Port Said, 20 December 1892

In the morning the lights of Damietta came into view. As we approached Port Said and could already discern the city, the pilot appeared to guide “SMS Elisabeth” into the harbor. We saluted the Egyptian flag with 21 rounds which was answered by a battery on land. The Egyptian artillerists looked splendid in their English tailored black uniforms with red trouser stripes (Lampassen).

Flag of the Khedivate of Egypt (1881-1914)

Flag of the Khedivate of Egypt (1881-1914); Source: Wikicommons

Near our consulate we docked just in front of a large English East India ship at a buoy. In the harbor lay an English gunboat and multiple large, mostly English steamboats that replenished their coal stocks as fast as possible in order to continue their journey through the Suez Canal. Port Said is truly a harbor where no ship stays longer than necessary: Coal and provisions are restocked, the mail posted, the pilot embarked and on towards the next stop they go. During our arrival, there were all kinds of people on the dock who were interested to have a look at the mighty warship – English officers, seamen, Arabs, Fellahs, Indians, Jews and travelers from the East India ship.

Our consul as well as consul general baron Heidler who had come from Cairo greeted me. The latter reported that the Khedive had sent his nephew and also general adjutant, Prince Fuad Pasha, to welcome me in remembrance of the friendly reception in Vienna during his visit there, despite my traveling completely incognito. As soon as I had put on my gala uniform, the prince came on board to the music of the Egyptian anthem and offered me a welcome in the lands of the Pharaoh in the Khedive’s name. Prince Fuad Pasha displayed exquisite manners and a thorough European education. We talked for a good time and I later returned his visit at his hotel.

The rest of the day was to be alloted to a hunting expedition to Lake Menzaleh, organized by the consul and the pasha of Port Said. I have to admit that I had little confidence for the success of this venture as such hunts with intense participation of the locals tend to create much noise and cost lots of baksheesh but result in a very small haul. I have collected many experiences of such events during my first voyage to the orient. Fortunately, I was to be pleasantly disappointed this time.

The ceremonial boat transported us some distance into the canal where the pasha and a number of his supervisors of the communes around Lake Menzaleh received us. The handsome, strong men wore heavily pleated, colourful burnous. The good pasha made a sweet-sour face being rather downcast: The organization of the hunt would be his last act in office which was at an end because of his often called “oriental” ideas about debit and credit in the accounts.

Three skiffs were ready at the lake shore and we were soon swarmed by the locals who wanted to carry us the few steps to the skiffs. Four flamingos with wings were living a peaceful life near a small hut and were driven back there by a small boy every time they tried to escape. To my surprise, a local suddenly grabbed these flamingos and took them onto one of the skiffs. It seems they were intended to lure other birds to the skiffs.

The locals were shouting a lot, while we were finally being assigned to the individual skiffs. The placement of the pasha and his entourage proved to be difficult; riding on the shoulders of two Arabs, he proceeded from one skiff to the next until he finally found his place in the consul’s skiff. The consular kavass (constable/armed servant) Ahmed who had traveled with me through Palestine and Syria during my first voyage to the orient served as my interpreter. After much noise and cursing we were finally afloat. In the first skiff were I and Wurmbrand, in the second Clam and Prónay, the rear guard was composed by the gentlemen of the consular corps, the pasha and the rest of the hunting entourage.

Far away, near the horizon, we were seeing many hundreds of flamingos that were standing in the low brackish water in long lines glistering rose-red. Such a chain of flamingos offers the hunter as well as the ornithologist a magnificent view. At first, the eye only notices a light rose-red long strip until the observer, having approached close enough, distinguishes more clearly individual animals, their long, mostly S shaped neck, the long legs and the limber body, the crimson red males and the much lighter colored females as well as their offspring. If a whole flock of these magnificent birds lifts itself up into the air with a tempestuous sough, then the overall image is even more captivating as the flamingos stretch out their long necks and legs horizontally and the intensively colored plumage below the wings is shown to their fullest advantage. Such a flock resembles a red cloud. Besides the flamingos, multiple flocks of coots, grebes, pochards, ferruginous ducks and Northern pintails were swimming in the lake. Individual flights of sandpipers passed and harriers as well as falcons pounced gracefully upon the flocks of ducks that sought their fortune in quick flight.

At first, I intended to go for the closest flock of flamingos. We were cowering in the skiff while two locals, wading in the water, pushed us in front of them. Rifle and shotgun were ready; slowly advancing with anxious alertness we were observing the closest flamingos that were acting like outlooks in front of their flocks. Finally a perturbation rippled through the flock; all necks were strained; the foremost birds started to advance a few steps and lift themselves into the air with heavy flapping wings. Now, there is no time to lose. Although we had approached to only about 180 paces, I tried a rifle shot that, too short, caught one flamingo in its leg but didn’t down it. With a great tumult, the whole flock started to lift itself into the air and took off in a long line. At this moment I saw a single beautiful male bird at around 300 paces high up in the air and dared, without hope of success, a rifle shot with a lead of around 1 m. As struck by lightning, hit squarely into its chest, the flamingo crashed down into the water. To my joy, an Arab brought the fine specimen to my boat and handed me the bird with a big grin. Two more times, we tried to approach the timid animals; once with two skiffs at the same time, firing a salvo which netted both Wurmbrand and Clam a flamingo each. Then the birds set out into unreachable heights; all flocks combined and departed eastwards over the canal.

Afterwards, we occupied ourselves some time with the rest of the water wild life. We bagged many ducks and grebes and then returned back to land as the sun was setting. We said good-bye to the doleful pasha and traveled back on board  “ SMS Elisabeth”.

Before the dinner we undertook a short stroll in the nothing less than attractive Port Said and did some shopping, mostly cigarettes and different oriental objects. The shopping mania that so easily captures the traveler in foreign countries is peculiar. He feels compelled to buy small things, whether beautiful or ugly or even cheap bric-a-brac, only to have something characteristic of the place in question to bring home, as if it was necessary to offer touchable proof of one’s visit of foreign countries. Such it arrived to us at Port Said where we gave in to our shopping spree. Laden with the most useless stuff, paid far too much over its value, we left the bazaars and filled our cabins that did not have much room to spare in the first place with the goods acquired.

Links

  • Location: Port Said, Egypt
  • ANNO – on 20.12.1892 in Austria’s newspapers. The Bregenzer Tagsblatt informs its readers that diamond thefts are on the rise. The Linzer Volksblatt is pleased to inform its readers that Steyr will install an electric power generator given that 3000 light bulbs have been subscribed to by the public as well as the capacity demanded by the local weapons factory.
  • The k.u.k Hoftheater is playing Goethe’s Faust, Part I.

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