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April 4th 2011
Published: April 5th 2011
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I woke up before Michael. I glanced at my watch and it was 9:00am. It wasn’t a bad night’s sleep at all considering we were on a moving train the whole time. Almost as if the conductor was listening for movement, he knocked on our door and asked if we were ready for breakfast. I replied yes and Michael jumped right out of bed at the mention of food. Men.

We were given assorted pastries, jam and tea. Not too bad. As we ate we admired the view out our window. The farms along the Nile were luscious and green. Egyptians were hard at work towing the fields. The handmade scarecrows made me laugh to myself. They were literally t-shirts on a cross with some metallic ribbon tied to the top. It is simple, yet probably fairly effective. The farmers must be so hot out in those fields. It’s a little over 100 degrees here and they’re wearing long Nubian gowns of heavy cloth.

We arrived in Aswan. Right away we recognized that this part of Egypt was way different than Cairo. It was much quieter and the air seemed so much clearer. Michael and I decided to walk from the train station to our hotel, something we never would have done in Cairo. As we walked people kept calling out “Hey lady!” “Where are you from?” “Do you have a sister?” “Welcome to Egypt!” “Welcome to Aswan”. Everyone sounded rather pleased to see us. We walked along the water past all the cruise boats docked by the shore until we arrived at Pyramisa Isis Resort. We went through a metal detector that I think was more for show than anything else. The machine sounded when I walked through and the security guard just told me “Go ahead, it’s okay”. The same happened to Michael. Seems they run a tight ship down here.

We checked in and the receptionist lead us to our room. There were maybe 4 or 5 rooms occupied. He lead us to a room through some beautiful gardens and a pool to right along the outside of the resort near the Nile. When he unlocked the room and we walked in, both Michael and my jaw dropped. We were literally right ON the Nile. Like, if we were adventurous enough we could literally jump right from our window into the waters. The feluccas were proudly surfing the waters and the dunes of the Tombs of the Nobles were visible across the river. It was perfect. All of this for just 60 USD.

Michael and I sat on the window sill and admired for a few minutes. We then headed out into town to admire the vibrant colors of Aswan. Outside of Khan al-Khalili, Cairo is dull in terms of color, mainly because of how dirty everything is, from the buildings to the cars. The splash of color in Cairo comes from the laundry that hangs from apartment windows around the city. In Aswan there are luscious palm trees, colorful fountains, bright horse drawn carriages and incredibly colorful shops. The Nile is bright blue and I did not see any trash lining the Nile shores as I noticed in Cairo. I already love Aswan.

Michael and I walked through the Souq in Aswan. Beautiful inlay boxes, brilliantly colored scarves, perfume, spices, jewelry, sheesha pipes, clothes and statues. You name it and it was there. It was rather early in our trip, so we really weren’t interested in buying too much since we knew we would need to carry it back up to Luxor and then Cairo. We started walking through the Souq admiring all the beautiful colors, when we realized that we were the only tourists. No one else. I looked at some scarves and the man who owned the shop looked like he was about cry. Another man explained that no one has been down here in a while and that no one has been in these shops in at least a week. As I looked around, I truly believed it. There’s no one. I made a deal for two scarves for 100LE. I know I overpaid. I could have easily bargained down to 50LE, but my heart was breaking. I paid the man and walked away with my scarves. My back was turned, however Michael was still able to see the man, kiss the money and raised it to the skies and then kneeled to the ground. He was that thankful for my 16 USD. The shopkeepers down in Aswan were really hurting over the lack of tourism. Cairo still had some people, but I suppose Aswan is too deep into the country for many tourists to risk visiting. Who knows? All I know is that it was empty.
Michael and I had been talking about it for weeks, so we finally decided now was the best time for a felucca (Nubian sailboat) ride on the Nile. The felucca owners were hurting just as much as the Souq shop owners. Michael and I made a deal with the first felucca captain we could find for 200LE for the next 5 hours. He would take us to the Tombs of the Nobles, the Kitchener Island and to Elephantine Island and then ride around so that Michael and I could enjoy the sunset on the Nile. Again, we probably paid too much, but you should have seen the desperation. As soon as we made the deal this man was singing and dancing and jumping all around his felucca. He invited a friend to help him pilot because work was slow and we did not mind. Seriously, I’ve never seen a man so happy. I introduced myself, “Isma Maeve”. His name was Nasir.

