January 1, 2007
The next leg of our trip is intended to be the 40 miles or so north to Difnein Island. The route takes us up a fairly narrow channel and the chart is covered with warnings, to the effect that it has never been properly surveyed. The safest route would be to stick to the middle of the channel but the channel is oriented along the axis of the prevailing winds. This means that tacking a sailing vessel against a headwind will be problematic. Our best option would be to await a calm period and motor, since a wind from the south is unlikely. Once we have passed Difnein, we can clear the reefs to the east of us and head out into open water. Today the wind blew resolutely at up to 18 knots all day. DoodleBug and Carita strained at their anchor chains and bounced in the wind generated chop, in the lagoon where we are anchored. We did chores, wrote e-mails, and in the afternoon, Jens joined us to watch movies, eat popcorn, and drink beer. The next period where we might have light winds is two days from now but, if the wind drops tomorrow we will try and leave.
January 2, 2007
Still here at Harat. The wind was blowing at 23 knots from on the nose this morning when we awoke. A gray and cloudy day, although the lagoon was whipped to a pale green froth. About an hour after low tide, the waves had died a little, because the chop was no longer coming over the reef and we decided we had to venture ashore. We collected Jens from Carita and bouncing around like a cork, we headed our dinghy for the adjacent shore of Harat. We shelled the shoreline for an hour but did not venture too far up the beach, as we know that nearby island of Difnein is still sown liberally with land-mines. The cruising guide is unclear as to whether this negative condition also applies to Harat.
We had a Harris type Hawk hover over us, calling with a high pitched "eew eew" cry. About 20 yards further along the beach, we could see an Eagle sized raptor, standing on an obvious nest and making similar cries. We retreated down the beach in the other direction and found forty or fifty Sand Pipers gathered on the point. Annette approached them slowly with her camera and was delighted to see them hopping away from her on a single leg. They only lowered the rest of their undercarriage, when they decided that their comfort zone had been invaded and they flew away. Back to DoodleBug and we spent the rest of the day eating and watching movies. The weather forecast for tomorrow, shows a change in conditions around noon, local time. We have prepared DoodleBug for departure and we will take off as soon as we can to get out of this trap amongst the reefs.
January 3, 2007
At 0300 hours this morning, I checked the wind speed and direction. 18 knots from 330 degrees, still right on the nose and with the waves hissing down the side of Doodlebug, I went back to bed. Jens on Carita and I had agreed, that if the winds dropped during the night, we would try and wake the other up and leave. At 0630 hours, it was just becoming light and Jens was visible in his cockpit, coffee cup in hand, about 50 yards off Doodlebug's beam. I called him on the radio and said that we were going to leave in about one hours time and just tack our way up the channel as best we could. He said he would do the same thing and proposed that we leave together. Thirty minutes later, Annette said that Jens was "pacing" and sure enough, he called to say we would catch him and overtake him, so he might just as well leave ahead of us. I wished him safe passage and Annette and I sat in our cockpit watching Carita try to leave. It was soon obvious that his anchor was stuck and Jens struggled to retrieve it. When I called over, Jens said he had also just discovered that there was no cooling water coming from his engine. I told him that I had found our raw water intake jammed with seaweed last night and while he proceeded to clean out his raw water intake, I assembled my scuba gear and put on a wet-suit. The water was not particularly cold but it was murky and in such conditions, I like the psychological comfort of being encased in neoprene.
I swam over to Carita and found that his anchor was jammed tightly between two rocks and took some prying with a heavy bar to free it. Finally it was clear and Carita raised sail and headed out, followed shortly by DoodleBug at 0830 hours. I was still wearing the precautionary wet-suit as we raised our anchor but fortunately, our anchor came up cleanly. We tacked out from Harat Island with 15 knots of wind from the NW but the wind began to shift in direction and also began to drop. After an hour or so, we began to motor sail and the wind dropped even further. The day remained overcast and gray with poor visibility. We passed 8 to 10 miles off the Eritrean coast but only occasionally saw the outlines of sandy mountains. No fishing vessels of course and there was lots of surface splashing from large fish. At 1730 hours, we passed through a pod of dolphins we tentatively identified as "Risso's Dolphins". By 2100 hours local time we were clear of the reefs and motoring in the open sea.
