Showing posts with label Red Sea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Red Sea. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Egypt: A Journey as interesting as the Destination

Sometimes we’ve found the journey is every bit as interesting as the destination. That was certainly our experience during our introduction to Egypt . . .

Early morning arrivals had become the norm on that Magic Carpet Ride of a cruise we took from Bangkok through the Middle East to Istanbul last spring. As we approached Port Safaga, (Bur Safaga) an Egyptian port on the Red Sea, the early morning sun was illuminating the mountains surrounding it.

Port Safaga, Egypt
Mountains? In Egypt?  Those towering tan peaks were just the first of many things about Egypt that blew away many of my pre-conceived notions. Silly me, I thought Egypt was a flat, dry, sun-baked stretch of endless sand.

Port Safaga, Egypt

Unlike the working port where our Oceania Nautica would be docked next to local ferries for two days, Safaga, the resort town some 37 miles away, hosts snorkelers and divers drawn here from around the world for its stunning reefs and fish. In 1993 it was the site of the World Windsurfing Championships. Silly me, did I know that tourism promotions had billed the Red Sea here as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Underwater World”?

P1000995Cruise ships stop at this working Port Safaga because its location, about 230 kilometers or 143 miles, away from Luxor, the city built on the site of the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes. It is the gateway to that treasure trove of antiquities.

Frankly we find these working ports, teeming with frieghters, commerce, ferries and everyday life far more interesting than the beautifully landscaped cruise ship ports. But we didn’t have a lot of time to watch port activities because. . .

. . .we’d opted to visit Luxor on one of the ship-sponsored ‘big bus’ tours. We were new to Egypt and weren’t quite ready then to explore it on our own, as we recently did on our visit to Cairo. It wasn’t so much security concerns - and there are security considerations when traveling in Egypt - it was more a question of acquainting ourselves with the country in a short amount of time.

 (BTW, thanks to the world’s geopolitical situation, it could be said their are security concerns in going to your own local grocery store these days, so it isn’t fair to single out Egypt.)

PicMonkey Collage
Caravan loads and departs
Safety and security were taken seriously by ship’s staff. We were told we would travel in a caravan of buses, with an armed escort vehicle in the lead. And that the front two seats in each bus would be reserved for the armed escorts (actually, we didn’t have any in our bus, but others did report having them). In reality, our ‘caravan’ lasted until we hit the open road when the drivers took delight in passing each other and setting out on their own.

We didn’t have a sense of caravan on our return trip to the ship. However, the local tour guide assigned to our bus had us back aboard and out of Luxor by 6 p.m. because after that time vehicles weren’t allowed to leave the city and travel the route we were taking back to the ship.

The Journey to Luxor

So off we headed for Luxor on a near three-hour journey each direction; a journey that we quickly realized was as interesting as is the destination!

En route to Luxor
I have no idea what this sign says, but I can tell you that it was the first I saw as we left the city and I read it as, “Whoa! We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto!”

Vast long stretches of sand, helped keep my preconceived notions about the country alive, but still the topography was more varied than I had expected.

One of many guard stations in Egypt
Elevated check points stations randomly appearing along the route were reminders of heightened security. Armed officers were visible inside most and the height of the bus put us almost at eye level -  even this shutterbug wasn’t going to aim and shoot at them – I waited until I saw an empty window.

PicMonkey Collage
Views from the bus - every day people. . . doing everyday things
The best part of this journey was the chance to see ordinary people going about their everyday lives.  Viewing this unscripted spontenity of life makes up some of our favorite travel experiences. As we came to towns we could see the families tending their small herds, and the workers creating roadways and lining canals. We pondered how hot the woman dressed from head to toe in black must be considering the temperature was in the high 90’s F.

On the way to Luxor

As we neared the Nile River, the life giving impact of is tributaries was evident in the greening of the landscape - trees and agricultural fields lined our route.  This portion of the trip by far was the most fun because we had such an unexpected welcome:

An enthusiastic welcome to Egypt
Children along side the road greeted our parade of buses as if they were carrying rock stars. Waves, shouts and smiles. . .

And another group of enthusiastic greeters. . .
. . .this group jumped, shouted and high-fived each other when they made eye contact with those of us on the bus. . .

We'd reached agricultural land en route to Luxor
Irrigated fields stretched for miles along our route, giving us a glimpse of this agricultural part of the country.

Man and beast

Moving the crop
Everyday scenes creating long lasting memories. . .

