part 1: cairo, giza | part 2: aswan | part 3: luxor | part 4: cairo
Day 3: Mon May 4 - Arrive in Aswan. Tour of Philae Temple
This morning we arrive in Aswan and transfer to the hotel. We then start our tour of Aswan with a trip to the island temple complex of Philae visiting the impressive Aswan High Dam en route. The Philae temple remains one of Egypt's most romantic and picturesque sites having been completely relocated following work on the Dam. The rest of the day is free to explore the colorful souks and markets found in the town or watch the sunset over the river Nile. Overnight: Aswan 4* hotel.
Extras: Optional upgrade to 3 night luxury Nile cruise
this sleeper train was better than in china - i slept better, plus we weren't warned like mad about thieves. i'm pretty sure our group had the entire third car to ourselves. the bathroom wasn't even bad - it looked somewhat ugly to enter, but the toilet was just scratched up & stained, not dirty. pence woke with highly mosquito-bitten feet, but i didn't seem to have more on my left arm than the 15 attained yesterday, & i'd slept in socks & long pants. at first, mosquitoes here avoided my tattooed places, like they do at home, but eventually they got over that as i started to find many more bites throughout the day.
breakfast was served in the car - tea, four types of bread (including a pound cake with citron), & fig jam. i gave pence my cheese wedges (marked "milk" - pence's comment "that is some solid milk" pretty well skeeved me out, & i don't like cheese anyhow) & he referred to it as "breadfast" which deserved punching. i put on the linen pants i purchased especially for this trip, & we took a small van to the helnan aswan hotel. we saw "misr" things everywhere - banque misr, misr travel, misr trading... turns out misr is the name egyptians call egypt!
i sorted out the hotel wifi (free, but only reaches to the lobby - a bit of a bummer since egypt allows indoor smoking & i was regularly downwind of same) while a muzak version of "chariots of fire" played, followed by kenny g. weird. the elevator had some pretty cool wall art, though. pence decided to go out exploring, but i needed a break, so i hung out in our lovely room & read.
we were on our own for lunch, so around eleven, i ordered room service - "grilled veal chops with lemon rosemary sauce, a jardinière of vegetable & sautéed new potatoes". two things of note about this meal: one, it was totally delicious, but a "jardinière of vegetable" means "steamed carrots & cucumber with a grilled tomato" & "sautéed new potatoes" means "potato cut into sticks & fried soggy in vegetable oil with no salt". egypt, we really need to talk about what you're passing off as fries. the second point was ordering it from room service. it took five attempts of cautious enunciation of "grilled. veal. chops" & the man on the phone responding with variations of "grill beel chip?" before i felt reasonably certain it would arrive. the mango juice i ordered with it, that he understood from the start, was forgotten & had to be brought up on a second trip, lulz. amusements aside, the chops were absolutely delicious & i maintain that egyptian beef tastes nothing like its american counterpart. & though the mango juice wasn't fresh - they'd stopped serving that an hour previous - it came in an arabic tropicana carton that read "made in egypt", & it was quite good too.
i took a panorama out the window, then flipped through some tv stations; everything was in arabic except a couple of american sitcoms that were subtitled in arabic - i recognized some words. pence came back around then, & i accompanied him through an underground tunnel (with some cool murals) to the pool where i read under an umbrella while he swam a bit. aswan was MUCH hotter than cairo - 95F to cairo's 80F. aswan also had a power issue - we kept getting a couple minutes of double blackouts every few hours. pence thought i took the power card during a shower blackout, heh. (for those who don't know, foreign hotels almost always require you to put one of the room keys in a slot by the front door to turn the power on in the room. it neatly saves on electricity as you can't leave lights & such on while you're gone all day.)
the group got together at 1:30pm, & we headed to the aswan high dam. SquareBeard & Mousy told me that they ordered from room service, too - & instead of the hamburger & pizza they wanted, they got two cheesesteaks. they did not enunciate enough! sharif gave us a great overview of the history of power coming to egypt. (the dam was also cool because all the nile crocodiles had been relocated north of it, so it's safe to swim in the river.) since all of populated egypt is along the nile, if this dam burst, the whole area would be flooded out in nine hours flat. that was pretty neat, but my favorite part was the military personnel hanging around the lookout areas. we were warned not to use any high zoom lenses, as it's considered a military installation; i hid my 20x optical & took only a panorama.