Position" at 1800 hours UTM on 1/3/2007 was 17 05 N 039 19 E.
January 4, 2007
We motor-sailed on through the night until around 0900 hours. The wind had picked up and we sailed under poled Genoa and Mizzen. The wind then gusted up to 30 knots and accordingly, we soon had an 8 or 10 foot roller towering over the stern and pushing us off course as it passed. By mid-day, this had abated a little but the wind stayed around 15 knots until evening, when at 2200 hours, it died away and we were on engine again. We motored on into our second night but with waves still high from a day of wind, producing a vicious roll until the wee hours of 1/5/2007.
At 0000 hours UTM on 1/5/2007 our position was 19 57.1 N 038 00.0 E.
We are about 52 miles from the Sudanese Coast and 70 miles from our proposed anchorage. The last weather forecast we received, indicated that the winds will switch back to strong northerlies in 12 hours time and so it will be a close call for us to make our anchorage if this forecast is accurate.
January 5, 2007
We dropped anchor behind Taila Island at 1100 UTM today and our position is 20 38.0 N 037 13.4 E. We had motor sailed since 2200 hours last night and although we were approaching the Sudanese coast, there was little evidence of this. We have not seen another vessel at sea, since our passage through Bab el Mandeb and of course we now know why there are no fishing vessels off the Eritrean coast (no diesel if you haven't been following the earlier postings). At 0600 hours the wind swung abruptly from the SE to the NW but was blowing at only 5 - 6 knots. This increased slowly for the next few hours. We passed Taila Island and could now see the Sudan coast at a distance of less than 2 miles. We were just 7 miles from our proposed destination at Marsa Inkeifal when the wind increased to 20 knots and swung a few degrees. We were now motoring directly into it and Doodlebug plunged into the waves, sending sheets of water over the bow. Our forward speed dropped to around 2 knots. We weren't gonna' make it! We spun around and headed back to anchor in the shelter of Taila Island at 1100 UTM, while the wind continued to howl. We are presently anchored behind a pretty little islet, perhaps four feet above sea level and protected by reefs. We can see hundreds of sea birds standing on the beach where the waves wash over the reef. So far there is little swell and this appears to be a comfortable anchorage and for how long????
January 6, 2007
This morning we did boat chores and admired the wild vistas from the deck of DoodleBug. The haze has lifted and we can see the rugged mountains of Sudan in the distance, behind a flat and sandy coastal plain. We can also see over the top of Taila Islet and, in the sunshine, the blue seas of the bay beyond, with their wave tops whipped to froth by the wind, contrast with the sand and few scrubby bushes of the Islet. The latter is populated only by hundreds of wheeling birds. A beautiful and lonely place.
At 0630 hours, we hear Jens hailing us on the VHF from over 25 miles away. He was at the limit of VHF range and we had to turn off the "squelch" control on the radio and then try to make him out from all of the static. We managed to convey to him that we were not at our intended anchorage and passed on a waypoint to him that cleared the reefs to the south of us. After a couple of hours, he was closer and we were able to give him more detailed navigation information.
Jens has crossed the Atlantic five times and has sailed for years in Denmark. He maintains that this is the toughest sailing he has ever done. He had been sailing all night in winds of 25 to 30 knots and the waves were large, steep, short spaced, and breaking. He would tack out into the shipping lanes and then close the land and reefs again on the opposite tack. He was chagrined to see he was making almost no forward progress.
Carita arrived at 1230 hours and anchored next to DoodleBug. Later that afternoon, Jens dinghied over and we fed him and poured him full of alcohol.
The weather forecast shows little promise of a break within the next five days but if the winds do drop, just a little, we may try to push north about 10 miles to find a more sheltered anchorage at Marsa Inkeifal.
