Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 82
Somewhere on the river Nile
Monday 2nd June
It was once again a welcome two nights in the same bed but we awoke this morning only to have to pack everything again ready for our checkout later this morning. The level of energy drain decreases exponentially with the increase in number of nights in the same place. Changing places every day is simply too much of a pain and can only be sustained for a brief period before travel fatigue sets in. Two nights is just about the comfortable limit and three or four (the most we’ve every managed) is simply divine. Another two nights on the River Nile cruise wait for us, starting from this evening.
Our tourist agenda here in Aswan will only be complete once we take a Felucca ride around the immediate vicinity to visit the botanical gardens and a Nubian village. Our tour guide representative walked us across the road to the waiting Felucca and left us in the hands of the mild mannered, Nubian skipper. It wasn’t until after we had pulled away from the dock that we realised that we were not, in fact, on a real Felucca but a powered boat that just happened to look like one. It didn’t matter, as it was a very relaxing trundle around Elephantine Island to the botanical gardens dock. The brief journey was gentle and quite the contrast with pretty much everything else we’ve done so far. I’m not quite sure why our morning boat ride included a trip to the botanical gardens but we enjoyed a relaxing half an hour walk through the tropical oasis nevertheless.
Our next stop was the Nubian village that occupies most of the Elephantine Island. We had paid an additional E£50 ($8.30) for the privilege of being escorted through the town and into a typical household to chat with the occupant. Our Nubian inhabitant had either just woken up (it was not yet nine o’clock in the morning) or was suffering some sort of illness as he seemed very lethargic. We have visited local villages a few times already at various places throughout Africa and this one would add another cultural notch to our feather. Some bone and horn carvings were paraded in front of us, and Sandy ended up buying a rather nice Buffalo horn, the top section of which was carved into the form of a Camel.
In stark contrast to the past few days, the weather this morning was rather overcast and dull. It was still quite warm but nowhere near as unbearably hot as we’ve had to put up with recently. It even started to spit a bit for a short while and it seemed like the entire population of Aswan was out in force, taking advantage of the brief interruption of the hot, summer climate.
Our ‘Felucca’ ride took less than half the time that we were told it would do and our driver/guide was not particularly good and spoke very little English. I tipped him what I thought was a very nice amount given the brief time that we were with him but he immediately counted it in front of me and gave a rather displeased and disgusted look. If we hadn’t left there and then, I would have taken the tip back from him for being so rude. With the exception of our guide at Philae, on our first day here in Aswan, nobody has really shown any gratitude when receiving the tips that we’ve given. Perhaps we don’t tip enough but I don’t believe in rewarding service with more than is appropriate and rewarding bad service is a bad idea altogether. When tipping is met with an ungrateful look or gesture, it makes you want to tip less the next time and does a disservice to anyone who genuinely wants to provide a meaningful service. Performing a minimal service and sticking your hand out for a large tip is something that I find particularly disdainful but it seems to be the way of things here in Egypt.
Since our brief trip on the Nile didn’t last as long as anticipated, we were left with a couple of extra hours to kill so we decided to wander around the markets and bazaars of Aswan. These markets are an amazing cacophony of colour and activity and form a link to time past. Nowadays, much of what is for sale is aimed directly at tourists specifically. As was the case elsewhere in Africa, all of the bazaar owners immediately try to hook you into their shop – even to just look around for free. Our counter tactic of pretending that we don’t understand English was further countered with attempts to speak to us in several different languages. And so the game continues to develop and evolve. Perhaps I will find a way to circumvent this tactic so that I can still stay on top of them.
We didn’t buy anything at the markets after spending an hour or so meandering around the narrow streets, trying to dodge the onslaught, and soon went back to the hotel to pick up our waiting bags and to meet our tour guide. He took us on a short taxi ride to the waiting cruise boat and we checked in. It’s a nice enough boat and is supposed to by a five star vessel. Egyptian standards of five stars just don’t compare with anywhere else in the world and I certainly wouldn’t compare it to a five star hotel of Europe, for example. It’s also rather small for a cruise boat but is still considered one of the larger ones on the River Nile. It will serve well as a place to relax and take things easy over the next couple of days.
Soon after checking in on the boat, a nice surprise was in store for us. Our tour rep. told us that he had arranged an English-speaking guide for the couple of stops that we will make on the boat. We were very pleasantly surprised when Iman, the very same tour guide that we had at Philae, walked onto the boat and informed us that he would be our guide. He later informed us that he would also be our guide in Luxor. He sat at our table for lunch soon after leaving the dock and we chatted about various subjects. He’s a really nice guy and I think I will tip him extra well at the end of our time with him. I know now already that he will express great appreciation for it and it will make me feel good for doing so.
With lunch now out of the way and our cruise well under way, we are now relaxing on the sundeck doing nothing more than simply soaking up the warm atmosphere as the banks of the River Nile slowly pass by. Suddenly, I feel like I’m on holiday again and all is well.
We just returned to the cruise ship after having stopped for an hour or so at a place called Kom Ombo. It’s the sight of yet another ancient temple and our guide gave us a rundown of all the important features and hieroglyphs. It was an interesting visit, at the end of which we said goodbye to our guide temporarily, as he will now drive back to Aswan for another tour and will meet us again tomorrow at the next tourist haunt on our cruise (Edfu) where he will once again give us a guided tour. We will also see him again in Luxor, where we will join another group of people and yet again benefit from his great wisdom and knowledge.
He showed us a two-inch long silver cartouche pendant (complete with insignia) inscribed in hieroglyphics with the name of one of the tourists that we me on his tour the other day. This was apparently a custom order. It looked beautiful and when he told us how much they cost, we both almost fell off the floor and could barely believe how cheap they were. Sandy soon had the brilliant idea of getting twenty-three of them made for all the nephews and nieces as this year’s Christmas gifts. This would solve this year’s problem in one fell swoop and would be something we have not yet done. With our standing policy to try to get all the kids the same gift as each other each year, the steadily increasing age gap between them is making this more and more of a difficult task. He agreed to take us to the factory in Luxor where they are made and we will place our order then. If any nephews and nieces are reading this – I may decide not to do this yet!
Dinner has come and gone and we have already arrived at Edfu. The boat has docked for the night and we will have all of tomorrow morning to ourselves before the afternoon guided tour straight after lunch. I dare say we will have a well deserve lay in tomorrow morning. This evening’s dinner was ‘oriental’. That’s the local way of saying that the fare was Egyptian. This is the only country on earth where oriental means Egyptian as opposed to oriental for some reason. It was nicely laid out but neither of us is particularly keen on Middle-Eastern food. At least there was some chicken and bread so we didn’t go completely hungry.
Even though our cruise boat is quite small, the twenty-five or so compliment of passengers is still a small number and the decks seem relatively empty – luckily for us. Sandy and I seem to be the only passengers on board who are not Germans. Even if we weren’t constantly overhearing their loud talking, the fact that they have each staked a claim for one of the flat deck lounge chairs with their towels pretty much gives it away. Germans are renowned for this and will get up very early in the morning to drape their towel over their favourite chair or piece of beach to prevent anyone else from using it – even if they use it for just a minute or two throughout the whole day. The cruise company also seems to be catering for this group specifically as every single sign on the boat is posted in German.