next we boarded a small motorboat & cruised away to the philae temple. it's SO enormous it's completely impossible to imagine it being cut into pieces & moved, but that's exactly what happened - when the dam was built, it had to be MOVED about 500m to the new site. the whole place was full of carvings & hieroglyphics & amazing things, many of which had been purposely damaged over time to tell the egyptian people to stop believing in the old gods & to convert to christianity or islam or whatever. sharif taught us to read a couple hieroglyphics. pence found a lizard & frightened a bunch of bats, but was unable to get pics of either; i photographed a tiny egyptian house sparrow. on the way out, the whole group stopped for ice cream at the little shop on the edge of the temple grounds, & i had a nice mango sorbet. we took the motorboat back to our bus, & then headed to the tourist markets.
sharif told us the price of everything on the way, & basically said the shopkeeps would lie their asses off to get you to buy what they were selling. the tourist markets are different from the locals markets; in the latter, your fancy papyrus painting wouldn't rot in four months & your sterling silver bracelet wouldn't turn your wrist black, as the locals would go punch them out if that happened... but the salesmen in the tourist markets know you're not going to fly all the way back to egypt just to bitch about how your "hand carved solid stone statue" got wet & turned into a sandy puddle.
we used the bathroom at the bank on the way in. egypt has a tipping culture - everyone kind of passes a pound coin here & there, & that's the way it is. there was a guy standing outside the bathroom, & he said "tips, i take tips", & he waved me into the single bathroom. okay, that was great, but there was already a dude peeing in there. i backed out silently & waited for him to leave. mr attendant waved me in again; uh, thanks. fortunately i had brought some tissues with me, as there was no toilet paper. when i left, duder held out his hand & gave me a dirty look when i shook my head no - for what, standing & telling me to walk in on someone else's out dick? newp.
in the market, the salesmen were all SO aggressive. it was ridiculous & a giant turn-off for me, but i get that they're just trying desperately to feed their families with their horrible little shops - sharif had said the average income in egypt is equivalent to $1100US per year. it was kind of funny, though - i commented several times that walking through the market was like being in a game of zelda or early castlevania - everyone comes up & has something to say & you just want to push A to clear their message & go about your quest. & you can't politely wait for them to let you leave - you have to actively walk away from them or they'll keep going & pushing & convincing you forever. plus they'll pull stupid tricks to get you into their shops - saying something is only five pounds, but after you're interested, they switch up the currency and say it's five pounds STERLING, not five EGYPTIAN pounds (about a 1200% difference). pence bought an aluminum hookah & a big carton of apple juice, then we witnessed SlashMouth buying quite a large packet of cocaine. there's a good idea - go to a foreign country & break the law. has no one seen "brokedown palace"?!@ seriously though.
we met back up with the group & headed on another motorboat to a classic nubian restaurant for dinner. they brought us appetizers for the table, including the best baba ganoush i've ever had with some kind of ancient egyptian bread. i ordered a proper mango juice (OMG PERFECT, so thick that the straw stood up) & fish tagine (some kind of cod, i suspect) in tomato sauce with rice pilaf, & i couldn't finish it but it was all so delicious. falling asleep on the motorboat back, we passed the tombs of the nobles, lit up all crazy at night. we collapsed in the room, full & happy.
Day 4: Tue May 5 - Aswan. Abu Simbel option. Start felucca cruise
This morning we have the option of taking an early start for the drive to the UNESCO world heritage site at Abu Simbel. These amazing temples built by Ramses II are one of Egypt's main highlights and attractions. Those not visiting Abu Simbel can explore Aswan's markets this morning, or visit the Nubian Museum which has a fascinating collection covering the development of the Nubian people in the region. In the afternoon we then board a traditional felucca boat and start our leisurely cruise along the Nile towards the temple at Kom Ombo. In the evening our facilities boat will join us with its welcome toilet and showers, and our Nubian crew will prepare a delicious evening meal. Overnight: On board felucca
Extras: Abu Simbel overland tour
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
the beds here had top sheets, not just duvet covers, so that isn't consistent across egypt like it was across ireland. we opted out of the abu simbel trip, as it required six hours of travel time, only gave us two hours in abu simbel, & cost $130US. instead, we woke & had the hotel buffet breakfast, which included roasted vegetables (carrot, zucchini, eggplant), croissants with fig jam, spicy potatoes, & my favorite new thing: breakfast couscous with golden raisins & powdered sugar. there was also a weird form of solid milk - i think that's what the "cheese" was on the train - but i tried it this time & it tasted just like milk. still very creepy, but i'll have to research that later.
