Thursday, September 2, 2010


August 24, 25 & 26, 2010

We enjoyed a lovely day of sailing on board our home ship the Star Clipper, August 24th. With her sails unfurled, she is a real beauty!

Early morning, August 25th, found us along side the ancient port of Alexandria, Egypt. The city of Alexandria is the stuff that legends are made of. It was founded by none other than Alexander the Great. The sassy Queen Cleopatra made this the seat of her throne. And, the entrance to Alexandria's harbor was marked by the towering Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Great Library of Alexandria was renowned as the ultimate archive of knowledge. Alas, fate dealt the city a series of blows. Today, no signs of the great Alexandria remain. The city of Cleopatra's day has been swallowed up by the ocean. The Pharos lighthouse collapsed long ago. The literary treasures of the Great Library have been set to numerous torchings. To add insult to injury, Egypt's consequent Muslin rulers moved the capital to nearby Cairo. Nevertheless, we disembarked at a very modern port building where we were met by our Egyptologist guide and driver for the three hour ride to Cairo.

After arriving in Cairo, we headed straight to the Great Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza, fulfilling a life-long dream of mine. Amid all the hype about the New Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza just sat there— as they have for over 4000 years, both outliving the other six ancient wonders and living up to all the hype that has been lavished on them over the millennia. Their extraordinary shape, impeccable geometry and sheer bulk are a moot question: "How were they built, and why?" Our guide was very informative in this regard. It was a pleasure that we had a guide for just the two of us, as compared to the many tour groups around us! Standing at the pyramids is just an awesome experience.

We also visited the fascinating Solar Barque Museum. Five pits near the Great Pyramid of Khufu contained the pharaoh's solar barques (boats), which may have been used to convey the mummy of the dead pharaoh across the Nile River to the valley temple. The barques were then buried around the pyramid to provide transport for the pharaoh in the next world. One of these ancient cedar wood vessels, possibly the oldest boat in existence, was unearthed in 1954. It was carefully restored from 1200 pieces of wood and encased in a glass museum to protect it from damage from the elements. The cedar wood used to build the vessel comes from Lebanon. Being a boat people, Don and I just had to see this! We was not disappointed.

Finally, we topped the day off with a visit to the Sphinx. Legends and superstitions abound about the Sphinx. The mystery surrounding its long forgotten purpose is almost as intriguing as its appearance. The feline man was dubbed the Sphinx by the ancient Greeks because it resembled the mythical winged monster with a woman's head and lion's body who set riddles and killed anyone unable to answer them. The Sphinx was carved from the bedrock at the bottom of the causeway to the Pyramid of Kafre. The Sphinx is suffering the stone equivalent of cancer and is being eaten away from inside— pollution and rising ground water are the likeliest causes. Indeed, we saw Rock Pigeons nesting on the face!

We checked into our very clean room at the Novatel Hotel. With a view facing the Nile River, we were able to watch the comings and goings of various ships plying this ancient river. The evening found us at a major event for locals at the Citadel. Since we were visiting during the time of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. After sunset, they eat and drink. As best as I can tell, we may have visited a moulid— a sort of combination funfair and religious festival at the Citadel. Here, groups of dancers, various artists and musicians were performing throughout the grounds of this spread out event. For certain, we were the only tourists in sight! (Thankfully, I was properly dressed in my skirt, long-sleeved shirt and scarf).

The next morning, Don and I were up early, searching for any birds along the Nile. Few were around! Along with our guide and driver, we headed to Saqqara in the Western Desert. Here, Old Kingdom pharaohs were buried within Saqqara's 11 major pyramids, while their subjects were buried in the hundreds of smaller tombs found in the great necropolis. This is the sight of the Step Pyramids. In the year 2650 BC, Imhotep, the pharaoh's chief architect built the Step Pyramid for Zoser. It is Egypt's (and the world's) earliest stone monument. Of course there is much, much more to visiting all of these sights than what I can write here.

During the mid-day heat, we visited the famous Egyptian Museum, one of the world's most important museums of ancient history. To walk around the museum is to embark on an adventure through time. Our guide said that it would take two months to see everything in this museum! We spent two hours here, beginning with the oldest pieces. The whole process was quite overwhelming. Some of the highlights included the Royal Mummy Room which houses the remains of some of Egypt's most illustrious pharaohs and queens from the 17th to 21st dynasties in glass showcases; the Tutankhamun Galleries where the treasures of the young New Kingdom pharaoh are among the world's most famous antiquities; and the Animal Mummy Room which houses dust-covered mummified cats, dogs, crocodiles, birds, rams and jackals. Finally, it was time for the three hour ride back to Alexandria where we boarded our ship to continue our journey among the ancient ports.

Debi Shearwater
On board the Star Clipper
Famous Ports of the Ancient World Voyage

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