January 7, 2007
Our second day behind Taila Islet and the wind still blows from the north at around 22 knots, occasionally gusting to 26 knots and occasionally dallying around 17 knots for a few minutes. By lunch time we had exhausted all of the boat chores, e-mail writing that we wanted to do and were becoming antsy. Jens came by in his dinghy and we loaded ourselves into it and headed for the beach a couple of hundred yards upwind. A large bird of prey flew over us, screaming disapproval and the hundreds of other birds further down the beach shuffled nervously on their sandy point. We felt as though we were the first humans to step ashore at such a desolate and wild spot. That is, until we found the remains of an old beach fire.
We walked the "island" from one end to the other, a distance of perhaps 400 yards. At its widest, the island was about 20 yards from beach to beach but most places it was about 12 paces wide. At both the north and south beaches, there was a rock outcrop with the beds dipping away from the middle of the island. More of a fracture than an anticline but certainly the reason the islet is here. We scoured the beach for shells and also investigated the raptors nest - some specie of sea eagle. There were two nests, one obviously abandoned and the other contained a large and angry looking bird. It flew off the nest but remained hovering, showing no sign of physical aggression towards us. The nest contained a solitary brown speckled egg.
We spent perhaps two hours enjoying the feel of solid land and also the fabulous view it afforded. The air has cleared to the west and we can see the serried ranks and multi-hued Sudanese mountains. They stretch to the horizon and climb higher and higher as the coast is left. Reluctantly, we surfed downwind in Jens' dinghy back to DoodleBug, with it's movies, books, beer and lunch.
January 8, 2007
Day three at Taila and the beautiful views are beginning to pale. We want to move on. At least someplace we can venture ashore. At 1000 hours we decided on a major effort to move the 10 miles to the next anchorage. We raised anchor and after clearing the reef on the west end of Taila Islet, we turned north. Immediately we had a 26 knot headwind and the waves smashed into our bow in sharp succession. Our speed dropped to less than 2 knots. Six hours of this? Again we spun around and re-anchored in our spot behind Taila. Carita had followed us out and back and was again anchored off our beam. Another waiting day.
At 1130 hours, a large and expensive looking power cruiser, towing two skiffs, came up the channel towards us passing Taila Islet and plunging into the waves we had just quit. I read the name on the side as "MV Royal Emperor". They did not respond to repeated hails on the VHF and we watched them grow smaller in the distance.
Jens radioed to say that he had seen a jeep onshore. I scanned the shore with binoculars and saw a vehicle disappear over a low hill to the south. The coast road runs north-south nearby. The haze was much less today and I could now see herds of camels grazing on the greenish vegetation that could be seen either side of the dusty road.
January 9, 2007
0530 hours: I was beginning to write some e-mails when I noticed that the wind speed had dropped to 7 knots. Almost immediately, Jens called me on the VHF indicating that he had the same idea. "Let's go!". By 0600 hours we were under way for Marsa Inkeifal. What a difference from yesterday! The wind began to rise but remained in the 10 to 12 knot range and we motor-sailed using the mainsail, through a 3 foot chop. At 0800 hours we were anchored inside the Marsa. The anchorage was barren and surrounded by low sandy cliffs with the light blue of the coral reefs, clearly visible beneath the clear waters. A very pretty location but too early in the day and with a weather window opening. Annette had begun the process of baking bread and also had the last of the Djibouti super-market steaks, marinating in anticipation of a celebratory feast. Nevertheless, we called Carita, who was still tacking back and forth across the now wide channel, to say we were going to move on to the "Wreck Recovery" anchorage off Ras Abu Shagara. This spot is the last shelter before heading out into open waters again. Jens concurred and admitted that he did not want to waste the day of good sailing conditions either.
We raised anchor at 0845 hours and set off again, sailing under Genoa and main for the east-west channel through the reefs. To the west we could see low scattered buildings on the Sudanese coast and "eighteen-wheeler" type tractor-trailers moving along the coast road. Scattered herds of camels grazed on the thin vegetation.
As we approached the channel entrance, we saw a sailboat motoring in the opposite direction. They did not respond to VHF hails but we passed close enough to them to say hello and ask them to turn on their radio. They were Italians heading to Port Sudan, to spend the next year there and did not need our warnings of, "No diesel in Massawa". By 1100 hours, we were close to our proposed anchorage site and still the winds were holding. We decided to head out to sea and take advantage of the forecast lighter winds to sail north. Now was a race to see if Annette could get her bread out of the oven before we hit open water and the Red Sea waves.
