Simply Travels | My Travel Blog


Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Day At Aswan | Aswan Egypt Day 4

I was rather exhausted after the long day, so it was good that the last activity for the day was a relaxing felucca (sailboat) ride on the Nile River to watch the sunset. Really, the Nile is beautiful - but I could have done without passing all the cruise ships docked at the sides. Apart from that, I enjoyed the slight breeze. I do not usually take time out from my day to watch the sunset. I should do that more often - only the view at home is not as great as the view on the Nile!!

Pictures of the Sunset on the Nile River, Aswan Egypt

After the relaxing cruise, I headed back to the cruise ship - walking. While the rest of the group visited a local spice market. I wanted to shower! On the way back, I passed by a Aswan bazaar located not too far from where the ship was docked. I made note to visit it after dinner.

Dinner was not the usual buffet. I actually prefer the options for the buffet. The highlight was the dessert. After the waiters cleared our plates, we were left waiting for sometime. The people at out table began to gripe about the tardiness. But suddenly the lights dimmed, and the waiters and chefs came out thumping on small drums, and singing a cheery song. It was our finale dessert making its way out.

I had no idea what they were singing, but it sounded festive. So nice that the ship crew actually made an effort to make our last night on the cruise ship a special occasion for us. The dessert itself was all right for me, ice cream cake - since I am not much of a dessert person - I am not a good judge. But all the others looked like they enjoyed it!

Last Night on our Nile River Cruise Ship

After the exciting finale to our dinner, I went walking to the local Aswan bazaar with a friend. I think it is quite safe to walk about in Egypt at night - we were two females alone, but most people left us mostly alone, although curious looks were common. Ignoring call outs is a sure way to get them to leave you alone - key is not to make eye contact and walk forward.

The bazaar I went to appeared to be catered for the locals. There were no tourists and the sellers did not harass us at all. It was fun walking about there - but there was not much variety - it was a rather small bazaar. I found a store selling galabiyas, and I found one that I liked. He wanted 155 Egyptian Pounds for it, but I bargained it down. I insisted on 120 and finally he gave it for that price. But it was a size medium, which was huge on me. Still, it was lovely - heavy cotton with intricate embroidery. I intend to get it altered to make it smaller.

Back at the ship, we chanced upon an old couple. We had seen them on the ship together, and we stopped to speak to them. I asked the wife if what I paid for the galabiya was a good price. She looked at it and said it was all right price - the real price would have been around 100 (her husband translated this into English for us). They invited us to sit down for a chat. He told us that he was the assistant director of police of the Luxor-Aswan division. And he actually lives in Luxor. And his wife lived in Cairo. She was here visiting him now. Then he showed us some pictures of his daughter who was recently married in Cairo. He showed us his son - who looked like a young version of Obama!

And so ended my last day on the Nile cruise. The following day, I would have to wake up early for my flight to Cairo.

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Philae Temple | Aswan Egypt Day 4

After the Aswan High Dam visits, we took a motorboat ride to the Philae Temple. On the boat ride, several Nubian men showed off Nubian handcrafts for sale. We busied ourselves looking at the bracelets for sale. They were well-made, and scented slightly. They said it was made of sandalwood, but I doubt that was the truth. It was more probable that they sprayed some sandalwood scent on the bracelets. After handling though, the bracelets quickly lost the scent. But since they were well made, I selected five bracelets and set it aside. I would pay and collect after the visit to the Philae Temple.

Nubian Handicrafts for Sale
on Motorboat to Philae Temple

Philae Island was a rocky island in the middle of the River Nile, south of Aswan. It was called in Hieroglyphic “Apo” which means Ivory. It was also known by the Greek “Elephantine”, most probably because it was an important centre of trade, especially for ivory.

The Ancient Egyptians built a beautiful and magnificent Temple on this island for the Goddess Isis, but the Temple became submerged after the first Aswan dam was built in 1906, and it was not until the seventies that many nations attempted to save the Temple. All these countries, together with UNESCO, selected a suitable place, but they had to wait until the completion of the High Dam, in 1971, which would stabilize the level of the water around their chosen island. The new island was called Egilica (also called Agilika), and it was completely reshaped to imitate Philae Island as closely as possible.

