We arrived in Aswan around 10am. The train ride was tolerable despite the cramp space and the inedible train food. Washing up was a challenge as well, but we made do. The original plan was to go straight to see the Aswan Dam and felucca ride before heading off to the cruise boat but with luck - we were given a couple of hours to check-in our luggage, take a shower and have lunch on the boat before seeing the sights. It was heaven being able to take a shower! And lunch was pretty good - a mix of western-style and egyptian-style dishes were served for lunch. Egyptian sure loves their fries and potato-based dishes.
After the short reprieve from the southern Egyptian sun and heat (northern Nile River), we were off to see the Aswan Dam that created Lake Nasser - one of the largest man-made fresh water lake in the world! This lake was formed when the Aswan dam was created to help control the Nile River during its flooding season.
In its first year alone, the lake reached it maximum capacity, flooding the Sahara desert - all the way to Sudan! The lake is now infested with crocodiles! After a quick photo shoot of the dam and the lake, we stopped to see a memorial structure that signify the collaboration between Egypt and Russia. Russia helped Egypt build the Aswan Damn in the 1960s. It was completed in early 1970s. The structure is designed to look like the lotus flower - an important Egyptian symbol of the sun, creation and rebirth.
The next stop to our afternoon-filled activity in Aswan is a visit to the unfinished obelisk in the Aswan quarry. By this time, it was mid-afternoon. The sun is beating down our backs, faces and well - all over! And the sweat! I am not even going to go there.
But since Aswan is the largest granite quarry in Egypt and the world - it was a must see! In this quarry lies an unfinished obelisk. It was to be the largest obelisk to be built - over 3000 years ago. Contrary to popular belief, Egyptian obelisks are not made of multiple granite to create an imposing figure. Egyptian obelisk - as well as those seen in Rome, Paris and London, which are mostly likely and majority came from Aswan, are made of A SINGLE GRANITE! But alas, someone - and oh that poor someone, if there was ever one, or something - cause a crack in this obelisk, leaving it unfinished. We were drained by the heat after checking out the obelisk. Bottles of water were distributed and consumed like inhaling air, leaving a sea of empty water bottles on the coach bus that was our home for the day.
A 20-minute ride led us back to the Nile River port where we were to board for the felucca ride. I had hoped to have our own felucca but that wasn't the case. Instead, we were in a large felucca. When the wind died down and the felucca was at a snail's pace, we transferred to a motorized boat and enjoyed the cool breeze and the ride around the Nile River. After 15-minutes, we reached our last destination of the day - a sand dune that our tour guide recommended us to hike - while he waits for us at the base, drinking mint tea and smoking a shisha. Hmmm... Okay. I'm game.
The sand dune didn't look that imposing. It looked easy to climb. Okay, so we all were still sore from the camel ride the day before. And the heat intensity has died down to a much tolerable level.
Aswan Dam Memorial
This climb should be an easy challenge, right? Not! I dropped by bag, took of my shoes and started with the climb. With the initial burst of energy and excitement, reaching 1/3 up the dune was relatively easy. Until it started becoming steeper, the air felt thinner, and the soreness begins to really kick in. The sand was very soft and surprisingly warm despite the illussion that it may be burning hot under the harsh Egyptian winter afternoon sun. Some stayed behind, stopping a third up the dune, take pictures, pretending that were were hiking up, before going back down. I wasn't going to give up. I had a bottle of water with me to hydrate. My thighs that were sore started to slow me down. As the dune got steeper, I stopped twice to catch my breath, drink some water and give my feet and ankle a rest.
Aswan Dam Memorial
They were feeling the strain as I try to get a better hold the sand between my toes. And then, I noticed slates of rock peeking between the sand. I looked up and the end was finally in sight! I reached the top of the dune longer, more exhausted and in more pain than I thought. Needless to say, I was out of shape and in desperate need of a shower - again.
But the view up the sand dune was a beauty! To the west, as far as the eye can see, you feel a sense of helplessness as you get a glimpse of the imposing Sahara desert compared to your measely existence, welcome a setting sun. To the east, the Nile River Valley is green, filled with life and activity. And past the river valley, dark stone cliffs and more desert sand showed the Arabian desert.
Aswan: Sahara Deset
It was a sight to behold. For a moment, I just stood there and made a 360 degree turn, taking in all the view from where I stood. It was worth it. The hike. The pain. The feeling of unable to breathe. And when that moment passed, I frantically took pictures all around me as the need to capture the view kicked in. We hiked down in relative ease. It only took us less than 5 minutes to hike back down compared to the 25 minutes to go up. But before that, I wrote my name on the sand, made a pair of footprints, took a photo of it, and collected some Saharan desert sand as souvenir.
Upon reaching the base, I helped myself with the mint tea our guide recommended us to take. It baffled me why he would give us a hot tea after such extrenuous activity but the mint tea was actually refreshing.
We rested for 15 minutes, as the others finished their shisha before heading back to the boat and back to the cruise for dinner, a horse and buggy ride around Aswan, and an adventure of haggling in Aswan's bazaar.