We barely made it and the boat was already heeled as we sailed out into open waters, close hauled on reefed Genoa and main, with 19 knots of wind and six to nine foot seas. We lunched on our freshly baked bread, cheese, and olives.
January 10, 2007
At sea. Position at 0415 hours UTM was 22 11.4 N 037 32.9 E.
We are tacking up the Red Sea in rough conditions. All well on board.
We tacked on through the night, with winds of just below 20 knots and 10 foot waves sweeping the deck, finding their way occasionally into the cockpit. We had intended to sail to the Saudi Arabian coast before switching tacks but the amount of shipping on the radar dissuaded us from this approach. A bit like crossing the Southwest Freeway by foot, hoping that dark glasses and a white stick would provide a measure of safety. We instead tacked back towards Sudan and by sunrise found we had traveled 101 miles during the previous 24 hours. At 0900 hours, the wind dropped to the region of 12 to 13 knots and by afternoon had climbed back to the 17 to 19 knot range. The boat was heeled to a nominal 15 degrees, meaning it was actually rolling between 0 and 30 degrees. Every few minutes, the wave combination would cause the bows to climb out of the water and plunge crashing back again, stopping all forward motion. We estimated that we were making corrected progress towards our destination, at the rate of 2.5 knots, or perhaps 60 miles per day. At around 1730 hours, the wind speed dropped to the 12 to 13 knot range and the direction swung to just east of north. We began to motor-sail directly to our waypoint, several hundred miles away up the coast, using a tightly sheeted main. Progress was sometimes 5 knots and sometimes less but still way better than tacking. Furthermore, DoodleBug was much less heeled and Annette was able to cook the two steaks she had already defrosted, before they could spoil. This meal was well appreciated by both captain and crew.
January 11, 2007
At 0200 hours UTM, our position was 23 21.3 N 036 32.6 E. We are still sailing north. All well on board.
Today was the day we cleared "Foul Bay". This Bay lies on the west side of the Red Sea, at around 23 degrees north and straddles the border with Egypt and Sudan. It is a poorly surveyed area, with lots of reefs and a thoroughly dangerous place to be in bad weather. There is little usable shelter. In fact, the only possibility we found in mid-Bay, is an aptly named "Dangerous Reef". Otherwise, the gap between anchorages is as much as 120 miles. Our goal was to pass the Cape at Ras Banas, before sailing conditions deteriorated.
The wind had dropped further since yesterday evening and we motor sailed on through the night on a direct course across the bay. The night was clear and the swells and chop dropped gradually, as the effect of the dying wind wore off. The bilge on DoodleBug had emitted a strong odor of fermenting soap yesterday and I (Ed) had poured a generous quantity of Clorox bleach down the drain, to kill off the bacteria. This had been very effective but had also killed the automatic bilge pump and we were now manually pumping the bilge. At daylight, I dismantled the automatic pump and confirmed that everything seemed to be OK. I then replaced the strum box (a one way valve and strainer that sits down in the bilge water) and fired it up. Still not working! The next step is to replace the internal rubber valves in the pump body but this task is not for a rolling engine room next to a hammering diesel and while underway.
At 1700 hours, the wind began to blow gently from the northeast and we put the mainsail up as we continued to motor. At 2130 hours, the wind increased from a gently waft in the northeast to 18 knots from the northwest, within the space of perhaps five minutes and by midnight was blowing at 22 knots. A reddish quarter moon rose in the east, as though a single sleepy eye was observing us. We continued to motor sail as we had cleared the hazards of Foul Bay and were looking up the coast towards our destination of Port Ghalib, now only 80 miles away.
January 12, 2007
As the dawn approached, the wind began to move towards the north and we began to stray off course, as we tried to keep the mainsail "close hauled", to partially offset the effects of the headwind. The waves by thistime, had reformed in closely spaced ranks and were sweeping down on us. Where to find shelter? The only possible anchorages were hours away and would require good light to make an entrance.
