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The Egyptian Poseidon Adventure

Chapter Two


ATHENS AND RHODES

The next few days of the trip were delightful. In addition to teaching several dance classes, we explored Athens for the second time.  Over the past year Athens has been the source of much rioting over government-enforced austerity measures.  Fortunately the day we were there, things were quiet.  But just six days later, the city erupted again in violence. 

Anti-austerity riots erupt amid Greece strike
Wednesday Dec 15, 1:44 pm ET

AP ATHENS, Greece Protesters clashed with riot police across Athens on Wednesday, torching cars, hurling gasoline bombs and sending Christmas shoppers fleeing in panic during a general strike against the government's latest austerity measures.  Police fired tear gas and flash grenades as the violence escalated outside parliament and spread to other parts of the capital.

Thank goodness we missed it.  For a change, we dodged a bullet.  As I said, with the economic problems and terror-threats, Europe is really struggling right now.  By the way, since I have written about Athens before, I will simply refer you to my earlier story.

After Athens, the next day we visited the island of Rhodes for the first time. Rhodes was a pleasant surprise. Rhodes is a large island in the Aegean Sea located just twelve miles of the southwest coast of Turkey.

The island of Rhodes is too small to develop a population big enough to write its own destiny. Since the island of Rhodes is one of those places that everyone passes on their way to somewhere else, over the centuries Rhodes has been conquered many times. At various times the Minoans from the nearby island of Crete were in charge, then the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Persians, then Alexander the Great, and later the Romans. Then the Turks came along only to give way to the Crusaders for a while. Next came the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) which lasted for four centuries. Then Italy took over for a while followed by the Nazis during World War II.

After the war, Rhodes was reunited with Greece. Considering most of the inhabitants speak Greek, have Greek blood, and are 96% Greek Orthodox, the people of Rhodes were more than happy to fly the Greek flag. In the years that have followed, Rhodes has known great peace and prosperity. Everywhere I looked, something new was being built.

The coastline of Rhodes features an endless string of rugged hills and rocky cliffs that offer a perfect view of the sparkling waters. All along the highway I saw various seaside dwellings built into the hillside to take advantage of the spectacular vistas of the beautiful Aegean Sea. The blend of lovely homes set in perfect harmony with the hills overlooking the ocean is wonderful to behold. The beauty of this area reminds me of the equally beautiful French Riviera. It doesn't take much of an imagination to guess why visitors from Greece, Turkey, and other Eastern European countries flock to this location during tourist season. From what I gather, Egyptians like to visit Rhodes as well. Rhodes is right in the middle of everything!

In stark contrast to the troubled island of Sicily, we quickly discovered that Rhodes has a very strong economy. Like the Cayman Islands in our own Caribbean Sea, it seems this lovely island has wrapped its entire economy around tourism. From what I gather, business is good.  The woman in the picture asked 20 euros for a particular print I liked.  I bargained with her and got her no lower than 18.  Considering this is the off-season, there would likely be no more tourists for another 10 days when our cruise ship returned again.  Since I was probably the last person she would have a legitimate shot of selling to for ten days, I was deeply impressed at how strongly she stuck to her price.  No, I didn't buy.  I wanted to see if she would change her offer as I walked away.  She never said a word.  These people are obviously doing pretty well. 

While the nearby Turks specialize in their beautiful carpets, the artisans here on Rhodes are famous for their ceramics. Poor Marla was beside herself with the beauty of their work. She wanted to buy one of those bowls in the worst way. Unfortunately, ceramics are easily broken.  We learned the hard way when a beautiful dish broke on a previous trip.

The sign in the shop said it all -

The pottery is so beautiful to see,
Just remember Nothing is free.
If you break it, you can take it
And don't forget to pay for it too.

Marla could not imagine how she would ever be able to guarantee the safety of these fragile bowls, so eventually she gave up. I could see the frustration written all over her face.

Lindos was an ancient town about 30 miles from port which had the most marvelous acropolis (i.e., city up high). Once you were up there, you could see for miles. Stunning!! 

Like its famous counterpart in Athens, the Acropolis in Lindos is very well preserved.  The walls are completely intact.  On the right you can see an artist's depiction of what the place looked like back in its heyday.  I have a hunch why it is in such good shape.  The city is so high that no catapult would be very effective.  Any archer trying to shoot upwards would make himself an easy target. Nor could anyone storm the place.   It is situated on a rock that is a sheer climb on all sides.  No battering rams would be possible.  Approaching this place would be suicide.

