Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 80

Aswan

Saturday 31st May

Between waking up on a moving train, visiting a relocated, ancient temple, getting my beard trimmed in an Egyptian barbershop and coming back to the hotel room only to find Sandy lying face down and naked on the bed with a strange man’s hands all over her, today was an interesting day.

The day started with the arrival of our overnight train at around eight thirty this morning. Ordinarily speaking, I wouldn’t have a problem with sleeping on a train. The movement and noise don’t tend to bother me at all and, in fact, I often feel a strange sense of comfort in the repetitiveness of the motion. Several times during the night, however, I got the distinct feeling that the train was travelling at quite some speed. I don’t know why but this made me a little anxious and I kept having visions of our train colliding with another train on the track, thus throwing me and all the other objects in the compartment forward. Had our sleeping compartment been facing the rear of the train with my back to the wall, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much. Funny how it wasn’t the dying part that bothered me; only the being thrown around the compartment part.

As it was, then, we arrived safe and sound and on time but I was not in the best of moods and my renowned morning attitude was in full force. The poor guided tour representative that was there waiting for us on the platform, holding a piece of paper with our names scribbled on it, probably thinks I’m a bit of a git by now. Oh well.

We were whisked away to the two-star hotel where we quickly settled in and caught another forty winks or so of sleep. This didn’t do much to improve my attitude, unfortunately, but we both tried to make the best of the situation. Our room is quite nice and we were given the honeymoon suit, in fact. The only difference between a regular room and the honeymoon suit, as far as I can tell, is the four poster, canopy bed that clearly is a holdover from the nineteen fifties era. It’s comfortable enough and although the room itself is a little on the small side (the bathroom must have been designed with extremely small people in mind), it’s adequate and we have little room to complain.

Our tour guide representative gave us a briefing of what to expect from our two days here after we reached the hotel this morning. Our day today would start shortly after one o’clock in the afternoon with a guided tour to the High Dam and the Philae Island temples. A nicely air-conditioned bus, complete with English speaking guide attached to the end of a microphone, accompanied the eight of us in all that were to participate today and for the first time since setting off on our journey, we felt like real tourist. I wasn’t particularly keen on being a ‘tourist’. We prefer to refer to ourselves as ‘travellers’. There is a distinct difference between a tourist and a traveller. Tourists spend just a short amount of time on any holiday destination, take guided tours and spend lots of money seeing just the highlights of a given town or country without paying much attention to the locals – often to the disdain of those very locals. A traveller spends a lot more time on the road and travels through a place with less of a tempo and gets to know the local people and culture rather that spending time at the tourist attractions. Travellers often tend to shy away from the well-beaten tourist routes and often have a lot less money to spend also.

Since we were stuck being tourists for the day and had to lump it, we decided to make the most of it all and to try to get as much out of the tour as possible. Accordingly, I stuck to the guide and challenged his knowledge with lots of interesting questions. As it happens, I was the only member of the group who stayed with the guide through all of his memorised speeches.

Down here in the South of the country, another ethnic population starts to take hold. The Nubian people are a Negro race of people that straddle both Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. The Nubians that live here in Egypt are considered Egyptians but together with their Sudanese counterparts, they form a very different cultural group and even have a language all of their own. The interesting thing to note about their language is that it cannot be written. There are no texts, no alphabet and no means of transcribing the language in written form.

So, our guided tour this morning took us to what’s known as the High Dam. This particular dam is one of the largest on the planet and the unnatural lake that is formed as a result, Lake Nasser, is the largest of its kind in the world. It’s not a particularly high dam but it is extremely long. The dam is also responsible for the production of about 80% of the country's electricity needs.

We were told that we would not be able to use very long telephoto lenses whilst at the dam because of the nearby military installations. We’ve heard of these restrictions before, such as it being forbidden to take photos of military buildings and personnel, bridges and so on. It’s a bit of a running joke with the locals here since the satellites high up above see much more than any telephoto lens would anyway. Although the dam was an impressive feat of British engineering, the photography pickings at the site were pretty slim anyway. Our guide explained all about the British occupation and the various historical events that brought about the dam’s construction. Of particular interest was the fact that the flooding of the lake as a result of the dam construction resulted in several ancient temples being partially and even completely submerged. The dam constructors realised this ahead of time and several of the temples were actually relocated, brick by brick to new sites – some of which are as far away as Holland, Spain and even America. One of the temples, the temple of Isis, was relocated to what is now an island in the lake and this would be our next destination on the tour.

The temple of Isis is a fascinating place and is covered wall to wall with hieroglyphs ranging in sizes from the very small to the extremely tall (over twenty feet tall in some places). The whole place has a very Egyptian feel to it but it turns out that the architecture is actually Greek, although you would need to be an Egyptologist to tell the difference. Sandy was once again in her photographic element and I stuck to our guide like glue, soaking up every bit of knowledge that I could retain.

Much as was the case in Cairo, the approaching low season (Summer) and recent world events has driven the tourist trade out of the country and we were lucky to have the entire island pretty much to ourselves. When it’s busy here, there is barely enough opportunity to stand still inside the various temple chambers with the volume of tourists.

After an hour or so on the island, we took the small boat back to shore and were buses back to town in air-conditioned comfort where we returned briefly to our room before looking for a place to have a bite to eat. Most of the places here are closed due to the lack of tourists and the resulting pressure for the various bazaar owners to try to get you into their shops was probably a bit higher than normal. It took us a while to find a place we were comfortable with and I took note of the locations of a couple of barber shops along the way.

Having settled on the restaurant that we were going to have a meal at, I contemplated following the recommendation of our guide and ultimately ordered Pigeon and chips. I expected it to be very small and it was. Being one of the specialities of Egypt, I felt adventurous enough to give it a go but there was barely enough meat to cover a sandwich altogether. The waiter also insisted that I not use cutlery to eat it with, as it is apparently the norm to eat it with your hands. I rarely use cutlery anyway so this was not a problem.

After dinner, sandy went back to the hotel to inquire about a massage and I went back to the barbershop that I had noticed earlier to get a haircut and my beard trimmed for the second time here in Africa. I returned to the hotel room after forty-five minutes or so to find that Sandy was already well into her relaxing massage with a Nubian carrying out the honours. I’ve been sitting here writing up the log waiting for him to finish up so we can get some well-needed sleep before tomorrow morning’s three o’clock wake-up call for the early tour to Abu Simbel.

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