Egypt, Here We Come!

Egyptian & European Explorer from Dubai to New York in 23 DaysApril 3 - April 26

The announcement on April 4 was about the full drill for guests and crew. It said that between the 5th and 6th April, en route to the Suez Canal, we would be transiting the Gulf of Aden, an area well documented in the world’s media for piracy.

We had a drill for crew and guests alike at 10:30 am as to the procedure to follow in case of piracy. There were British Naval officers on board so we were not concerned as to the ship safety. Besides, someone told us that on the way to Suez Canal, we would be escorted by US and UK warships while transiting the Gulf of Aden.

The drill was just to familiarize those on board as to the required actions of the security plan. The security warning says: Keep 50 meters away. And there was a No Smoking Sign that additionally says: Bunkering Service in progress.

Well anyway during the emergency drill, the occupants of cabins with windows and balconies had to go out of their cabins and sit on chair or floor while those in cabins without windows and balconies stayed in their rooms but had to unlock their doors. This gave us time to reflect on how our parents brought us right, striking a balance between strength of heart and strength of mind and how essential this is, at times like this.

In the event of a real piracy taking place, it would take 30 minutes for the UK warships to come and help. At this point there are 23 captured pirate ships. The pirates’ weapons include rifles, self-propelled grenades and other substandard weapons. We heard though unofficially that the pirates have bazookas.

At 10:30, the drill started with the ship’s captain making this announcement: In any event there’s piracy activity, there will be instructions from the bridge. All are to proceed to their staterooms. Those without windows can stay in their staterooms and those with windows and balconies, will have to go to the corridor outside their cabin to sit on a chair or on the floor.

The curtains in cabins with windows should be closed and the balcony lights turned off. At any rate all lights in cabins with windows and balconies should be turned off when not in use. Well that was that. The drill was completed in 15 minutes flat, nothing to write home about.

We also attended the lecture that concerns piracy at the Royal Court Theatre. The presenter discussed The Royal Navy - A Snapshot of Current operations. This included piracy in the Indian Ocean. Commander Chris Lade discussed the works of the Royal Navy around the world with emphasis on the Fleets’ contribution to Allied piracy operation off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

Nato and Allied forces are together on this with 43 warships in the ocean. There was nothing to worry about Queen Mary 2 safety because in addition to its speed, it is also too high for the pirates to come in. Besides, QM2 is always in touch with the authorities through Channel 16. It also has a way of protecting its guests.

At this point we changed onto a South-Westerly course off the coast of Oman as we headed into the Arabian Sea following this course the rest of the day. The following morning we were at the Gulf of Aden. It’s known that pirates are on a slower boat going only at 14 knots and many are aware that Queen Mary 2 is fast and we would be going at 25 knots following international task force including the navy warship under the United Nations mandate. We closed all our windows at night until we got to the Red Sea

By April 5, we were heading into a more South-Westerly course as we entered the Gulf of Aden. We followed the internationally recommended transit corridor which is patrolled by several naval ships. We were going to stay in this corridor until the following morning. Roger went to the piracy meeting at 11.

The movie we saw was “The Next Three Days” starring Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson and Russell Crow. We also took in the live show at Royal Court Theatre which was on Jon Courtenay’s “The Piano, The Comedy, The Show”.

It was Roger’s birthday on April 6 and we were surprised when Jackie and Peter and Carl and Pamela gave Roger a birthday card. It is good reminder on this birthday Ray’s Quote of the Day, “It is not the years in life that count, it’s the life in your years”.

We were talking to George and Nita who are good paso doble dancers before line dancing and we were pleasantly surprised what good people they are. They gave us their email address and so did Rita. Roger also gave me Desiree’s business card.

Throughout the morning, we maintained a North-Westerly heading and left the Gulf. We approached the stretch of water known as Bab El Mandeb. This allowed us to pass from the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea. We proceeded along the different traffic lanes that separated Eritrea and Yemen and headed into more open water.

We received two notices one of which was that the Egyptian pounds would not be available on board but US dollars are widely accepted at the ports we were visiting. The other notice was on having possession of our passports while ashore in Egypt.