At 0900 hours, I experimented with dropping the mainsail and motoring directly into the headwind. The speed dropped but it was still faster than beginning to tack under sail. I cautiously tested increasing the engine RPMs to 2500, to what Amel calls a "fast" cruising speed. We had been having a problem with drive train vibration, since we left Darwin but the vibration level at the increased RPM seemed acceptable and our forward speed increased to just over 6 knots. I had been looking at contingency anchorages, since Port Ghalib had not seemed attainable in daylight but, our speed increase had changed this. As the morning wore on, the wind continued to increase and was gusting to 22 knots. The waves were now in the 8 to 10 foot range but we were cutting through them at a slight angle and our speed seemed to match the distance between the wave tops. We would crest one wave and then slide down the back side, before swooping up the next. Occasionally this would miss a beat and DoodleBug would crash through the waves with water on deck and forward motion stopped. Since we had the mainsail down and cut through the seas at an angle, this forwards plunging motion, was accompanied by a side to side roll. (See scene of U-Boats on surface in Atlantic, from the movie "Das Boot"). Doodlebug's crew does not care for this motion and was banished below to pray, clutching a bucket and a purple teddy bear, while the Captain attempted to settle a slightly queasy stomach with the last of the Asmara beer.
Each minute was bringing us closer to Port Ghalib and besides, the forecast was for lighter winds than we were experiencing and we expected them to drop. In fact, as we wore down the last few miles, the wind increased to 25 knots and we were getting the odd 12 footer aboard. We had last spoken to Jens on Carita by VHF two days ago. Jens said that as soon as he gets back to Denmark, he is going to have his head examined. We were now freely echoing this sentiment.
The entrance marker to Port Ghalib was only visible when we were within a mile. We had turned into the approach channel on the basis of the red markers alone and assurances from land, via VHF, before we could make out the corresponding starboard side markers. We slid into the harbor in calm water and moored alongside the clearance dock at 1300 hours. We are in Egypt!
We expect to be here for a couple of weeks before flying back to the USA. We will leave DoodleBug at the marina and return after our next grandbaby makes his/her grand entrance.
Position: 25 32.0 N 034 38.3 E
January 13, 2007 - January 19, 2007
Port Ghalib is a "work in progress". The local version is that the Egyptian government sold/gave/granted 25 kms. of the coastline to the Emir (?) of Kuwait for the purpose of constructing a tourist resort complex. The map just shows a "Wadi Mubarak" at this location. A "Wadi" is a dried out water course and is prone to flash flooding on the extremely rare events when it rains. The resort builders have dug out and enlarged the wadi at the point where it enters the Red Sea, in order to create a marina. The first of the hotels was completed two years ago and is called the Coral Beach Diving Hotel (you can find a picture if you dig around inside www.milleniumhotels.com). Probably three quarters of the guests are here to scuba dive and there are perhaps a half dozen large dive boats moored in front of the hotel. Alongside these vessels are two abandoned looking sailing yachts, plus DoodleBug. The view in any direction is of construction as though the Pharaohs have returned to Egypt. They are building apartments, hotels, condominiums, gifts shops and restaurants. All are supposed to be completed in two years time.
The Red Sea cruising guide mentions the marina as being open in 2002, although this seems a little hard to believe. Some of the fundamentals of marina services created great consternation and confusion when we approached the management with our strange demands. Where do we put our trash? How can we buy drinking water? After two days of high level negotiation with the Manager of the marina and the General Manager of the hotel, they agreed they would send a zodiac inflatable, from perhaps half a mile away, to pick up our trash when called on the VHF (we are moored in front of the hotel gift shop). We strenuously refused to take a car to a supermarket in the next town (40 miles away) and buy 80 of five liter plastic bottles of drinking water and then schlep the 900 pounds of water, the two hundred yards from the parking lot to the boat. On the second afternoon of negotiation, the hotel agreed to deliver 20 of twenty liter bottles and these were carried aboard and emptied into the water tank on DoodleBug by the room service staff.
