2005 Time-out Diary
Wandering around Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

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07-10 October 2005

Friday 7th October 2005    day 88     whereami     Satellite view

Up at 5am with the alarm, no water so no shower. The police directed me to a bus just outside the hotel to get to the bus station. A guy on the bus seemed very keen to help me and it was a while before I realised he was also police. We hung around for the 6am bus and about 6:15 he pointed me to what I was certain was a local service bus. We got on and rode 5 mins to a different bus station. I was annoyed that they'd taken me to the wrong station and now made me miss my 6am bus - I'd got up especially for the early one. Left to my own devices I'm sure I would have found the right one - bloody interfering police! Fortunately there's another at 7am.

The policeman then indicated I should pay 1LE for the 5min busride - seemed a lot, 25piastres is probably the right amount. I only had a 5LE note which the driver took, put away, and then said he had no change. This really annoyed me and I demanded my 5LE back but he just looked at me and said it was ok. It's a trifling amount of money (in UK terms) but I'm really sick of everyone trying to steal a little bit from me all the time. I really could have punched him in his stupid lying face, I was that mad, but had to settle on swearing at him and calling him a #$#$ing haraami (thief) 'cos I didn't want to miss another bus. Early mornings don't bring out the best in me.

Hung around in the bus station until we got going just after 7am. I ended up sitting next to another policeman who seemed hellbent on sprawling himself across both our seats and footwells. I wrestled with him for an hour then moved to another seat when he was asleep. I shall get myself in trouble with these police before long - they're driving me up the bloody wall. Some of them are ok but many are utterly useless and a real nuisance. He got off in Assiut before I did anyway.

We got to the main Assiut drop-off at about 10am. Driving in I had to agree with the guidebook - it's a very unpretty concrete town. While I was getting my stuff up together a beggar-woman latched onto me and wouldn't let go of my arm, asking for money. I don't like this stuff and told her no. I walked to the nearby railway crossing to look for the station and saw it was just 400m away so went straight there.

The police got on my case again at the station and there seemed to be some arguing about how I'd managed to walk to the station unescorted. I got my 2nd class ticket for Aswan 29LE - the train leaves at 12:30. They seemed keen that I should wait in the station, and from what I'd seen and read of Assiut that suited me. I sat in the café and had a couple of shays. A few locals were also drinking shays and smoking in there, maybe they weren't moslem.

About 12:15 the police showed up in the café with another traveller in tow. It was a dutch guy that I knew well from Hotel Dahab in Cairo - we'd chatted for ages there during my last stay about books (he was an ex-dealer/collector) and travel. He was a very young 62 and had travelled extensively around Africa on his own - a really interesting bloke. It was great to see him again and we quickly caught up with each other's progress on the way to the train. Sadly we were in different carriages so we soon had to say cheerio again - he was "only" going as far as Luxor. He'd taken the 6am bus from Kharga this morning - we could have had a decent chat on the bus if my police hadn't messed up.

I found my carriage and my seat. I was in the only backward facing seat in the carriage in the middle of a gang of giggling teenage girls who seemed to find it hilarious that I was amongst them. I hadn't been there long when a bloke claimed the seat next to me and spun the seats back around - I hadn't realised they moved - that's presumably what was so funny.

He settled himself into the window seat and was soon asleep. I read my book and after a couple of hours noticed that the window seat was actually mine. After 4 hours we had a long stop at Luxor during which he disappeared so I claimed my window seat. He wasn't happy when he came back but soon gave up - it was clearly mine.

I joined in the Ramadan fast today - it didn't seem right to eat on the bus/train when surrounded by hungry moslems - I didn't have much with me anyway. I did drink some water (and the shays) though, going without fluids just seems unhealthy. At sundown 5:45 there was quite a party atmosphere on the train with everyone tucking into their packed lunches. Not having much with me my fast continued.

We got to Aswan at about 8:30 - quicker than I'd expected. The long journey wasn't too bad really - I quite happily read and dozed.

