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

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11-14 October 2005

Tuesday 11th October 2005    day 92     whereami     Satellite view

Sorted out my gear a bit and went down for a late breakfast. I wasn't actually that hungry after last night's fruit frenzy. Walked down to the ferry and crossed to Elephantine Island.

Mustafa was waiting there for me and we walked to his house. I had a shay while he got the felucca. We set of about 1pm round the southern tip and slowly tacked north up the east side of the island. There wasn't a great deal of wind but the river carried us along ok.

interesting rocks   Old Cataract Hotel   gardens I visited a couple of days ago

nilometer   El Salam hotel

Around the northern tip and towards Kitchener Island where there are nice botanical gardens. I was going to visit but decided against it, I could probably spend several hours there so maybe I'll visit another day when I haven't got a hired felucca waiting.

Kitchener Island   Kitchener Island

We carried on south past Elephantine Island and several smaller islands. The views on both sides were great. Islands to the east, desert mountains to the west.

view of island   view of island   view of island

We kept going south but the wind was getting weak and we were struggling to make any progress against the current. The river runs fast in some of the narrows where there are islands, and the islands shelter us from the wind. We tried and tried, hugging the islands to the extent that we hit several submerged rocks. We gave up on one course and tried down the other side of an island, hitching a push from a motor boat a short way, but it was no better. The best we could manage was to stay put but we couldn't break through into the calmer, more open waters where the wind was also stronger.

The water looks very clean and is quite clear. I kept thinking it would be interesting to dive here (25m max). Mustafa didn't think anyone had ever dived here. I would have thought that archaeological divers would surely have been down. There's probably some very interesting currents and I bet it's dark as hell below 10m but it looked diveable. Maybe I'll come back one day with some gear and make my fortune.

We turned back and slowly tacked our way back to Mustafa's house. They made me a shay and I gave in and bought 2 necklaces - Christmas Shopping! I gave Mustafa 100LE for the 3.5 hours on the felucca, it's about what he quoted yesterday and it ties in with what my guidebook says.

Back on the ferry to the mainland. Bought something to eat - I didn't catch the name but they were like deep fried dumplings dipped in icing sugar. 4LE (overcharged) for about a dozen and very nice and quite filling. Did my diary and I shall head out to an internet café and update the website later as I messed up the last update 2 days ago.

      High: felucca was very nice if a little slow due to lack of wind
       Low: not getting down as far as the first dam - which was the plan

Wednesday 12th October 2005    day 93     whereami     Satellite view

In a moment of clarity this morning I decided that I'm no longer going to get upset about the endless haggling / attempted theft. It's a fact of life here and moaning about it won't change it. I remember laughing at the german girl in Hotel Dahab complaining that there was no hot water - and my moaning about the money stuff is exactly the same. I wonder how I'll get on . . . .

Woke up feeling rough again - not ill, just listless and not 100%. Went for breakfast and decided on a quietish day on Kitchener Island. Bought some water and fruit and negotiated a 10LE(from 30!) motorboat to take me there.

10LE to get onto the northern end of the island. My new resolution was immediately given a stern test when I was offered necklaces, identical to those I bought yesterday, for 1/20th of the price. Mustafa's sister assured me she'd handmade them herself but I now don't think she was telling me the truth. So the whole family sat around yesterday, treating me like an honoured guest and a friend until I felt obliged to trust them, and then fleeced me. Still, you gotta laugh innit - ha . . .er . . ha.

The island's very nice, full of different types of trees with nice paths crossing through it. It's used for botanical research. It was very quiet when I arrived about 1pm and I found myself a very nice spot on the west side to sit and quietly read for a while.

my view   my view   my view

Sat there for a couple of hours reading Anna Karenin, eating apples and grapes, admiring the view, watching the boats go by, watching the ibis gracefully flying around, basking in the 40C heat. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

Slowly walked around the gardens looking at the trees, some were quite peculiar shapes. There were several tourist groups going around as well now. A group of germans, a group of french and a group of spanish. It struck me that I've not met an english person for ages - I actually can't think of a single one since my first few days in Cairo. And I've still not met any independent travellers here - I dunno where they're hiding.

the trees

I ended up at the southern end where there's a couple of expensive-looking restaurants. 10LE! for a shay. I got some photos of the singing boys. Boys from Elephantine Island dash out in tiny boats to the tourist boats and sing while they cling onto the side and get towed along - for money or pens or whatever.

the singing boys   the singing boys   the singing boys

I wasn't sure how to get back, most people take a boat for a 1 hour visit and the same boat waits, but I wanted to stay longer so I didn't want my boat to wait. There were some feluccas and motorboats waiting but they were clearly for the groups. I went and spoke to the people around a boat away from the others. He wanted 25LE to take me to Elephantine Island. I got him down to 10LE but it was an extortionate rate for the 400m journey - but my hands were tied, and never mind eh.

