Passage through the Suez Canal…A profound revelation…Tom speaks!

Early this morning we arrived in Safaga, south of the red star as indicated on this map. On Tuesday, we’ll be in Aqaba, southeast of the red star on this map.

It wasn’t merely an experience of real estate, of a narrow waterway, maintained through continuous dredging for over 144 years to provide access for ships from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.  For us, it was so much more. Beginning Sunday morning at 5:00 am, our eyes were transfixed on the long canal, brought to life so long ago. 

Our first early morning view of a town along the Suez Canal, all partially built apartments whereby renters must installs windows and door as floors from the bottom up are rented.
Haze is everywhere from both blowing sand and pollution.
Shortly after stepping out on the balcony at 5:00, we passed under the Friendship Bridge.

Standing on our balcony at precisely the correct moment, amid busily getting dressed for the day, we were enthralled when the massive Friendship Bridge passed over our heads, our camera clicking wildly to get a good shot, none nearly as good as this link.

Please check the link below for details on the relationship between Japan and Egypt in building this suspension bridge, vital to the management of the Suez Canal.

As we witnessed 7 plus hours of the 13 hour transit, whether on our balcony for a few hours or in our perfect placement by the windows in the Windjammer Café, we were reminded of the awe inspiring experience only four months ago of our passage through the Panama Canal. 

Tugboats accompany each ship as it makes its way through the canal as a precautionary measure in the event of an emergency.  Fifty ships per day transit through the canal.
There were 14 tugboats in our immediate area.
These ramps are used for unloading equipment.
These ramps continued to appear at various locations, although we didn’t see any in use.
Al-Firdan Bridge, the largest swing, double-cantilever bridge in the world.

We took this shot of the bridge as it opened for us while having breakfast in the Windjammer Café.

At this point, I can’t say which I enjoyed more. Tom emphatically states, he preferred seeing the Panama Canal, due in part to the better seminars leading up to it on the Celebrity Century and, in his own previous knowledge. 

We assumed this must be military housing along the Suez Canal.
It appears that with the immense population in Middle eastern countries, many live in apartment buildings as opposed to single family homes.  The cost of living is very high in Egypt.
Although these may appear as single family homes, upon closer inspection, we felt certain they were upscale multiple unit dwellings.
Mosques were abundant in all the villages we past along the passage through the canal.
Many areas appeared modern and well developed.

For me, I went into both of them with little knowledge or interest, with only the intent of embracing a whole “new world” in the discovery of their wonder and significance as many ships, over many years made the passage.

A ferry, taking off into the canal.

Yesterday, a new element entered the picture, the literally hundreds of soldiers staggered along the 110 miles of the canal, rifles and machine guns in hand, protecting the rights of passage on the canal, vigorously waving to us as we passed by. 

Slightly more than halfway through the canal, we encountered Great Bitter Lake, a salt water lake a part of the Suez Canal that leads to Small Bitter Lake.
This interesting building was under construction in the Great Bitter Lake area.

They whistled, (Tom whistled back), they cheered, they jumped up and down, mile after mile, expressing sheer joy in seeing a passenger ship as opposed to the hundreds of freighters passing through each year, cold, stark and unfriendly. Many of the passengers stood on our balconies cheering and waving, surprised by the continually enthusiastic reception, milepost after milepost.

The peninsulas in the Bitter Lakes area were intriguing with armed soldiers standing on the shore waving at us.
More soldiers and citizens waving as we sailed by.

As we traveled the streets of Alexandria and Cairo, we experienced the same warm reception from people on the streets, little children in front of rundown hollow houses, and teenagers sitting on a fence by the road as our air conditioned bus flashed by. We couldn’t resist waving back.

Cheerful, friendly teenagers, waving at our bus a few days ago.

Our perception of this part of the world; fraught with fear, prejudice and preconceived notions, perpetrated by the sensationalized 24/7 news, evaporates at the wave of a hand, a friendly smile and a welcoming cheer. 

From time to time, we’d see luxury homes along the shores.

No, this doesn’t make us careless about our safety. It was only two days ago that we wandered about in the area of the Pyramids feeling paranoid and overly cautious with Mohammad, our loyal Uzi armed security guard at our side most of the day. Even us, finding ourselves momentarily afraid of him.

A large mosque on a peninsula in Great Bitter Lake.

No, we won’t let our guard down, not for a moment. But we will, relish in the commonality of the human spirit, to embrace others, to find joy in a simple act of kindness or acceptance wherever we may be, if only in a wave, if only in a smile.

In the poorest of areas, well maintained mosques were easy to spot.

This, is why. This, is why we took this risk, this journey, leaving everything and everyone we knew and loved behind.  We have so much to learn, to understand, and to accept about the world around us, about ourselves and about others.

The barren shore along the Suez Canal.
And perhaps, in a way, we were meant to share a piece of it, however small, with all of our worldwide readers.
During our transit, two other cruise ships were making the transit, but most of the ships were well-packed freighters. Later in the afternoon, around 2:30, we stood on our balcony as we began the final exit of the Suez Canal, an experience we will always remember.

Tom’s take on the above.. “There is evil in the world.  But, overall, 99% of the world’s population are good and law abiding. For example;  anywhere in the world, you can be driving down a two-lane highway at 50 MPH with oncoming traffic and all that is separating life and death is a single dotted white line. That same 99% of the people abide by that line. We’re no more at risk traveling the world than we were on that two-lane highway.”

Photos from the Panama Canal transit…

Our ship, the Celebrity Century as in went under the Bridge of the Americas, soon to be demolished in 2014 when the new locks open in 2014. A newer bridge, the Centennial Bridge, will be considerably higher to accommodate huge ships.
Here are our a few of our photos of the Panama Canal. What a day we had! We are humbled by the ingenuity to design and build the canal almost 100 years ago and deeply respect the thousands of lives given and lost for this mind-boggling undertaking.
A container freighter ahead of us in line to enter the first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks
This morning we docked in the city of Colon, Panama.  Soon, we’ll venture off the ship to walk around the charming little town, reporting back later what we’ve seen.
The opening of one of the double set of gates at the locks.
The past five nights, we’ve been dining at group shared tables, meeting new people each night.  We’ve had a blast. It was such fun to share the transit of the canal with many of them up in the Hemisphere Bar, with front row seats for the ten plus hours we maintained our seats. 
Another freighter ahead of us in line at the locks.
Yesterday, we watched the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean and then set in the Atlantic Ocean.  This experience is only possible in a 12-hour time frame or less, by water, at the Panama Canal. 
Here I am perched atop our viewing area at the bow of the ship, in air-conditioned comfort.  We reserved these excellent seats at 5:15 am!
We were exhausted after an early start on the long day of Panama Canal viewing, but joyful and grateful for the experience.  All we needed was a good night’s sleep.