pence commented that we were running purely on the nile now, as it's been long enough that all the american food has left our system, & since everything is grown on the nile (egypt is 96% desert & the 4% population is all along the 6700km nile's banks), that's what we were. neat.
we left the hotel after breakfast to walk down to the little markets near where our train had come in. we exited through the metal detectors at the hotel - seems all the hotels had these, & somehow the security dudes never cared when we beeped going through them. they just waved & said "welcome" whether we were coming or going. i guess we were profiled as tourists? good, i guess. it was about a ten-minute walk to the shops, & we were offered rides & hashish repeatedly. (pence counted over 40 offers of pot throughout the trip; sharif told me it's no big deal to smoke marijuana in egypt, but it's a 25 year jail sentence if someone is caught selling it!) the only one i paid attention to was a guy who pointed at his horse cart & asked if we wanted to ride in an egyptian ferrari. that was amusing enough, but then pence muttered to me, "egyptian ferrari, emaciated horse... those are the same..." & i lost my shit.
there wasn't a ton to see - the usual kitkat-branded refrigerators (man, they must really love kitkat here, as i see marketing for it EVERYWHERE), lots of water & juice, spices, convenience store type snacks, occasionally a street food vendor. we didn't stay long, but it was nice taking the walk, as it felt much more egyptian than the horrible tourist markets. pence & i bonded in the hotel room for a while after that & compared mosquito bites (pence had one right at his sock line, but i won with one each on my palm, nose, & the nailbed of my thumb - wtf!) & then he destroyed the bathroom to the point that we checked out early. HE was even complaining about having to go back in there to finish packing his toiletries. (i swore i would exact revenge by putting it in the travelogue, & there you go; in memoriam, the bathroom of room 522.)
we met up with the group at about 3pm & walked down to the nile to board two feluccas. a felucca is a big, flat-decked sailboat, maybe 15'x20', with a low canvas roof & mattresses covering the deck. it zigzags up the nile with the wind. there's no bathroom on board, so a facilities boat followed us that we could link up with whenever needed. i had a very mixed experience on our felucca - i was really looking forward to sleeping under nile stars floating down the river, & it was purported to be very quiet & calming... & it would've been those things if not for the highly american experience that happened on board our felucca. after a decent falafel lunch on board, sharif offered to collect money for snacks (chips, candy - garbage i didn't want) & alcohol. as the rest of the trip had been dry (hi, egypt is mostly muslim), eight of the nine people on our boat went in on that. & it quickly turned into a booze cruise - DorkBro actually called it that. his fiancée, Ms American, couldn't stop talking about mcdonalds & how much she loved mcdonalds food, & how she was all excited to try arabian mcdonalds foods. Montana Auto Sales & his bitchy daughter Princess Fakesmile were taking loud advantage of the liter each of vodka, rum, & red wine that had been procured by their pooled funds. (pence had bought in, but only ended up having one shot of rum when everyone became horrible.)
i was also disappointed to find out that it's not legal to sail the nile at night, so we'd be sleeping on the boat, but docked somewhere. eh. i took a photo of everyone using PleaseBeMyFriendPlease's camera, at his request, then retreated from the group & read a book in the corner. i eventually had to put in earplugs as they became ever the more horrifyingly rowdy. apparently the other felucca, far behind ours down the nile, was not drinking... but it would've been in bad form to dive off our boat, swim across the nile, & hope to be welcomed in a soppy puddle of dreads & straight-edgery.
but aside from the americans (even those who weren't from the states were american that night) & their bullshit antics, the ride was quite nice. the breeze was perfect, it wasn't too hard to hide from the sun as the felucca zagged & zigged up the nile, the 20m deep water was cool & pretty, the air smelled clean... i wished more than once that i could've crammed the other 19 people on one felucca & had this one just to myself. (okay, maybe pence could join.)
