My Egypt Adventure and Transit of the Suez Canal – Part Three: Port Said

Part Three:  Port Said

Part Three of my Egypt Adventure began on the third day when I left Cairo for Port Said and my transit of the Suez Canal aboard the Ashley Lykes.  I was picked up by two representatives from the ship’s Port Said agents whose sole purpose was to get me to Port Said, processed through immigration and on board the ship.  The trip took me through the Egyptian countryside, passing through several towns and villages.  We made a couple of stops where one of the agents delivered packages of what appeared to contain American-made toiletries and similar goods, and cartons of cigarettes to various shops.  When we finally arrived in Port Said, I was ushered to the offices of the shipping agent, where I was to remain for about four hours until I was to be taken to the ship.

Below are photos of one of the roads en-route to  Port Said, a town where we stopped with the goods and scenes of downtown Port Said:

Road to Port Said-1     Village nr ps-1

Port Said-6     Port Said-2

Below is a picture of the entrance to the office of the shipping agency of my ship (left) and a picture of my handlers (right).

Port Said-4     Port Said-12

Below:  Port Said’s waterfront (left) and the Suez Canal Authority headquarters (right).

Port Said-7     Port Said-8

After leaving the agent’s office, we went directly to Egyptian immigration to process me out of the country.  When we arrived there was a huge line in the waiting hall but somehow we bi-passed that and went to the office of one of the more senior immigration officials.  He dutifully studied my passport, gave it the appropriate stamps and cleared me to depart.  As we left, the agent shook hands with the immigration official and I noticed that part of the handshake included a wad of cash.  The cash was what is known as “baksheesh”.

After boarding a launch, we proceeded to the ship, going through a maze of anchored ships of various sizes and shapes, including a Greek frigate, a Cypriot cruise ship, a multitude of tankers and other cargo ships.

Below:  The Greek frigate Elli and Cypriot cruise ship Princesa Marissa at anchor off Port Said’s waterfront.

Greek warship Elli     Princesa Marissa

Below:  A tanker at anchor and a local harbor ferry.

Suez-9-eb     Port Said-15

Below:  S.S. Ashley Lykes at anchor.  Note the bumboats lingering by the gangway.  The master raised the gangway to keep vendors from boarding his ship.

Suez-3-eb     Suez-Ashley Lykes-1

Once on board the Ashley Lykes, I was greeted by the master who escorted me to his cabin where he added my name to the crew roster as an engineering officer(!).  He told me that the immigration people might be coming on board before departure and therefore I had to be accounted for.  He put the crew roster on a table in the reception area of his cabin and placed on top of it a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, “to keep them happy”, he said.

The next day, at 0100 hours, we got underway for our transit of the Suez Canal.  In Part Four, my trip down the Suez Canal. Watch this Space!

End of Part Three

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My Egypt Adventure and Transit of the Suez Canal – Part One: Cairo

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.

Suez-Ashley Lykes-1

S.S. Ashley Lykes

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.

Cairo-Semiramis

Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel

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.

Cairo - View from Semiramis       Cairo-Skyline-Nile-4

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.

Cairo-Skyline-Nile-2    Cairo-Skyline-Nile

          Cairo-Nile-1     Cairo-Downtown-3  

“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.

Neigborhood-1       Neighborhood-3

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