Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ass Backward Aswan!

Temple of Isis at Aswan
For the purpose of book research, the single most important event on this trip was a boat ride out to
Philae Island to see the massive temple of Isis built by Ptolemy XII. Today I achieved this goal and oooooohhhh, man, did I get a juicy little nugget of info there! Can't wait to write it. And the journey was as interesting as the destination.

In getting to the island, I stepped off my taxi where the boats were and observed a large group of tourists disembarking from one (name badges, matching pink and white T shirts, shorts, cameras around necks.) As I approached, naturally I was touted for a boat, and after a few minutes of negotiation I was happy with the price. I stepped onto the boat, one of the decent-sized boats you see here all over Aswan.

Then my guide led me directly over that boat and onto the tiniest little motor boat I have ever seen. It almost would have fit in a bathtub. I hadn't even seen it.

In the Boat to Temple of Isis
Of course, it made sense, given the fact that I was one person, and a small person at that. But I seriously thought I might fall into the Nile. As it turned out, I did not fall in, but my guide was polite and the trip was fast and I did get some splashes to the eye at no extra charge.

The second bonus I experienced in Aswan was touting during dinner - by the server. I wandered into a restaurant near my hotel, selected for the fact that I could sit at an outdoor table near some parked boats and enjoy the sun setting over the Nile. After I had committed to an order, I looked up the restaurant in Frommers and almost walked out when I read the review. Whoops!

Except I couldn't walk out, because the man who had seated me and taken my order then climbed into one of the boats next to my table and spent the entire course of my meal trying to sell me a boat ride. Of course, I was kind of stuck there until he brought me the check. How bizarre is that?

I must say, the touts here are more persistent than the ones I have encountered elsewhere. On my way to dinner, I was followed for a couple of minutes by a boater not readily taking no for an answer. On the way back, as I was secretly laughing at a poor middle aged couple desperately trying to rid themselves of one, my same guy appeared again to remind me about karma.

He said to me, "Boat ride? One hour! Remember me?"

I said, "Yes, I remember you, and the answer is still no."

Viva Aswan!

Patio of my Bungalow in Aswan
Howdy all, sorry to confuse you with a barrage of posts that are out of order, but I just spent the night
on the train composing posts I subsequently could not publish due to the lack of wi-fi on moving Egyptian trains. I'm now in Aswan! The train ride was mesh mushkela - no problem- except I still feel it rocking (haha Laurie, remember that feeling?) My $50 per night room here is actually a little bungalow right on the Nile with gardens all around. Nice! I'm off to seek a felucca ride to the Isis temple at Philae!

Sara's review of Kris' blog

Pompey's Pillar

I finally got a chance to read the rest of your entries, starting with the colon catastrophe all the way through your departure from Alexandria.

1. Love the Extreme concierge for all you special people! It's amazing what $5 will get you in Egypt.
2. Love the street vendor selling over-priced water to the Spaniards, but discount water to you.
3. Love the elevator conversation about your blue eyes. You probably scared the crap out of them.
4. I want to see Pompeii's Pillar - way cool!
5. Catacombs are my favorite! And I've never been in any!
6. Yippee for Egyptian elixirs of life!
7. Ha-ha with regards to the Cairo train station construction. That's hilarious!
8. What do you mean you, "Walked under the train"????
9. I can't wait to see how you torture Katrina at the Castle in Alexandria.
10. Did you buy anything in the souk for yourself?

One comment for you - "Nice".

Keep it coming. I love traveling to Egypt vicariously!
Best - Sara
Fort Qaitbey Castle, Alexandria

The smog and the prayers

Smoggy Cairo
Now that I'm in Alexandria, I can breathe again. Late afternoon is when smog rolls the most heavily
into Cairo. It is unlike any smog I have ever seen.

When the sun first goes down, and the air has cooled considerably by the Nile, traffic is still jumping but the Vegas atmosphere has not yet begun. I would listen to the traffic and enjoy a cool breeze from the balcony of my hotel room. The occasional Arabic song - music I have discovered I love - would waft up to me.

But the smog! You can chew it. It burned my eyes and invaded my nostrils and my throat. It was like sitting next to a campfire, except that there was also a sweet, cloying stench to it.

It is recommended that people with allergies and asthma limit their time in Cairo. As I sat on my balcony, enjoying the breeze and music and chewing the air, I could understand why. Fortunately, I seemed relatively immune to it. I guess Southern California has toughened me.

Several times a day, something else washes over Cairo. It is the call for prayer. It reminds me of the Vespers I heard in Italy. No matter where you are, it comes across a loudspeaker from somewhere. I think it's beautiful.

I read that when called to prayer, people will kneel wherever they are, even along the sidewalk. While I saw this a couple of times, most people out in the streets did not do this. I suppose they were too busy dodging traffic.