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Africa, Destinations, Middle East

The Mighty Nile

February 8, 2009 • By

After being bombarded by felucca sellers in Aswan, I boarded by Nile cruise bound for Luxor. Aswan is truly a beautiful spot in Egypt.  It’s about 3 hours from the Sudan border and the widest part of the Nile.  A picturesque scene with hill tops and surrounding ruins, it’s home to the Nubian community many who found their homes wiped out by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 70s.  The Nubian’s look a bit more like continental African’s than Egyptians possessing a darker skin tone.  They were farmers and depended on the Nile’s flooding waters for their crops, which meant when the Dam was completed they were not only homeless their way of life vanished.  Now instead of farming, many of them depend on tourism for survival.

In addition to displacing the Nubian people, the Dam also flooded many ancient ruins several saved with the help of UNESCO but many are sitting deep under the Nile’s waters or Lake Nasser (man made by the Dam).  Fortunately, the larger of the ancient temples like Abu Simbel and Philae were cut into pieces and reassembled on higher ground.  The temples are powerful examples of ancient Egyptian life….Abu Simbel consists of 4 towering statues of Ramses II and sits at the foot of Lake Nasser.  Inside the temple, there are amazing hieroglyphics of the King receiving gifts, the Falcon – god of sky, etc.  Philae while created by the Greeks and then finished by the Romans —at the hands of Egyptian workers, is a complex network of columns and hieroglyphic engraving on the banks of the Nile.

I am still enjoying seeing many of the ancient Egyptian ruins.  Each is a marvel in itself.  It is difficult to grasp how advanced the people were at this time.  Without taking into account the history the hieroglyphics give us, the towering temples, the artwork and the forces of nature against the people, they were also a deeply superstitious people.  It’s a little ironic that the ancient people were so deeply afraid of the the gods when really they should have feared each other or the high priests.

I’ve also learned a little bit about Egyptian culture on my stay here.  The one word that keeps popping up every few minutes is the Egyptian word baksheesh, which means TIP.   As a tourist, TIP is something I am expected to do often.  It has become abundantly clear that the driver in Egypt is likely making more money than the travel woman who booked my $1,500 tour.  Even though I’ve paid for all the services, I am required to tip the driver, the guide and anyone who I ask to take a picture.  If  I walk past someone and don’t want to take a felucca ride,  I should pay him to leave me alone.  The tourist police are a joke as I’ve come to the conclusion it’s just a ploy to put more people to work.  The tourist police probably make a salary and then they accost tourists who then pay them to go away.  Another bit of warning, when a shop seller says, ” it’s freeeee or just $1 or only 5 Egyptian pounds.”  He is LYING.  He is also lying when he says, “you come to my shop and just look.”  That means you will be surrounded by shop sellers who will not let you leave the store.  At one point, I had to be rescued as I needed a very cute hat for my Cleopatra outfit (more later) and I literally had to duck out of a circle of Egyptian men dressing me in all sorts of belly dancing outfits and Egyptian style dresses.  My new South African friend had to put her arms up to get me out as I was yelling for these men to get away from me.  Needless to say, the sellers are aggressive. 

Back on the boat, I’ve enjoyed incredible views of the Nile.  It’s hard to imagine 90 percent of Egypt is desert when I see the vastness of the Nile.  Just sailing along and watching the people at her shores it’s hard not to imagine the Nile’s power in ancient times.  People feared her and respected her.  Originating from the waters of Lake Tana in Ethiopia and Lake Victoria in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.  She comes to life in Sudan where the Blue Nile and White Nile Rivers join.  The Nile flows all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and more than anything the Nile is Egypt.

I’ve enjoyed my boat mates immensely.  My table consists of a lone Irishman, an older couple from the UK and another couple my age from Toronto.  Since there is always one, we are the problem group and prove to be an interesting mix.  The Irish party boy, the reserved English couple(both teachers) and the young at heart, still madly in love (almost)newlyweds and the brave traveler (that’s apparently me).  After the first night, we also allowed a crazy South African couple from Durban to join us.  It seems the rest of the boat is a bit stiff so it’s likely they sought out a more lively group.