After work and rest, we went to the formal dinner with Roger’s birthday special menu. We didn’t bother to see the opera interlude as we have seen it before. Instead, we watched the movie entitled “Burlesque” starring Cher, Christina Aguillera, Eric Dane, and Cam Gigandet.

We went stargazing and viewed some of the finest sights in the night sky. We scanned the skies with binoculars looking for the Big Dipper but viewing the sky with a naked eye, we could almost touch the stars. It made it more informative as we were guided by the Royal Astronomical Society fellow, Dr. Francisco Diego.

The semi-formal dinner on April 7 went on without a hitch and then we checked out the movie called “Chariots of Fire” and saw the double bill on Donny Ray Evins’ tribute to authentic soul and the comedy, the piano, the show on John Courtenay at the Royal Court Theatre. It was the nice that the director of “Chariots of Fire” was on board to talk to us about this award-winner of a movie.

Throughout the day we maintained the North North Westerly courses and received information that we would be need to be in possession of our passports while ashore in Egypt. The star gazing gave us the opportunities to see the moon and the Orion at 6:30 pm but later in the night we had the view of the constellations and Saturn. It was late but we still had to read all about Safaga, our next port of call.

Safaga (Luxor) started with this quotation: “In a few years there will only be five kings in the world - The King of England and the four kings in a pack of cards.” - Farouk I, King of Egypt 1929-65), Remark made to Lord Boyd-Orr. Quoted in Life (New York, April 10, 1950.

Egypt’s east coast from the Gulf of Suez to the Sudanese border with its red mountain rich in mineral encouraged ancient sailors to call the sea Mare Rostrum (Red Sea, but it is Latin for Our Sea). It has always been faraway from the rich Nile Valley, so devout souls who seek peace established coastal monasteries. Only nomadic Bedouin clans visit there.

The Red Sea was favored for trade between the Romans and India and the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, the Red Sea played an important role in the spice trade. Tea and spice and gemstones flowed. The navigators favored the desert winds that also carried thousands of migrating birds, making it a paradise for bird-watchers.

In the modern era, the ancient ports have become better known as some of the best diving and fishing resorts in the world. Many colourful species thrive there but beware of a stone fish the spines of which can deliver a painful deadly dose.

Port Safaga was established to move Egypt’s phosphate exports and also to ship the grains. The mined minerals in the desert are sent to the busy port. There are some luxury resort properties lining the coast north of town, but Hurghada is the main destination due to its year-round temperate and dry climate, long stretches of natural beaches and its dramatic landscape.

Hurghada (also spelled Hurgada) is only forty miles up the coast. It was just a tiny fishing port but the calm and clear waters most of the year has made it popular for different water sports like snorkelling and scuba diving. It has become a premier tourist resort in the Red Sea coast.

The Pharaohs of Egypt were entombed for nearly 3000 years in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. Their queens were also laid to rest nearby at the Valley of the Queens. They did not want to be found but left cryptic messages that still mystify the modern observers.

The cavernous tombs were established to assist the occupants in their likely long journey after death. The decorations reflect the fervent belief in the world after death. They discovered the 63rd tomb in the valley last February 2006.

Luxor is on both sides of the River Nile and most of the famous sites are on the west bank Necropolis. Ancient Thebes, before it was Luxor, was one of the mesmerizing cities of the dead in Egypt. On the opposite shore, the modern city encircles the stylish Temple of Luxor, known as the southern sanctuary. The Temple of Karnak is one of the most amazing of the ancient Egyptian structures. Its size and complexity are unequalled in the world.

Karnak is really a compound of several structures rather than a single monument. It took more than 1000 years to construct the whole complex around the original inner sanctuary where a giant statue of Ramses II (regarded as the most powerful, celebrated and greatest pharaoh) seems to welcome visitors. His arms though forbiddingly cross his chest.

A Sound and Light is presented each night showing an hour of the history of Thebes and the lives of the pharaohs who built the courts, sanctuaries, statues and obelisks, for Amun’s (god in Egyptian mythology who is said to be champion of the poor and central to personal goodness) honour. Ferries link Luxor to the ancient Necropolis of Thebes.