The only way to conquer the Acropolis would probably be by siege.  If they had a good source of food and water, I imagine the inhabitants were pretty safe up there.

Our guide Alexis was one of the most knowledgeable men to ever conduct a tour. Alexis was able to rattle off one fact after another without any visible notes that I could detect. Not only did he make his material interesting, Alexis was able to handle any question with complete ease. Even better, he managed to add both wit and warmth to his message.

For example, we passed a cemetery. Alexis pointed out that the first section contained people of the Greek Orthodox religion. The adjoining section had Jewish people. The third section was reserved for Muslims. He quipped that unlike other parts of the Middle East, all three religions were able to achieve perfect peace and harmony here at this cemetery. Then to my surprise he added, "Imagine people killing in the name of religion. Now isn't that absurd?"

That's when I decided I really liked this guy. With all the killing and hatred that permeates the Middle East, here was this wonderful level-headed guy in the middle of nowhere. A Mark Twain quote flashed across my mind:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness... Travel helps us discover we are family after all." --- Mark Twain

Later Alexis told us an anecdote about Sophocles, the famous Greek philosopher that liked to visit Rhodes. So I decided to share my own anecdote about Sophocles.

Sophocles said the most important decision a man will ever make is who to marry. If he marries well, he will be happy for the rest of his life. If he marries poorly, he will become a philosopher.  Marla gave me the oddest look.  Uh oh.  I quickly added that I personally don't have a philosophical bone in my body.  This time I got Marla's famous "drop dead look" which made Alexis break out in a wide grin.  Remind me again to learn when to keep my mouth shut.

By the time our tour ended, Alexis and I had become buddies. I asked him if he was a college professor. He laughed and said no. Puzzled, I asked him how he became so knowledgeable about everything. Alexis replied that he had a college degree in tourism. He added that he had to pass a very difficult exam to become a professional tour guide.

I was amazed. I had never heard of a program like this before. I always thought the job of tour guide went to the only guy on the island who could speak English. Instead, I learned that his expertise was no accident. Alexis was the best tour guide I ever met not only because he had talent, but also because he studied long and hard for his role. Very interesting.

As I shook his hand to say goodbye, Alexis looked up at the darkening sky. He said if we were lucky, we might be able to escape Poseidon's wrath. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he explained there was an immense storm brewing in the eastern Mediterranean.  Alexis pointed to a destroyer and another cruise ship (see picture).  He said both ships had just pulled into port to ride out the coming storm. 

Winter storms in the Mediterranean could be pretty brutal.   He added that early indications had this particular storm listed as a monster.  We were in for some pretty rough weather.  Alexis suggested that our Captain would be wise to sail early.  Anything we could do to stay ahead of this storm would be worth considering.

Wow!  A big storm in the very same waters where Poseidon had once made life miserable for brave Odysseus!!   Odysseus and his ships had been blown to all sorts of distant shores.  It took him ten years to finally get home. I dismissed Alexis' warning as silly.  There was one difference.  Odysseus had a Greek Trireme.  We had a 90-ton ocean liner with all its modern equipment. 

No storm was a match for our giant ship.

In retrospect, I realize I had the same smug attitude as the people who boarded the Titanic.  Interesting.  I wonder if anyone else on our ship had the same ignorant attitude as I did?

Now that our trip to Lindos was over, the main city of Rhodes was within walking distance of the ship. This medieval was surrounded by the most incredible wall. Marla and I couldn't resist.  We immediately trekked over to get a good look.  Once we were inside, we saw an endless row of shops selling all sorts of beautiful items. What a lovely city!

It started to rain pretty hard while we were there. I noticed an umbrella for sale and asked how much. The man said 5 euros. Marla started to protest, so the man dropped the price to 4 euros. Marla had the biggest frown on her face. I asked her what was the matter. She said the sign listed the umbrellas at 3 euros. Marla was outraged the vendor had taken advantage of the rain to mark up the price two euros on the spot.

I felt a little sheepish.  I had not even noticed the price on the wall.  That was the second time I had seen someone on this island drive a hard bargain.  Oh well, I didn't feel like losing any sleep over a one euro markup. In fact, I was impressed. These people were definitely sharp. They didn't miss an opportunity.  Fortunately Marla soon forgave me.  That umbrella came in handy.

