Friday morning we woke up to a VERY different sight than we had become accustomed to and spoiled by. We had docked at Aswan and were surrounded by the huge steamer boats that belched this awful black smoke and looked God awful. There was noise and commotion everywhere. Fortunately, we would only be here for the day before disembarking Saturday morning for a trip to Abu Simbel and the Temple of Ramses II. (Apparently, the large boats have set areas they can dock, unlike the dahabiya, which just finds a sand dune or farm and parks it. As a result, the large boats are packed together like sardines, side by side and one after the other. I have no idea how you could not come off one of those cruises without some kind of respiratory infection!)
Anyway, after breakfast, our guide showed up and took Roscoe, Annie, Deb and me on a morning tour of some of the “sites” of Aswan. (Terry was not feeling well and did not come with us.) First stop was the Philae Temple dedicated to the god Isis, the mother of Horus and built on an island in the middle of the Nile. Construction of the original temple began approximately 200 BC and continued for almost 500 years. However, when the Lower Aswan Dam was built in the 20th century, the temple was flooded for part of the year, and when the High Dam was proposed, the temple would have been permanently under water. So the temple was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt on higher ground on another island over a period of 8 years. Amazing.
We took a little covered water boat to the island and the approach to the temple was exquisite. (And yes, we had the pleasure of passing through the now all too familiar phalanx of touts and vendors.) Anyway, as we walked through the entrance to the Outer Temple there was a row of columns to the left and a small group to the right. A wall behind the columns to the left contained a number of small windows with a view towards the Nile. We walked through the first pylon (remember that signifies an entrance), veered to the left and walked into the Birth House depicting the birth of Horus to Isis. At the second pylon, there was a magnificent carving of Isis, Osaris and Horus which led us into the Hypostyle Hall. Unfortunately, this is where we ran into problems.
It was incredibly hot outside (around 45 celsius or 120 fahrenheit) and the hall was small, enclosed with no air. Our guide continued to talk about the beautiful columns in the hall while Debbie went to sit down. When we started to move on both Annie and I realized Debbie was not feeling well. We walked over and tried to talk to her, but she had literally passed out. We poured some water on her neck and behind her ears and fanned her. It took a couple minutes, but she came around. However, it was clear she was in no shape to continue.
Annie and I helped her out a side entrance and sat her down. She was immediately surrounded by 3 guards, one of whom claimed to be a “Nubian doctor”. Another tourist came over and sprayed a cooling mist on Debbie while the “Nubian doctor” started rubbing her forehead and using a form of holistic healing. I slipped one of the guards 15 pounds (remember NOTHING is done for free in Egypt – partly because the wages are so lousy) and Annie indicated she would stay with Debbie while Roscoe and I finished seeing the temple.
So I walked back to the guide and we continued through the Hypostyle Hall to the Inner Sanctuary of Isis where two granite shrines once stood, which apparently held the gold statute of Isis. Now, the only remains in the Sanctuary are hieroglyphics on the walls and a stone pedestal on which a platform for the gold statute once sat. We then wandered into the Osiris Chapel which has reliefs depicting the death of Osiris and the birth of Horus.
At this point, our guide took us back to Debbie and Annie, and it was suggested that Debbie be taken back to the dahabiya while Annie, Roscoe and I continued with the tour. Annie then advised me of what had taken place while we were gone. Apparently, one of the other guards took over and had told Debbie she needed to drink more water to balance her harmony and elevate her mood. (Yea that’s the problem… bad attitude). Then as Debbie is literally still only semi-conscious, the “Nubian doctor” starts waiving his hand in front of her face for baksheesh (money). Annie took things into her own hands, and I am pretty sure the guy has no ass left.
So our guide, Debbie and Annie headed back towards the catamaran, and Roscoe and I took a quick detour to walk through the unfinished Kiosk of Trajan, before heading back to the little motor boat that would take us back to the mainland. The cool breeze seemed to help Debbie, but she ended up going back to the dahabiya while we continued on.