The ancient temples and tombs in the compound date from the New Kingdom period. Some are devoted to other cults. There were attendants and priests residing there as well as libraries, lakes, sacred groves, and stalls for sacrificial animals. In the village nearby, an army of artisans, builders, and embalmers lived. The burying of pharaoh was an ancient industry.

Wadi Biban el-Muluk (Arabic name of the Valley of the Kings) is a modern name that refers to the extravagant hillside tombs that date from the ancient Egypt’s 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties. Before, kings preferred monumental pyramid tombs, and like the halls in the pyramids, the passages in the Valley of Kings were built for the sarcophagus (outside layer for the protection of a royal mummy). Once the body was inside the layer, the tunnel was preserved forever. The new tomb contains five sarcophagi.

Practically Speaking - Currency: Egyptian pound Shop: 10:00 am- 9 pm Info: Tourist office near the pier or browse to: PO: Waterfront promenade Browse: Waterfront, monuments Buy: Cotton, khartoush also spelled as cartouche which is handmade Egyptian jewelry, gold Beach: Hurghada Arrival Information: The ship docked at Bur Safaga

Valley of the Kings is only one of its kind that believed the dead sailed all night through the Underworld with the Sun God pointing the way through the darkness. The walls portrayed the impending pilgrimage and provided advice in case the traveler got lost. Main tombs are those of Ramesses III, Sethos I, and Amenophis II.

The most celebrated chamber belonged to Tutankhamun (means Living Image of Amun). The young king was laid in a gold sarcophagus. Tutankhamun ruled from 1347 to 1338 BC. No one is sure what killed him although he had congenital defects due to incest so they say, but he was only a teen when he died.

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered the site on November 4, 1922. The tomb had been robbed but the riches were still there and displayed in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Thus “The pharaoh who in life was one of the least esteemed of Egypt’s kings has become in death the most renowned.”

The artifacts from the tomb that gave knowledge about the ancients and the young king have caught the imaginations of a continuous stream of visitors. One of the highlights of an Egyptian tour is a visit to the Valley of the Kings but it is physically demanding. The two adjacent valleys (Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens) are also filled with ancient tombs.

Port Safaga, also known as Bur Safaga, is a town in Egypt located on the coast of the Red Sea. It is a tourist area consisting of rest houses and several bungalows. It is referred to as the phosphate export centre due to the many phosphate mines in the area.

A marine port, Safaga is connected to Upper Egypt through a paved road of 101 miles and by a regular cruise shuttle service line. Regarded as one of the most important therapeutic tourist centers and special medical researches have proved the ability of attracting international tourism to Safaga.

The resort is highly regarded for its unpolluted atmosphere, black sand-dunes and mineral springs which have been explained as a remedy for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Its tourism industry also specialises in scuba diving. It is easy to participate in any water-based activity here from taking leisurely dips to seeing a rainbow of fish looking for delicious tidbits among the coral.

Safaga was a merchant port for many years and now the town is also well-known for its azure bay, long sandy beaches and pretty islands. It is a favourite destination for sports in the Red Sea Riviera. Safaga is particularly popular among kite-surfers and wind-surfers, and was the host of the 1993 Red Sea Wind Surfing Championships.

Safaga gained its only one of its kind character based on its port and the small surrounding village. There’s a little night life around but the Safaga holiday is mainly for sightseeing and watersports. The sun bathers love the black sand dune beaches and the sea water is known to be highly salty and rich in minerals. It is good for the skin and Safaga is now a popular therapeutic destination in the Red Sea Riviera.

Some of the excellent diving spots of the Red Sea are here with the bay’s chain reefs of Tobia Arbaa (known as the seven pillars), and the imposing walls of Panorama and Abu Qifan lofty reefs, where often you can see big pelagics like mantas, tunas and sharks.

Safaga is also a good place to go on a day trip into the Eastern Desert to see the granite quarries of Mons Claudianus (where the quarry workers are paid, based on skill, 48 drachmas a month and 70 pints of wheat) or to the sights of Luxor, one of the most remarkable sights of Egypt.