Other than these few rough spots, the hotel has been great, with swimming pool, bar, restaurants and gift shops. We took a trip to the nearby town of El Quesir to use the ATM and tour the town. On this trip we had our first experience with the 100 mph Egyptian taxi driver. Requests to "slow down" have no effect on the driver. The car is usually in a condition that should limit its maximum speed to perhaps 40 mph but it is driven with foot to floor at all times. To add to this, the driver was usually on the wrong side of the road on blind bends, cresting hills with no visibility and talking on the cell phone at the same time. We thought this first driver was the worst we had ever experienced but he rose rapidly in our esteem after our experiences with the next three drivers.
El Quesir was an interesting little town with the ruins of a Turkish fort overlooking the harbor and surrounded by a mixture of ancient crumbling dwellings and modern construction, facing each other across narrow alleyways. The town and port were very important on the Moslem pilgrim trail to Mecca for the annual Hajj (One of the Seven
pillars of the Islamic faith is that all Moslems should make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives). Of course the modern pilgrims fly in to Mecca and the older sea route has been abandoned. Back on DoodleBug I had torn down the recalcitrant bilge pump and discovered that the nylon drive gear had broken. I ordered a replacement pump from Amel and this allegedly will be delivered by FedEx next week. The hotel General Manager, assured me that they have no problems receiving shipments in this manner, thus bypassing the worst of the Egyptian bureaucracy with its multiple sticky fingers.
We had spent several hours on the internet clearing out backlogs of e-mails, checking accounts and attempting to make travel reservations. I say "attempting" since we spent three and a half hours trying to get a flight out of here without success. The internet access was so slow, the screens would expire before we could move to the next step in the process. We retired to the bar to sulk, before telephoning Ed's brother Brian in England, and asking him to make the reservation for us.
Wednesday night was "floor show" night at the hotel restaurant. The dance troupe worked very hard to put on a good show and it was indeed well done. Annette was "volunteered" to play Nefertiti in the opening number. She was dressed up in period costume, had her make-up suitably adjusted and then marched in stately fashion onto the stage. All she had to do was stand and look queenly but this too had it's disadvantages. It gets quite cool here in the evening and Nefertiti could have used a ski-jacket instead of the silken robe.
We have worked all week aboard Doodlebug cleaning and drying out lockers, servicing the engine and fuel system, furling and storing the sails and the like and doing all of the things necessary to put DoodleBug into a storage mode for the next several months. This has been our home as we crossed the Indian Ocean and we now need to work out, how on earth we transport back to Santa Fe, the goodies and souvenirs we have acquired along the way.
January 20, 2007
This morning we stood around in the nearby hotel lobby at 0430 hours, waiting for a taxi driver to take us on the first leg of our journey to Luxor. He eventually arrived, some twenty five minutes late and we shot off into the darkness with his mumbled apologies. Our route took us to Port Safaga, about 115 miles north of here along the coast. We arrived at an anonymous tea shop in Safaga, where we switched taxis to one supposed to be licensed to make the trip to Luxor. This segment of the trip required us to join a "convoy". The convoy consisted of perhaps one hundred or so motor coaches, mini-buses and a handful of private cards and taxis and was escorted by two or three pick-up truck loads of armed policemen. I had asked the purpose of the convoy system but received no satisfactory answer other than, "that is what they do".
The route to Luxor heads west , crossing the Eastern Arabian Desert via Wadi Umm Tagir, before descending the western flank of the mountains via Wadi el Markh to the town of Qena on the Nile river. From here we drove down the east bank of the Nile to Luxor. This should have been a pleasant drive but for the Egyptian genius of screwing up even the simplest of tasks. Our Safaga driver insisted on passing the 70 or 80 buses and mini-vans that were ahead of us in the convoy. The road was a two lane mountain road, with several stretches under repair and with a fair amount of traffic in the opposite direction. The overtaking process was accompanied with lots of swerving, harsh braking and near misses. Finally he arrived behind the lead police truck, which he proceeded to follow at 70 to 80 miles per hour, some two or three feet off it's rear bumper. I have noticed this phenomenon before in other third world countries. Automobiles have been present in these countries for as long as anywhere else but have only been accessible to the broad population in recent years. Their drivers seem to have no concept of the cause and effect of accidents, no understanding of the responsibilities of a chauffeur and to this is added the Moslem fatalism of, "It is written".