Next up was the new Aswan High Dam. As we crossed the Lower Aswan Dam, our guide was so helpful in pointing out that prior to building the dam the whole area on the ride side of the dam was made up of waterfalls and rabbits. (Huh???) Anyway, we finally reached the dam and … uh nothing to see here except a nice view of Lake Nasser (which was the result of damming the Nile) and a forest of power lines and power line towers. Onward to the Unfinished Obelisk. This Obelisk was apparently going to the be the largest Obelisk every constructed until a flaw was discovered leaving it unfinished. The Obelisk still lies in the middle of a quarry so when we arrived all we saw was a very large granite quarry and the partial cutout of an oblelisk. Nothing else. Good grief! Other than the Philae Temple, this tour of Aswan was turning into a tour of lowlights. At this point we were told by our guide that our tour was over. Thank God! There were a few spots mentioned in the tour book that we wanted to see and were quite sure we could find our way in the afternoon. We made a brief stop at an Egyptian cotton store and then were back to the dahabiya.
Roscoe, Annie and I discussed what to do in the afternoon. Victor (our captain) suggested that we take a motor boat ride around the First Cataract Islands that sit in the middle of the Nile near Aswan proper. As part of the ride, we would stop at the Botanical Gardens and see the rapids. Sounds good to me. So about 4 p.m. our boat and driver arrived and we headed off and … ran out of gas. So he sent some fellow off with some cash who jumped across the boats and disappeared. Our driver filled up the tank with the little amount of fuel he had and puttered out to the middle of the Nile and then puttered back to pick up the fellow with the full gas can and … of course…. drove us right beside one of those huge, black smoke spewing behemoth steamers. ACK!!. I am pretty sure I lost a couple years off my life from the brief, but horrible belch of smoke that spewed out of the steamer as we drifted past the boat.
We picked up the guy and the gas and one more ride past the black dragon and we were back in the middle of the Nile in (somewhat) cleaner air. We then drove past the Tombs of the Nobles, which are built into the hillside, (these folks were former governors and other important folk in ancient Egypt) and over to the island on which the Botanical Gardens were located. The island was given to Lord Kitchener in the 1890s when we was in charge of the Egyptian army, and he turned it into this beautiful green garden with plants and trees from all over the world.
As Roscoe, Annie and I were walking through the peaceful and truly beautiful gardens we encountered an Egyptian family having a picnic (it was Friday and the sabbath). We watched as the family helped their beautiful little daughter try to walk on a wide railing along the water. The little girl appeared to be less than a year old, and they apparently saw and heard me oooing over her (she was adorable). An older girl scooped her up and brought her over for us to see her. I immediately started with “hi sweetheart” and “hi sweetie” as they approached and the wee one looked at me as they approached with some trepidation. When they got within feet of me, the older girl attempted to put the child in my arms, but the poor little tyke let out this blood curdling shriek (the sound of which I quite frankly thought would be impossible coming from someone so tiny). As the child shrieked, she literally crawled all the way up the older girl and almost onto her shoulders to get away from me. I was horrified. Visions of scaring this child for life crossed my mind. (I later found out that it was highly unlikely that the child had ever seen a person with blue eyes, sandy colored hair and white skin.) Her parents were very nice about it, tried to bring her over again to see me, which resulted in the same outcome as the first time around (with shrieking by the now damaged for life child) and then they even invited us to join them in their picnic. We politely declined with repeated shukrans (thank yous). Chances are if I even approached the kid again she would immediately take her first unaided steps, climb the wall and jump into the Nile to get away from me. (I think I might be scarred for life too. Kids usually love love love me.)
Anyway, we finished our walk through the beautiful Botanical Gardens and got back on our boat for our continued trip to the First Cataract Islands. As we continued along the Nile we passed the former summer residence and final resting place of the Aga Khan who was the 48th imam of the Ismaili sect according to Sharon and George’s guide (not sure what the Ismaili sect is though other than a form of the Islam religion). Anyway, we continued on and saw a number of kids swimming in the water (ick – this was not an area to swim and the swimming really became an ick factor when a short time later we passed a dead goat in the water). However, we also passed gorgeous trees, plant life and birds. We finally reached the “rapids” which turned out to be little blips in the water. (I am apparently spoiled by the mega rapids we have in the Pac NW because I actually missed the rapids until our driver pointed them out.)