Waiting to cross the road. . .
How could Luxor’s antiquities possibly top these scenes? In our next post we’ll focus on what we found in Luxor. . .  That’s it for this week. Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us. Happy and safe travels to you and your family ~

Linking this week:

Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cruising the Middle East: Preparing for Danger

No one skipped the Pirate Drill held on board our small cruise ship as we sailed from India’s waters into the area we’d been advised was an HTA, or ‘high threat area’ for piracy. It was mandatory.

Our ship, the Nautica, had been attacked by pirates a few years back. If it happened again, the crew – and we passengers – would be ready.

And no one on the ship’s tour from Egypt’s Safaga port city to Luxor, fought over the two front ‘view’ seats in the bus. We’d been advised they were for the armed guards that would be traveling with us. 

We also willingly submitted our hand bags for screening by Israeli security officers as we left the ship in Haifa, our entry point to that country. Usually bags are screened when you re-enter the ship – not the place you visit. But that is life in Israel these days.

Oceania Nautical anchored at Phuket, Thailand

Prior to booking our passage, we – and our nearly 500 fellow passengers – knew the routing of our Oceania Nautica ship from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey would take us to parts of the world where ‘unrest’ can occur and accelerate on a moment’s notice.

Once on board we all seemed to share the same approach to the trip: what better – and safer – way to get to and through these areas than on a cruise ship that had a security plan in place?

One day at sea in the HTA - We had a country fair
The ‘fear’ we talked about was the ‘fear’ of having to miss a port of call if unrest broke out prior to our arrival which could result in the ship skipping that port and the ‘fear’ of having the cruise cut short if the attacks on Yemen should expand further into the Gulf of Aden – a waterway we sailed en route to the Red Sea. The Gulf of Aden is part of the Suez Canal shipping route and used by some 21,000 ships each year. About 11% of seaborne petroleum is transported on this route.

Pirate Protection

Think about it. How often in life will you get to participate in a pirate protection drill?

Pirate drill had us sitting on the floor in the hallway
The safety drill was really quite simple: go to an interior hallway, sit on the floor and stay put until further directions are given. (The person standing in this photo was our cabin attendant who was checking cabins of those not sitting on the floor).

Why sit on the floor?
Because in the event of an attack the ship might need to take quick evasive action and quick turns could knock people over. They didn’t want guests falling on the floor and hurting themselves.

Why an interior hallway?
You remember I said our ship had once been attacked by pirates. Apparently the guests – adults-who-know-better-guests – couldn’t resist snapping the ‘selfie’ and other photos from their cabin decks or windows. The temptation to capture the action was too great to stay out of harm’s way.

I am using two photos, taken during our very safe, calm days at sea to illustrate this point:  both were taken during Happy Hour in the ship’s lounge – on the left, the setting sun was a magnet drawing shutter bugs to the windows on a regular basis. The photo to the right was taken as word of a whale sighting filtered through the crowd – it was as if the window had sucked people from their chairs (with camera and phones in hand). Had it been a pirate ship sighting,. . . well, you get the picture (pun intended).

PicMonkey Collage
Shutter bugs aboard the ship
All puns and jokes aside, safety and security of marine vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea are taken very seriously.

Pirates to the left and war to the right during this segment of our cruise
For that reason, our cruise ship’s fire hoses were uncoiled and attached to high pressure nozzles mounted to the outside of the ship’s railings on both sides of the ship. Crew members stood watch.  The nozzles were not removed until we entered the Mediterranean Sea several days later.

PicMonkey Collage
Pirate watch and protection
We weren’t the only ship taking safety measures. We couldn’t help note this freighter which had their water system going continuously---perhaps as a warning to would-be pirates?

We weren't the only ones taking safety seriously
In certain areas along this stretch, our ship at night reduced its lighting to only essential open deck lights and we were requested to turn off cabin interior and balcony lights or to close our curtains if the lights were on.  None of which was alarming or an imposition, I assure you.

PicMonkey Collage
That is Yemen in the background - this is the closest we came to that war-torn country

We had wondered how close we’d get to Yemen and Somalia when we passed through the 20-mile wide opening that separated the two as we entered the Red Sea. It was actually so wide it was difficult to get photos of the land. The most danger we had was from the high noon sun, which in less than an hour of being on deck burned us both.

There was no security need to eliminate any ports of call in Egypt, Jordan or Israel; places so interesting and deserving of more time for exploration than we had allotted for them. We’d love to return for more land-based explorations. We’ll tell you more about them in upcoming posts. 

As always, your time with us is appreciated! If you are enjoying the blog we hope you'll share it with your FB friends.  Happy travels to you and yours until we see you back here ~

Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday


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