The day started when the fuel arrived at 0630. Fuel is 70 cents a liter here, so we decided to top off. Unfortunately, we never asked about the pumping system. It turned out to be jerry cans, and Sayeed had to suck diesel into his mouth to get a siphon going from the cans to our tank. Yuck. It made a big mess, and diesel is not easy to get off the fiberglass. Later we found out that diesel is only 50 cents a liter, and Heebe keeps the difference. No wonder he was happy to pay for our groceries. By their standards, they made a lot of money off our fuel purchase.
At 1000, someone came by to measure our boat. The fees for crossing the canal are based on a complicated formula involving size. Measuring took only a few minutes, and no one would tell us what the final fee would be.
In between, Sayeed was at our boat every 5 minutes, bringing forms to be filled out, then simultaneously offering to do this or that for us. If he offered a service we refused, he would get very forceful and insistent that we did need this particular service, badgering us until we backed down, or sometimes doing it in spite of being told no. After each and every thing he wanted a tip, and it was never enough money. For example, he asked if we needed more groceries. We told him no several times, but he wouldn’t back off, so we said we could use eggs and melon. He came back a few minutes later with eggs, melon, green beans, cabbage, lemons, cucumbers, rotten carrots, and peaches. He charged us USD $20, and we are sure he at least tripled what he paid at the market for the food. Of course, he wanted a tip for his efforts, and badgered and badgered us because the tip wasn’t enough. When he realized he wasn’t getting more tip, he would disappear, and 5 minutes later come back with another form for us to fill out, bring up the next service he wanted to do for us”¦ and so the cycle continued on all morning. We have to give him credit for being smart enough to bring our forms piecemeal so we couldn’t tell him to go away and not come back. He was driving us crazy, and we were relieved when the boat measuring was done and we could leave on our trip to Cairo. We should have trusted our instincts about that guy.
Heebe had arranged for his cousin to take us on a private guided tour of the pyramids and the Cairo Museum. Our cruising guide said that Suez is not a safe place to leave your boat unattended, but from what we could see, it looked like the yacht club had excellent security. Our guide is an Egyptologist and fluent in English.
From the brief view we saw of Port Said as we headed out of town, it looks pretty nice. The town quickly gives way to desert, though there are many more patches of development than we saw in the south.
We also quickly discovered that this driver is even scarier than the one that took us to the airport. He weaved in and out of traffic wildly as he sped down the road, cutting off most everybody with only inches to spare, including very large Mack trucks. He almost ran over pedestrians crossing the street, refusing to slow down for them even though they were in a crosswalk. The poor people had to literally run for their lives. He would get so close to sideswiping cars that there would literally be a couple inches of space between the vehicles. We have been with a lot of bad drivers since leaving home, and he may be our prizewinner for scariest driver ever. We tried to ignore the driving and focus on the Egyptian history lesson our guide was giving us. He is a wealth of information.
After about 40 minutes of desert, we came to New Cairo, a suburb outside Cairo. We only passed through town on the main street, but from what we could see, New Cairo is attractive. The buildings are, for the most part, aesthetically appealing and the landscape is nice.
New Cairo eventually turned into Cairo. We passed what looked like a mountain full of small buildings. Our guide explained to us that this was an old cemetery, and all the bodies are buried in mausoleums (small above ground structures). In the 50’s there was a huge earthquake that destroyed many buildings and left a lot of people homeless. The government was slow to respond, and didn’t provide enough help. With no place to live, people started moving into the cemeteries and living in the mausoleums. Many people still live there today, since housing in Cairo is difficult to find. Our guide said he visited the mausoleum homes once, and that inside they look like regular, albeit small, houses. They put the bodies in a corner and partition the corner off.
Cairo is the most densely packed city in the world, and we were expecting it to look kind of like New York City, with tons of tall buildings all squished together. In other parts of town that is probably the case, but we were passing through an area called “Islamic Cairo”, which was began construction in 969AD after the Arabs that conquered the Romans decided to move the capital Cairo. Islamic Cairo has the greatest concentration of medieval Islamic monuments in the world and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the pyramids. This is definitely an area we wished we had time to visit.
Some of the old buildings are pretty spectacular. One that is worth noting is the Citadel, a walled fortress high on a hill begun in 1176 by the famed Muslim leader, General Saladin. It contained mosques, palaces, towers, a prison, and other buildings and monuments. The Citadel was the seat of power for the next 700 years. Even when the ruling family moved to a more modern palace outside the Citadel in the 1870’s, it was still used actively as a military facility until 1983. The Citadel in and of itself is historic enough, but the most interesting aspect is that the stones originally used to build the walled fortress in the 1100’s were most likely pulled from the pyramids that stand near by.
We passed a few more historic buildings before crossing a bridge over the Nile that separates Cairo from the suburb Giza. Like New Cairo, Giza looks to be relatively nice and not too overcrowded. Before long, we reached the pyramids, which literally are at the very edge of town. Like the Valley of the Kings, the pyramids were built just beyond the edge of the flood valley, very close to the line where the vegetation stops. We pulled up and got out of the car. Yup, the pyramids are big, all right. While many pyramids were built in the days of the Old Kingdom, the three located here in Giza are by far the biggest of them all, and thus are the most popular with tourists. They are definitely every bit as spectacular as you would imagine, even with the outer casing gone. They must have been beyond belief when the smoothly polished limestone casing was still there, creating a faÃ§ade of a perfect, gleaming geometric shape.
To be continued…