Firstly, a cofferdam was built around the Temple and the water was drained. Next, the Temple was dismantled and transferred, stone by stone, from the submerged Philea Island to the redesigned Egilica Island. Each and every stone had to be numbered, and then replaced, in the same position, in the new location. It was a massive, and very complicated, project taking over 9 years to be accomplished.

The Temple of Philae was reopened in 1980!

Temple of Philae Pictures

Motorboats Docking Area to Temple of Philae
Check out the Bob Marley Flag!

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Aswan High Dam | Aswan Egypt Day 4

After lunch, we visited the unfinished obelisk. This obelisk located at the ancient granite quarry at Aswan was supposed to be a massive one. If finished, it would have been a mind-boggling 41.75 meters (app. 137 feet) high - higher than any Egyptian obelisk that were ever actually erected. It was not finished because a crack was discovered in it.

This site was insightful because it shows how the obelisk was created in the ancient times. Being at the quarry, just how did they get create these giant single pieces of rock out of the mountainside? They made a row of holes app. 10 centimeters (4 inches) wide, and inserted wood in the holes. Then they poured water on the wood. The wood then expands by such force because of the water that the rock splits. The basic shape of the obelisk is created by rows of workers pounding the shape on the rock with dolomite rocks, or dolostone, and creating the app. 1 meter (3 feet) wide shafts at each side of the obelisk-to-be. This is possible because the dolomite is even harder than granite. To smoothen the sides, bricks are heated and put on the places that are to be treated. When the rock is sufficiently hot, cold water is poured on, and the uneven parts come off in flakes, thanks to the crystalline structure of the granite.

Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan, Egypt

Then we visited the Aswan Dams. Aswan Dam refers to two dams, both located near Aswan, Egypt. Most commonly today the name refers to the High Dam, which is the newer of the two dams at Aswan. Construction on the High Dam was completed in 1970, and has had immeasurable impacts on the Egyptian economy and culture. The earlier Old Aswan Dam or Aswan Low Dam was completed in 1902. e. The earlier Old Aswan Dam or Aswan Low Dam was completed in 1902. The aim of both of these projects was to regulate river flooding, to provide storage of water for agriculture, and later, to generate electricity.

Before the dams were built, the River Nile flooded each year during summer, as water flowed down the valley from its East African drainage basin. These floods brought high water, plus natural nutrients and minerals that continuously enriched the fertile soil along the river and made the Nile valley ideal for farming, as it had since ancient times. As Egypt's population grew and conditions changed, there came a need to control the flood waters to both protect and support farmland and economically important cotton fields. In high-water years, the whole crop might be wiped out, while in low-water years widespread drought and famine occasionally occurred. With the reservoir storage provided by these dams, the floods could be lessened, and the water could be stored for later release.

Aswan High Dam Pictures

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Nubian Village | Aswan Egypt Day 4

The plan for some of tour group was to take an optional trip to Abu Simbel. I opted out of this visit because we had to wake up very early - leave the ship by 3.30am for a bus ride to Abu Simbel. I did not fancy that idea of waking up that early given that I had gone to bed late the night before anyway.

Besides, I had every intention of returning to Egypt for a second visit sometime in the future. So I decided I would have another chance to visit Abu Simbel later on. The other girls also decided not to go for this trip. But we decided to go something fun, which was to visit the Nubian Village.

At about 9.30 in the morning after our breakfast, we walked down the docks looking for a boat driver who could take us to the Nubian Village. Almost immediately, not even two minutes into our walk, a Nubian man approached us and asked if we wanted to visit the Village. We asked the prices and he said 50 USD per person for the whole trip inclusive of boat ride, visit, tea and henna tattoos. Our tour leader had earlier told us not to pay more than 30 USD for this. So we brought it down to that. And the man agreed.

We got into a motorboat - it had two levels. An uncovered top and a covered seating area below. We sat on the top deck - there was a table and seats nailed down. We had fun taking pictures of ourselves and the environment.