The drive along the mountain road was almost devoid of vegetation and more like a moonscape of volcanic ash piles and igneous outcroppings. It was a very bleak and harsh landscape but certainly had it's own beauty.
The drive along the valley of the Nile was also conducted at breakneck speed, with the local traffic being held for the "convoy". There was an irrigation canal running parallel with the road and most of the dwellings were built along the banks. The homes were constructed of adobe bricks. The older homes in various stages of slumping and eroding decay, while the newer homes used a frame of concrete pillars and beams to support the adobe walls.
Tethered in front of the homes were donkeys, buffaloes and oxen, with piles of fodder stacked along the banks of the canal. Beyond the homes we could see fields of sugar cane, cabbages, rice and beans. All of this under intense manual cultivation. We only passed one or two tractors hauling cut cane along the road. All else was with the help of draft animals and probably unchanged for centuries. The drive provided a glimpse of rural life in an agricultural community, as we flashed by the homes, with their laundry drying, women sitting on the stoop and cooking over an open fire, children riding donkeys, donkeys loaded with goods, donkeys pulling wooden carts, people fishing in the canals, irrigation pumps producing gushing flows into the fields.
A few days ago in El Qesir, we had been shown that drinking water was obtained from the river by filtering river water through an earthenware pot. We could now see these pots set up on the banks of the canal. Any possible desire to taste this water was tempered by the fact that we had observed several carcasses of large animals floating in the canal and of course all of the refuse consisting of both animal waste and human trash were dumped in the same location.
We finally arrived in Luxor and gratefully climbed out of our taxi in front of the Winter Palace hotel. The hotel sits on the east bank of the Nile facing the river. A few hundred yards to the north of the hotel is the spectacular ruins of the Temple of Luxor and on the far side of the broad river on its west bank, is the Valley of the Kings. This is where the Pharaohs of Egypt were buried, that is to say, before we dug them all up again.. After lunch we walked the river bank and watched the swarms of "feluccas" - small sailing craft - hauling boat loads of tourists for a one hour sail on the Nile. There were dozens of huge cruise ships, moored end to end, rafted five or six boats deep, blunt ended and towering like blocks of apartment buildings. It is low season here in Luxor and the throngs who would ride these vessels to Aswan are missing. There were shops along the water-front and we were shopping for a suitable jacket and tie to meet the hotel dinner dress code, for their French gourmet restaurant. Annette refused to allow me to buy any of the proffered garments and with muttered curses about "baby shit rags", she dragged me over to look at the jewelry stores instead. That evening we ate in one of the hotel's "other" restaurants, where the dress codes were more relaxed.
January 21, 2007
This morning we hired a taxi to take us on a tour of the west bank We crossed the Nile on a long bridge and first visited the Temple of Al-Deir Al-Bahari. The ruins were of a huge temple and I was surprised at the extent to which they had been reconstructed. There was little or no written information about the discovery and reconstruction of any of the sites and we were continually pounced upon by supposed guides, who would jabber a string of Pharaohic names that are obtainable by watching any fine documentary such as, "The Mummy", "Return of the Mummy", "The Scorpion King" and the like. We had fortunately researched this vital information before we arrived. Once they had exhausted their repertoire, the technique was to drag you from spot to spot saying "look! look!" and become exasperated and edgy if you actually stop to look. Of course the finale of the performance are demands for money and whatever is given, is always a small fraction of what was expected.
Several fellow tourists had admitted being driven out of the exhibits by the non-stop hustling for cash. We however are a little more hardened and managed to drive off all but the most persistent. Even the latter would eventually drift away when it became obvious we were not going to be fleeced. In spite of the endemic aggravation, we thoroughly enjoyed the sights and were awe struck by the towering bulk of the construction and the artwork and hieroglyphics adorning the stonework.