I followed the mob out of the station and immediately liked Aswan - it's got a quiet and slow pace. A few taxis hustled me but only gently and they took no for an answer. I set out to walk to The Continental Hotel - that my book describes as "notorious among the fleapits" and says it's a "gathering place for budget travellers" - sounds like a fun place. It's quite a long walk with the big pack but I need to stretch my legs after my 13 hour journey today. I got to where it should be but it's closed down. Tried a nearby place - 90LE, forget it. Stopped for a shay and walked back to the station and found a dive, Hotel Marwa, for 10LE - a personal best!

It's very basic but not bad and pretty clean. It'll do for a day or 2, if I stay longer I'll look for a hotel with a Nile view. I went straight out for something to eat - spaghetti bolognaise that was better than I'd expected. Had a quick walk along the Nile but was soon knackered - back to my room about 11pm.

I really like the feel of Aswan, I could stay here a while, there's quite a bit to see here in any case. And my mood has improved straight away - there's no police hassle. Hopefully I'll cheer up in general - I've been irritable and unsociable for 2 weeks now.

      High: Aswan - I really like the little I've seen
       Low: the Kharga bus thief - I was furious!

Saturday 8th October 2005    day 89     whereami     Satellite view

Crashed out late last night - I seemed to lose a couple of hours somewhere. Took ages on the diary though it didn't seem like it and got a late telephone call from Chris (sister). No gprs connection so couldn't update the website. So, up late, and tired. A decent shower woke me up and I headed out to explore Aswan.

Many places, especially cafes, are closed because of Ramadan but I found a touristy place and had a shay - 5LE! Walked along the front taking photos and getting rather more hassle than I wanted - mainly feluccas. It's a very picturesque place though, the views across the Nile are terrific. The east bank is mainly high desert mountains and there are several islands that I'll be exploring later.

Aswan main street   Nile cruisers   feluccas

I stopped at El Salam hotel to check it out - 45LE for a lovely big airy room with a big balcony overlooking the Nile. We agreed on 35LE inc. breakfast and I'm moving there tomorrow - I shall be very happy there with that great balcony and view.

Walked south until it fizzled out into urban areas and I couldn't get to the Nile. Took some photos of an old cemetary.


The climate here is just lovely. It's very hot of course, probably 40C today - I'm a long way south now - and I still love the heat. But the air feels light and clean and there's a steady breeze so it's not overpowering.

I doubled back towards some nice gardens I passed and paid 5LE to go in. It was very nice in there, and very peaceful - mostly just trees. The garden was on a high rise right alongside the Nile with great views across to Elephantine Island - so called because many of the rocks around it look like elephants washing themselves in the river - and I suppose they do, a bit, there is something elephantine about them.

Nile - north   Nile - south   elephantine rocks

I sat down for a while and just enjoyed the view and the peace. I had a shay in the garden café and wasn't overly surprised to pay 5LE again - it was quite posh. Sat there and read a couple of chapters of Anna Karenin. Moved back to the riverside and just watched the boats going up and down - feluccas, ferries, motor cruisers and the big floating hotel cruisers further north. Watched a couple of fisherman slowly laying out a long multi-hooked line from a small boat. Watched ibis gracefully skimming over the water and smaller birds darting about very acrobatically. Read a bit more and just generally basked in the great scenery and climate.

Nile - north   Nile - south   fishing

I stayed there until sunset and inevitably took some photos.

sunset   sunset

About 6pm I set off back towards the hotel - hoping that most locals would be too busy eating now to hassle me - it was fairly quiet. I walked back through the souq (market) that runs parallel with the "Corniche". There'a lot in there, my book says it's only bettered by Khan El Khalili in Cairo for souvenirs etc. They're very big on spices - there's tons here.

I picked up a dodgey looking damia from a dodgey looking stall for 1LE. Back at the hotel I took one bite and binned the rest. Had some bread cheese and salad instead - well past it's best and I binned what was left of that too.

There's quite a lot of tourists here - more than I've seen anywhere else. They're mostly in big escorted groups. It does mean you have to watch where you go - prices are heavily inflated in some areas - like my shays today, and there's people hawking bottles of water and cans of drink at crazy prices along the corniche. I've not seen anyone that looks like an independent traveller though - there must be some here?