It was a beautiful morning - the fresh sun was lovely. It was neither too hot nor cold, perfect!

View from the Top of the Motorboat

Passed our Cruise Ship

The boat ride was about 30-35 minutes. Once we arrived at the Nubian Village, we had to climb up the rocky banks and walked through the village shop area to get to a Nubian house.

Some People took a Camel Ride to the Village Area
On Hindsight, We Should Have Agreed
But we were Afraid that They May Charge Extra
Still We Should not Have Assumed!

Nubian Women

They Breed Crocodiles

Usually, the Egyptian tour guide would arrange these visits. Since we did it ourselves, I think we got the raw end of the deal. The guy who brought us to the village did not speak very good English and could not answer our questions about the village. It dawned on us that this part of the village was very much geared to the tourists. We were given hibiscus tea - which was watered down. But tasted good all the same. Then we noticed that other tourists (with their tour guide) got bread along with their tea, but we didn't!

The woman who did our henna tattoos also wanted money, but we told the man who came with us that we had already agreed for an all-inclusive tour. That marred our visit for us - they were after money, and we felt it. And I suppose it would be a fair trade off, if only the woman who did our tattoos was more hospitable. She was in such a rush and would not do what I asked for exactly - how very rude of her.

Our Nubian Henna Tattoos

Mummified Foxes

Top View of Village

Good thing About the Village is the White Wash
Welcome Chance from the all-common Brown Walls

Nubian Handicrafts Sold at the Village
I bought necklaces that they said was mad from camel teeth
But I wonder if it is real??!

Traditional Weaver at Nubian Village

The boat driver allowed each of us to drive and steer the motorboat on our way back. That way nice, but I did not like it. Too much work for me!

On our return to the ship, we chanced upon several others from our tour group who had not gone to Abu Simbel as well. They told us that they were walking down the docks and a man had offered to take them to a Nubian Village for $1 USD each! There were about maybe 10 of them together. They were brought to a real village area, not the touristy Nubian Village we had gone to. Imagine our disappointment. They did not get Nubian henna tattoos - but given what I had gotten for my tattoo, I would have given it a miss to go see a real village.


Moral of the story - haggle, haggle, haggle. And do not agree to something with the first person you chance upon. Think it over after getting several offers.....

Ah well - anyway, it was an adventure.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Aswan Egypt Day 3

After the Kom Ombo visit, we visited the many stalls set up along the Nile River docks for a bit of shopping. The male sellers called out to us, but we gave our business to an elderly lady who sat by the banks without a stall. She was selling belly dancing hip scarves, spread out on big cloth on the ground. A friend bought one from her, but I did not as I could not find a color I liked.

A few stalls later, I found a scarf I liked - a simple black one with silver coins and tassels. The seller showed us how to tie an Egyptian style hijab. It was relatively simple. The style was done using my own pashmina shawl. We could not do much shopping as the cruise ship was set to sail again - this time headed to Aswan.

We rushed back to the cruise ship - me in my Egyptian styled hijab! Which I have to add was very cool looking.

Back at the cruise ship, we took our showers and freshened up. Then we decided to take some pictures of ourselves in Egyptian styled hijab - much fuss was made over the tying of the hijab. But we had lots of fun doing it.

The cruise ship arrived at Aswan just after dinner and docked for the night. We decided to go for a night walk in Aswan. Aswan was more lively than the other towns we had been too along the Nile. Aswan was more of a city - it had many buildings along the Nile. Aswan is Egypt's sunniest southern city and ancient frontier town located about 81 miles south of Luxor - it has a distinctively African atmosphere.

I found out later that as of 6 October 2009, the last rainfall was a thunderstorm on May 13, 2006! I do not know how much rain Egypt gets in general - but while I was there, it did not rain a single day.

Our ship had just docked outside the Aswan police station. We walked along the streets - and came across a lively group of Nubians. They were beating drums outside of a photo studio. We guessed that this was for a wedding, and hung around wanting to watch what happened.

