Farewell Egypt - 3 countries left
Here we go again
Quite a few people have been congratulating me on completing all the African countries? That's a little premature as we have 3 more left to go. And it's not going to be easy.
Libya neighbors Egypt and on a map it all looks so easy. Libya has an extraordinary history of Berbers, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and so much more to boast about. And some of the most spectacular Roman ruins are to be found in Libya. However Libya is not a tourist destination and never was. During the days of Ghadaffi it was very hard to obtain a visa so the endless Mediterranean coastline of beautiful white sands, meeting clear blue water, was pretty much left to the crabs and starfish. Today Libya is even less of a tourist destination with all that has been going on. Various regions are being held by various groups with various interests. The newly formed government is doing what it can to hold on to the country and create stability. Meanwhile ISIS has taken a stronghold in Libya as well. If you think you had a stressful day then consider knowing that you will soon be going to Libya.
I have done whatever research I possibly could on entering from the Egyptian side. Everything points towards that it's a better idea to enter from the Tunisian side. Or perhaps find a boat going straight to the capital: Tripoli. With that in mind I had to find a way from Egypt to Tunisia without flying? The solution became going from Egypt to Malta on a container ship making Malta the Sagas 128th country before returning to Africa. Maersk Line (www.maersk.com) has provided me with access to the beautiful "Gunhilde Maersk" which is as large as 3 football fields! I know a lot of you dream about traveling on a container ship. However I must once again stress that it is nearly impossible to gain access unless you go through a booking agency and pay for it. These regular container ships have no incentive to bring a passenger and you might want to work yourself through the exercise of asking: "why would they bring me onboard?" More than anything you add the ship with an unwanted risk. My privilege comes through the strength of the Saga and all the hard work it has taken to get this far. As such I'm happy to announce that "Gunhilde Maersk" will be the Sagas 10th container ship since October 10th 2013.
The good ship "Gunhilde Maersk".
Last week I left to go and see my old friend Moneim having heard that he was in Luxor recovering from brain surgery. A benign tumor had been found on his pituitary gland. So they opened up his head and took it out! Cool stuff!! Now he is 2 months into his 6 month recovery period.
It was great to see Moneim, his brothers, cousins, friends and family again. I had not seen them since I first visited Luxor in 2009 for Moneim's brothers wedding. Much has happened since then. There was the Arab spring which brought along a lot of change. Some for the better and some for the worse. Moneim appeared to be his good old self although he naturally needs to rest and eat according to a schedule as well as take his medication and stay out of the sun. It's amazing to sit and have a conversation with someone who just recently had THEIR BRAIN OPEN! This is however no news for the Egyptians who have been doing it for the past 2,000 years...although not as complex as today.
Moneim after the operation.
Moneim today! :)
Moneim started having issues with his vision which led to the tests which led to the surgery. That's how fast it goes. Because Moneim could not go out under the sun and needed to rest I saw my chance to visit Luxor and Karnak Temple. Unbelievable! So old and so magnificent! Mind boggling too if you try to consider where most European countries where at when these Egyptian structures towered high above the Pharos.
Luxor Temple is 2 km (1.2 mi) from Karnak temple. It's located near the east bank of the Nile in what used Tom be ancient Thebes (today Luxor). It was constructed approximately 1,400 BCE (3,400 years ago!!)
I have a little bit of an issue with Egypt being degraded to pyramids and Egyptology. Egypt became far more after the demise of the Pharos. However when you try to do online research about Egypt then it's all about ancient Egypt. Almost as if nothing really happened in the past 1,700 years. Fair enough...tourism drives a big part of Egyptian economy and if it's ancient Egypt you want to see then there is plenty of it. Cleopatra, Ramses, Tutankhamen, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Herodes, Saladin...there are lots of great names which worked their way into Egyptian history.
Karnak temple was built over a timespan of approximately 2,000 years and began to take form under Senusret I roughly 3,900 years ago!! 30-pharaos contributed to it over the years while it remained a major religious center. It consists of huge pillars, towering columns, massive avenues of sphinxes and an obelisk that stands 30 meters (97 feet) tall and weighs 323-tons! The Karnak temple is Egypts most visited site after the Great pyramids of Giza.
After a few days with Moneim I caught the train back north to Cairo where I met David (www.world-adventurer.com) who's in Iraq now making that his 189th country. David and I managed to have yet another day together, which celebrates our 4th mutual country since we first met in Gabon. It's not that long ago we last met up. We were both in Sudan at the same time. This world travel thing is very much mentally exhausting and that is partially because no one can really relate to what I have been through and what it all means on a personal level. David can relate to so much of my struggles, frustrations and joys which makes for a great vent with solid conversations. It's always much appreciated.
Together we headed out to visit the citadel in Cairo. Cairo is so much more than pyramids. The Saladin Citadel of Cairo was a medieval Islamic fortification. It is now a preserved historic site, with mosques and museums. The Citadel was fortified by Salah al-Din (Saladin) between 1176 and 1183 CE, to protect it from the Crusaders.
The heavily fortified and tactically located citadel remained the heart of Egyptian government until the 19th century. Saladin, by the way, was the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. Saladin famously led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Upper Mesopotamia, the Hejaz, Yemen and other parts of North Africa. An image of the Eagle of Saladin became the coat of arms of Egypt and other Arab nations. It is found on the Egyptian flag today.
Mohammed Ali's mosque (a tiny part of the citadel).