Health Precautions in Egypt is on Travellers’ diarrhoea (TD) which is the most common illness affecting travellers. The primary source of infection is ingestion of water or food that is faecally contaminated. Since Egypt is a high-risk place, we were advised to minimise our risk for TD by following effective preventive measures:

* Don’t eat foods or drink beverages bought from street vendors or places where the condition is unhygienic.

* Don’t eat raw or under cooked meat and seafood.

* Don’t eat raw fruits and vegetables unless you personally peel them.

* Tap water, ice, unpasteurised milk and dairy products are linked with increased risk for TD. Bottled carbonated beverages, hot tea or coffee and water boiled or appropriately treated with iodine or chlorine are safer beverages to consume.

The selected hotels providing meals for guests on a Cunard tour have been assessed for their food preparation and hygiene standards, and have been judged safe. The guests who had TD on previous visits to Egypt were those who travelled ashore by themselves.

Frequent and thorough hand washing is the most effective way to prevent infection. Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 15-20 seconds and rinse thoroughly under running water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner or disinfectant wipes.

Safaga (For Luxor/Karnak), Egypt In the early morning hours of April 8, we turned towards Safaga, passing clear of the shallows making the final approach to the berth. Here, we learned about the sensational monuments to gods of Egypt and pharaohs. They are indeed well preserved and are spectacular. Now we are only six hours ahead with the local time of 11:00 am and Toronto’s time of 5:00 am.

We were glad not to have a tour today because we could take it easy so we just went to see the movies on “The Boys Are Back” starring Clive Owen, George MacKay and Laura Fraser. The elegant casual dinner was fine but the Singers in Concert Show at the Royal Court Theatre was cancelled. Once all were aboard, the gangway was raised and we headed back into the Red Sea and sailed towards Sharm el Sheikh, 72 nautical miles away.

This reminded us to get ready for the next port of call by reading the materials provided for us as follows in order to familiarize ourselves with the place and know it so that we can cope with anything that may happen unexpectedly. The Canadian government issued a warning for the Canadians not to go to Egypt but we just had to experience Mount Sinai and the Red Sea and the camel ride so we threw caution to the wind.

People are usually surprised to find Sharm el Sheikh in the Arabian Peninsula as part of the African Continent. What happened was the Asian and African plates shifted about 30 million years ago to form the Red Sea. In the beginning, the sea was just a thin crack into which the Indian Ocean flowed.

The crack grew as the huge Arabian Peninsula separated from Africa and started to shift northward. The movement was unconstrained until the landmass ran into the Asia Minor and formed the towering Taurus Mountains.

It also ran through the Gulf of Eilat, Israel to Ras Mohamed (also spelled Mohammed), Egypt at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula which is located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It is a territory of Egypt located in Asia instead of Africa.

The Gulf of Suez (created when the Red Sea was divided by the Sinai Peninsula), about 10,000,000 years older, is quite shallow with a maximum depth at its deepest point of only 275 feet. The Red Sea (a seawater inlet between Africa and Asia) is still widening at the rate of about ½ an inch each year. This intriguing area is one of the youngest regions in the world to have been formed by this type of geophysical movement.

All year, the temperature at the Red Sea is 70 degrees F but mariners know the Red Sea’s forceful currents and high-speed surface winds. It can be shaking up even when the shore is tranquil. Small traditional crafts have broken apart during short trips.

The Red Sea is important for commerce and communication with the rest of the world. This is despite the fact that the African countries that border the Red Sea are focused upon the Nile. Oil tankers, fishing boats, cargo vessels and passenger liners use the great waterway.

Sharm el Sheikh is known as the “City of Peace”. It attracts beach lovers and scuba divers. The weather is always ideal and there is an assortment of marine life in the clear Red Sea. Bedouins follow traditional lifestyles just inland, but Sharm el Sheikh - especially Na’ama Beach (excellent for diving and snorkelling) is not traditional.

St. Catherine’s Monastery was established by Bysantine Empress Helena at the foot of Jebel Musa (Mt. Sinai) in the fourth century. The purpose is to make the site holy where the burning bush appeared to Moses. The chapel is dedicated to St. Catherine who became a martyr when she was beheaded after being tortured for hanging on to her Christian faith. The legend is that her body was taken to the Sinai’s highest peak (just south of Mt. Sinai). Three centuries later, she was found there.

