“Five o’clock, sir!”
I awoke with a start when I heard the steward call. After having a bare four hours in bed on account of being up late the night before it was very hard to make a move. However, by 5.30 I was on deck watching the arrival of the boat at Suez.
It was not properly daylight, but as soon as we dropped anchor the usual swarm of boats came out to meet us. Some of these were sailing boats and it was a queer sight to see the natives climb up the mast so that they would be closer to the portholes and thus carry on the selling work to better advantage.
After the usual passport business and an early breakfast we were taken ashore at 7 o’clock. They had to hold the launch for us, because I could not find the tickets for the trip which I had put away very carefully a few days before. Our car was reserved for us, as I wanted to take photos. and on this occasion we found it without any difficulty.
There is very little to see at Suez and what we saw was very dirty. We drove through the small town without stopping and then started across the Sahara Desert.
Our native driver could not speak much English, but he was able to answer most of our questions. He told us the distance across the desert was 87 miles. I do not know what it was like to go across before the road was properly made, but now we were able to drive at over 60 miles per hour on a tar sealed straight road.
This road had only been completed a couple of years ago. It just had sufficient curves in it to keep the driver awake and to break the monotony for the passengers. The bitumen tins which had been used for the roadmaking had been painted white and placed on each side of the road for the whole distance.
There was nothing to see but desert, and on account of having so little sleep the night before I found myself dozing in the car. Suddenly I was again awakened, but this time it was not the steward calling me. There was a loud report and the car swayed from one side of the road to the other. We were punctured. As there was a whole string of cars on the road a couple of others stopped and helped our driver change the wheel, so that in a very few minutes we were on the road once more.
We drove through Heliopolis, so well known to the soldiers who served in Egypt. It was quite a good town, with a busy shopping centre, but there was not sufficient time to stop. Cairo was reached in a few more minutes and we were met by a Cook’s man, who sent our driver straight to the museum. Here we got out of the car and while we were waiting for our guide to be allotted to us we had an interesting time watching the street traffic.
We had seen bullocks in Colombo, camels in Aden and now we saw the donkeys and mules. How some of these donkeys carried their loads was surprising to me. It was quite common to see a tiny donkey with a full grown man and a youth on its back.
We saw them pulling a load in a dray or cart which we would consider a very good load for a horse.
Unlike the other two towns, Cairo is a city with the largest population in Africa. There were very large buildings everywhere. There were trams and motors of the very latest type. The streets were well filled with people of every nationality. Many of the shops were French and English was spoken everywhere.
“Four more for this party!”
Then louder a big Egyptian again yelled, “Is your party four, sir?”
Once more I walked up and joined a party of five, who were being allotted to a guide to be shown through the museum. It was a beautiful building and the guide did his job well.
“ – and this was 2700 B.C. with 1300 makes over 4000 years, yes!”
We stopped, looked and listened and did the same thing all over again until I seemed to know everything about ancient Egyptology. Then he got as far as the reign of King Tut-ank-Amen and my interest increased. We then came to the portion where the marvellous relics of the tomb were housed. It was well worth the trip to see these wonderful pieces of ancient work. I will not describe them, for I could not do them justice. You must see them and know something about them to fully appreciate their beauty and value, but for my own part I was positively dumbfounded and just gazed as though in a dream. This part of the inspection was most enjoyable, for there was nothing like it in the world.
When it was over we went to “Shepheard’s Hotel” for lunch. This hotel reminded me of the Hotel Australia in Sydney and compared very favourably with it. As we had a few minutes before lunch was ready I went out with the guide to get some street photos.
After lunch the ladies got one back on me. We had a quarter of an hour to wait for the car and guide to return and they went shopping. A few minutes later the guide saw me and told me the car was ready. I tried to find the ladies. Five minutes went past, but there was no sign of them. Once more the guide came to me.
“Master, we have big afternoon and car is ready”.
“Yes”, I replied, “But the ladies have gone shopping”.
“I’ll go shops for them”, and off he went in search. A few more minutes and he returned again more excited than previously.
“Master must find party, car waiting, very big trip”
“I cannot do anything, because I don’t know where they are”.
“Is master sure they shopping?”
“Yes, I saw them go”.
“Which shop they go?”
“That one across the street”.
Once more he raced over to the shops and returned in a few minutes saying, “Cannot see, cannot see. They go other car?”
Then a policeman came up and wanted to know what was the trouble. I have a grave suspicion that he told the policeman about it while he was away. Just as he was explaining to the policeman that my family was lost I saw them in the distance and ran to them. Just what I said is not remembered by me and perhaps it is just as well, but they took it quite calmly and said they had bought some nice things. It is definitely not right for one poor man to have charge of three women!