We motored along as far as the Nubian village (a rather touristy area where two Nubian towns have been constructed. Nubia is an area in the deepest south of Egypt that was on the ancient trade route and rich in materials such as gold, copper and ivory. Egypt always dominated the Nubians and exploited both the people and the natural resources. The Nubians have their own traditions, culture (including very vibrant music that is a combination of rhythmic, warm sounds and soulful vocals) and ceremonies. Nubians are instantly recognizable as have much darker more exotic looking features.
Once we reached the Nubian village, our boat turned around and headed back to our docked dahabiya. Once back at the boat, I had planned on taking a rest before dinner, but Sharon, George and Stephanie planned to walk to the Souk (the market area) so I decided to tag along. As we walked, it was another one of those surreal out of body experiences. Their were vendors everywhere shouting at us. Baskets of fresh herbs and spices filled the air with a wonderful aroma. Tourist trinkets were the flavor of the day. It was chaotic and nerve jarring and wonderful and fun all at the same time.
As we passed the vendors, George was the frequent target of the shouting. “Lucky man. Three Wives.” “Hey Cassanova do you need another wife.” Mister, mister you need viagra?” We were in stiches. The vendors were all harmless and seemed to be having as much fine as we were. We continued walking and continued to hear a barrage of comments. “Can I help you to spend your money?” “Hassel free.” However, as we neared the end of the Souk, we were accosted by three vendors (or what we thought were vendors) holding up newspapers for sale. They surrounded us, jostling and grabbing at us. We managed to pass through the three unscathed, but it was not a lot of fun. At this point, my radar should have gone up, but it did not. (Egyptian men are notorious for a lot of talk, but culturally it is an absolute taboo to touch a woman to whom you are not married.)
Anyway, we turned around and began the trek back. This time two of the men isolated in on me and one began to grab at me. I immediately knew then … pickpocket. I looked down to see the guy trying to open my PacSafe over the shoulder bag. I gave him a sharp jab with my elbow, slapped him, did a 180, pointed at him and started hollering at the top of my lungs. “Stay away from my wallet.” The guy as well as the other two took off like Olympic sprinters. I then looked down again at my bag and realized how damn lucky I had been. The corner of my wallet was just poking out of my bag. (And it was my own damn fault. The PacSafe is designed to prevent theft by adding an extra clip to the zipper. When the clip is activated, it is impossible for a pickpocket to open the bag. However, I had just opened my bag to pull out my camera and had forgotten to engage the clip. THAT will not happen again.)
In retrospect, I wish I had given the bastard a real souvenir of his encounter with me like a kick to the groin. Perhaps a falsetto voice would have made the jackass change his profession. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure the shot to the stomach and slap I gave him left a lasting impression.
Anyway, George, Sharon and Stephanie (who had managed to escape the accosting this time) heard me hollering and wondered what the heck was going on. I immediately explained and we all shook our heads at how incredibly, incredibly fortunate I had been. I had read that if you create a scene, pickpockets head for the hills, and that is exactly what happened. I certainly hope there will not be a next time!
We continued on back through the Souk without any other incident. Just as we were heading out the final call to prayer was announced from the local minarets. As we passed by shops, we watched shopkeepers kneeling on their rugs in prayer. I was fascinated, yet somehow felt I was intruding as I watched the daily ritual.
Back at the the boat, we gathered for one last night of drinks on the deck of the ship as well as our final dinner. As usual, the chef whipped up a marvelous dinner featuring Egyptian food and not so Egyptian food (hummus toasties, chicken wings, Egyptian sandwiches, pizza, kababs, rice, and on and on). It was very sad as we knew this was our last dinner together. It had been a spectacular trip.
As I was heading to bed I heard noise in my room. WTF. I opened the door and broke into hysterics. The housekeeping staff was lying on my bed with a life size towel art man. Apparently the boys thought I could use some company! (As my S&D friends recall the housekeeping staff on ships likes to make towel art. The dahabiya was no different and throughout the week the boys had made various designs from the life sign to a crocodile. But THIS was spectacular.) The two boys were in fits of laughter. I was doubled over with tears in my eyes. We all posed for pictures. It was a very fitting end to a spectacular trip.