I walked across Elephantine Island and just about got the last 1LE ferry before the sundown feast when everything stops. Picked up a couple of damias and some sweet dumplings and went back to the hotel.

Didn't feel hungry again later so I decided to stay in and have a reasonably early night. I'm not quite sure what to do tomorrow, at the very least I'll be making arrangements for visiting the dams and Abu Simbel - the southernmost point of my journey. I also need to sort out how I shall get back up the Nile to Kom Ombo and Luxor from here.

      High: my quiet spot on Kitchener Island
       Low: it's still the money stuff, but I'm taking a broader view now

Thursday 13th October 2005    day 94     whereami     Satellite view

Slept well last night and feel good again today - maybe it's lack of sleep that's been slowing me down. It's very (traffic) noisey here and very hot but I thought I was used to all that - it's very comfortable but I know I've only been sleeping very lightly.

Had my breakfast and showered and walked up to the Tourist Office to get some info on Abu Simbel etc. They weren't very helpful and didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.

I went walking along the river into northern Aswan but didn't get far before it got dull. It was very hot out today and I was really struggling in the midday sun. I turned back and stopped at my hotel for a shay.

Spoke to the helpful bloke on reception and sorted out a combined trip to Abu Simbel, the dams, and Philae Temple for 65LE. Seems like a reasonable price - it'll probably cost another 50LE for tickets. We leave at 3:30am tomorrow in the once-a-day escorted convoy to Abu Simbel. It's only 40km from the Sudanese border so security is tight. We stop at the dams and temple on the way back - about 12 hours in all.

At a bit of a loose end I started walking back towards Filae Gardens and remembered on the way that I hadn't visited the Nubian Museum. A glance at my book told me it was the same as the others so I didn't bother and revisited the peaceful gardens. It does seem a bit lazy again but it's the perfect day in my current frame of mind. I sat and quietly read for a couple of hours, had an expensive 10LE shay, sat right down by the riverside for a couple more hours - all in almost total quiet apart from the boat noises. It was really nice, and so relaxing, and at least I'm improving my mind with a good book - Anna Karenin is tremendous, and surprisingly easy to read.

felucca rush hour   the singing boys hanging on   down by the riverside

The only distraction was 10mins when some lads went by playing with their phones.

mobile telephones: the mobile is the ultimate fashion item and status symbol and, as such, is never allowed to hide quietly in a pocket or handbag. Most trendy youngsters constantly stare at them under their noses as they walk around. The various ring-tones are played endlessly at full volume for everyone to enjoy. And it's not only the youngsters, a man older than me played with the tones on his mobile at full volume on and off during the entire 8 hour train journey from Assiut to Aswan. I only kept my sanity by replaying the idea that I should offer to buy it from him and, immediately after paying him, stamp it into a million pieces.

At sunset I walked into the centre and had a shay. I looked around for something to eat but I'd timed it badly, everyone was just clearing up after break-fast. I've got some fruit and some biscuits in my room - they'll have to do. Watched some local lads gawk in horror at the sight of a 6ft blonde tourist woman in her 50's in very high wedge shoes, low cut vest and tight short-shorts. She'd well outgrown her wardrobe and would have raised eyebrows in St Tropez, never mind here!

Back to the hotel - pretty knackered, I've walked quite a way today and it's been very hot. The guys on reception reminded me that I have to get up at 3am - and they said it as though I'd probably genuinely forgotten, and recommended that I should go to bed soon. They seem to doubt I can make it - probably due to my usual unwillingness to show up for breakfast before 10am. I might go down later and ask them what time I should set my alarm for.

3 months ago today I walked out of my front door.

      High: the peace, the quiet, the climate and the views again - just great
       Low: nothing - I successfully laughed off all the hassling and haggling today

Friday 14th October 2005    day 95     whereami     Satellite view

Today's whereami is the Abu Simbel temples.

