It’s about an 11-hour journey through the Suez Canal. The 120-mile waterway links the Mediterranean and Red Seas from Port Said in the north to the city of Suez in the south. There are no locks – the two seas are at the same level – and the scenery on either side is a stunning contrast. Small towns and fertile farmlands of the Nile delta line the canal’s western side. On its east bank is the dusty, rugged desert of the Sinai Peninsula.
The Regent Voyager was scheduled to enter the Suez around 3:30 a.m. On-board guest lecturer, Middle East expert Hassan Eltaher, planned to begin narrating the ship’s transit around 5 a.m. in the Observation Lounge. Herb and I arrived in time for a beautiful sunrise and ended up spending most of the morning going back-and-forth between listening to Hassan’s talk and taking photos outside.
A Little Suez Canal History
Interest in connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas dates back thousands of years, Hassan told our group. In the 17th century B.C. Egyptians built an early canal from the Nile to the Red Sea. It was French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps who is credited with developing the canal after proving that one sea was not higher than the other. Construction began in 1859, and the canal officially opened on November 17, 1869. Today the waterway is owned and operated by the Suez Canal Authority.
The Suez Canal’s Western Banks
Our first views of the canal’s western banks looked like hand-colored drawings from old history books. Rows of fields stretched along the route, with red-roofed buildings nestled in the distance. A train made its way along the water’s edge, traveling slowly enough for me to capture a photo. Fisherman in row boats dotted the water. Serene was the word that kept playing in my mind.
The Eastern Banks and the Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula couldn’t be a sharper contrast to mainland Egypt. The rocky arid landscape offers little visual activity except an occasional monument or military structure. Still, it’s fascinating to look at the canal from both perspectives.
Two Bridges and a Ferry
The two bridges that span the canal are almost as different as the land they were designed to connect. The Mubarak Peace Bridge, also known as the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, was built with assistance from the Japanese government. A road bridge, it was completed in 2001. The El Ferdan Railway Bridge, also completed in 2001, is the longest swing bridge in the world. No longer functional due to the expansion of the Suez Canal in 2015, the original El Ferdan Railway Bridge dates to 1918.
And then there is the car ferry. We happened upon one of the many Suez ferries as it was getting ready to travel across the canal – this one, from the town of Ismalia. As Herb zoomed in his long camera lens to get a closer look, he discovered that one of the passengers was turning his camera on us!
Scenes Along the Suez
By late morning, Hassan was still going strong in the Observation Lounge, and Herb and I were still captivated by the journey. I was surprised by how much I was enjoying the “transit” experience. It felt as if we were traveling on a river rather than a manmade waterway. Perhaps because there were no locks to slow us down – no concrete boxes to carry us from one level to another – each hour seemed to disappear into the next. We even ate our lunch outside, not wanting to miss anything that might pass by.
The Port of Suez
It was mid-afternoon when we reached the end of the canal. The Voyager sailed around the Port of Suez and then made its way into the Gulf of Suez at the northern end of the Red Sea. We were heading south to the tip of the Sinai Peninsula and then would be veering north to the port of Sharm el-Sheikh, our first stop in Egypt…and our first visit to this country that has been dancing in my travel dreams for a very long time.