A group of boys - seven in all - were at the side playing. They instantly crowded around us curiously. And I attempted to speak to them in my basic Arabic. The oldest of the group, whose English was the best, was 15 year old Ahmed. The youngest looked to be about only 7 or 8 years old. I wondered why they were all out playing so late in the night - didn't they have to go to school. Ahmed told me that they did not have school the next day - a Friday. The school days were six days of a week with Friday off. Imagine that! I am used to a five day school week - how studious of the Egyptians.

Ahmed told me that his father was a cook at a nearby shop. And he lived nearby too. I asked if he was a Nubian, and he said he was not a Nubian. But his uncle was attending the wedding event inside. His friends also did not look Nubian. It was nice to see that Nubians and the other Egyptians had a good relationship. They all spoke Arabic by the way.

We hung around hoping to see the bride and groom. But it took a while for them to come out. Meanwhile the boys wanted us to watch them play football, but we were more interested in the wedding - typical gals we were!

We saw some little girls around, but they hung with their mothers mostly. There were no groups of girls running around and playing the way the boys were.

I got involved in a conversation with a Nubian older lady. Somehow I could understand their Arabic. And I told them where I am from. Then she looked at my friends who did not look like me - and asked where they were from. I said the same place. And she looked very confused. She then wanted to know if my country had people who looked only like me. I had to explain in my rudimentary Arabic that my country was multi-racial with people who looked different - like me and my friends!

Then another lady came - she could speak English. She told us about the wedding. And even invited us to join them for the wedding celebrations after the photo shoot. But it was late and we had only just arrived. So we did not dare join them!

Then she asked us to visit her at her home - she offered to do henna tattoos for us. We asked if she lived in the Nubian village. She said no, she lived in Aswan, and that the village was farther.

But she did not have paper to write her address, and neither did we. Then the bride and groom came out. And it was a missed opportunity. She would have been good to talk with at a home visit!

After the wedding procession left, a man approached us and invited us for tea at his family's jewelry store. He was pleasant enough, but his store just across the street looked immensely fancy with real gold jewelry. We had no money for that kind of purchases - so even though he said we would not be under any obligation to buy, we declined the invitation.

This by the way is a sales tactic. They invite you for tea, and then try and hook you with a product. And it actually works.

But in our case, we politely declined and said we would try and stop by the next day.

Then we walked back to the ship after saying bye to Ahmed and his friends.

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Kom Ombo Temple | Kom Ombo Egypt Day 3

After our leisurely morning and a lunch, our group met up for a late afternoon visit to Kom Ombo temple. Our cruise ship docked for a few hours to let us off for the visit. The Kom Ombo temple was situated just near where we docked - with a brilliant view of the beautiful Nile River. It was about 28 miles north of the city of Aswan, in a village called Kom Ombo.

The Temple known as Kom Ombo is actually two temples consisting of a Temple to Sobek and a Temple of Haroeris. In ancient times, sacred crocodiles basked in the sun on the river bank near here. The Temple has scant remains, due first to the changing Nile, then the Copts who once used it as a church, and finally by builders who used the stones for new buildings.

Everything is duplicated along the main axis. There are two entrances, two courts, two colonades, two hypostyle halls and two sanctuaries. There were probably even two sets of priests. The left, or northern side is dedicated to Haroeris (sometimes called Harer, Horus the Elder) who was the falcon headed sky god and the right to Sobek (the corcodile headed god). The two gods are accompanied by their families. They include Haroeris' wife named Tesentnefert, meaning the good sister and his son, Panebtawy. Sobek likewise is accompanied by his consort, Hathor and son, Khonsu.

The temple is not as impressive as the ones we had seen earlier. Maybe it was also a case of temple fatigue - massive columns were no longer as awesome as they were earlier? But there are very interesting wall carvings to view.

Ancient Calendar at Kom Ombo Temple
Depicting Days of Important Ceremonies

Sobek, Crocodile God on the Right

Guide Said Women Depicted Sitting
Might be Women Giving Birth
It sure looks uncomfortable!

I am always amazed at the level of attention
paid to the features in these depictions

Kom Ombo Temple
As the Sun Begins to Set

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