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Journal Entry:

Sunday, December 11, 2011 02:50:23

Egypt 2011: 2 - Upper Egypt

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Robbie, our train car steward, served a tray of breakfast consisting of bread, a package of cheese, butter, jam and a cup of tea. There was no sign of dessert, as the train follows the Nile through the bordering fertile area. We arrive in Aswan late, but not as late as expected - I'd been forewarned that on time arrivals are rare.

Panoramic Tours had their area manager and driver meet us to take us to the boat and let us know about the day's program. While moving from the car to the boat I caught a thief with his hand in my pocket - something that didn't seem to be taken too seriously by the local guards.

The boat is called the Crown Jewel, and is well laid out. Our cabin had three beds and a sliding glass door opening to an outside railing. There is a full sized bathtub with shower, fridge, TV, safe and other amenities, making it very comfortable.

Marilynn needed a few items, so we walked to the nearby shopping area and then to the souk, an area of shops and stalls covering several city blocks. The vendors are hungry and very aggressive in their approach - some trying to physically drag us into their shops. We were robbed once by a team who knocked money to the ground while we were paying someone, then handed it back having replacing some 50 pound notes ($8.30 each) with smaller notes worth 50 pence (80 cents each). Not being familiar with the money I didn't notice until I tried to spend it.

We bought a few items, including a jacket for Adrian, as the nights are cold. It is a busy, bustling area but we headed out a side street to get away from the hustle after walking only a few blocks. The constant pressure to buy tends to wear one down.

We enjoyed a buffet lunch on the boat before meeting with our guide, Hannah. Our first destination was an unfinished obelisk near an ancient necropolis with interesting structures. The obelisk had been cut on the sides and top but was still firmly a part of the quarry, as the lower part was uncut. It gave a good idea of how the blocks for the pyramids and other structures in Lower Egypt were cut.

We drove across the first dam on the river, built by the British, and then to the newer (early 1960s) Aswan Dam, which is three km long. It produced a lake 500 km long, extending well into Sudan. There are no major towns or villages in Egypt south of here. In the process of flooding it was necessary to relocate most of the Nubian population, whose villages were located in what is now lake. At the time, we were told, they were Christians who converted to Islam in the process of the move to the Aswan area.

A small boat took us to the Philae Temple, located on a beautiful island in the lake, where it was rebuilt while the original location was being flooded. Rebuilding took over 9 years. The Temple was originally built by Alexander the Great in the Greek/Roman period. While it was occupied by Christians escaping persecution they destroyed a lot of giant artwork carved into the walls of the temple. Inside are crosses and symbols of the Coptic Orthodox Christians. Christians make up about 20% of the population of Egypt, and the majority of this group are Orthodox. They are concerned about the outcome of the elections, as the second party is fundamentalist.

Back in Aswan the same pickpocket took another run at me on the way to the boar- obviously forgetting the earlier encounter, but confirming my suspicion that guards tolerate these people plying their trade in front of the boats. We explored the boat, locating a large, comfortable bar with dance floor and the huge sundeck on the top deck with swimming pool, bar, massage area and lots of sun beds. I tested the pool water and definitely will not be going in - it is freezing cold. After a complementary drink in the bar we returned to our table in the restaurant for a delicious dinner. The service has been superb. Hassan, the hotel manager, sat with us and said we were to immediately contact him if anything did not meet our expectations.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The boat sailed around 3 AM, quietly enough not to wake us. The air conditioning on board is pretty much on or off, on being far too cold, but by opening our sliding doors we were comfortable with the cool night air.

We had a good breakfast before Hannah met us in the ship's lobby at 8 AM just after we docked at the Kom Ombo Temple. The temple is located on the riverbank, so was a short walk from the ship. Marilynn did some interesting dance steps along the way to avoid a fellow with a couple of cobra snakes that he uses for tourist photos!

The temple was not large, so the tour didn't take long but was interesting. The temple was not rebuilt after being damaged by an earthquake in the time of the Pharaohs. It was interesting to learn that they worshipped crocodiles here, mummifying them, and burying them in stone coffins. Apparently the curve in the river at this point attracts crocs in large numbers. Yesterday we met a fellow who showed us his leg - opened from above the knee almost to the ankle by a crocodile bite - so crocs are still around.