we docked at some nowhere point so we could eat on the upper deck of the facilities boat. dinner was a higher point - the nubian crew prepared rice, stewed zucchini, & some kind of sausage that, in taste-testing for vegetarian pence, i was only 60% sure was meat. each piece was about the size of a breakfast link, tasted gamey in a way that could've been seasoning or marinade, & had a very smooth texture. turns out it was CAMEL! no wonder i couldn't properly ID it as meat - i'd never had it! :) as i'm on a mission to taste everything & to eat every animal, this perked me up & i was quite pleased about it. i had three sausages, as they were very rich; from what i've read, the best part of the camel is the hump, which is pretty fatty. yum.
after dinner, i took what i thought was a very good shot, considering i was on a rocking boat, of a very orange & giant moon, & then we headed up the banks to "adam house", a traditional nubian community living space. it reminded me a lot of the home we saw in china, where everything was kind of open & tiny at the same time. there was a big main area, & all the flooring was sand, sometimes with thin blankets over it. we saw the bedrooms (mosquito nets galore) & kitchen (miniscule) & discussed cooking, & then everyone sat in a common gathering room to smoke shisha. any kind of smoking is zero percent my scene, plus DorkBro seemed even more drunk than before, double plus SlashMouth was yelling rudely about how she wanted FLAVORED shisha, so i left & took some time photographing the scarab beetles wandering around before asking sharif to let me go back to the boat early. i was kindly escorted back by "captain fuzzy", one of the nubian men. the crew had dropped mosquito nets over the open sides of the felucca, & i finally had a bit of peace despite the constant roar of the facilities boat's generator.
the rest of the group came back about a half hour later. pence let me know i missed birthday cake (there were two birthdays in the group that day - i'd seen the cake brought out in a big pink box before i left) & nubian dancing, neither of which i'd say i missed. before sleeping, pence & i whispered together about all the things i'd like to do to the americans on the boat, his favorite of which was slicing their flesh into careful cubes & building great bloody pyramids from them at the end of the boat. & once the knives went dull, i would make torn, chewed-looking smaller pyramids for the wives.
l-r: Montana Auto Sales, Princess Fakesmile, pence, Ignorable, Forgotten Already, sharif, Ms American, DorkBro, one of the guys sailing our boat, PleaseBeMyFriendPlease.
Day 5: Wed May 6 - Nile felucca cruise
Wake up today on board your traditional felucca and let yourself unwind as we make our way downriver. Whether you feel the urge to take a swim or just sunbathe on deck there is no better way to experience life on the river Nile. Overnight: On board Felucca
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
so this was the worst day i've spent on vacation anywhere. this is what happened: poor sleep due to mosquitoes & heat; a mediocre breakfast of hard boiled beige chicken eggs (which tasted totally fine) & jam/honey on pita; laying about waiting three hours to sail; a bit of sailing in 100+ degree weather; docking at a beachy little inlet for four hours while the mast is repaired with nothing to do but swim (which i don't enjoy); less than mediocre lunch of canned tuna, mashed potatoes, tzatziki, & baba ganoush (nowhere near as good as the other night) on pita; an hour or so of quite nice sailing where i had shade for my skin & my feet in the goosebump coldness of the nile (high point!); then docking at another beachy spot around 5pm with nothing to do but swim (which i don't enjoy). except for that one nice spot of sailing, this day was the dullest, most mind-numbing time i could've had - & don't forget i was still surrounded by the "party boat" idiots. (Ms American woke up that morning & immediately told us, "you guys, i love mcdonalds so much." still drunk or just a dipshit? you tell me.) i was so grateful to technology for the ability to carry a ton of books, as i read for the entire day. it was the only thing to do. boy was i fucking glad i spent the extra money on the big external battery pack for my phone. it had become atrociously clear that the people on my boat cared only about partying in another country, not being there to learn about it or see anything different from what they'd already experienced at home. at least pence was happy wearing his new galabeyya.
things started to look up a bit after the sun went down, as dinner was pretty good (a potato dish with pasta, & spicy breaded local chicken wings), & there was a bonfire on the beach with traditional music & dancing. pence tried hard to get me out of the boat, but i opted to stay & just have my own nile experience by myself... this worked out wonderfully, as the bonfire was lit about fifteen meters immediately to my left, all the drummers were facing me, & no one was standing between them & the boat. so i observed the humans & enjoyed the experience with the perfect distance to shield me from moronic drunken antics & other things that greatly annoy lishes. & i still ended up with bonfire-scented dreads, which is always the best part of being around fire.