Emperor Justinian made the small building larger and turned it into a compound with a monastery, a basilica, and a fortress. It still functions as a monastery so the visitors who come to this venerated site are asked to respect the 25 Orthodox monks who live there.

The bones of the dead monks are placed in the chapel. There is a path behind the compound known as the 3000 steps of repentance that lead up to Mt. Sinai. It takes three hours to climb that but many go there where the Ten Commandments of God was received by Moses.

NABQ was declared a Nature Reserve in 1922. It is a protected area just 20 miles north of Sharm El Sheikh. It is a showcase for the Sinai’s captivating beauty. The high interior mountains of the peninsula meet the southern rolling sandbank at the reserve. NABQ is an outstanding natural area with rich coral playground just offshore and varied ecosystems and habitat types.

A region of contrast, from the towering mountains in the north to the rolling dune systems in the south to the rich coral where the desert meets the sea, NABQ is fringed with 4.8 km of mangrove trees worthy of protection as they protect the shoreline and are crucial to fish breeding and nursery areas and support a considerable resident bird population. It is truly a breath of fresh air.

Practically Speaking - Currency: Egyptian pound Shop: 10:00 am- 8 pm (closed Sundays) Info: Port office or browse to: PO: Communicattions complex just east of the pier (see map) Browse: Na’ama Bay, old Sharm and resort properties Buy: Brass and copper items, silver and gold jewellery, papyrus

Marine Life in Sharm el-Sheikh is on the border of Ras Mohammed National Park, a national nature preserve that includes the very tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The landscape is fascinating but the park was established to protect the marine environment.

There are several other preserves along the Gulf of Aqaba (of high economic importance because of the tourist industry) coast as well. Near Sharm el-Sheikh, Ras Um Sid is a great dive site and so is the most crowded. Long-standing enemies were forced to work together to preserve one of the most spectacular underwater preserves in the world.

The waters are rich with marine life. There is no reef in Na’ama, but one can walk out to Near Gardens from the Shore. It takes most of an hour to reach the reef, but take comfort. The Far Gardens (the most colourful of the three gardens) are 30 minutes beyond . The three gardens, Near, Middle and Far are famous for their stunning coral reefs, good for easy diving and snorkelling.

There is an offshore underwater gardens that are among the world’s finest and famous among divers. Snorkeling and sporting equipment is available for rent at most hotels. Watch for the healthy resident shark population for a shark mauled a snorkelling German tourist and we read that sharks increase globally, blame it on Egypt, it said.

But really, the Red Sea shark attacks (five within five days with one fatality) may be due to natural and human factors. The higher temperatures and livestock traders dumping sheep carcasses into the water may have raised it. Marine ecosystems are delicate and those who do elect to dive or snorkel are urged to avoid touching animals and plants. And never swim alone.

We received important information from Queen Mary 2 that they have been in discussions with the local agent in Sharm el Sheikh about the condition of the quayside for the tender operations on Satuday. They regret that the conditions ashore will be less than ideal for the guests using mobility equipment.

Due to the nature of the dock, the crew will be unable to assist in lifting heavy electrical equipment, guests must be able to negotiate the steps unaided as there is insufficient room to offer meaningful assistance. There are a number of uneven steps to negotiate upon exiting and entering the tender. In addition, the quayside itself is uneven and deeply rutted in places.

Anyone therefore should consider carefully whether or not to go ashore in Sharm el Sheikh. Please use extra care and they will continue to work with their agents for an alternative facility. They are not hopeful but with any change in the situation guest will be informed.

Queen Mary 2 is unable to berth alongside in Sharm el Sheikh as the water at the berth is too shallow. They apologize for any disappointment caused by this news. For any questions, please contact the Reception Desk on Deck 2.

At this point we received a notification on the upcoming Egyptian Ball (following the Cunard’s tradition of holding Royal Formal Evenings) and so our stay at Sharm El Sheikh would be an opportunity to choose an attire or the accessories for a themed costume.

Sharm El Sheikh, EgyptApril 9 found us in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt’s City of Peace. We were excited here for we were signed up for a Camel & Jeep Safari tour. We wanted to experience how the locals do it with an adventurous camel ride and visit to a Bedouin tent for some aromatic tea so we signed up to see natural beauty of a different kind.