The tourism industry has been devastated by press coverage of the political demonstrations. Vendors are so hungry they are selling items below cost to get money for food. Today Marilynn bought something priced at 350 Egyptian pounds for 30 pounds. When we walked back to the boat from Kom Ombo Temple vendors watching us moved towards the exit gate - they are not permitted inside the temple grounds. Hannah had to wade into the shouting mob, pushing them around and out shouting them, or we couldn't have got through.

The guides and drivers are also badly affected by the lack of tourists - several said that at this time of year they have several tours a week, but now are lucky to have one a month. Our guide was with us yesterday and for the two tours today, so is delighted for the work. She travels by land as we make our way down the river on the boat.


It was very pleasant to cruise down the Nile for the next 4 hour, watching life along the riverbank. I got some writing done, and Marilynn went to the sundeck with Adrian to work on photo techniques. It was the first free time to relax on the trip so far!

We were invited for a tour of the ship by Hassam, the hotel manager. The bridge is pretty basic - a lot of equipment on a sea going vessel is not necessary on a river. A pilot and helmsman were on the bridge, the helmsman sitting cross-legged on a large cushion on top of a wooden stand. In front of him were a couple of joysticks with which he steered the boat, and controls for each of the three Caterpillar diesel engines.

The kitchen was very well organized and spotlessly clean. It had a bakery, a vegetable room, a meat room, store rooms and a large preparation and cooking area. The staff were very welcoming, particularly of Adrian, who must have impressed them as he was presented with bread baked in the form of a crocodile at the next meal

We docked at the City of Edfu a bit after 4:30 and Hannah was at the end of the gangplank as soon as it went down. She had a horse and carriage waiting for us, in which we escaped the mob of beggars and vendors that are a feature at each stop. It took us through the centre of the city to the Edfu Temple on the far side of town. The place is set up for mass tourism, with a large parking lot for buses and cars and a long row of shops, most of which were empty. There were neither cars nor buses in the parking area. We were quickly surrounded by every vendor in the place.

I found it interesting that every historic site and other public places as well are equipped with airport style metal detectors, and guards are at the machines to ensure everyone goes through them. What is most interesting is that everyone goes through the machines with all their keys, cameras, computers, knives or whatever else they are carrying, causing the machines to beep wildly, but that is totally ignored and no one is stopped.

Edfu Temple is the largest from the Greek/Roman period and is in fairly good shape. The general layout was similar to the Kom Ombo Temple, but on a grander scale. It has also been occupied by Christians when they were being persecuted, however they didn't disfigure the carvings. The damage they did was from cooking fires in the main part of the temple, blackening the top of the columns and ceiling with soot. Attempts to clean them have been unsuccessful.

On the way back to the boat Adrian sat with the carriage driver, who handed the reins over to him and taught him how to steer the horse. Adrian drove all the way back to the boat including through town, where after tipping the guide and driver we fought our way through desperate vendors and beggars to reach the gangplank. The rest of the afternoon was spent cruising down the Nile to Luxor.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Our tour today started at 7:30 AM with a drive across the bridge to the west bank of the Nile, where the Valley of the Kings is located. Marilynn and I have been here before when lines were up to an hour long to enter various burial chambers, but this time it was quick and easy. There are more tourists in Luxor than there were further south, but far from normal numbers.

The Valley of the Kings is a burial ground for new kingdom kings, and was chosen over pyramids to try to keep the tombs safe from grave robbers. A king would start work on his burial site as soon as he officially became king, so those who lived longest have the most extensive underground complexes. Once the king was mummified and placed in the tomb, the entrance was covered to hide it. There have been 64 tombs uncovered to date, but it is felt there could be as many as 115.

There was a visit to an area where craftsmen polish and carve local rocks, making vases and sculptures from them using ancient tools, on the way to the temple of Egypt's only female ruler. We then had a couple of hours off for lunch and a brief rest before being picked up to visit the Karnak Temple, the largest of them all. When tourism is normal up to 40,000 people a day visit Karnak -- this is the type of mob scene we experienced when here before. This time we could see and experience the feel of the temple. In some of the huge areas we were the only tourists.

The tour ended with a visit to Luxor Temple, the temple of the wife of Karnak. It is connected by a road a few kilometres long to Karnak Temple but is very much smaller.

Back at the boat we had a short while to rest. At dinner the hotel manager led a crowd of waiters and cooks beating drums and bearing a birthday cake to our table, where they sang happy birthday to Adrian in both English and Arabic. Later we introduced him to his first belly dance show in the bar area. It was an exciting day.