Slept very fitfully, hardly at all, until my alarm went off at 3am. Down to the restaurant for 3:15 for a shay and to collect my bagged breakfast. We waited and waited for my bus and I was beginning to think it wasn't going to show up, it turned up at 4am. I got into the last empty seat and we set off. The bus seemed to be mainly full of spanish and a few japanese.

We drove south and joined the convoy - it was actually more of a race than a convoy, everyone just drove flat out. I could see the speedo on our bus was past it's 120km/h stop. We crossed the Nile to the west side over the old dam and soon it was just empty desert. It wasn't particularly comfortable but I managed to doze for a good part of the journey. Ate my breakfast about 7am and we arrived in Abu Simbel at 7:30.

An expensive 65LE to get in but it's very spectacular. The temples were moved when the high dam was built or they would have been submerged. They now sit close to the shore of the massive Lake Nasser created by the dam. Lake Nasser is the largest reservoir in the world at 6,000sqkm and is 180m deep in places.

Lake Nasser   Lake Nasser   Lake Nasser

The main figures of RamsesII are 21m high and were carved directly into the rockface. The temple itself was in very good condition with loads of impressive carvings but no photos were allowed inside.

RamsesII - Abu Simbel   RamsesII - Abu Simbel   RamsesII - Abu Simbel

RamsesII - Abu Simbel   RamsesII - Abu Simbel

Back to the bus at 10am for a very hot return journey to Aswan and visit the high dam 8LE. I'd been looking forward to seeing this incredible feat of engineering but it was an anticlimax. The dam is huge but it doesn't have the "big wall" look that I'd hoped for. It's more of a giant mound than a conventional dam - it just gently slopes away each side to the vast Lake Nasser in the south and the comparitive trickle of the Nile to the north.

High Dam - north   High Dam - north   High Dam - north

High Dam - south   High Dam - south

High Dam - info   High Dam - info

Then back over the old dam to the east side.

between the dams   between the dams   between the dams

Then to visit the Philae Temples 35LE. These too were relocated in the 1970's to avoid submersion, from Philae Island to neighbouring Agilkia Island. We haggled and haggled to get a sensible price for the 13 of us in a boat and finally agreed 5LE each for the return trip. We became a bit more of a group here, there were several aussies, a japanese couple and and an english bloke! The temples were again spectacular and mostly in very good condition.

Philae Temples   Philae Temples   Philae Temples

Philae Temples   Philae Temples   Philae Temples - old dam in background

Philae Temples   Philae Temples   Philae Temples

Philae Temples   Philae Temples   Philae Temples

Then back to the mainland to wait 30mins for the bus to return. We sat around and compared travel notes and swapped tips.

We were then offered the chance to visit the Unfinished Obelisk 20LE. Well, why not. This was discovered in an ancient granite quarry south of Aswan. The massive obelisk had been largely cut out of the rock when a fault in the rock structure was discovered and it was abandoned. It would have been a staggering 41m high. When I've looked at the various temples the engineer in me is always working out how they could have transported these giant rocks, and lifted and positioned them etc. I'd never really considered the actual extraction of the rock in the first place. It's almost inconceivable that they would attempt something on such a scale when you see it half cut out of the rock.

Unfinished Obelisk   Unfinished Obelisk

Unfinished Obelisk   Unfinished Obelisk

And finally I was dropped off outside my hotel at 4pm. I was exhausted after very little sleep, a busy day and it's very hot again today. The hotel staff were definitely flagging and unusually had all the curtains closed in the restaurant trying to keep cool. I had a quick shay and returned to my room. Started a bit of diary but couldn't stay awake and crashed out.

Woke up a bit before 9pm but really struggled to get moving - it seems so hot still. But I was starving so pulled myself together - I've outfasted the locals today, nothing to eat since my 7am breakfast!

I needed something substantial and simple so took the easy option of returning to the café I've used before for a spaghetti bolognaise. I must have looked like I was wasting away because I was served a huge plateful - it was very good and I ate the lot with a shay 18LE. Wandered back to the hotel stopping for an ice cream, bought some fizzy drink and a kg of oranges. Back to my room for drink, oranges and diary.

Twice in today's diary I've mis-tapped "good" as "god" - spooky, is there a message coming through? . . er . . hello . . ? . .

      High: Abu Simbel, Philae Temples and the Unfinished Obelisk were all spectacular - and the oranges are very nice too
       Low: the high dam was a bit disappointing - and I've eaten too many oranges

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