The people here are Nubians, they're much more "african" than the northern egyptians. They have more in common with the sudanese and ethiopians a bit further south. They're generally very chilled out and seem ok - apart from the hassling of course.

Had a shower and went out for something to eat at 9:30. Couldn't really find much - most places seem pretty empty. It may be because of Ramadan - the locals stuff themselves at sundown and probably don’t want to eat again so soon. The local's cafes don't cook to order, you get what's ready, so empty/quiet places are best avoided - you don't know how long it's been sitting there (like my earlier damia). The tourists are probably in their hotels, or more likely on their cruisers. I ended up in the same place as last night and had a very average pizza with a shay and a can of very nice fizzy apple 26LE.

The main square in the centre of town is full of young blokes just sitting around chatting and looking about. I've noticed this social ritual in several places in the south. It's the no-women thing again - they don't seem to know what to do with themselves. It all seems very calm and happy though.

A good day - it's a lovely place. I'm looking forward to moving tomorrow and enjoying that view. And tomorrow is definitely wash-day - I'm a real mess!!

      High: the garden, it's peace, and it's views across the Nile
       Low: too much hassling along the corniche

Sunday 9th October 2005    day 90     whereami     Satellite view

Up, showered, packed and checked out at 11:30. Walked the 1-2km to El Salam hotel and checked in. Different bloke on the desk so I had to renogotiate for 35LE inc. breakfast.

The room is just great. It's clean and very airy, I don't have my own bathroom but I have got a basin. The balcony is huge and private with tremendous views over the Nile.

I got straight on and washed all my clothes in my basin and hung them all out to dry on the balcony.
Having no clothes I couldn't go far so settled on the balcony and soaked up the scenery, and of course read my book.

balcony view   balcony view   balcony view

I keep feeling a bit guilty that I've been a bit lazy lately but I'm really enjoying my quiet time. It's not that I can't be bothered to do anything else, it's just that I'm perfectly happy doing what I'm doing so maybe it's not laziness - I dunno.

Went out at 5pm to get something to eat and find an internet café. Found the internet and wrote out a reply to Suzi, it wouldn't send. Tried 10 more times and gave up. I think it's because they're almost exclusively using quirky pirate copies of Windows.

Picked up some fruit, salad and bread. In a lot of places they've got tables lining the streets like a mini street party. The tables are full of men hungrily looking at their watches waiting for the sun to go down so they can eat.

Had a little feast on my balcony and enjoyed the evening view.

balcony view   balcony view   balcony view

I needed some water so went out again about 9pm. Tried another internet café and got my emails done via a very slow connection. Also updated the website except that I'd somehow forgotten to copy the photos onto my flash memory - Doh! - broken links for now. Not very successful with the 'net today.

I still can't get gprs here and I'm not sure why - the phone doesn't report "service not available" - it just doesn't work.

Wandered around a while then back to the hotel and watched a noisey wedding party arrive at the posh hotel opposite.

A nice day really, I finally got my washing done and I love this room/balcony.

      High: my wonderful balcony - what a view
       Low: bloody internet again - and my own doziness, forgetting the photos

Monday 10th October 2005    day 91     whereami     Satellite view

Woke up feeling pretty rough. I had a bit of a sore throat and an on-and-off headache yesterday but didn't take too much notice. My immune system has probably been working overtime on all the bites I got in the Western Desert oases. And the headache seems to move around my jaw area - I hope it's not the start of the dreaded tooth problems. I suspect I'm also suffering from shay withdrawal problems - with everywhere closed all day I'm not getting nearly enough to sustain me.

Went for the simple breakfast at 10am. This hotel is very old-colonial in style but is well past it's best. There's something about the style and atmosphere that seems so outdated I want to laugh. The only other breakfaster was an old lady who also had an old colonial, once rich and now not, air about her, which only made it funnier. Everyone seems to be carrying on as if it's still in it's heyday but it's bordering on the seedy 'cos everything's worn out. I like it though.

Went back to my room, took a couple of ibuprofen and laid on my bed for an hour. But I must do something today so I'm off to visit Elephantine Island.

