Marine Train spotting

Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Port Tawfiq, Suez, Egypt
GMT +2hrs

'a dismal but profitable ditch'
- Joseph Conrad on the Suez Canal

Marine train spotting
The fact that Suez is about half way between Alexandria, where we just came from, and Dahab in Sinai, where we're headed, is convenient because we both wanted to come here to do a spot of marine train spotting. Yes, for some reason the thought of sitting by the Suez Canal, the waterway separating Africa from Asia and linking the Mediterranean & Red seas, and watching massive cargo ships and tankers pass us by appealed to us. Boys will be boys I guess.

5 and counting
There isn't really much to report from our time here in Suez, which explains why this is going to be a short entry. We got off the bus from Alexandria, got transported around half a dozen either "full" or "complete" hotels until we actually found a hotel that wasn't either... well "full" or "complete." Of course, that hotel, the Red Sea Hotel, just happened to be the most expensive place in town, something the taxi driver was well aware of, which probably explains why he demanded more money then he deserved for his services. The pain of having to shell out 400 Egyptian pounds (€50) for a night's accommodation was only slightly lessened by the fact that our room had a Suez canal view. The view from the 6th floor restaurant was even better however, but neither view could match the view we had for a few hours earlier today as we sat by the canal itself watching massive walls of seagoing steal floating by. When we'd had enough of guessing what part of the world the next ship was from, and enough of the curious stares from the never-before-seen-a-westerner locals sharing the canal bank with us, we went back to the Suez bus station for the bus, the one we're presently sitting on, south to Dahab in the desolate and arid Sinai Peninsula. We have only been on the bus about 2 hours, with another 3 or 4 to go, but we have already had our passports checked 4 times. Actually, 5. We're tempted to ask the plain-clothes 'officials', if indeed that is what they are, checking our passports if they are looking for anyone, or anything, in particular, but we doubt they'd understand us.

Day 247 & 248 Observations (April 16th & 17th 2008)

"full" ... "complete"
We're not sure why but all the hotels we tried to book into after arriving from Alexandria last night were, we were told, "full" or "complete" which was weird, not to mention unlikely, considering Suez itself looks like a rather uninteresting place with little going for it (The Rough Guide to Egypt describes it as 'grim' but goes on to say it is a 'vital transport nexus between Cairo, Sinai and the Red Sea Coast'). No such problems however at the Red Sea Hotel in Port Tawfiq, an area of Suez overlooking the canal and full of boating warehouses, petrochemical refineries & cement plants. The hotel is a western-style, '25%-extra-for-service-charges-&-tax' sort of establishment, the ones we're not used to frequenting. Our 400 Egyptian pounds (€50) a night room had air-con, satellite TV, Wi-Fi, a kettle and a phone, one the receptionist used to communicate to us shortly after checking into the room that if we wanted to enjoy the sachet coffee sitting beside the kettle then we'd be charged for doing so.

"What?! 400 bleedin' Egyptian pounds and we don't even get free bleedin' packet coffee?"

A first
I got a negative comment on my blog today, the first negative comment I have ever received and one I have since deleted. Yep, someone didn't like my entry from Venice and told me so. Whoops. They obviously didn't fully understand the entry wasn't intentionally trying to diss their city. Isn't it incumbent on those who bother to take the time to report on their travels to say it as it is? And aren't opionions just that, opinions? Yeah, I thought so, on both counts.

For the fishes
We were sitting by the Suez Canal this morning when Pat noticed his sunglasses were missing. It didn't take us long to spot them sitting in a few feet of water on the steep slope at the edge of the canal. An attempt was made to retrieve them, an attempt that required the removal of shoes and socks, but it was deemed too dangerous an undertaking once the waves of a passing boat lapped against the slope and took the glasses further out into the canal. We could both think of much less interesting places to loose a pair of much loved €200 YSL baby-blue protectors

1st Damascus, now Istanbul. Where next?
A word of warning; reading guidebooks while travelling on buses is likely to change an itinerary, even one that hadn't been set. I happened to read, on the bus yesterday from Alexandria to Suez, the section of my Lonely Planet Middle East guidebook that says it's possible to get a bus in Istanbul, Turkey, to various cities in Europe.

"Here Lad, it says here that you can get a bus from Istanbul, Turkey, to cities in Europe, including Munich," is how I relayed the information to Pat yesterday on the bus which, at that stage, was still only potential itinerary changing information, not the definite itinerary changing information it was just about to become.

Pat looked at me with an 'I-know-what-you're-thinking-and-I-like-it' look on his face. He didn't say anything else. He didn't have to. If you look at a map of the region you'll see that Istanbul to Munich, Germany, is a long way, a very long way, and you might wonder why anyone would want to sit on a bus for the day and a half that it would take to travel that far. Unless, of course, it is a case that that 'anyone' just happens to be on an overland odyssey and is lovin' the idea of being able to say in the weeks, months and years to come that they went overland from Cairo, Egypt, to Wicklow, Ireland. Remember, we were initially planning on flying home from Tel Aviv in a few weeks time. But then we started reading our guidebook and Damascus was added to the list (Pat's fault, if blame can be attributed to anyone), and now it looks like a return to Istanbul is the latest addition (my fault). Overlanding it from here to Ireland, if that is indeed what we end up doing, is certainly not the easiest way to get home, it is certainly not the quickest way to get home and it certainly is not the cheapest way to get home. But all things considered we're of the opinion that flying now (now that we have this 'idea' in mind) would just be a shame. At least I think we are, "right Lad?"

There really doesn't seem to be anything of note whatsoever here in the Sinai Peninsula, the lump of land bordering Israel east of the Suez Canal, that we're presently driving through en route to Dahab on its south-eastern, Gulf of Aqaba coast. It is as desolate, arid and inhospitable an environment as I've ever seen. All there seems to be here is rocks, sand, nothingness and police checkpoints. The Israelis gave the peninsula back to the Egyptians in 1982 having captured it in the Six-Day war of 1967, a good move by the looks of it. Lonely Planet describes it as

'a region of extraordinary beauty and great historical significance'

Umm. While its historical significance is undisputed (it was on Mt Sinai that Moses received the 10 Commandments) its so-called 'extraordinary beauty' isn't immediately obvious, at least not to me and at least not right now. But maybe it's not as bad as my first impressions have led me to believe. The Peninsula will have a few days to win me over, the same few days that Egypt itself has remaining to do the same.
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