Stevie & the view from the (unremarkable) Lake Nasser.
[Camera and Egypt photos finally returned and updated (13/0209)...enjoy! ;D ]
A rushed morning of sight seeing activities postponed from the other day when we arrived late in Aswan. Bashaa is my very talkative and seemingly very well informed guide for the day. First we hit the High Dam. This is the second of Aswan's great dams the other older 1902 British Aswan Dam sitting 6kms in front of it. The High Dam was co-constructed with the assistance of the Russians in the sixties and whilst it possesses an impressive set of vital statistics (some kilometres long, 111 metres high and 1 kilometre thick at its base) it doesn't really provide much - as one might expect from a dam - by way of iterest for visitors.
Passengers for the Temple.
You pay for the privilege of standing atop of it also. There is though an impressive view of the start of the incredible Lake Nasser (500km long, the final 150kms being over the Sudanese border) that was created by the dam's construction and necessitated the relocation of so many of the great temples of the ancient Nile concourse. Many others were not able to be spared.
The dam whilst having removed the uncertainties and inherant dangers of the unpredictable annual Nile floods and providing a vast proportion of Egypt's energy needs through its gigantic hydro-electric turbines has come at a cost beyond the destroyed temples and monuments. One very eloquent detractor I speak to a day or so later is one of the old, old river felucca captains who's been punting up and down the Nile from long before the High Dam existed.
Alongside the Philae Temple.
Captain Mohammed explains to me some of the impacts on the Egyptian eco-systems and agriclture. He states categorically that food stuffs such as fruit and vegetables are no way near as rich and tasty as once they were as the natural silts and mineral rich soils that used to be washed over the lands replenishingly by the Nile floods each year no longer come. The soil is no longer as nutrient rich and presumably continues to depreciate in quality over time in this respect. This same process of flood as rejuvination and renewal also used to apply importantly to the sweeping away of everything that was dry, used up, useless and dead (be it animal or vegetable matter) and was all flushed out into the waters of the Mediterranean from the Nile Delta. But this 'cleansing of the land' no longer occurs.
Left side of the grand pylon of the Philae temple.
Certain species of bird and fish no longer thrive upon the Nile with this shift in the eco-balance. One change you river-paddlers out there may take comfort in is that there are no longer any Nile Crocodiles north of the dams. Progress. But as always, at a price.
Bashaa and driver next take me to the jetty departure point for the island of Philae and the Temple of Isis, one of the many relocated temples of ancient Egypt. Here Bashaa commandeers an old boy to taxi us across to the Island and wait in his shonky old water-taxi. The dock is a chugging, vibrant melee of many tens of such taxis, and larger ferry boats spilling over with eager tourists.
The temple itself is dedicated to Isis (Lord or resurrection and the Underworld), his wife Osiris and their son Horace the Younger. Egyptian temples are often 'family affairs'of this sort. Their story is a cool one... it's long... almost as long as the average Weselby blog entry (but not quite ;D) so I'll let you Google it in your own time.
The temple is packed out to the max but its large and spacious so this doesn't detract from its interest too badly. The high 'pylon' entrance following a long concourse entry of romanesque columns is quite, quite impressive. very large, bas-relief figures of Isis and his family adorn the front of this grand gateway although some of them have been defaced and chiselled off over the milennia by later inhabitants of the temple walls less endeared to Egyptian deities.
Isis feeds Osiris an Ankh : "No come on, eat your food... it's an aeroplane neeeeeee-ooooouw!"
A very well fed temple cat seems to have taken up permanent residence within the vaulted rooms under Isis's watchful gaze. Dumb tourists seem only too happy to photograph taunt and prod the poor thing until it sinks its dusty, flea-bitten claws deep into their flesh and not let go. Hmmm? I hope you got all your jabs done before you came out here fellas!?
I make sure that I force a good amount of time at this interesting sight not wanting to give in to Hyper-speed cultural tour syndrome that is prevelant and very depressing when on a guided 'tour'in Egypt. We remin 90 mins or so. Once the waterboatman manages to fix his centuries old Yamaha engine we are scenically and safely ferryed back to shore and appropriate baksheesh is handed over.
Then it's straight back by car to Aswan's corniche where I am to board a Nile felucca that will become my home for the next 2 days and nights or so.
My Aswan travel contact and representative of 'The Atef Plan' greets me at the waters edge. He's just recovering from the embarrassment caused him by my irritated relating of the fact that I was this morning told at breakfast that my 'inclusive' breakfast meal would actually cost me EGP50 which I refused to pay when all of a sudden there is a mass of commotion that we are approaching. There is shouting and screaming and a tazmanian-devil style whirl of arms, legs, teeth and fists are collapsing from side to side and spilling over the dockside from one felucca moored up next to another. I can't make head nor tail of what's going on and I watch as several guests already arrived on the felucca cling on to each other at the back of the boat as if their lives depended on it.
One particularly tall man, in long white gelabiyya strides into the mess, wild frizzy hair flying atop his brow, grabs a young boy and gives him a super
-frickin' hard slap across the face several times. So damn hard
I'm surprised the lad's facial features aren't relocated to the other bank of the Nile in one fell swoop. "YIKES!"