Marla and I had a blast walking through this lovely walled city. Whatever frustration we had experienced in Palermo was long forgotten thanks to the charm of Rhodes.  I have never seen a more colorful array of shops.  With its winding streets and shops of every variety, I thought this would be a fun place to have a life-size Monopoly festival. 

Meanwhile we noticed some very dark clouds rolling in.  When the rain wouldn't stop, Marla and I went back to the ship.  We got back just in time.  While we were eating lunch, we were treated to a powerful rainstorm complete with sensational lightning bolts.

Suddenly the temperature dropped dramatically. I frowned. Alexis had been right.  That was one heck of a storm brewing out there at sea.  In retrospect, I wished we had stayed in Rhodes like the other two ships and simply waited for the storm to pass.

Somewhere out there Poseidon was waiting for us.

The city of Rhodes is surrounded by an amazing wall that remains completely intact.  Inside is a beautifully preserved town!  I saw some of the neatest shops.  I can see why this place is so popular with tourists.  Even better, the old town is within easy walking distance of the cruise ship. 

 

 
 
 
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

 

THE TRIP TO EGYPT

As the ship departed Rhodes on its way to Egypt, the Captain got on the speaker to announce there would be some very rough sailing ahead. He said there was a major storm in the Eastern Mediterranean.  In order to minimize its effect, he would change course and head into the waves for our comfort even though that was not the shortest route.  A direct route would have caused so much rocking that we could not have even stood up, much less walked.

So now the Captain was taking a zig-zag path to Alexandria, the port of Cairo. His decision to turn our route into a right angle probably did add comfort to our voyage, but it also made our trip much longer.  

I am only speculating, but this longer route plus the reduced speed caused by fighting the rough seas probably allowed the storm to catch up to us.

 

HUGE STORM SHUTS DOWN THE
EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN

Isn't our Christmas tree pretty?  It must have been at least 25 feet tall. 

Despite the heavy rocking caused by the massive waves, the mood on the ship was cheerful as we left Malta and headed over to Egypt.  We knew full well there was a storm outside.  Walking was pretty difficult that night, so most people preferred to just sit and chat. 

The much-anticipated Tango Buenos Aires show was canceled - no one could possibly dance in these conditions!  In addition, all the elevators were taken out of service.  Otherwise they would have been banging up against the walls as they rose and descended.

We were not allowed outside.  If the winds didn't sweep us overboard, a huge wave might do the trick instead. Therefore I had no idea that the storm outside was so violent.  With the ship to protect us, we were spared the knowledge of just how bad it was out there. 

I had no idea what was going on around us.   The problem with being at sea is that it was difficult for me to keep track of world events. For example, there was only an occasional clip on CNN.  Therefore, at the time of our approach to Egypt, neither Marla nor I had any idea just how serious this storm was.  We assumed that if we could just get to the other side of the storm, Egypt would be dry and calm.  After all, it never rains in Egypt, does it?  All I knew is the Captain was taking a funky path to Alexandria and that tomorrow I would get my picture taken riding a camel before the Pyramids.  While I was thinking about, don't forget my sun glasses.

How could I have been so blind!!  The worst storm in years was raging outside and I didn't have a clue.  Here is a report I found on the Internet describing our storm:

An enormous storm has battered the eastern Mediterranean over the weekend, causing destruction in several countries and bringing to a dramatic end months of drought.

Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt were all hit by severe weather, with lashing rain, hail, snow and sandstorms wreaking havoc across the region.

In Lebanon, 10 meter waves smashed into the coastline as wind speeds topped 100 kilometers an hour on Saturday. A woman was killed when her car was crushed in the northern city of Tripoli, and four small planes were flipped over at Beirut's airport.

By Sunday, the rain had turned to snow in the country's mountains, leaving drivers stranded on frozen roads. Meanwhile coastal roads were closed as fishing boats were smashed to pieces by enormous waves.

In Israel, a Moldovan freighter sank in the storm off the coast of Ashdod after its 11 crew members were rescued, and a Russian tourist was feared dead after being swept into the sea.

The storm comes just a week after a devastating forest fire killed 43 people near the northern city of Haifa in Israel.

In Egypt, temperatures plummeted as huge sandstorms blew up, compounding problems caused by high winds and lashing rain in coastal areas.

