There is a difference of opinion between the travel guide on the bus and the one on the boat. The Egyptian on the bus said that his company is the one with whom Celebrity deals when booking the passage through the Suez and that today’s package for the ship to move through the canal is one million dollars. I believe him.
The cruise travel director says that the cost of today’s trip is $300,000. I believe him, too. Travelling for so long, I have learned to believe everyone. Either way, for who knows where the truth lays, Greg, Dave and I were not going to miss the Suez Canal journey of 100 kilometers yesterday. When the convoy of our ship and 17 other ships following it began to move through the canal, we went to the fourteenth floor of the ship, forward and looked out.
The night was warm and dark. The moon was high. I could make out Orion in the sky. The air was humid. The whirring sounds of the birds flying beside us was forefront. Two spot light were pointed forward, one west at about 1 o’clock and one pointing east at about 11 o’clock. Those two lights were at the front of the shi, by the obelisk on the helicopter pad. The birds that had been flying alongside the boat (the ones that Wyona had been trying to feed) now came forward and were trapped in the cones of light.
Greg, David and I went to the top of the ship a little after midnight and stood there quietly, watching the ship move by the buoys that had red lights shining from them. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but it was more than the narrow channel of water through which we were moving – so narrow that two boats can’t pass by each other, so half way through the trip, we stopped in Bitter Lake, to let the ships that are coming from the south to the north, through the canal, and let them pass us, before we travel along the route they have just come from. I stood there for three hours in the dark night, trying to let my senses have their fill: the warmth, the humidity, the sounds, the smells, the sight of the water, light and dark, cool and hot. At 3 a.m. I told Dave and Greg I had to get at least a few hours sleep before watching more of the journey. Together we walked back to an elevator. Along the way a man who had just got up to jog on deck said good morning.
Four hours is enough sleep for me. I was on Moiya and David’s balcony at 7 am. I hang over the railing of course. I am not going to miss one moment of this journey. We are watching the Asia side of the canal. My binoculars are trained on the military who are in small houses – not big enough to lay down in, and the windows are open. The truth is, there are no windows. There is also the space where a door could be, but isn’t. Sometimes the military wave their rifles at us in a big hello. Others have their binoculars trained on us as we have ours trained on them, and they give a wave when they know we can see them. There are many shrill whistles sounded. Finally I figure out that this is the way people in the desert talk to each other.
Wyona and I study the sand dunes in between watching the men on guard duty by the canal. At one place there are two buildings, a mosque and a truck. The men have their washing hanging out behind the military vehicle. We notice that they deposit their garbage in a gully a small ways away from the two houses, the windows of which are shuttered and closed. No one else is around on the banks. “A waste of a perfectly good beach,” I say to Wyona. It is hot. All we have ever imagined from movies about the desert is in front of us. I think about Laurence of Arabia and Nasser (1956), both of which I have seen again, recently. We try to get our perspective right for we are at least eight floors up. At first it looks like there are a few feet of pebbles that separate the canal water from the desert. By the time we have studied the small size of some of the guards, we have figured out those are big boulders lining the side of the canal. Wyona is better at figuring out how the miracle of this trip could have happened to us, for she is the one who did the planning to make it occur. I just sit and watch, amazed. The boat is going 10 knots per hour through the canal. The temperature is about 85 farenheight. Wyona keeps telling me to get into a pair of shorts. I stay in the shade. Moiya is in the sun, small beads of perspiration running down her temples.
By this time we are on Wyona’s said of the ship. When we run over to Dave and Moiya’s side of the ship a few hours later we see gardens, palm trees, roads, houses, a bustling city. Still just sand dunes and military installations on our side. “That is because this side of the canal is irrigated by the water from the Nile,” is what Moiya says, for she has been up on the top of the ship, listening to the ship’s travel lecturer. She wishes that his lecture had been piped into all of the guests’ room, via the T.V. I wish that as well. But Wyona and I choose a road less travelled – the one of watching the desert. I did learn how to watch in detail for the more we sat there, talking to each other about what we were seeing, the more we saw.
The adage that I read down at the cruise services desk is “It is not what you see, but how you see it.” That adage came to mind today.