Stevie, meet your Captain for the next 2 days. Captain Ayob. "Gulp!".
It's ok. All is soon calmed. It's a money dispute. Captain Ayob's slapping victim was his younger brother, our deckhand Saaba so this apparently within Egyptian culture is perfectly normal and acceptable. I step on board and the tempo is immediately winding down to 'super chill' setting where it will happily remain for the coming days.
Leaving Philae Island where the temple was relocated bu UNESCO.
Already aboard are Brits Matt and Fay, a spanish couple and Louise from Australia. Our numbers are swelled as we sit in dock over the coming hours by quite an ecclectic bunch of co-travellers. Claudio an Italian online journalist, 3 friends from an Israeli kibutz (although Colombian, Taiwanese and German respectively) and belatedly and much delaying our departure a young American couple hailing from NYC and Baltimore.
Captain Ayob (pronounced Aiyoob) seems to be relaxing into the rhythm of his beloved river life again now. The stress, the fists (and the others tell me knives!!!) of earlier an immediately distanced memory, he slips out of his traditional, respectful gelabiyya and into the comfort of his preferred pink Slazenger T-shirt, jeans and baseball cap.
Claudio & Louise sit down to our first felucca meal.
Eventually, the Americans (who inexplicably disappear again!) are recovered and it's "All abord the Nile Paradise!"
as we set sail gently upon the Nile. The deck of the felucca is covered in thin cotton covered foam with plentiful amounts of cushions to rest up against and lie upon. We all start to chat, kickback under the shade of the felucca's awning and let all stresses and strains wash overboard and away with the river waters. A pleasant lunch is soon prepared for us by Saaba and second deckhand Mohammed.
The felucca drifts slowly, zig-zagging from one bank of the Nile to the other and back again. The waters gently lap against the shallow sides of the boat, your head as you lie back never too far from the waters surface. We all continue to sit, lounge and chat as the sun, heading into late afternoon already, starts to wind down.
River Brothers, Capt.Ayob and his younger brother.
There is a breeze across the waters but the evening - to me anyhow - is warm and seductive. Capt.Ayob turns out (Thankfully!) not to be scary in the slightest (well, as long as you're not his brother) and over the course of our two days in his company on the river will prove to be an extremely relaxing, humorous, friendly and gregarious travel host. Not very old at all (early thirties) and tired of the strifes of tourist thirsty Aswan he just loves bobbing about on the river, keeping away from the business side of things as much as possible whilst getting to know the peoples of the world and their varying national character traits whilst he entertains them along the approx 50km stretch of the Nile between Aswan and Kom Ombo. It seems that despite what your guide books might say it is extremely hard/ impossible to negotiate felucca rides these days that will take you further than this i.
Chillin' out on the Nile.
e. all the way to Luxor
. As with any ships captain worth his salt he has many amusing tales to tell of his travels and guests and as long as you're able to momentarily set aside your senstivities to national stereotyping he does come in with a great bunch of insights and guiltily amusing impressions to illustrate the differences (as he perceives them) between the nations and peoples of the world, all of whom seem to find their way onto his boat at some point or other.
Everyone's getting along great as night falls and dinner is served... everyone except the American couple that is, who for some reason spend the entire of their day or so on board huddled in a far corner of the boat, a look of mild terror upon their faces as if it is they that we will first consume should provisions run out.
Louise, the book devourer.
.. if not sooner! All of Capt.Ayobs best friendly efforts cannot induce them to smile and join in. The whole time on board they muster about as much personality between them as a sun-dried, salted Nile perch. Oh well its not for everyone. They apparently arrived in Cairo
1 day ago, immediately took the overnight train down to Aswan and have jumped straight on board this felucca back up the Nile?! This strikes me as a very peculiar way to say you've seen Egypt... i.e. not at all! 'The Atef Plan' doesn't seem so foolish in light of this example.
Matt, Fay and I have been working through some beers obtained ahead of departure by Capt.Ayob (doing our own bit to reinforce national stereotypes :) so Matt and I are quite relieved when we finally moor up on the bank for the night.
Capt.Ayob at sundown.
Disembarkation for toilet stops is achieved via a thin, rickety plank of wood running from the boats prow down to the shore and I am relieved to confirm that in my whole two days, no matter how desperate the toilet dash I manage to avoid the indignity and hillarity of wobbling off of it into the Nile below. "Phew!".
Shuffling gingerly down the plank for the first time and descending to the sandy bank beneath I enjoy what has to be one of the most pleasing and poetic piddles of my life. Under the stars, by moonlight as the felucca gently bobs to my right and I grinningly augment the waters of the great river Nile as a heron crows somewhere in the distance.
We play a relatively good-natured and tame game of spin the bottle later (this sends the Americans into a further, deeper rictus of terror and they inch even further away from us for the night) and I manage to get through, unnoticed all evening that the bottle never once manages to point at me.
.. sorry guys, the secrets are all still safe within me :D A long scalf sheet of fabric is drawn and tacked around the sides of the felucca awning by Saaba and Mohammed creating a homely tent like construction atop of the boat deck where we all hunker down and let the Nile gently rock us to sleep.