The weather disrupted shipping in the Suez Canal, which links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, and local media reported three deaths in a factory collapse in Alexandria.

Five people were also seriously injured in the collapse of the textile factory, a security official said blaming the accident "on bad weather and heavy rains."

"It has been raining steadily and very hard since yesterday (Saturday) in Alexandria. The building is 30 years old and the foundations could have been damaged," a security official said.

Jordan was also engulfed by sandstorms, and was braced for heavy rains expected later on Sunday, while in Syria, the capital Damascus was hit by a violent snow-storm.

The eastern Mediterranean region had been suffering from a crippling drought and unseasonably high temperatures for months, and in recent weeks people have been praying for rain as the land became dangerously parched. The storm comes just a week after a devastating forest fire killed 43 people near the northern city of Haifa in Israel due to the arid conditions.

During the day as our ship approached Egypt, I assumed that once our ship docked, we would be able to visit the desert and see the pyramids without a problem. I figured that it never rained in the desert.  Better yet, any remaining storm might cool down the place would be welcome. I could not possibly have been more ignorant if I tried.

I did not know at the time that Egypt was also in the grip of this deadly storm. Now that I have access to the Internet, the reports are unbelievable.

In Egypt, all the ports in the Red Sea and the port of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea were shut down. At least 26 ships were barred from entering the Suez Canal and another 29 faced heavy delays. The waterway was hit by poor visibility and winds of up to 40 knots an hour on the Red Sea, said an official at the canal. The loss of the Suez was a major problem because it is Egypt's third-largest source of foreign revenue after tourism and remittances from expatriate workers.

Northern coastal Egypt received heavy rain showers with strong gusty winds. Inland, dust storms and high winds prevailed which also extended all the way to parts of Jordan.

Traffic on the Suez Canal disrupted as storms furiously lashed the Middle East for the entire weekend. Winds, rain and hail battered the eastern Mediterranean on Sunday, as a months-long drought came to a sudden, drastic end.

In Alexandria, Egypt, a cloudburst flattened a six-story textile factory in the sea-side city, killing at least 10 workers. Five more people were seriously injured. Others were still missing. Officials blamed the accident on "violent winds and heavy rains."

In the Nile Delta city of Tanta, a child was killed and nine people hurt when a five-storey residential building came down on Sunday, leaving one person trapped under the rubble.

Twenty people were killed and more than 40 injured in road accidents on Sunday across Egypt, blamed on poor visibility from heavy rains and sandstorms, officials said.  Throughout the weekend, Egypt was hit by blinding dust storms and torrential rain. The winds created a violent sand storm that shut down the entire country for two solid days. Cars were unable to drive in many places as sand not only made visibility impossible, but somehow entered the cars as well. Clouds of thick dust coated Cairo and contributed to a rash of road accidents.

The storm unleashed damaging winds, widespread blowing dust, torrential rain and even heavy snow. Visibility at Cairo airport was reduced to 300 meters. The entire population was forced inside to escape the stinging sand.

The death toll had risen to at least 31 people as of Tuesday.

Several days later while I was in Malta, I spoke with a man who was an Egyptian national. This man told Marla and me this had been the most violent storm in a century.  He said he had never seen a worse storm in his lifetime!

The Egyptian man said that even if we had been able to dock, it would have done us no good. There were no pleasant boat trips up the Nile. There were no planes departing for Luxor. There were no buses willing to take us to the Pyramids.  Furthermore, even if we had somehow gotten there, our eyes would have been ripped to shreds by the blinding sand.

He said it was a blessing we didn't make it to Egypt. If we had been there, we would have spent the entire time in a hotel room hiding from near-hurricane force winds just like everyone else.

So why on earth was our ship trying so hard to make it to Egypt?  That is a very good question. He predicted that if the ship had managed to dock, just one look outside and none of us would have been willing to leave the ship!  What an utter waste of time to try and make port!

I was baffled by his words.  Why didn't the Captain simply explain this to us in the first place?  All the ship had to do was explain what was going on and we would have come to our senses. Yes, we would have been disappointed to miss this opportunity of a lifetime, but any reasonable person would quickly realize it was out of the question.

Let's face it.  Now that I have all the information, it seems clear there was absolutely no point in going to Egypt unless there had been some way to change our itinerary.  In retrospect, an extra day in Rhodes might have been the best option.

 

Our Next Story:  Chapter Three

Terror in the Night!!

 
   
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