Wednesday, February 10, 2010


February 9, 2010
By Claire
We sailed for Aswan shortly after our arrival back at the boat, in plenty of time for once. Dinner was very special: an Oriental dinner of more exotic food of the region beginning with cocktails in the lounge. We even had candles on the tables. The food was excellent, the best so far—so naturally I had left my camera in our room. I am still eating cautiously but enjoying the tastes.

We woke to a beautiful blue sky day in Aswan and found ourselves unmoored to any other boats! This means we have a wonderful view outside our room window and from the roof top terrace. It also means we don’t have to walk through 6 or 8 other boats to get to shore. We are quite thrilled with this as we see all the other boats are moored together. I don’t know why we lucked out. How will we recover from living in the lap of luxury?

We slept in today and had breakfast at the decent hour of 8 am then met with our new guide, Mohamed Amir at 9 am. He had a driver waiting and while heading to our first destination, explained the program for today and the three sites we would be visiting, starting with the quarry and the unfinished obelisk. Quarry? Sounds kind of dull, doesn’t it? Well it turned out to be a highlight for us. If this obelisk had not developed a crack and been left abandoned, it would have been the largest in the world when completed—1168 tons and 137 feet long; and the tools left behind gave us our knowledge of how the ancient Egyptians carved them.

Unfinished obelisk

Getting a lesson from Mohamed over the Unfinished Obelisk

Mohamed was terrific explaining things and his English is excellent. Again, I was so grateful to have our very own guide when I saw the large groups clustered together. He, and all the others, have been expert at moving us into the right spot at the right time to avoid the crowds. We have learned that this week is a school holiday for Egyptians which explains some of the crowds.

Mohamed Amir

As usual, our guide called our driver letting him know to be in front to pick us up and the three of us walked down from the quarry to the waiting, air conditioned car. We noticed that most of the cars have dark curtains on the back windows—feeling how warm it was at only 9 am, we could understand the need. Aswan is one of the hottest places in Egypt—something we have been looking forward to in its modulated winter form.

Next up, the Old Dam. Mohamed spent a good deal of time explaining the history of the Dam to us then deftly moved us through the people and through security (he says the metal detectors are just for decoration), to a place on the wall overlooking the water. I noticed one of the guards carefully wiping his machine gun with a piece of Kleenex.

Along the way to our next stop, the High Dam, Mohamed gave us a very succinct history of Egypt through modern times, including Nasser and up to Mubarak. Lake Nasser was impressive and is the largest man-made lake in the World and supplies the hydroelectric power which provides Egypt with most of its electricity. On average it contains 135 billion cubic meters of water, of which an estimated 6 billion are lost each year to evaporation. The lake is home to crocodiles (up to 15 feet long), monitor lizards and deadly horned viper snakes. Crocodiles no longer live along the Nile north of the lake.

Our final stop of the program was to the island of Philae via covered motorboat, driven by a Nubian. Apparently all the motorboats are handled by Nubians.

We stood in the shade of a huge column while Mohamed explained everything there is to know about temples. Having been to so many, and because he was so good at explaining, I felt that it was all finally coming together, although it also makes me aware of how much I don’t know. We really enjoyed his presentation about the ancient Egyptian story of Creation.

The Roman Emperor Trajan built this Kiosk which depicts him making offerings to Isis and Osiris.

Trajan’s Kiosk

Finally, he gave us a 15 minute break for photos and just walking around. We were standing over by a wall looking at the water from the island when I noticed an Egyptian family posing for pictures. I offered to take the photo so the father with the camera could be in the photo as well. It was quite comical as more and more family members kept arriving and I just waved them in and he hurried them along as I was asking, “Any more?” “Yes, yes, here they come,” or something like that in Arabic. Everyone was laughing. He was grateful; I took several shots, then asked if he would do the same for us. He did and then insisted that we be in their family photo. I think there were 3 or 4 cameras going so of course, I asked if ours could be included. They asked where we were from and repeatedly told us “Welcome to Egypt.” It was a very satisfying and special moment with our adoptive Egyptian family.

The mouse to my computer stopped working so Chuck asked Mohamed if he could take us to a store to buy a new one. No problem. We found one for 20 LE (€2.60). I’m using it right now. Then we asked about getting some smaller bills and Mohamed had the driver take us to a place to do that. We also did a minor amount of shopping and Mohamed did all the bargaining. We had agreed to a price between us beforehand and he got it.

Tonight during dinner they had a goodbye celebration with drums and clapping and one of the Egyptian women ululating while they wheeled around a huge cake with one giant candle. The Restaurant Captain, Gomaa, which means Friday in Arabic, was in fine form, playing the drum and shouting and singing. He told me he looks like Samuel L. Jackson; he definitely has his elegance and swagger.

Gomaa—note the callus on his forehead from extensive praying

Later, we watched a Nubian music and dance performance. It was lively and fun but I’m glad I didn’t get dragged up there to dance and perform with them. I slipped back downstairs before that was a possibility.

Slowly making our way up the beautiful Nile has been everything I had hoped for and more. The only problem? It’s over too fast!

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. ~ Mark Twain

No comments: