Egypt: Aswan

Day 4 (March 12, 2007): Arriving in Aswan mid-morning we view the unfinished obelisk and visit the High Dam. We sail on a felucca to the Botanical Gardens before joining our cruise ship for a sumptuous lunch. (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner included).

I woke up around 6am and heard Tim talking, I was never able to get back to sleep so I worked on my journal and enjoyed the scenery a bit. At 7:30 we got our wake up knock and then a few minutes later breakfast was served, a variety of unimpressive breads, it was a good morning for snacks. Tara and I managed to get ready in our cabin with both beds open. Overall the overnight train experience wasn’t too bad. The bathroom, while not great, was ok and the rooms were about what I expected. Jacqui has traveled on overnight trains in Turkey and Russia; she rated Egypt as worse then Turkey but better then Russia. After getting ready we hung out in the hallway and watched the little villages go by. Rumor has it that someone drank too much last night and got sick in the bathroom, unfortunately the guy assigned to our car had to clean it, which explains why he wasn’t too happy this morning. A lot of the land was lush and green for farming and there were a lot of mud brick houses. Apparently, the mud brick keeps the houses cooler in the summer, so while they may not be pretty they probably make daily life tolerable, especially since many of them looked like they had been built before air conditioners, not that I happened to have noticed any air conditioners in the houses. Anyway, many didn’t seem to have roofs, or if they did they were made of palms or something like that. I guess if it doesn’t rain you require a lot less out of your roof then we do at home.

We pulled into Aswan at 9:45 and were taken to a bus that we would use for a tour of the city. Sherif told us a little about Aswan: since it’s in the South it is used as a winter resort area and it’s an industrial city. I thought it was a nicer city then Cairo and had some pretty landscaping around the city.

On our way to the Aswan High Dam we passed the Aswan Low Dam which was built by the English between 1899 and 1902. I think that was the first time I realized how much the English had colonized around the world and I have the distinct feeling the Egyptians liked it as much as the Americans did – don’t the English know when to take a hint??? The Low Dam didn’t really cut it for the Egyptians so in the 1950’s they started work on the High Dam just a few miles up the road, which was our next stop. Most people on the tour weren’t really excited by this, but I found it interesting enough to be worth the stop. Perhaps it is because I had seen the Hoover Dam a few years ago, and this one was quite different, shorter and more sprawling. On our way out of the Dam complex we stopped at the Soviet-Egyptian friendship monument (the lotus flower tower) and this was, at least for the guys, a highlight of the trip. Inside the monument was packed with teenage girls (Sherif says they are on school trips and many are from little villages where they don’t see tourists) and they just LOVED us. They were all crowding around the guys to take pictures, like they were movie starts. I was hanging back just
watching it all go on when I was “swarmed” by a bunch of girls, they immediately started asking me questions about where I was from?, where I had been?, did I like Egypt? And then they wanted to take pictures with me, it was really sweet, but overwhelming at the same time.

Our next stop was a stone quarry where we saw what was to be the largest obelisk, except that it was broken in 3 pieces and had to be abandoned. It’s really big but it’s hard to picture it as an obelisk since it’s lying down. It was pretty this day, probably the low 90’s, which was stunting my imagination. Near the exit from the quarry there was a market that you had to walk through and it was a little intimidating. The guys were yelling out to everyone to try to get them to buy thier stuff. Fortunately we were walking out at the same time as an older group (who were apparently from Austria) so they took the brunt of the attention. I guess we looked like poor young people The last shop in the market sold books about Egypt that Sherif recommended as the best book about Egypt. At this shop I found a puzzle for my nephew Lucas (who likes puzzles) and a book for my nephew Max so this was a fruitful stop. What I didn’t realize was that pretty much every tourist attraction here is setup this way – with the market by the exit (which is sometimes also the entrance) so that you basically can’t hide from them. After that we finally got to go to our Nile cruise ship.

Our cruise ship, Nile Sapphire, was a bit like a hotel. The rooms were designed like hotel rooms instead of traditional cruise ship staterooms. There was a lobby, bar, gift shop and restaurant. On the top deck was a pool and lounge chairs. The staff was very excited to have Contiki onboard. After we boarded we had a few minutes to drop our stuff in our rooms and go to eat lunch. Meals are served buffet style and offer a wide variety of food.

After eating lunch I decided to go into Aswan to use the internet. I went with Jason, Chi and Gary. The first place we tried was closed (apparently siesta isn’t only for the Spanish) so we tried some other random place, a few minutes after we got there Adam showed up. The internet was really slow here and we complained so the guy took us to another place. First he tried the first place we had tried, which was still closed, so he took us through some dirt alleys to another place, I was a little nervous on the walk over, but this place was cheaper and the internet worked. After 30 minutes we left and went back to the boat. Back at the boat I went out on deck for a few minutes where Adam and Tim talked me into changing and going for a swim, when I got back upstairs only Tim was around and the water was really cold, actually more like frigid. Adam apparently decided to take a nap. I decided it was time for a shower, I took a really long relaxing shower, one of the best in my life.