First, we headed to the Tombs of the Nobles straight across the Nile. The tombs in Aswan date back to the times of the old and middle kingdoms of ancient Egyptian, around 5000 years ago. Once we made it to the west bank there was a man there trying to sell us camels to ride up the mini mountain. Michael and I refused as we were both still a little sore from our camel adventures at the pyramids the day before. Instead we climbed the stairs up to the tombs. At the top there was man waiting for us. He gave us a tour of the tombs. As we were the only people there, he had to unlock each gate as we got to them and wait for all the lights to turn on. It was worth it though. The tombs still had great color on the walls. There were offering tables and mummification tables. We could see the engravings signifying where the vital organs were removed and placed during the mummification process. It was very cool. We probably saw about half a dozen tombs including the most famous of Prince Sarenput II. The statues, pillars and paintings in his tomb were definitely the best preserved.

One thing irks me of the Egyptian culture. Besheesh, tipping (and the art of begging for tips), are a way of life. The man that gave us a tour of the Tombs of the Nobles could barely speak English. We couldn’t understand anything that he was saying so we just referred to our own guidebooks. Regardless of the language barrier, we did understand ‘Besheesh?’ and he told us after he showed us 4 of the tombs that we were finished and the tour was over. He stuck his hand out for a tip and we gave him one and said ‘shukran’ (thank you). We thought he was leading us back down the mountain, and then he showed us a few more tombs, hieroglyphics and statues. They were cool, but then he again stuck out his hand for another besheesh. We kind of felt played as I’m sure these were all supposed to be in our tour. Also, this man brought another of his friends along to “turn on all the lights”; he expected a besheesh as well. Michael handed him a 1LE coin, and they both started complaining for more. I understand that Egypt is going through a hard time and I am sympathetic and supportive, however I want to be able to tip as I feel is deserved not be strong armed into it. We were up alone in the west bank of Aswan and we didn’t want any trouble, so Michael gave them a 5LE each, which is less than 1 USD each and they left us be. Regardless, it was begging, not a reward for a job well done.

We made our way back down to Nasir and the felucca fairly quickly. We climbed onboard and headed off to Kitchener Island and the Botanical gardens. Kitchener Island was given and named after British General Horatio Kitchener in the 1890s for success in Sudan. Kitchener was a botanist and planted the island with flowers and trees from all over the world. There were actually a surprising amount of tourists walking around Kitchener Island, probably about a dozen. We actually had someone to take our picture for us without asking for besheesh in return :-) Michael did try and buy a water, however when the vendor replied that it was 20LE, Michael gasped and decided he can wait until we make it back to Aswan and the water is 4LE again. Once we had our fill of the flowers we met up with Nasir again. We inconveniently returned to the boat when he was off at the bathroom, but we just waited in peace for a few moments. It was a nice wait actually. Next we drove to the Nubian museum and looked at the Nubian villages from the water. Nasir is Nubian, as is almost all of the Aswan felucca captains, and really enjoyed this part of the day. We then drove by old Cataract Hotel up on a cliff overlooking the Nile. It is currently under construction, but you can tell why it is rated 5 stars.

The sun began to set as we rounded Elephantine Island. Other feluccas on the water painted a picturesque scene. We took many pictures. By the time the sun had set, Michael and I both had headaches and were rather tired. We headed back to the hotel, checked our email and talked to Paige (my youngest sister) on Skype for a bit before going to sleep. Tomorrow we need to be awake at 3am in the morning for a trip to Abu Simbel closer to the Sudan border so we ordered room service instead of eating out. The man that delivered our room service spilled one of our drinks as he was coming through the door. Completely on accident and our floor was tile at the entrance, so it was very easy to clean up. He very quickly ran back to the kitchen to bring us a new drink and napkins. As he was leaving I ran after him to give him a 5LE tip. The man actually gave us back our tip twice saying that he didn’t deserve it. Eventually, once we pushed he took it and very sincerely thanked us. I found the man’s pride incredibly refreshing when every Egyptian that has approached us, most of the time uninvited, and tried to show us a statue, take our picture, give us directions, etc. has insisted on a tip for the little to no service they did. However, this man who brought us our food and then ran across the hotel to bring us a new drink in a matter of minutes refused when he felt he didn’t deserve it.

We set up a wake up call for 3am, admired the view of the Nile for a few moments more and then went to sleep around 8pm.

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5th April 2011

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