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Published: January 18th 2010
I had been feeling nervous about flying Egypt Air. I had images of a seriously old aircraft held together by pieces of sticky tape and string, goats sitting on passengers knees and chickens escaping from wooden crates before flying up the aisle and trapping their wings in the dangling oxygen masks.
Okay, I now realise that my ridiculous little imagination was doing some serious overtime. Our Egypt Air domestic flights were absolutely fine. Nice new planes, a drinks service, a business class lounge at Cairo airport (okay, so we upgraded on two sectors - had to get away from those damn chickens) and even an inflight magazine.
And the views? Amazing. I spent every flight with my eyes glued to the window. The desert was an endless and beautiful place from above. The dark, blue Nile River rippled through the desert like a ribbon. It was like every high school geography lesson come to life right beneath us.
Anyway, after getting off the plane, nearly every other passenger was met by their tour operator so Chris and I taxied our way into Aswan.
Straight away it became apparent that Aswan was going to be more chilled out
than busy, busy Cairo. Being much smaller, there were more tourists visible which in turn, really increased the hassle factor.
For once a Lonely Planet recommendation actually met the description in the book and we were happy to spend the next three nights at the little Keylany hotel.
So what to do when in Aswan? Well we spent the majority of our time saying “no thanks” to everyone from felucca captains, horse drawn carriage drivers, stall holders and shop owners. Apart from this, we did exactly the same things as pretty much every other traveller…
We ferried over to Elephantine Island and wandered about the colourful Nubian villages.
We lazed under the palm trees at the Botanical Gardens on Kitchener Island.
We felt guilty about not making the effort to explore Tombs of the Nobels, The Aga Khan Mausoleeum and the Fatimid Cementry.
We got lost trying to find eating places on Elephantine Island and spent a good deal of time trying to convince the ‘Chief of the village’ that we didn’t want to come into his ‘friends’ house to buy taxidermy or eat camel for lunch. Due to my past experiences with camels,
I was pretty happy to keep them off the menu and the taxidermy wasn’t too much of a turn-on either. (Imagine Chris walking through New Zealand bio security with a fresh water crocodile tucked under his arm? Yeah right)
We brought Dad a tacky tee-shirt with the slogan ‘nine out of ten men who try camels prefer woman’
We took a felucca cruise before sunset and felt sorry for the tour groups who shared their felucca with an ‘English speaking guide’ who made them clap and dance to ‘traditional African music’, before subjecting them to an endless hard sell of tacky souvenirs.
We were taken aback when our felucca captain finished our boat ride half and hour early and then pouted when we paid him the agreed price. Yes, we still happily paid the agreed price but didn’t tip since the trip was shorter than arranged. His tantrum was as memorable as the rest of the trip!
We travelled in convoy (oh when will this convoy madness end?) down to Abel Simbel in a very cramped but very cheap mini bus. We made new friends as we all sat in the car park in our very
cramped mini bus for over an hour because some of the passengers got told the wrong return time. It resulted in our bus missing the return convoy. What was especially funny (and cringe-worthy) was watching the group dynamics sour as one girl moved a pillow from someone elses ‘reserved’ seat, thus dividing our little bus into ‘oh come on, let her have the seat’ and ‘no it was theirs to start with’ It all got a bit fierce out there in the car park.
We ate some nice meals in local Egyptian restaurants recommended by our helpful hotel owner.
We managed to get over to Philae Temple without being completely and utterly ripped off by the boat operators. Felt sorry for another couple that literally ‘missed the boat’ and got charged five times as much EACH as the group of ten did in our boat.
Developed a new strategy for getting from one end of the bazaar to the other without entering into yet another conversation about ‘where you from?’ and ‘how long you been in Egypt? Power walking - like serious, ‘sorry, I’m actually exercising’ power walking. Of course dressing in trousers and baggy shirts made
life much more bearable - I’m sure the blonde in the mini skirt in front of use learnt her lesson pretty quick.
Played ‘count the cruise boat’ in the evenings. Think we gave up at about 250. Moored up in groups of up to six across. Great times tables practice!
Watched the local men watching the western tourists swim and sun bathe in their bikinis on the decks of their cruise boats.
We stood laughing on the High Dam as we all realised we had just paid nearly NZ$15 for… for… um now what was that about?
So there you have it. Our stay in Aswan. We wanted to have a bit more of an authentic experience being independent travellers but I really don’t think we got it! Yes, we could have made more of an effort…
Despite this, we did have a good time and despite the hassle Aswan is much prettier and less agro than Luxor which is where we headed next…
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