The Valley of the Kings was a disappointment as it was high priced, ill organized and really not much to look at that was actually open. I think they must open the tombs to the public based upon how many buses are in the parking lot and how far the tomb guardians care to walk uphill. We next visited the Habu Temple and this was much better. As the morning wore on, we had seen all of the major monuments and were hearing the call of the lunch sandwich and beer. Our taxi-driver had his own agenda however. We had refused to visit any of the hundred gift shops selling alabaster jars to store your vital organs and had determined we were NOT going to ride a felucca. We insisted that after three years on a sail boat, we did not need to ride another gosh, darned, POS Egyptian wooden boat. At this point he totally lost his ability to speak English. We insisted on getting out of the cab in downtown Luxor and paying him off. Even though this was two hours earlier than agreed, he went into shock, surprise and horror that we had only paid him the contracted amount for the day and demanded a tip. We too lost our ability to speak or understand English and left him spluttering.
Egyptian cab drivers must be an alien species with such optimism and opportunism. They will U-turn across traffic to where you are sitting at a table at a roadside cafe, enjoying a newspaper and drinking a coffee. They then yell across at you and ask if you need a taxi!!?? On another occasion we got in a taxi and gave a specific restaurant as a destination. The driver pulled up in some alleyway at a dingy gift shop full of stuffed camels and tourist trash and explained that everything was "10% price". In an instant the manager of the store was at the taxi window insisting that we see his store. I stated that I needed a piss, a beer and a sandwich and in that order. I then continued that his place didn't look like a restaurant and queried, "Do you sell beer?". The ever resourceful store manager said we could look at his store while the taxi driver brought beer from somewhere else. "Is he going to bring my sandwich as well?". They gave up and we continued to our requested destination in surly silence.
In the evening we visited the temple of Karnak for a "son et lumiere" presentation. The tour was great, since at night the temple was devoid of hustlers. A little cool though for our tropically conditioned bodies and we could have used a blanket. The temple is magnificent and we vowed to return tomorrow to spend more time exploring.
January 22, 2007
The Karnak temple was as magnificent in daylight as it had been last night, with the artful lighting and sonorous voice-over of a professionally recorded presentation. We blew off a "wanna be" guide at the entrance and for the remainder of the morning were able to wander at leisure through the ruins. From last night's presentation, we knew that the immense stone columns had been floated onto the site during the annual flood of the Nile and it was still stunning that an ancient civilization could move those tons of carved rock into position and without damaging them. I expect that the penalty for carelessness in ancient Egypt was more profound than that provided by today's delivery services.
We visited the mummification museum in the afternoon and although it was very interesting, it was decidedly light on exhibits and we were soon out on the sidewalk.
The evening brought the return convoy and the worst driver to date. The driver played a childish game with the other drivers, of forcing their way into the lead position in the convoy behind the escorting police vehicle. Despite our protestations, we could not get him to desist. Another miserable four hour ride back to Port Ghalib. I suppose we have discovered why the Egyptian authorities insist on a convoy system for tourist traffic. If they did not force the coaches and taxis to slow down to the speed limit, there would be a total slaughter on these mountain roads.
Overall, Luxor was a great place to visit and a "must see" for anyone visiting Egypt. Nevertheless, we vowed that if we ever wanted to do this trip again, we would either fly or rent a self-drive car.
January 23, 2007 thru January 25, 2007
Back aboard DoodleBug at Port Ghalib, we were making the final preparations for leaving her in storage. The hotel internet connection was functional on Tuesday morning and down for the remainder of our stay. We determined that our replacement bilge pump had arrived in Egypt as scheduled and faxed documents to Egyptian Customs, so that it could be cleared for delivery. The pump never did arrive in Port Ghalib as promised and as of 5th. February 2007, is still "in transit", somewhere in Egypt.
We had booked the Dive Hotel's shuttle bus to drive us the three hours to the airport in Hurghada and as promised, the driver was both careful and considerate of his passengers. The Hurghada airport was crammed with tourists, all going to northern European destinations and also filled with cigarette smoke, worse than a Las Vegas casino. Welcome back to the second world! (First world countries no longer allow smoking in public places!). After a suitable amount of bitching about the smoke, we bought a couple of cold cans of Heineken from the duty free shop. Actually it was three 'cos the cashier did not have change. No prob. We sailors are flexible.