DAY 13 / SAFAGA, EGYPT
Updated: Jan 25
102 days, 31 ports, 18 countries.
Queen Mary 2 World Centenary Voyage
Ellen Frazer-Jameson reporting live from Queen Mary 2
CAMEL RIDE & SUNSET JOURNEY
PORT SAFAGA – highlights pf the region courtesy of Cunard Shore Excursions...
Port Safaga, also known as Bur Safaga and Safaga,is a town in Egypt on the coast of the Red Sea, 33 miles south of Hurghada. A small resort it is home to a thriving tourist industry and specialise in scuba diving. Safaga was a merchant port for many years now. The town, with its wide azure bay, long sandy beaches and pretty islands is a favourite sports destination in the Red Sea Riviera. Safaga is especially popular among kite-surfers and wind surfers and is a one-time host of the Red Sea Windsurfing Championships. The black sand dune beaches, characteristic of Safaga, are a favourite spot for sun bathers. The sea water is known to be highly saline and rich in minerals which are beneficial for the skin and it is a popular curative destination in the Red Sea Riviera. Safaga is a good starting point for a day trip into the Eastern Desert to check out the granite quarries of Mons Claudianus. Luxor, one of the most impressive sights of Egypt is some 137 Miles away.
At 7 am this morning 1,200 passengers (half the total of 2300 guests on board) disembarked QM2 for a three-and-a-half-mile drive to Luxor. In a convoy of some 25 coaches escorted by police, the passengers headed for Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings. In an unrivalled Egyptian experience, the travellers will visit some of the greatest monuments created by man and visit underground tombs in the Valley of the Kings. One of the most popular tombs to visit is that of the Boy King Tutankmun. Tombs of other famous Kings of ancient Egypt open on a rotation basis to preserve the sites from footfall os the huge numbers of tourists who visit every year. Sky high monuments are awe inspiring and constantly provoke the question “How did they built these, all those centuries ago?”
The early morning day trippers will not return to the mother ship until 8.30am tonight but, however, long the journey, for anyone who has not been to the Valley of the Kings. It is a not to be misses once-in-a lifetime experience.
My once in a lifetime experience of the monuments came three years ago, pre covid. On this year’s voyage another of the shore excursions appealed. A Desert Sunset Jeep ride. Riding in a 4x4, the Eastern Desert, there is a chance of a unique journey to experience an authentic taste of Bedouin culture. The romance of the desert calls to me and I am even thinking a camel ride may be on the agenda.
Some passengers from the ship have opted for a leisurely beach day at a Red Sea desert. Others have taken the opportunity to dive beneath the waves on a Red Sea submarine ride.
Egypt’s tourist trade has suffered many setbacks in the past few years even before covid, but the local community are determined to ensure that visitors take home wonderful experiences in this exotic land.
A dockside champagne reception awaited the over one thousand travel weary passengers on their return from a 16-hour coach trip to the Valley of the Kings. Many were almost too tired to sip on their welcome drinks but the consensus was that the trip was definitely worth the effort. The Valley of the Kings with its giant monuments and ancient tombs fulfilled a lifetime ambition and who knows if or when anyone of us will ever pass this way again.
Returning from a 4x4 Desert Jeep Sunset adventure, a smaller group, around 50 of us were welcomed with hot towels. No champagne.
Our transport was mini-buses not open topped land-rovers and with six people in the back on bench seats, the ride was designed for rugged exploration rather than comfort. We left in convoy from the port of Safaga and travelled as fast as the road bumps allowed (in England we call them sleeping policemen).
Leaving the town behind the landscape became that of a moon scape. Miles and miles of featureless sand through a land marked by power lines and look out towers. The driver played loud Egyptian music on the radio and the two Americans and four British passengers managed to communicate above the noise of the local entertainment. In the distance, mountains of sand dunes created by the excavations of the Suez Canal. Peaks and troughs of a far-off mountain range were also visible displaying in turn the three colours of desert sand, white, yellow and black.
Like being in a car rally, we speeded down an almost deserted highway. One of the few trucks we passed had a large sign across his front, In Allah We Trust. Our vehicles had no such sign but it may have been a sensible precaution.
