When thinking of Port Said, nothing better describes the essence of this humble port town than this special quote: “Dance with the waves, accompany its gentle ebb and flow, let the rhythm of the water set you free.” The waters are an intrinsic part of the city’s soul, embedded into its very fabric, webbing out onto its streets, daily life and its people. Spending a day at this port means you will get up close and personal with its sea and its simple town life. That was what happened when the Scoop Team decided to drop it a visit, hitting up multiple spots across Egypt’s coastal city.
The moment we reached the entrance to the city, it was akin to entering a microcosm of Egypt’s Alexandria. Crisp blue and red awnings dotted the simple four story houses lining its narrow roads while whitewashed houses with vibrant blue shutters stood out among the rest. Every now and then, we noticed towering statues that communicated the city’s rich history and patriotic spirit as they would be carved in the shape of a falling solider from the many wars that splayed the city or the towering “Mother of the World” bronze statue representative of Egypt akin to how the Statue of Liberty represents the US.
The journey continued beyond the inner spaces of the city and out into its outer edges where the land meets the sea. At that very edge sat the beating heart of the city, its fishermen with their legs hung across the pier, their bait hooked and ready to be released. Around them, seagulls squawked and crooned as they nose dove into the water to get their own catch of the day.
Striking up a conversation, we noticed how the fishermen were old in age, white flecks of hair outlining the contours of their face, fine lines expressing the longevity and richness of their lives. They were men of a few words, their eyes always gazing at the water’s surface, focused and unfazed by the cars zapping by. Truly in their element, feeling the peace and comfort of a simple day out by the water, many expressed how fishing was a way to escape people and the rush of modern life. Its a refuge that they seek on a daily basis as to them, the sea and fish are the true essence of Port Said.
The quiet solitude of that moment was then interrupted by the sizzling of the water which got louder as the oncoming ferry boats approached the dock to release the on boarders and take on a new batch of people as well as cars and motorbikes. Stepping onto the ferry, we did not expect much, thinking it was a mere everyday journey across the canal but as it picked up speed, the entire sky was bombarded with a flock of seagulls, some travelling together in a tightknit, others taking matters into their own hands, flipping and turning through the windy sky in sheer freedom. Looking up, each one swished past our gaze , zapping across the clouds. Being on that ferry was an out of the world experience, as if time stood still and the only sound you could hear included the orchestral combination of flapping wings and consistent quaws.
Arriving at Port Fuad, the trip took a snowy turn as we headed to our next destination, Salt Mountain. Large mounds of crystal salt sat on massive expanses of a grey specked floor. The tip of each salt mountain was crowded with kids and friends, sliding down its steep sharp slope, with specks of salt spraying across the mountain as everyone went into a full-fledged “salt” fight. Speaking with the locals, we learnt that the process behind the formation of these salt mountains is linked to the surrounding sea. Seawater would travel through channels and would flow into shallow flat beds at Salt Mountain’s location. Overtime, the sun would heat the water until all of it would evaporate leaving behind the towering mountains of salt. Following the salt filled adventure, the first half of the day was brought to a close. At that moment, we picked one of the salt peaks, sat atop its tip and watched as the sun slowly dipped down across the horizon.
To end the trip on a high note, the final stop was one that brought us closer to one of the most important facets of day to day life in Port Said, the seafood. The city’s fish market was the one spot across the entire city that showcased a more raucous and bustling facet to Port Said’s personality. Set up in a gridlock pattern, the entire market was made up of intersecting pathways lined with stalls dedicated to each fismonger with their names stretched along hanging signs behind the seafood.
Passing by each one, fishmongers called out, ushering us to come and try out their latest catch. Each seller had a story whether it was Hajj Fouad, 35 years in the business, continuing his family’s age-long legacy of catching, gutting, filleting and displaying his catch at the market or Ibrahim Mazrouaa, a fish monger with 45 years of experience, a lover of every type of fish especially the spindly eel, a fan favorite among Port Said’s residents.
Walking across the market, we eventually made a stop at one of the stalls, each of us pointing at our picks for a seafood-fueled dinner. Black plastic bags were filled with everything from half a kilo of tiny crabs, quarter a kilo of bouri fish to a hefty sample of orange hued shrimp. The next stop was at an open kitchen were we told the chef how to cook each of our picks, some to be grilled while others roasted with lemon and oil. It was a literal feast set on an elongated table in the center of the bustling market, exemplifying the simple ways one can enjoy the many facets of a port city.
Throughout the trip, Alexandria constantly flashed in our minds as a constant source of comparison to Port Said. In many ways, they are more alike than one would think but at the end of the day, they are two starkly different cities. Unlike Alexandria, Port Said managed to still hold onto its origins and its simple character of being a port. The modernity of life and the constant renewal of its old ways including how Alexandria’s Corniche has slowly but surely been losing its seaside façade by getting overrun with new restaurants and cafes is not a fate suffered by Port Said. These modern aspects have still not been able to seep into the city, leaving it standing tall as a simple port where ships dock, people dine on seafood and fishermen await their daily catch.