Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Route Canal

Ismailia is a town not particularly frequented by tourists. Not surprising really given that the town is only 150 years old and that, as far as historical monuments go, nothing of interest has been constructed in the country since 1500. Except for one thing that is, which is the reason for Ismailia's very existence, the Suez canal. Undoubtedly the greatest feat of engineering of the 19th century, and possibly even the entire Industrial Age. 160km long, 11 years in the making and costing the lives of tens of thousands of people, welcome to the largest ditch in the world, dug mainly by hand and without the aid of modern machinery. The costs might have been very high in both human lives and financial terms (the debts incurred by the Egyptian state were used as an excuse by the British to effectively take control of the country for some 80 years until they were finally kicked out) but it changed world trade dramatically cutting the sea passage time from Europe to India by more than half and thereby boosting world trade. To this day some 7.5% of world sea cargo passes through it (at a rate of 50 ships a day) and it contributes a significantly to the country's coffers, bringing in almost $3.5 billion last year.

As I approached the canal I would catch glimpses of ships' bridges gliding along behind some buildings, looking eerily out of place and sending shivers down my spine. As I crossed a small rise there it was in front of me, and right on cue a gigantic container ship (I calculated that it carried over 1000 containers) eased in front of my eyes acting all nonchalant and yet looking as out of place as an elephant in a tutu. I was mesmerised and spent about an hour watching the different types of ship drift silently by whilst two little ferries chugged back and forth playing chicken with their bigger cousins. But then it got chilly and I walked back to town with a spring in my step.

And now I'm back in Cairo hanging out at my hotel. Actually the building has three separate hotels and is almost the sole preserve of Japanese backpackers, which is a good sign as the Japanese (and Koreans as well) are fantastically efficient at winkling out the cheapest places to stay (though they then get shafted by touts who overcharge them even more than white tourists). Anyway, why am I back in Cairo? Well it seems like I have become my family's mobile holiday destination and this time it is my father who is coming out to brave the backpacker life to spend some time with his son (personally I would have preferred it if he joined me in a more expensive country to lessen my financial burden rather than Egypt where $10 is enough to see you through the day). But no, I am glad he is coming as I haven't seen him since last Summer and there would be something wrong with me if I didn't want to see him. Let's see how long we will last.


Ex-Shammickite said...

Have a great time with your dad, I hope he's going to fund a few sightseeing trips to places like Luxor and Aswan. When I was in Luxor, we were on a Nile cruise and were served mystery meat for dinner... probably water buffalo, but it was tough as leather. We collected up all the leftover meat and took it on shore that evening, meaning to give it to one of the painfully thin stray dogs or cats that seem to be everywhere in Egypt. But that evening, no hungry dogs or cats were evident. I saw a beggar with no legs propelling himself along on a kind of large skateboard. He was asking for money, but I offered him the meat instead... he was delighted! And he gave me a huge smile.... revealing NO TEETH!!!! I don't know how he was ever going to get his gums through that tough meat, but I hope he enjoyed it!

Inihtar said...

Haha! Root canal! I was picturing you with your mouth contorted and in pain!