At 3:30 we met for our Felucca ride. It was so relaxing, we just sat and talked (Sherif did most of the talking) and sailed along the Nile. Sherif tried to convince us that the Nile is clean here, no one believed him so he had the Captain get a glass and filled it with water from the Nile. I have to admit that it looked clear. But I drew the line when Sherif suggested someone drink it. We all said we would drink it if he did, but then he was claiming his body wasn’t used to the water, excuses!!! But the Captain drank the water and seemed fine after. Brave man! Anyway, Aswan looked even nicer from this view. Eventually we stopped at what is best described as a little café by the desert, here we were able to walk up a dune in the Sahara. The walk was a little tougher then it looked, but worth it for the great view of the city. Adam decided it would be fun to go sand surfing, only he didn’t have a board. Instead he found some cardboard and wanted to try that. So about half way up he tried and basically did a header into the sand. After coming down off the dune Sherif bought us drinks and had a baby crocodile and turtle brought to us. Since I’m not much of a fan of animals and have seen crocodiles and turtles I didn’t really jump on the opportunity, though they were really cute.

After that we sailed back to Aswan and were dropped off by our ship and had some free time before dinner. A few people went to use the internet but I went with Tara, Ed and Jason (SLC) to try and get money from the ATM. Tara had previously been unable to get money and wasn’t really sure why, when she wasn’t able to get it again Reid suggested checking her account on the internet. When she did she was locked out, apparently her account was totally locked by her bank. She got the phone number for the bank and bought a phone card. The 4 of us went to a phone booth and after a couple tries figured out how to get the card to work, but she couldn’t get the bank on the phone with the number she had gotten. Then we were trying to figure out the phone numbers on the back of the ATM card, at which point an Egyptian boy came to help us, too bad he was telling us what we already knew and wouldn’t take the hint. I guess 4 Americans in a phone booth on the side of the road for an extended period of time screamed “tourists who don’t know what they are doing.” Eventually we gave up and tried using Ed’s cell phone, but after trying a couple different ways that didn’t work. So then she tried my cell phone (which is $3 a minute) and finally got through to the bank. Apparently there was a fraud alert on her card and they deactivated the card, it might have been nice if the bank had mentioned that when she was at the bank on Friday to tell them she was going to Egypt. After 20 minutes she finally convinced them that she was starving in Egypt and needed money and got them to reactivate her card with a $200 a day limit. It had gotten late and it was almost time for dinner so we went back to the boat.

Back at the ship we had a few minutes before dinner so Tara, Tim and I looked around in the gift shop, the guy dressed the 3 of us up in an attempt to sell us stuff for the Egyptian Party the following night. Tim bought his outfit, but Tara and I had something different in mind.

After dinner Sherif took us to the market and showed us where to go. Then Tara, Ed and I went back to an ATM so she could get money, the ATM ate her card. Yup, sucked it in and wouldn’t give it back! Fortunately there was a guy inside the bank, but he couldn’t give her back the card, he told her to come back the next morning when the bank was open. Very handy since we were leaving for Abu Simbel at 5am and were sailing out of Aswan in the afternoon. Tara took the news like a trooper and we went shopping. Almost immediately Tara saw a belly dancing outfit that she liked and bargained the guy down to 200 LE. However, she didn’t have much cash and wanted to pay with a credit card and ended up having to pay an extra 20 LE to use the credit card. Then when we went back to the shop the top didn’t fit her right (no matter how hard the guy tried to insist that it would fit when she didn’t have clothes underneath), he gave her a different outfit, I thought the bottom was nicer, but the top wasn’t nearly as nice and was actually kinda goofy looking. The market is a little intense with everyone trying to sell you crap from both sides. In one shop I saw something, but when I looked closer it wasn’t really what I wanted. I found something else at another shop that I kinda liked, but then found a second one I liked better. I tried it on and the bartering began. The guy was putting a Cleopatra hat on me and trying to sell me that and wanted 350 LE. I managed to get him down to 200 LE without the Cleopatra hat thingy, but I had heartburn and was in a sweat by the time I left. It was much more stressful then I thought it would be to bargain and I probably wasn’t thinking totally clearly, I was hearing prices in the hundreds and it sounds like so much but 200 LE is only about $35 (350 LE is $61). In hindsight 200 LE was really low and according to bargaining etiquette you’re supposed to find a price that both people are happy with so 250 LE to 300 LE was probably what I should have paid. The American bargain hunter in me is proud the worldly side of me I thinks I went to far. Either way, I was the proud owner of a belly dancing outfit. After buying that the guy kept trying to get me to buy the Cleopatra hat thingy and I just wasn’t having it, he was trying every ploy I had heard they would use. Telling you 5, but meaning $5, not pounds. I was too freaked out by how much I thought I had just spent (and really had no idea how much I had spent) to think clearly and all but ran out of the shop. The guy followed for almost a block trying to sell the dopy thing to me but I just ignored him. Next time I would have to have a better idea of what I should/wanted to be paying before I even started.

Back at the ship we ran into Sherif and told him about Tara’s ATM card and we were told by one of the staff members that the ATM’s get hungry at night, gee thanks! Sherif said we should go right over when we get back from Abu Simbel. We went up to the top deck of the ship after to see if anyone else from tour had gotten back yet, but it was just the 3 of us, but slowly people started to come up. Jason (SLC) was the first person to come up, a bunch of other people were still out at the market looking for Karen. Karen had told people she was going to go with Jason, except Jason didn’t know and never saw her. Shortly after they found Karen safe and sound and a bunch of people hung out on deck. Tara and I went to our room around 11:00 since tomorrow would be an early day.

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