The barren landscape was devoid of villages and it would be many more miles into the desert before signs of development and construction became obvious.
Star Sky, Caribbean Resort and Serenity stretched along the highway with buildings in sandstone and terracotta. Double minarets, hotels with towers and turrets and miles of walls to hold back the shifting sand are served by the roadside giant Senz Mall. Development has come quickly to Egypt in a short space of time. Seventeen new cities have been founded in the last eight years.
The Red Sea Traffic Dept and active and we pass through a checkpoint before driving onto the totally open desert unmade roads on our way to visit a Bedouin encampment.
Ten Egyptian men check documents. Security is big business in this part of the world and we have an armed guard with our convoy. Our off-road experience is teeth chattering and bone shaking. Hold on for your life. The driver expertly swerves and slides and kicks up the dust as he follows an unmade road following in the tyre tracks of the 4x4 vehicles that have gone before us.
In the distance we become aware of clusters of villages and settlements. Bedouins are nomadic and move constantly in search of water in the desert. Each tribe is led by an elder who decides when to move on. In the official numbers of 8 million Bedouins, only 25% are Egyptian. The rest come from Libya, Palestine, Saudi Arabia. Many Bedouins have come to rely on tourists to make their living and pay for water which they buy from the government at double the prices regular people pay in the towns. Searching for water in the desert there is one main sign they look for ; an acacia tree means this is the place for a water well.
During our drive we came closer and closer to a range of granite mounts – deep into the mountainous area we encounter our Bedouin village. Enclosed within wooden walls the family of nomads settle and erect different areas for their every day living. There is a large area for communal gatherings, a place for the women to bake bread on an open five, and, sheltered close to the mountain, sleeping quarters.
The tribe keep chickens, goats and camels, some of these are for eating, others for transportation. The women make potions and minerals from vegetation they find.
We were expected and a small group put on a folk show with musicians and men showing off their stick craft and women dancing and singing. Star of the show was a whirling feverish whose spinning wheel antics made everyone dizzy.
A visit to a Bedouin camp would not be compete without a ride on a camel. The ships of the desert who can go for a month without eating or drinking. Our guide choose a special camel for me. “See, he has no muzzle on – that means this one doesn’t bite,”
With help to get on the camel, and sit between his humps, the camel raises up high on his long legs and proceeds to carry me off into the desert.
With some relief I signal to the camel keeper, “Enough, thank you. Please take me back." After that experience, any daredevil ride in a speeding 4x4 will seem like a limousine. Sunset comes fast in the desert and to watch the sun go down behind the mountains was the perfect way to finish our Egyptian adventure.
Time to kick the sand out of our shoes and head back to the mother ship, QM2.
SAFAGA GALLERY OF PHOTOS:
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Queen Mary 2 current location is at Red Sea (coordinates 24.52819 N / 36.42119 E) cruising at speed of 18.3 kn (34 kph/ 21 mph) en route to SALALAH, OMAN.
Departure was 19 hrs 36 min ago. (at 23:00 h local time)
Arrival will be in 3 d 10 hrs 24 min. (at 07:00 h local time)
Traveled distance since Safaga: 254.92 nm (472.12 km)
Remaining distance to Salalah: 1,454.58 nm (2,693.88 km)
Traveled distance since Southampton: 4,033.33 nm (7,469.73 km)
Salalah, Oman is the capital city of southern Oman's Dhofar province. It's known for its banana plantations, Arabian Sea beaches and waters teeming with sea life. The Khareef, an annual monsoon, transforms the desert terrain into a lush, green landscape and creates seasonal waterfalls. The Frankincense Land Museum, part of the Al Balid Archaeological Site, recounts the city’s maritime history and role in the spice trade
Traveling SOLO - around the world
JD Schwartz' Queen Mary 2 iconic photography
On the horizon: Salalah, Oman
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Photo of the day (from the archives of JD Schwartz)
"THE GLASS OCEAN"
Further updates will be posted as soon as we get them from Ellen onboard Queen Mary 2.