Monday, October 30, 2006

At the end of a 16 hour train journey...

Day 7
The train dragged on and on. Through the night, then through the whole morning. Egyptian time again! Train took about 16 hours as we arrived early afternoon. Aswan [GPS: 24.09973N, 32.89959E] station was being baked by the sun, and with no breeze one really felt the heat. I wandered across the road, dodging the kids riding donkeys (still used everywhere to transport things), from the station and sat down on a stone edge to a garden. After a few seconds I decided my rear was starting to grill, and hopped back up!

We wandered round to our hotel, a short walk along a garden packed full of families out celebrating the feast days after Ramadan. The atmosphere was lovely, with kids waving at us and yelling "hello", and groups chatting over their picnics, generally in the shade (no coincidence!). Our hotel was also a pleasant surprise, far nicer than the one in Cairo. I was still sharing with Ray, but with a bigger room overlooking the pool (not tried as it was a bit cold!).

Well this was now almost twenty minutes without any temple action, this had to be rectified, so we headed out to Philae Temple, a bus then boat ride away. Philae sits in the area which was previously dammed up, and to avoid flooding the temple, they moved the whole thing, which was quite involved as I think they only started it after flooding the area. They built a moat around the temple, drained the water, then shifted it all about a hundred yards to a higher bit of land. By the way, new piece of vocabulary: the different levels of the Nile, either side of dams, weirs or locks are called cataracts. On the way there and back on the boat we had a "tat" seller join us - three necklace or bracelet things for 10E£. Made in China stickers already removed.

In the evening the group had a choice of activities, and we chose to have dinner in a Nubian village not far from Aswan. The Nubians are the black Egyptians who presumably are similar in race to the Sudanese. They have generally over time been fairly harshly treated - slaves to the Ancient Egyptians, and now the Aswan Dam has flooded the majority of their land to create Lake Nasser. The boat down was a nice gentle cruise, a few of us lay on the roof gazing up at the stars. We passed an enormous house owned by a popstar which is up for sale - apparently it's on the market for about £50k!!

The village [GPS: 24.06185N, 32.87090E] was dark, so we walked up in a close group, ending up in a large square open-roof room surrounded by low walls, which was effectively the chief's lounge. He was away doing the Haj - the pilgrimage to Mecca, so we met some others, whom our guides Hassan and Shady seemed to know quite well (judge based on the way they rolled around wrestling on the floor shoving bananas in each other's mouths in fits of laughter!). The food was okay, not great, and no beer, but they did sit with us afterwards and answer questions about their life. Shady said bringing groups here was effectively an act of charity, as they are quite poor. Their way of life was one of agriculture before they lost all their land to the dam, now they operate felucca boats, a traditional Egyptian sailboat that we were to try the following day. A pretty Nubian girl joined us too, wearing in a lovely emerald-green dress, and after the Q&A the girls drew henna tattoos on those intereted, including Ray, who had 'Raymond Lee' in Arabic (they pattern match with approximate sounds) tattooed on his arm (which he was later to regret in the bazaars as touts yelled out his name constantly!), and Tarny had her foot decorated.

Another nice ride back to town, faster this time as we were going downriver, then to bed as we had a very nasty early start to look forward to the following morning, the "optional" trip (it didn't seem like an option for us!) to Abu Simbel in the South.

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