Grabbed a 2LE shay in the hotel restaurant and fought my way through the felucca hustlers and found the ferry. Nobody tried to charge me - seemed a bit odd but never mind. Started walking up to the museum(s) and bumped into Mustafa, who beckoned me over for a chat. I was half looking out for him - he was recommended by Olivier and Atika as a good bloke. I agreed to meet him after I'd visited the museum.

20LE ticket for the museum but he couldn't change my 50LE note. Am I really the only visitor today??!! It's so bloody tedious, I'm sure they're just trying it on in the hope that I say don't worry about it - but it has the opposite effect. I agreed to collect my change on the way out. The museum was ok but contained nothing I haven't seen elsewhere. An attendant who'd hung about near me during my tour asked for baksheesh - for what? I gave him 1LE and he looked disgusted - never mind.

Then I looked around the temples and the Nilometer - a gauge used by the Romans to measure the height of the river at it's peak to estimate the crop yield and so set the crop taxation level. Also took a photo of theb Old Cataract Hotel - the original hotel here, and featured in Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile". I was of course guided around again and more baksheesh was required. I gave him 3LE as he did at least do something (he mumbled "20" when I got my money out!).

Nilometer   Nilometer   Old Cataract Hotel

temple   temple   tombs of the sacred rams

temple   temple   temple

Then into the new museum that had some interesting tiny intricate sculptures used in necklaces and brooches. Baksheesh was expected again but I was out of small notes, and figured I'd paid quite enough by now in any case. Back to the entrance and he seemed put out that I still wanted my 30LE change but I got it.

I met Mustafa and we walked up to Nubian House which is the oldest house on the island. It's an open house with a collection of Nubian oddments, including a cramped terrarium of live small crocodiles! Upstairs is a rooftop café with more oddments, some for sale, and a chill-out café. 5LE shay and a few photos.

Nubian House   Nubian House - live crocs   Nubian House - live crocs

Nubian House   Nubian House

We walked up through the village and some gardens until we reached the west side of the island. It really is lovely here - a little paradise. One of the houses had a big mural depicting the owner's "hag" - his pilgrimage to Mecca.

Nubian village   Nubian village   Nubian village

view west   view west   view west

Then south to Mustafa's house where his sister was keen to sell me some of her handmade necklaces and hats etc. and further on to the southern tip of the island where we met the 2 camels on the island. Some of his friends were idly repainting a landed felucca and we stopped a while to chat.

view south   view south   camel

Then back to Mustafa's for a shay. It was getting close to sundown and they invited me to stay for "breakfast". It struck me as funny that they called it breakfast until I thought about it later, break-fast.

another bleedin' sunset   another bleedin' sunset   another bleedin' sunset

We had fresh chunky guava juice - lovely, and a communal bowl of rice, meat and bread, and a chicken leg. All very nice and washed down with a shay. Mustafa's brother, Mohamed, was chain-smoking cigarettes to make up for his abstinence. Mustafa was looking forward to a joint after evening prayer. I was obliged to look at the necklaces etc. again and was tempted to buy something but the prices were 3x what I expected so I delayed. I'm coming back tomorrow to take a felucca with Mustafa down to the first dam and to visit some islands.

distracted goats

We walked back to the ferry and it came to the awkward moment of payment. I gave him 30LE which seemed pretty fair for about 4 hours of his time and a light meal. He didn't look overly happy but it's impossible to get it right so I left it. We agreed to meet at about noon tomorrow.

The ferry back cost 2LE, actually 3LE because, would you believe it, he didn't have enough change. Back to the hotel and I stopped for a shay in the restaurant. Gave him 5LE for the 2LE shay and he just smiled at me. I asked for some change and he looked confused, and half-heartedly fumbled around as though there was none. We then went to reception and he fumbled around pretending to look for change until a manager asked him what he was doing. We went back to the restaurant where the manager showed him it was 2LE (as if he didn't know!) and I got my change. I gave him 1LE but I now wish I hadn't - I don't generally tip people who try to steal from me. I do wish they'd give it a rest.

Back to my room to stuff myself with healthy fruit and do my diary.

      High: the west side of Elephantine Island - a paradise
       Low: the mysterious, continuous, unscrupulous and tedious absence of change

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