During the day, we sail along the Nile and tour temples but at night we are overfed with international cuisine and entertained by Egyptian performers.  The first night the entertainment consisted of Nubian dancers.  Of course being the single blond girl, I was picked to assist the performer.  He was dressed in bright colors and looked like a joker.  With some paw like hand movements and some yelling like yeee, mooosh, shoosh, this toothless performer had me jumping up and down and trying to repeat whatever it is he said.  He quickly figured out I was hopeless.  Always the performer myself, I made up my own sounds and movements causing the crowd to erupt in laughter.  I don’t think my Nubian prince liked being upstaged so he demanded me fall to my knees.  Well that hurt so I stood up again and he gave me a Haaawwww sound which I took to mean he was not happy but I continued standing and then Haaaawww’d back at him.  After some back and forth of mooosh and Haaaawww and yeeeee haaaawwww, he bowed at me and I bowed back.  That was enough fun for the night.

There are about 60 people on the boat and the average age is probably 70, which means lights out at 10:30.  Immediately following the nightly performances, a herd of 50 people get up and sort of hobble down the stairs to their cabins.  My group stays behind and talks about them and shortly thereafter we make our way to bed.  Last night, there was a battle over a grueling game of BINGO.  I couldn’t stop laughing as I looked around and realized some tables had 7-10 cards.  It was all very serious.  My group did not participate in the game.  We declared in advance we were there for moral support to the senior citizens.  All I could think is please God don’t ever let this be me.  Anway, with several winners the announcer declared we would have a runoff for the loser.  Suddenly, there were 4 people on the 8×10 dance floor with their cards in tow.  One by one went down until the number 72 was shouted out and a woman SCREAMED Bingo.  When the game was over, like clock work the herd stood up and scrambeled to bed.  Apparently I started singing a little too loudly, “So long, farewell Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight…”  and again my group burst out laughing and joined in my rendition from the Sound of Music. 

Tonight is our big Egyptian farewell.  I will be dressing as Cleopatra in a beautiful Galbya dress.  This is known as fancy dress in Egypt.  I’m so excited I bought two head pieces in case one didn’t work.  The store owner on the boat was very excited to tie my head piece.  Following in the foot steps of the other Egyptian men, he had to touch my hair…”Oh you have such beautiful hair.”  The poor guy doesn’t know I don’t have my mommy on board and he will be tying my head piece again later.

Africa, Destinations, Do's and Don'ts, Middle East, Travel Tips

Don’t Take the Train

February 5, 2009 • By

On the advice of myself, I need to relax more. Pounding the pavement every day is hazardous to my health and information overload. My brain needs time to digest and my foot time to heal. That is why I took today to just admire the Pyramids of Giza and stroll the streets at leisure. I woke up at sunrise to see the rays of light cross the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The sky was still filled with smog but the beauty of the rocks shone through illuminating the granite stones.

I watched some classic TV – Ship Ghost–Yep I bet you missed that award winner–and then headed to the shops. It only took me about 20 minutes before I got myself into trouble. Some guy trying to take me to his shop irritated me and I snapped. I guess I sort of replied loudly and with some attitude that I simply wanted to walk and I disliked jewelry and perfume and that I already owned a papyrus. (From what I can tell these 3 are the staples). I thought I was just saying no but apparently I offended the guy and 2 other locals had to come to my aide as the guy wanted to come after me. A nice English-speaking guy informed me I should maybe not use that tone here in Egypt. Oooops.

Back to the pool for me.

I’m now on the sleeper train from Giza to Aswan. I WAS very excited to have more local flavor (and save $200) until about an hour ago when I saw a mouse and screamed. For those not in the know, I have an absolute fear of mice. My scream was so loud it brought some guy with a chief nametag and the other conductor to my cabin. They tried to tell me I did not see a mouse. I then told the “chief” I saw it run from one place to the other 3 times and it finally went under the door and likely to the next cabin. He asked again, “Are you sure?” Here is what I said to him. I live in New York. I know I saw a mouse. I’m pretty sure you know I saw a mouse and are trying to convince me I am crazy but guess what? You are moving me out of this car now.

He agreed to move me but not before throwing my shoe at me like there was a mouse in it and me screaming again. He found it hysterical.

The nice conductor moved my crap and I was so frazzled I didn’t think to tip but don’t worry he reminded me with the usual, “you not happy I not do good job?” Damn these people are ballsy.

Oh and don’t worry mom I WILL be flying back to Cairo.

Wish me a mouse free night.