Friday, January 6, 2012

Travelogue: Beauty, Enchantment, and the Suez Crossing of Ismaïlia

Wonders of Both the Worlds
A Maersk Cruising through the Suez Canal
If the Pyramids are considered as the geometrical miracle of the olden period then the Suez Canal well deserves to be called the engineering masterpiece of the modern history. 

Both wonders can be found on one land; Egypt.
Into the Desert
After completing morning rituals, we once again hailed a white cab to reach to the Turgoman Bus Station for the Ismaïlia bus. 

Ismaïlia - the City of Beauty and Enchantment - is famous among Egyptians for its mangoes; however, globally the city is recognized due to its positioning on the strategic Suez Canal.

The big size coach departed 15 minutes late from the scheduled 09:00 time, and moved slowly for around half an hour before making it to the highway towards the Sinai Desert

From the bus station in Ismaïlia, شارق دولہ،, to the Suez crossing point, نمرہ ستہ فیری, it took us another 15 minutes with the yellow taxi.
Misha Getting Ready for the Breakfast
Turgoman Bus Station
Going Our of Cairo
Enroute Industries
Enjoying the Full Seat
A Theme Park near Ismailia
The Highway to India 
The Canal is the lifeline of the Eurasian trade connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Seas through a ~200 km manmade water channel. 

Had the channel not been there, or choked, ships between Europe and Asia would need to cover an extra 4,000 km via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to reach to their destinations!

The reason why it is dubbed as the Highway to India.

The Floating Bridge:
Watching those big size vessels so closely – Maersk, Hyundai, CMA CGM, etc – sneaking through the narrow looking channel was overwhelming indeed. For locals, on the other hand, it must be a part of the routine, or a nuisance to their routines!

Crossing over to the other side of the Canal was rather more interesting especially in the absence of an overhead bridge.

First a road level platform docks at the canal bank. As soon as the ship passes through, the platform itself starts floating to reach to the other side where it docks again with the paved road.

One more commercial vessel passes through before the platform moves back to the side where it started from.
'Chartered' Waters
Can You Spot the Small Boat?
Size Matters
Tossing up Between Continents!
The arena was heavily guarded as if it were an international border with security men busy in lining up the vehicles. Some people were on foot like us, some were riding motorbikes, and some were sitting in their cars and buses!  

A guard was shouting on the boy who was posing with one of the passing vessels! Some people were even carrying their animals while a couple of vendors had been selling the Halawa, on board.

Fortunately, there was no passport check so we managed to get aboard without any hassle.

In the strict geographical sense, the Canal separates the African continent from the Asian.
Simple Things
The Cold Suez Breeze and the Hot Ahwa
Crossing the Canal

Can't Speak Arabic
On our way back to the bus station, I tried my beginner level Arabic with the taxi driver, who found that an opportunity to sell his unsolicited services. He wanted to take us directly to Cairo, 135 km, rather than just dropping us to the intercity terminal!

Due to his relentless efforts I had no choice but to resort to لا تکلّم عربی
Ismaïlia Bus Terminal
Buying the Ticket
Yellow Cab Reminded Me of Nawaz Sharif!
Ismaïlia Bus Schedule
Ismaïlia Bus Schedule
Ismaïlia Bus Schedule
A Modern Islamist
During the journey, Urooba noticed a nearby sitting girl who was not only reading from a pocket sized Quran but also taking some kind of notes; characteristic of an Islamist. However, she was looking quite liberal at-least from the appearance; not only that she was not wearing a veil or a gown!

That was an antithesis of the stereotyped images in our mind but conforming to our earlier experience when we met a clean shaved Salafi.
After having a glimpse of the happenings, which played a role in shaping up the Egyptian life in past few centuries, we traversed back to Cairo and reached our hotel around the sunset to freshen up for the evening get together arranged by the local Couchsurfing community.

In the meantime I picked a couple of Taa’mia, طعامیہ , and shawarma to fill up our crying bellies!

Through the 'Dangerous' Tahrir Square
The CS G2G had been arranged at the Shisha Corner of the Novatel Hotel located on the other side of the Nile, i.e. on the East Bank. 

Little that we know the half an hour stroll, which we preferred over the metro and the taxi, would take us right through the Tahrir Square, میدان تحریر, the heart of the Egyptian Revolution!

It looked a bit restless around Tahrir, however, nobody bothered to ask our identity, as reported by some travelers, maybe because we were a family with a young daughter or maybe we did not look like typical tourists!

The commercial hurly burly just about a furlong away from the center stage was so uncharacteristic of the conflagrating BBC coverage!

Even at the party, a couple of guys – sitting half a kilometer from Tahrir – were amazed how we managed to cross the square in one piece! 

Another friend was shocked to learn that we had visited Ismaïlia as there is supposedly nothing to see there! Some were even unsure if we traveled all the way from Pakistan without any business!

Of Kindness and Hospitality
It was a decent gathering overall where we got the opportunity to meet really nice Egyptian guys and gals! Most of them had completed or about to complete their degrees while some had even started their professional careers. In them, I found two things in common; the entrenched sense of hospitality and the ownership of the revolution! 

There we also heard concerns over the emerging role of Islamic parties due to their popularity in the ongoing polls. "Tourism industry will be badly hurt", said Fatima referring to the remarks of a Salafi leader who vowed to cover 'heretical' pyramids with black clothes!

Discussions continued until it was midnight when we said goodbye to the hosts and took the taxi back to the hotel.
Nile in the Night
Tip of the Day: Rather than putting your cell phone on roaming, to later get surprised with a hefty bill, buying a local mobile SIM is much smarter. Prepaid ones are preferable, if not the only choice, which can be reloaded through scratch cards easily available at roadside shops.

There are quite a few telecom operators in Egypt out of which we chose Etisalat without any real reason.

What We Spend Today

EGP 32 Taxi (5+10+10+7)
EGP 48 Bus Ticket to and from Ismaïlia (12 each)
EGP 30 etc

1 USD = 6 EGP
1 EGP = 15 PKR

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