We rode in a 4X4 Jeep for the trip into the Sinai Desert. We passed by towering rock formations, the occasional acacia tree, and saw wild camels roaming free. Sheep and goats graze on the sparse desert vegetation, trying to survive in the arid, harsh environment. We stopped several times for unique photograph opportunities of lovely spots.

The tour guide said the Egyptians speak Arabic and our driver is a Bedouin. While going on to dry land he said the temperature is in the 70s, but that it gets very hot in August at 45 degrees. There are five months in winter when they have good weather. Only one part has cold weather in January, February. and March.

St. Catherine is located 1570 above sea level. He also said the Bedouins have tradition for everything. Their dress is long with scarf and they only live in the desert. In Egypt, 15% are Christian Orthodox and 85% are Moslems. They have 80 million population and 20 million are in the capital of Cairo.

In marriage, Bedouin can’t see each other’s face before the first meeting. His mother and sister arranged for his marriage to choose the girl for him. At the first meeting, he asked his mother and sister to choose the girl. They meet and talk about whether you’re black or white.

At the second meeting between the mother and brothers with their counterpart at her home and this is the first time he sees her face. You have two days to refuse. The 2nd meeting with the parents is big when they talk about furniture, the amount of grams of gold he will give her, the minimum of which is 50 grams.

Her family will give you time to choose whether you get a big party or just for the relatives. A minimum of two years is needed to prepare furniture. If there’s a problem he can leave her or she can leave. You can then find out about each other for you meet once a week with chaperone before wedding day. You promise to take any problem to the family. You have to write a contract on everything like how much to give to the wife, etc.

Prophet Moses lived in Egypt for 30 years and then 10 years in Jordan. This is the story of the tour guide on this. Apparently two girls were found getting water. One girl left with Moses who was told you can marry one of the girls and leave Jordan through Sinai. There he found a fire known as the burning bushes. He was ordered to go back to Egypt.

Someone could talk after touching fire. Every Israeli left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea that parted and joined again when some went after them. Ramses II’s body was found in the other side.

St. Catherine Monastery received the two tablets of ten commandments written in hieroglyphic. Moses came down and found the Golden Calf which he broke along with the tablets on the Ten Commandments. Then he received the two tablets again. In the monastery 27 monks live: 24 Greeks, and one each of Egyptian, American and English.

Where we were driving he said we’re only three hours to Israel. At the monastery, there are skulls and bones of the monks who were buried there. The #2 famous library in the world is in St. Catherine Monastery. The three religions co-exist: Jewish for the transfiguration, Christianity for the burning bush and mosque for the Moslems.

Egypt has 28 cities and the capital is Cairo. Others are Luxor, Hurghado, Sharm el-Sheikh. Here he said something about gold and the sunshine colour of gold. There are five protected areas. One is the Raz (head) Mohammed Park. He mentioned about coral reef and that the water is salty.

The second protected area is the National Park with mangrove trees. He said the third one but missed the name which is supposed to be the 2nd famous canyon with the Grand Canyon in the states as #4. We arrived at the desert and saw the Wedi. The tour guide said wedi means any area between two mountains.

We found plants with yellow flowers which the tour guide said is good for the stomach, tea and sugar. Camels live for 50 years and can’t ride before three years old. You can buy one for $750 and they drink only once a week each time 150 litres.

We experienced life in the desert by riding high on the back of a camel. We were met by a group of Bedouins with their camels and the ‘caravan’ followed a rocky trail. It was a bumpy ride on a Toyota 4 X 4. We were in one jeep in a convoy of 27, all from Queen Mary 2. Tourism here does not seem to be completely developed yet but it was still a good experience. Evelyn was so scared riding on the camel by herself that she wanted to go home to Queen Mary 2.

Besides the little girl who was leading her camel onward seemed hell bent to be the first of the herd so that made it scarier still especially they were hitting the neighbouring camel and its rider along the way. So both riders yelled to slow down but all the little girl did was give a sign saying everything would be okay.

