What a journey of strange contrasts and ironies we have travelled through on this voyage around the world. Today was no exception. This was the trip across the desert that linked the exotic oriental worlds to the more mundane European. This was the link between the bizarre seas of Java, China and Bengal and the homely tranquillity of the Mediterranean. We were prepared. We were prepared for spending a day crossing a desert – not on a ship of the desert but on a ship.
We had experienced the intense heat of Egypt already on our visit to Karnak and the Valley of the Kings but life always throws up the unexpected doesn’t it? It was cold. All day, as we drifted through the desert, a cold wind blew in our faces and the sky was cloudy. After weeks and weeks, months of shorts and T-shirt, everyone was diving for shirts jumpers, fleeces, long trousers and even anoraks. Not quite what we expected.
Today was the Suez Canal. For twelve hours we would gently chug along a man-made canal through Egypt. It was an exciting prospect.
Sadly I missed the best part. A hardy bunch were on the prow at 4.00 a.m. to watch us enter the canal. They were silently serenaded by dolphins and witnessed a glorious sunrise as nature put on a show. I was tucked up in bed rocking to the rhythm of the sea – oblivious. I think the rigours of Petra and Karnak had sapped me of energy and my wonder batteries were still full to exploding. I couldn’t take any more in.
When I did finally arise we were already chugging along leading a convoy. Behind us were huge tankers and cargo ships. 80% of Britain’s freight was following us down this narrow channel.
The canal itself was narrow. On one side was barren flat desert and on the other was a strip of lush green with palm trees and a sprawling town with a backdrop of mountains – quite a marked contrast between the banks – probably as a result of irrigation from the Nile.
The canal changed as we went along. In some places there were high walls of sands in massive dunes, sometimes capped with a concrete of dredged sand from the canal. In places the sides were built up with bricks and in others it flowed into lakes and large expanses of water. There were even times where it bifurcated and we had two canals running side by side.
Sometimes one bank was occupied and the other was bare. Sometimes there were lush areas and sometimes there was barren dessert. We amused ourselves by counting the machine gun posts dotted along both banks and the mounds of pontoons that would be deployed in times of military emergency. Lorry-loads of soldiers reminded you that it was a dangerous place.
There were army camps, mosques, towns, roads, ferries, the odd fishermen, compounds, fences, walls and even a huge bridge that seemed to go nowhere and not be in use at all despite the long lines of tanker trucks lining up for the ferries. At one time we passed a huge deserted city that was either in the process of being constructed as a tourist resort or had been abandoned. It was very ghostly.
A police car sinisterly kept track of us for a good part of the way, watching us closely. I’m not sure if they suspected the passengers might have gone stir crazy and might dive off the ship to swim to shore and defect to Egypt, or thought we might be part of an Israeli invasion fleet, or that some of the fishermen we passed might try to get on board and claim asylum? Perhaps they were just being nosey?
I was looking forward to Port Said at the end. Unfortunately they’d built a new bit and we bypassed Port Said altogether emerging into the Med in a container port. Not quite the romantic end I was hoping for but fairly typical of CMV – we’ve seen our fair share of container ports on this voyage. But just when things looked bleak I discovered a large flock of flamingos paddling about near the shore. Even though they were a distance away that made a nice end to our journey along this man-made waterway. It felt like the end of a big chapter.
Once more we were in the Med and it felt like we were back home. I’d missed the beginning and the end of the Suez Canal but the middle was strangely fun!
With the desert behind us it feels like the sand is running out of the timer.
Soon be back