankers will be able to use it… this may hasten the flow of saltier water into the Mediterranean as well.

I had read last May in the SF Chronicle that pirate attacks increased ten times in the first 3 months of 2009. In 2008 Somali pirates received $80 million in ransom for release of ships. Yesterday I heard on CNN that 13 ships and some 250 crew members are currently being held hostage, plus the two British private sailor couple pleading for their life.

EgyptI just finished reading Dan Brown’s recent book “The Lost Symbol”. I had picked it up at home and brought it along as one of the five books with me on this trip. I had no idea of what it was about until I began reading it.

You may remember his previous popular book “The Da Vinci Code” which took place in Europe about the Holy Grail. This book takes place entirely in Washington DC and is about a pyramid.

EgyptWhat was amazing is that there are frequent references in the book to places in Israel, Egypt, Mt Sinai… many references to places through which I am currently traveling and visiting and how the US Capital Building, the Library of Congress, the National Mall, the Smithsonian and other locations in DC have symbols (even on the US one dollar bill) that all relate back to places here in the Middle East.

The gripping story itself is entirely fiction, takes place in only a 12 hour period, but the places, art, monuments and organizations referred to in the book actually do exist in Washington DC.

EgyptIt is an entertaining read and an interesting surprise to me that it relates to so many places in my current journey. The ending has a surprising twist which I will not reveal as you may wish to read “The Lost Symbol” yourself.

My next stop in Egypt is a town at the southern tip of the Sinai Desert; Sharm El Sheik. This is near Mt. Sinai where Moses was given the Ten Commandments.

I had not even heard of this ‘Sharm’ place until about a week ago when on CNN I heard it reported that the International Internet Domain Naming Committee was meeting in Sharm El Sheik and had decided to allow domain names in alphabets other than our familiar western one.

EgyptThis relatively new upscale resort town has many 4 and 5 star hotels, expensive yachts in the harbor, an international airport, clear clean blue sea waters, and popular deep sea diving to view the colorful and numerous sea creatures.

Unfortunately the nice beaches here are all privately owned by the expensive hotels and to go to the beach the hotel requires you to take a room. Hey, they got to keep the poor Egyptians and other riff raff away from the play space of the rich and famous, too bad.

We were supposed to be docked but a gigantic private yacht had stolen our port location, probably with appropriate payment, so we had to float in the bay and tender ashore.

EgyptThe visit here was to St. Catherine’s Monastery built in the shadow of Mt. Sinai. This is where Moses saw the burning bush and one of the oldest monasteries in the world.

The next port of Safaga was the entrance to our visit of Luxor, the “City of Palaces”. The remains here are most impressive. On the east bank of the Nile is the city of the living, the town, and the Karnak Temple, the largest place of worship ever built. On the west bank of the Nile is the city of the dead, the huge tombs of kings including the famous tomb of Tutankhamun.

I have now completed half of this two month long journey from Athens to Singapore. Tomorrow I will be traveling into Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan.

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