After 30 minutes, we reached a Bedouin tent where we experienced Bedouin hospitality as we enjoyed refreshments of aromatic tea and unleavened bread.

After a short rest, we headed back to Sharm el-Sheikh, passing by the beautiful Egyptian Riviera Resort of Na’ama Bay. Sinai was derived from the god named SIN and the place is 60000 square km. formed around 40 million years ago in an earthquake that separated the land into two parts.

On the way back, the tour guide told us that the city is a paradise for those who love sports especially scuba diving. We also found out that former Egyptian President, Mubarak was holed up in one of the hotels here, perhaps on house arrest?

Sharm el Sheikh is a city situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in South Sinai Governorate, Egypt, on the coastal strip between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai with a population of approximately 35,000 (2008).

Sharm el Sheikh is the administrative hub of Egypt’s South Sinai Governorate which includes the smaller coastal towns of Dahab and Nuweiba (can be a ghost town) as well as the mountainous interior, St. Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai. There is only one bus service from Dahab to Nuweiba.

Sharm el Sheikh is known as the City of Peace because of the large number of international peace conferences held there. It was known Sharm-us (with double dot on top of u) Seyh (Sharm ush-Sheikh, “Beard of the Sheikh” in Arabic) during the Ottoman rule and was known as Ofira during Israeli occupation between 1967 - 1982 but it is shortened to Sharm to Egyptians.

The major industry in Sharm el Sheikh is foreign and domestic tourism due to its striking scenery, dry and temperate climate all year and long stretches of beaches with calm and clear water. It has become popular for different water sports, like recreational scuba diving and snorkelling which some say is among the best in the world.

The divers can enjoy the spectacular and stunning marine life, and coral reefs. There is great range for scientific tourism with the variety of marine life species; 1000 species of fish and 250 different coral reefs. The bright handicraft stands of the Bedouin culture are a well-liked attraction.

At the southern-most tip of the peninsula, Ras Mohammed has been made a national park to protect the, coral reef, shoreline, the wildlife and the natural landscape of the area. There are international hotels and restaurants around the centre of Sharm, known as Naama Bay with leisure facilities including golf courses.

We were able to have lunch at Britannia and then worked and rested some before the mass at 5:15. The elegant casual dinner was okay, then went to the show called Singers in Concert at the Royal Court Theatre and the movie at the Illumination called “Ondine” starring Colin Farrell. We then sailed for Suez Canal, a distance of 186 nautical miles.

Transiting the Suez CanalIn preparation for this transit, we received this information on April 10 which we read with gusto so excited we were about the Suez Canal. “Great passions, my dear, don’t exist: they’re liars’ fantasies. What do exist are little loves that may last for a short or a longer while. - Anna Magnani (1918-73), Egyptian-born Italian actor. Quoted in: Oriana Fallaci, The Egotists, “Anna Magnani” (1963)

We saw ships awaiting clearance to the Suez Canal lined up along the horizon. As Queen Mary 2 got closer to the narrow channel entrance, the sight grew increasingly exciting. The traffic was a mixture of ship designs, corporate logos, and a variety of international flags. Thank goodness we had plenty of films we were able to catch the sight.

Modern society has done quite a bit of discovering and developing a variety of innovations ipod here, ipod touch there and ipad but really many of the greatest ideas came from long ago. Nowadays who would ever think of linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean?

It is true that the Suez Canal only opened in November 1869, but the first documented plan was submitted by the Pharaoh Necho II in the 6th century BC and some believed the plan was even drawn up even earlier. This is the earliest precursor of the Suez Canal.

Egyptian civilization has derived strength from the fertile Nile Valley and the overland route to the Red Sea was the same as a chokehold on the area’s financial success. There’s proof that a narrow channel was dug up in the 13th century BC.

Necho’s project was soon finished by Darius I of Persia but was reopened by Ptolemy II who built navigable locks allowing the passage of vesselsBy the 8th century a navigable canal existed between Old Cairo and the Red Sea which they said even Cleopatra used it, but as to who ordered the completion is questionable.

Rumours circulated throughout the international community that the project was impossible because of an erroneous survey that “proved’ a 30-foot difference between the levels of the two bodies of water, so critics thought that instead of a canal, a waterfall would result if the canal was allowed to go forward.