We drove to the native quarters known as the Bazaars. This was very interesting, as we saw all kinds of native life, but I was still not in the right humour to enjoy it. Then the guide stopped outside a jewellery shop and asked us to go in to SEE it. I waited outside to take photos. while the ladies went in. As they did not appear for several minutes I called the guide and said,
“I thought you said we had a very big day and would not get through, and yet you take us into a place like this to waste time”.
“I wait while master take photos”. He replied.
We left the place and went further down a very narrow street where the natives were making all kinds of things for sale. There were men squatting on their haunches making beads, doing sewing, making brassware and numerous other similar jobs.
The lane was but a few feet wide and each one seemed to have his allotted space. They chatted to each other as they worked and kept a close eye over the tourist. As we walked along each man wanted to show us what he was making, which was always “Verra good and verra cheap”.
We came to another jewellery shop, and as usual the man at the door asked us to “Come in to SEE, we like to SHOW you everything, there is no charge”. In we went, but we were not there for more than a couple of minutes before I saw the joke about making the late start. The guide let slip one word to the man in the shop – commission. The guide was being given commission on anything we purchased and therefore he did not want us to do any shopping at places where that commission would not be given.
Lois had found a little souvenir which she wanted to buy. Its price was 12/-, “No,” I said, “too much money”. Then the bargaining started and after threatening not to buy several times I finally finished with three of them for 20/- instead of 36/- which was no doubt just about what they were really worth.
By this time it must have been evident to the guide that I was tough, because we did not waste any more time, but walked through to where the car was waiting and drove out to the Pyramids. The drive was very interesting, as we saw more of the city and also crossed the Nile. Here we saw the natives making good use of the water for irrigation purposes.
We now saw where the green feed for the donkeys was grown and recognised what we had seen them eating in the streets.
Mena is only a few miles out of Cairo and here were lined up all the camels and donkeys which were used to carry the people to the Pyramids.
“I am certainly not going to get on to one of those creatures”, said Elizabeth, and Rozie was just as certain that she would rather stay behind.
A little coaxing and they were both on a camel and they looked no worse than any of the other people riding on them.
It was only a short distance and we could have walked it quite easily, but apparently you do not see the pyramids properly unless you arrive by camel or donkey.
Just as the relics of King Tut-ank-Amen’s tomb were wonderful, so were these pyramids something which made one think. Although I had read about them and had also been told what they were like by others who had seen them, I must confess I only got the right impression when I saw them for myself. They must be seen to be appreciated.
We spent an hour or more having them explained to us by the guide and in visiting the Sphinx and Catacombs.
We had a good afternoon tea at the Mena Hotel and drove back to Cairo.
We went through old Cairo and saw some of the buildings hundreds of years of age.
We went to that spot on the banks of the Nile where it is believed Moses was found in the bulrushes. To-day there was not a blade of grass of any kind and the river bank was crowded with idle sailing boats.
On our way to the station to catch the train to Port Said we saw one of the Mohammedan mosques and also the King’s Palace.
I photographed the entrance gates with two mounted soldiers on guard and I had no sooner begun it than one of the guardsmen told me I was not to do so. I got back into the car and got away as quickly as possible.
The train left at a quarter to seven and we arrived at Port Said at 11 o’clock feeling very tired after the long day. It was a miserable ride in the train, as we could see very little. When we were running beside the canal for many miles we saw boats coming through and it was a weird sight. Just before we reached the port I got into trouble by breaking a railway window. I was trying to open it to see something of the port when we were close to it and as it would not open easily I used a little brute force, which broke it. Immediately one of the railway attendants came up and told me I would have to pay for it, but I managed to bluff my way out and don’t suppose I will hear any more about it.
When we got out of the train we were again mobbed by natives wanting to sell us all kinds of things. Although the boat was due to sail at midnight, quite a lot of business was done with the passengers as the goods were genuinely cheap. It was nice to get on board and have a bath before getting to bed. The passage of 88 miles through he canal took the boat 12 hours. We left for the Mediterranean Sea at 12.30.
The next day we were back into winter. The water in the swimming pool was 65o and I thought I was down at Plimmerton again. All the white uniforms of the officers and crew were changed to blue and people came out in furs and fur coats.
The next day we went through the Straits of Messina and it was a great sight. At one part the distance between Sicily and Italy was only 1¼ miles. Late the same afternoon we reached Stromboli and the Captain took the boat right round it and stopped at a spot where the crater could be seen.
We saw where the lava had recently been flowing down the hillside into the sea and while we were watching it gave us a brief but very interesting pyrotechnic display of sparks from the crater. I watched it through the field glasses and expected at any moment to see it in full eruption. The voyage through the Mediterranean was very interesting, but I was disappointed that I did not see some of the beautiful sunsets which had been described to me by others.