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Published: April 6th 2013
Our sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan was interesting. Apparently its mostly tourists that take it as it is too expensive for most Egyptians to travel on. It wasn´t the nicest train ever, but it wasn´t the worst either. I´d say the train I took in Thailand was much less comfortable. We had our own cabins with two bunks in each with a little sink and mirror. A mostly functioning toilet at the end of the car. It provided the necessities with a degree of privacy for everyone. I think the biggest drawback was that it was noisy. Everything rattled. Once you got over the noise though, it was alright. The bunks were surprisingly comfortable.
When we arrived, we didn´t even miss a beat and headed over to check out Philae temple. We took a little boat over to the island and the first thing we noticed was the crazy amount of boats just floating near the docks. Normally they would be used to ferry tourists like us and would all be in use. It was difficult to imagine that many boats going back and forth on the water all full of people. I´m sure there were hundreds of them
just sitting there. I think we only saw two or three other boats that actually had passengers. There were people at the temple, but it was mostly groups of school kids and tourists from middle eastern countries. Philae temple itself was inspiring. The heiroglyphics are in great shape and the site is well maintained. You would never know that it had been completely disassembled and moved. After the Aswan dam had been built, the water from lake Nasser rose higher than expected I guess and seriously threatened Philae temple and Abu Simbel. They were both very carefully moved from location to another where the water wouldn´t destroy thousands of years of history.
In the evening we hopped on a felucca over to a little nubian village. We walked around the village, and checked out a school built and operated entirely on volunteers and donations from the community. You could tell they were proud of their little school, and they had every right to be. From there we walked up to a high point on the island and watched the sun set over the nile. With the occasional felucca floating by, it was very pretty and serene. By this point
though, we were all starving. Supper that night was with a local family and the food was amazing! It was also nice to relax with a typical family. We had two dinners with local families on our trip and they were both highlights. I think what was memorable here for me was this was the first time the political situation was really discussed around us. Government corruption and how people deal with it was not taboo conversation with our guide or the people we encountered. We hear so little of the situation back in Canada, and in the other countries our group hails from, that we were all completely engrossed in the subject. For me it shed new light on what life in Egypt is like for Egyptians and gave me a more complete picture of its new and former politcal atmosphere. It was the first evening we were really exposed to the subject, but it would continue to be a topic of conversation and line of questioning for our guide for the entire time we were there. The effects of the revolution are not loudly broadcast to the world at large, so it was fascinating to me to be walking around in such a climate of social change.
The next morning we were up at 2:45 am in order to catch the convoy out to Abu Simbel. All of the tourists have to go out at set times, so all of the buses and vans leave together and travel the 3 hours out to the site. For safety. The explanation was that the site is very close to the Sudanese border and there is no cell phone reception out in the desert. Abu Simbel was quite impressive. Its hard to imagine that it had been moved, just because of the sheer size of it. It looks out over Lake Nasser so it is picturesque in a way. Again, excellent examples of heiroglyphs and statues. It felt more touristy, but at least the hasslers were not allowed into the site. Instead you have to go through a gauntlet of them when you leave. That was not so fun. The history of the temple and of Ramses II is interesting, but also something easily found online so I won´t go into that.
In the evening, after a nap to recover from our ridiculous wake up time, we had a great group supper and a great wander into the marketplace for spices. The spices are so fragrant and fresh! It was intoxicating. I can´t wait to get home and taste what my mom has conjured up with the spices she took home. (My mom decided at the last minute to come along with me. I think the spice shop was her favorite stop!)
That brought us to the end of our time in Aswan. Next a Felucca trip down the Nile!
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