So nothing worked from the ideas until 1845, when Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, a French diplomat and engineer, dreamed of the prospect and decided to see his dream to completion. Lesseps had already lived a full life when he began to consider the project as he served as French Consul in Tunis, Cairo, Rotterdam, Malaga, and Barcelona.

He earned a hero’s medal in Spain and had served as minister in Madrid and Rome. His Roman post was not renewed by the French government so in 1849 he retired. Throughout his career, his first love and devotion was Egypt where he made influential friends.

He dreamed of building the waterway, and presented his plan through “proper” channels but he was refused. In August 1854, Egyptian viceroy Abbas Pasha died and Mohammed Said, a close friend of Lesseps, was named as his successor.

Napoleon Bonaparte discovered the canal around 1798 but in 1854 de Lesseps got a concession to create a company to open the canal to ships from all nations and presented his project to Said. Despite sometimes contentious opposition, Lesseps managed to get Said excited about the project. He knew it could not fail. Trade routes had been established between Europe and Asia centuries before, and the proposed passage would save months off the journey.

A little more than a decade later, La Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez (“Universal Company for the Maritime Suez Canal”) was formed (1858) with a mandate to excavate a canal and operate it for a period of 99 years, after which ownership would revert to Egypt. Said gave his blessing and even invested in the company.

The viceroy also gave his name to Port Said, the small fishing village that mushroomed into an important supply port after the canal opened. Ismail Pasha, who succeeded Said, was anxious to see the waterway completed. Timing was perfect. The American Civil War had resulted in a world-wide cotton shortage.

Ismail wanted to take advantage of the situation by exporting as much Egyptian cotton as possible. He was extremely extravagant and incurred huge debt in the construction and events surrounding the opening ceremonies. The vast debt gave Britain practical control over the nation for the next century.

The company was originally a private concern with a few French and Egyptian investors, but in 1875 the British government purchased the Egyptian investment. Excavation began on April 25, 1869, and the canal opened to traffic on November 17, 1869. The final cost was $100 million, but three times that sum was later spent on repairs and improvements.

The digging took 10 years employing people from all over the world with thousands of labourers dying on the project. The canal was completed and it allowed the whole world to circle in record time with the constructed American Transcontinental railroad.

Under the terms of an 1888 international convention, the canal opened to vessels of all nations without prejudice in peace and in war time. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty (1936) modified the agreement to allow Great Britain the right to maintain defence forces on the Canal Zone.

In 1956 Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson proposed the creation of the first peacekeeping force of the UN. The US backed this proposal and later Pearson was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his effort. This arrangement effectively passed control to the British Navy as they assumed command of the approaches.

The Suez Canal finally became a reality after centuries of working to improve and increase the empires of Egypt by linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. It is considered one of the greatest feats of modern engineering.

They declared the Suez Canal opened when two small fleets, one coming from Port Said and the other in Suez, met at Ismailia on November 16, 1869. Africa then was officially cut off from Asia. At that time, the French and British hands owned it but with the Egyptian independence, President Nasser nationalised the canal in 1956.

The French and British invaded Egypt (the Suez Crisis) in order to gain control of the canal but had to withdraw when the other nations condemned the attack. The Suez Canal has then become one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes.

Transiting the Suez CanalIn the early morning hours, we had to wait clearance and the pilot as we approached the Suez Canal. As soon as the pilot was on board, we pulled up the anchor and joined the convoy going northwards for the transit of the canal.

The greatest canal ever and a history lesson came alive for us on April 10! It was opened in 1869 but work on it dated as far back as the 13th Century B.C. We enjoyed transiting this engineering marvel which is sometimes as wide as five miles. How they did it will be another story. In addition, it was great to have Queen Mary 2 as the first one and leading the way to go through the Suez Canal.

We passed Port Said and entered the Mediterranean Sea. By 7 pm, we watched the show at the Royal Court Theatre on the voice of an angel, Philippa Healy and then the movie called “The Taking of Pelham 123” starring Danzel Washington, John Travolta, and James Gandolfini. By this time, we bade Suez Canal adieu and set north westerly courses towards the Messina Straits.