Sunday, March 28, 2010


Map picture

Under the Red Sea

Safaga, Egypt

At the very top of the Red Sea there are two bodies of water which are like to small polyps. I mentioned before that by staying to our right, we entered the Gulf of Aqaba, and from there went onto our trip to Petra. The following day we sailed south out of the Gulf of Aqaba and then traveled north into the second Gulf, the Gulf of Suez. The northern reaches of this Gulf lead directly to the Suez Canal.

We stopped on the western shores of the Gulf at a very small city called Safaga in Eqypt. IMG_7378 The “city” is so small that it does not even have a city center. What it does have is a very nice newly constructed dock facility, and leading from that dock is a well maintained and well guarded super highway that travels west to the shores of the Nile and the ancient city of Luxor. So, almost everyone onboard our ship signed up for one of the 13 hour tours to the Nile and back, leaving us virtually alone. Since we had visited Luxor many times, a day at leisure sounded pretty good after our long day to Petra. The ship did offer a few local outings; most were to nearby beaches or hotels for the day, but they did offer the opportunity to explore the Red Sea from a submarine. That option sounded different to us, and so on a lark we signed up for the trip.

That gave us the morning to recovery from the previous day, grab lunch and then set out on our adventure around 12:30. I wondered where in the world they would find a tourist sub in this small village, and that right there should have been my first clue. The sub was in the resort city of Hurghada which was located about an hour north of our location once we had worked our way to the highway. The drive was pretty boring, just miles and miles of desert, interspersed with checkpoint, after checkpoint, after checkpoint. It seems as if you cannot move very far in this part of the world, without having to stop at a checkpoint- where people with real guns give you a nice once over.

As we approached the big city of Hurghada, both sides of the road were filled with construction sites. We travelled by miles of housing, apartments, resorts and recreation venues. It was pretty amazing – but there was one little oddity. I am guessing that over 80% of them were vacant and abandoned. The structures were in all states of completion. Some seem to have been completed and simply closed down after opening. Some had the first floors done, but the higher floors were unfinished. Some buildings were just starting construction. Interspersed among all the clutter was an occasional structure that seemed to be both finished and occupied. This pattern continued right into the city itself, and it was not until we pulled up to the waterfront that we saw a finished functioning resort area.

We noted two other things on our way into the city. All along the highway construction debris had been dumped on both sides of the road and in the median. I find it hard to believe that with that entire desert they would not have a refuge area, but I guess it is just easier to run out the highway and dump your trash anywhere you wish. The second thing I noted was the huge airport serving Hurghada. I counted well over 30 large aircraft on the ground, and a steady stream of landing and departing wide body airplanes. So obviously a large number of tourists are coming to this resort city. Our guide did finally tell us that they receive mostly Russians and secondly Germans as tourist.

Finally we arrived at our submarine adventure. The experience was a little overdone. IMG_7405 The depot was gaudy and full of glitz and souvenirs hawkers. The personnel were dressed up as the team from Captain Nemo’s crew. We boarded a support ship for the almost 40 minute ride out into the Sea, where we were offloaded onto another support platform from which we could board one of two awaiting submarines which were waiting for us.IMG_7428 I had done something very similar in the Caymans, and I must admit these ships were much larger, each one perhaps holding around 60 people. Our dive lasted about an hour, and I would guess that we went down around 50 feet. Sadly, this is where the comparison with the Caymans ends. On that trip, we saw a large variety of very colorful fish living on an active reef. Here in Egypt we dove instead on a manmade reef of old sailing debris and saw only a limited number of fish species. IMG_7506 Even then, the water was very murky, so overall I would have to rate the experience entertaining, but nothing special.

When it was all over, our drive back to the ship seemed to take forever, and in the end our “short” outing had taken over six hours. Still it was nice to have an outing and to see what there was to see.

The ship spent the night in Safaga because a large number of passengers spent the night in Luxor and were set to return the next day around noon. Our room happened to be on the side facing the dock, so from our deck we had a view of all the activities taking place on the dock. Usually, a large security perimeter is established around the ship, which prevents people from getting too close. However, in Safaga no such perimeter had been set. So, imagine when Lisa was awakened around midnight by the noise outside our window and looked to see thousands of people and a madhouse of activity taking place. She immediately woke me up fearing that a riot was underway. I must admit that when I went outside, I was momentarily taken aback myself. The scene on initial observation was bedlam and the crowds were growing larger by the minute. I could see people streaming into the dockyards through the security gates in the distance – what in the world?

I looked to our security team at our gangway, and no one seemed the least bit perturbed. So I looked back and after watching for awhile I came to realize that this must be a common scene.IMG_7661 Directly in front of our ship, large ferries would dock with their sterns up against the dock. They would drop down large ramps and trucks were driven off the ships. During the night, four such large ferries had docked and the people were surging forward to claim goods being offloaded from the ferries. It was like watching a hive of ants. At first it all seems to be that every ant is scurrying aimlessly, but if you watch closely there begins to emerge a pattern, and so it was in watching this crowd. The sheer amount of merchandise and the diversity of the cargo being offloaded was amazing. Everything from refrigerators, to ironing boards, to toys, and mattresses You name it, and it was somewhere on that dock. IMG_7668 Then it was piled high, and I mean really high on rickety carts and brought to one of two doors into the long building in front of our ship. That was clearly a customs house. You could then see the same merchandise being dragged out the other side of the building and placed on anything that would move. The little trucks and carts were so overloaded that I cannot help but wonder how much material is damaged by this process. Finally, we tired of the drama and went back to bed. I got up around 3am and took a quick look outside and if anything the crowds had grown even larger. By the time we awoke the next morning, activity was still at a high level but was now a little more organized. By the time our ship left around noon, there were still long lines waiting to enter customs, but it appeared that the ferry boats had finally been emptied.

Today we are set to transit the Suez Canal. According to our schedule, we should enter the canal around 6am and exit around 4pm. It should be interesting.


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