My Egypt Adventure and Transit of the Suez Canal – Part One: Cairo
1 August 2013 Leave a comment
Part One: Cairo
With Egypt being the news recently, I started recalling my experience there in November, 1990. At the time, I was serving as Officer-in-Charge of a Naval Liaison Officer Detachment based in Bahrain in support of Operation Desert Shield. The detachment briefed masters of merchant ships transiting through the Persian Gulf to Saudi Arabian ports with military cargo. These ships were part of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command that provides strategic sealift in support of military operations. The ships were activated from a reserve force of cargo vessels or were under contract from civilian shipping companies. As most of these ships originated in the United States, the transit to Saudi Arabia included passage through the Suez Canal.
During a lull in operations in late November, 1990, I managed to take some time to experience the Suez Canal transit. I had heard so many stories about the transit from ships’ masters that I felt it useful to see for myself what it was all about. I arranged transit aboard the S.S. Ashley Lykes, a C-Class break bulk cargo ship operated by Lykes Lines bound for Saudi Arabia from the US.
And so began my Egypt Adventure.
The plan was to fly to Cairo, meet the ship in Port Said, a port on the Mediterranean Sea that serves as the northern entry point to the Suez Canal, and ride the ship through the canal, the Gulf of Suez, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf to its destination port in Saudi Arabia. On the scheduled date, I left Bahrain on Gulf Air for Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on the first leg of my trip.
Below is a description of my flight to Cairo taken from a monthly newsletter I wrote during Operation Desert Shield:
“I left Bahrain on a Gulf Air flight to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia where I transferred to Egyptair to Cairo. The flight to Dhahran was ten minutes at an altitude of 2500 feet. No drinks on this flight – the flight attendants did not even get up from their jump seats. Upon arrival in Dhahran I learned about changing planes in Saudi Arabia. It is not like the States.
“I was met by an airport representative who seemed to know all about my itinerary who took me to (where else) the Immigration Hall. At the time it was Prayer Time, and the “Call to Prayer” was being broadcast over the loudspeakers for the benefit of those waiting in the immigration lines. Since I was not entering the country I bypassed that line but did have to wait for an immigration officer to inspect my passport and make a copy of every page.
“After my passport was duly photocopied I had to clear customs, where the customs inspector searched for articles forbidden in Saudi Arabia, such as alcoholic beverages, non-Muslim religious materials, certain types of books, magazines and videotapes, etc. From there I was escorted to the departure lounge, where the airport representative checked me in [for my next flight]. Finally, I was on my own.”
The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Cairo on schedule. While waiting in the immigration line at Cairo Airport, I was approached by a young woman in what appeared to be a uniform who inquired about the reason for my visit, which I said was business. She asked if I would have time for sightseeing and I replied yes. She said her company would like to give me information about sights to see and offered to escort me through immigration, which meant I went straight to the head of the line and through, after which I was escorted to an office that appeared to be that of a company providing tours to visitors. I got the full briefing about what to see in Cairo. Thinking that was it, I was surprised (really should not have been, though) when I was informed that the company was to be my tour guide for my stay in Cairo. Dumbfounded, I said fine, and was given various options. I elected the cheapest, a group tour of the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids. As I had two full days to myself, I opted for the second day to do the tour, which I shall call the “Grand Tour”. I was asked to pay in advance – US Dollars were gratefully accepted – and a pickup time was set.
By the time I checked into my hotel, the Semiramis Intercontinental, I was ready for a drink, which I partook in the hotel lounge.
Below: Views from my hotel room of the Nile River. The Cairo Tower is on the far right in the picture on the left. Note the air pollution in the picture on the right.
The next day I set off on a long walk around the city and its surrounding neighborhoods. Again, from my newsletter:
“Cairo is a huge city, population about 14,000,000. I stayed at the Semiramis Hotel, which was right on the Nile River. The city appears to be on the verge of either greatness or a downfall. From a distance the skyline looks impressive: lots of large commercial buildings along the Nile. However many are not totally occupied; in fact some are not even fully constructed (sic). There must be an unwritten regulation in Egypt: “Thou shalt not finish construction of a building”. There are buildings on which construction had been halted in order to start construction on new buildings adjacent to them. This scene was not only in Cairo, but also in other areas of Egypt as well.
Below: Additional views of Cairo and the Nile.
“Egypt is full of contrasts: Modern high-rises (albeit some incomplete) abutting shantytowns of rundown shops (many of which for some reason, were selling automobile parts, especially wheels and tires).”
Below: A couple of neighborhoods just outside Cairo. Note the tire shop in the left picture.
The walk around Cairo took nearly all day. I am glad I took that walk because it allowed me to see sides of Cairo that the normal tourist would not see. There seemed to be people and cars everywhere and the air pollution was most noticeable. But the sights that struck me most was the seemingly unfinished state of the city. It looked as if whatever prosperity existed was pulled out from under. I estimated that it would take an economic miracle for enough money to be generated to actually finish those unfinished buildings sitting abandoned and in some cases falling into disrepair.
In Part Two: The Grand Tour and the Pyramids. Watch this Space!
End of Part One