Afterwards David and I headed back to my $5/night room on the 11th floor to pick up my swimming trunks. David was as usual staying at a fancy high end hotel, which he then promotes online through his blog. The Conrad would have charged $170/night for Davids room. Not a bad concept David is traveling with. At The Conrad we headed to the pool area and I dove in. Something I quickly regretted as that pool was abnormally cold! So a few minutes later I was back in the sun drying my pale seasoned body.
Not long after that we went to the complimentary happy hour for the executive suites, which David had access to. Happy hour included beer, cocktails and food! Good stuff! :) We said farewell to each other and David flew directly to Iraq making that his 189th country. I went back to my $5/night room.
Egyptians are overall very proud people and I would say rightfully so. It's quite a country which has a dateline of advanced civilizations which endangers creationists belief in the age of our planet. I had a great debate with 2 Egyptian muslims about belief vs non belief. It's so much harder to debate with muslims than with Christians as the Bible is riddled with postulates that are in direct contradiction with provable science. However the Quran has always been far more accommodating towards science so any good debate becomes far more philosophical. In the end of it all we already have our opinions set and we are ready to defend whatever contradicts our beliefs. As such I find that muslims will sometimes fall back on one of two statements if anyone points to a scientific error in the Quran: 1) it depends on interpretation of the Quran. 2) Science will later on prove that it is wrong about its current claim. I love these debates as long as they stay friendly. It's really good brain exercise and it often develops a deeper cultural understanding.
About 10% of the Egyptians are Christian which might not sound like much. But with a population of 100 million people Christmas still keeps Santa pretty busy. Egypts president is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and there are about as many opinions about him as there are Egyptians. Some feel that he is not delivering on his promise while others are saying he is pulling Egypt out of an economic slump. These are trying times for many Egyptians and the countries economy isn't what it used to be. For a lot of people it means change in everyday life like selling the car and taking the bus as a replacement. Egypt is among the 5 strongest economies in Africa along with South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco and Algeria. But that too all depends on how you chose to measure it. In any case Egypt is in the high end and most Egyptians hardly regard themselves as Africans and identify more with the Middle East.
As you walk about in Cairo you get a kind of Cuban sense from looking at the beautifully ornamented buildings which mostly look like they need some renovation. What I mean is that just from looking at these extravagant door entries or windows you can easily create an idea about how extraordinary times must have been...at least for some. At the same time Egyptians have caught on to the same decease as everyone else and are in large numbers glaring into those magical boxes everyone seems to have in their hand these days. While walking I often nearly bump into someone who's more busy looking at their phone than looking where they are going. Finally Egyptians are completely bonkers for football. It does not appear to matter which team is playing. If there's football on the tele then that takes the focus.
I got a LE 33 ($1.80) train ticket from Cairo to Port Said to meet with a special heavy set lady who wouldn't wait for me forever. Before heading to Luxor Maersk had confirmed that I had been given the green light to board "Gunhilde Maersk" which is a G-class container carrier, which is as large as 3 football fields!
My train left Cairo at 06:15am so I was up at 04:30am to ensure that it all went well. I had about 1 hour of sleep that night but it all went smooth. The train ride to Port Said is only about 4-5 hours so that didn't provide much shut eye. In Port Said my AirBNB reservation failed me and I never got in touch with the host. Quite unfortunate as the money was already gone. Instead I opted for a proper hotel and caught a few more hours of sleep before I decided that I couldn't live on air alone. Apparently I hadn't even had as much as a glass of water. Port Said is the northern exit from the Suez Canal and I have a feeling you can find just about anything in Port Said. About 60 ships pass through every day and a ship of "Gunhilde Maersk's" size will probably pay around $600,000 for the privilege. That's still far more cost effective than going around Africa. Remember that to go around Africa is the same distance as going around the planet.
Port Said as seen from its best side ;)
While looking for food the ships agent called me to ask if I was ready? What?!? I thought we would leave Thursday? "Correct sir, but the ship might leave early depending on the loading so it's better to get you onboard now". Adapt and improvise once again and 2 hours later I had been refunded 50% of the hotel and was heading towards immigration. The agent then brought me to a ferry which brought us to an industrial island in the middle of the canal. The agent then drove me to a smaller boat which brought me alongside "Gunhilde Maersk". I've never before boarded a containership from the seaside...however it felt as normal as anything else. This will be the 10th time I travel by container ship and it's always a great privilege! I'm looking forward to meeting the captain who I hear is Danish! I cannot remember when I last met a Danish captain?
Maersk is an integrated transport & logistics company with multiple brands and is a global leader in container shipping and ports. Including a stand-alone Energy division, the company employs roughly 88,000 employees across operations in 130 countries.
For a long while now I have had the pleasure of visiting their offices in various countries and telling them about the adventures of the Saga. This provides inspiration, education and entertainment which in many cases opens up a deeper understanding of why I would set out on such a large endeavor. There's a point and a plan behind it all. Maersk employees are in my opinion always kind and hard working so it is a great pleasure for me to meet up with them wherever I can.
Reaching Malta is going to be great! It should take 2 days to make the distance so I get to sleep onboard 3 times. Then when I disembark I will see my father for the first time in more than 2 years!! He has decided to fly to Malta for a few days to come and encourage me and take care of me with a nice hotel and good food. Probably a drink or two as well ;)
It has been 760 days since I entered Africa and now I will briefly leave her to return in a few weeks in a different country. In a this time I have not cut my hair for various reasons...mostly just for fun. I intend to cut that hair in Algeria when we reach the last country in Africa. Hopefully long before I start stepping on my hair...
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - leaving Africa
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga