David Brider (davidbrider) wrote,
David Brider
davidbrider

Thursday 29th April 2010

Another early start (although at least I had time to have a shower), and then after breakfast, we all piled into the Eastmar coach and were taken to a ferry boat area in the shade of the Aswan Dam.

The boats were large enough to take the 20 or so members of our group, made of white painted metal with a metal canopy above the seating area (the canopy was fairly low, so it was very much a case of "mind your head" when boarding or leaving), and powered by a single motor. Cushions (of a pretty, floral pattern) were laid down for our comfort on the seats, which were made of the same white painted metal as the rest of the boat.

Sarah and I made the mistake of sitting in the rear half of the boat, rather too near the motor, which was kicking out some rather unpleasant fumes (Sarah assured me that it was burning rich. The non-petrolhead in me just nodded dumbly).

Unlike previous days, which have started out very hot and got sweltering over the course of the morning, today started off quite mild and became pleasantly warm. Indeed, the sky was mildly cloudy - to describe it as "overcast" would be pitching it a bit strong, but we did wonder if we might be due one of Egypt's once-every-fifteen-years rainfalls; however, 'twas not to be. There was, though, a pleasant cooling breeze which made the day a bit more tolerable.

I've decided that the title of this diary should be "Another Day, Another Temple." Today's was Philae Temple, named after the island where it was discovered. Not, however, the island where it's now located - it was moved about 35 years ago, in a rather impressive feat of engineering, because it had been submerged by the Nile over the years as a result of the building of the dam, and is now located on Agilkia island.


I think this was called the Birthing Room.


Carvings on the wall of the temple.

The Temple, like the last two we've seen, dated to the Graeco-Roman period - it was about 2200 years old. I had a feeling of the weight of history in this place; a couple of millennia priests would work (and live? I'm not sure, but that's the impression I get) in these Temples, venerating their gods, going about their lives...it wasn't just cold stone walls, it was a home to the gods and their people.


The view from the Temple back over the approach road.

After visiting the temple itself, we sat looking down at the Nile (I flippantly whistled (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay...), a very pleasant experience. Indeed, much of the day comprised of watching beautiful scenery. That included the trip back from the island (helped by the facts that Sarah and I sat in the front half of the boat, away from the motor, and that the wind was blowing the fumes away from us), although we were a trifle concerned that several of the boats were full of occupants wearing orange life jackets. As we hadn't been given such apparel, we had to wonder what they knew that we didn't.


The view down over the dock.


The view of Trajan's Kiosk as we left the island.

After the temple, we were driven along the Old Aswan Dam (the road along the top was almost scarily narrow for two lanes of traffic, particularly as were in a large coach which sometimes passed other large coaches in the other lane (I'd swear I heard what sounded unpleasantly like the scrape of coach against coach, but presumably wasn't).

After that, we made a brief stop at the newer, and wider, High Dam, which was probably the drabbest stop of the week. I mean, I'm sure there's nothing wrong with it and it does the job it's designed to, but that's the problem - it's just blandly functional. As tourist spots go, you don't have to go far to beat a huge block of concrete. Which is a shame - I'm sure they could get Banksy in to pretty it up a bit. Although as was pointed out, it's a military area. Maybe the military object to things being pretty?

They wouldn't have cared much for our next port of call, Al Fayed Perfume Palace (a little online hunting suggests that this might be connected to the Al Fayed family of Harrods ownership fame, but on the other hand, it might not), where we were encouraged to smell various natural essences, blended essences, and aromatherapy oils. Some of them were particularly potent. This also ended up as the most expensive stop so far, as we spent LE750 on a gift set of four (three aromatherapy oils and one essence) for the price of three. And then I briefly went online to update my currency converter app and learned that I'd just spent £88:00. Ouch. Those aromatherapy oils had better work, is all I can say.

We were also unable to resist temptation at our next port of call, The Papyrus Institute, where we were told how sheets of papyrus are made (by stripping, slicing, hammering, weaving and then pressing the innards of the plant itself). There were several images of Tutankhamun's gold funerary mask, and I found one that was within my price range (250 LE), although whether there'll be wall space for it at Rita's is anybody's guess. There were also some lovely composite images of a sphinx, pyramids, the mask and the façade at Abu Simbel, but those were all way outside our price range, with the cheapest being about 1500 LE (the most gorgeous being 4000 LE, or a snip at £472).

We made it back to the boat with about 10 minutes to spare before lunch, after which Sarah and I braved Aswan's main street. For all that Egyptian traffic doesn't seem to be desperately safe for drivers, it seems that pedestrians have an even worse deal. We found something that seemed to be a pedestrian crossing (it was a zebra crossing, but orange and blue instead of black and white). We waited. And we waited. And we waited. And no. Traffic. Stopped. So eventually we just found a gap in the traffic and risked it. We're both alive to tell the tale, but there didn't seem to be any guarantee of that being the case at the time.

Sarah, incidentally, told me that in Egypt, all the car pedals are wired up to the horns, which explains the apparently over-excessive use of the hornes on Egyptian cars. I took her perfectly seriously. It was only half an hour or so later that she explained that actually, she'd been joking. Mmph.

Once we'd crossed the road, we did what we'd come for - I, having just been paid, withdrew 2000 LE from my account, to go towards the various optional excursions we'll be taking over the next few days; whilst Sarah changed her travellers' cheques for cold hard currency. Well, most of it was notes, but there were actually a few Egyptian coins in there, the first we'd seen.

Also, I finally found my Holy Grail, a pack of salt & vinegar crisps, as well as getting some ice cream. I ate the ice cream on the way back to the boat (we decided not to bother using the possibly-but-possibly-not-a-pedestrian-crossing on the grounds that it didn't seem to make an iota of difference, so it wasn't worth doubling back on ourselves), and Sarah and I, once we'd got back to the boat, lay on the bed munching at the crisps.

At 2:30pm, we left for the first stage of the tour of Aswan; this involved a ride along the Nile through a nature reserve, on a boat similar to the one we'd used this morning (but with only the six of us, as this was one of the optional items). For this we were joined by a new guide called Shabha (or possibly Shabba, which just makes me think of Shabba Ranks). It was one of those positively idyllic, restful times where one forgets ones cares (to be fair, much of the holiday is turning out like that). It felt not unlike a stroll out down by the River Chess, but on a rather larger river and with Shabha pointing out various birds and flora we passed along the way.


Birdwatching on the Nile.

During this twitching session, Shabha took us to a Nubian village along the Nile - as far as I could tell, to his home, or certainly to the home of his friends or family. We were introduced to a metre-long crocodile (I chickened out of holding it - even with its mouth held shut with a piece of rope, I was slightly freaked out by it; some of our number were rather braver, though), saw various Nubian crafts, and the man with the crocodile introduced us to (and let us photograph him with) his taxidermy collection.


Crocodile Man and his taxidermy collection.


A real crocodile. Not alive.

Back to the M/S Ra, and I managed not to mind my head whilst getting off the boat (ouch. It didn't help that we had to clamber across another boat to the dock). We met up with Yahya, who took us by minibus to the local mosque, where after we'd all removed our shoes, we sat down and he talked us about the Islamic faith, specifically the Five Pillars of Islam. All things considered, I agree with his assessment that despite the bad press Islam receives in the west due to some of its more fanatical adherents, Islam has a lot to recommend it, but on the other hand it's possibly a bit too strict in some of its rules and regulations for me to think of adopting it. But then the same is true (in my opinion) of some branches of Christianity. I like the simplicity of: God's here, get to know Him, engage in dialogue with Him - talk to Him, and listen for Him talking to you. Don't follow rules and regulations, just be holy as He is holy. Don't look for Him in specially built buildings, just take off your shoes, 'cos the place where you're standing is holy ground, wherever that is.

Anyway, I digress.


Looking up at the mosque.


The front of the mosque.

From the mosque we went to a little coffee shop where he enjoyed tea by sunset overlooking the Nile. Well, unfortunately, because of the cloud cover, we didn't actually *see* the sun setting, we were just kind of aware of it as the light level diminished gradually.

Also there was a cute kitten there, so I was a bit in heaven.


The view down over the Nile. Sunset not visible.

The last stop on the city tour was a spice market, which was...a bit like the perfumery, but with spices. Sarah and I bought a rather lovely spice mixture for use in Christmas cakes - heavy with the gorgeous aroma of cinnamon, but also containing nutmeg, vanilla, and coffee (and at least one or two other spices whose identity I forget). We also bought a rather pleasant smelling chicken curry, which we're hoping to use when we get back to England. If I'm feeling brave. There was another cute kitten at the spice market. Yay! for cute kittens.

Back to the boat for dinner - as we entered the dining room we could smell fish and chips, but although chips were definitely present the only vaguely fishy item present was calamari. I passed on that, and just settled for chips and ketchup (the waiter didn't understand my request for vinegar. Mmph. When we get home, I'm definitely having proper fish & chips with lashings of vinegar...)

We have an early start in the morning for our trip to Abu Simbel, compounded by the fact that the clocks go forward an hour tonight, so Sarah and I headed for bed not long after 9:00pm.
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