Friday, July 9, 2010

Excursion to Egypt - Aswan & Crusin' the Nile

After a couple days in Cairo, we took a morning flight all the way down to the southern region of Egypt to the city of Aswan. Arriving to 110 degree temperatures at 10 a.m., this is where we boarded our Nile River cruise ship that would take us down the river to more spectacular sites. However, before our river journey began, there were a number of things we did right there in the Aswan area.

Ship and Felucca
From the airport we were transported through Aswan and down to the river where our cruise ship, the Movenpik Royal Lily, awaited. This thing looked like most every other cruise ship on the river from the outside, but inside it was like staying in a W Hotel. We had a very comfortable cabin with big windows facing out to the river, king sized bed, couch and lounge, killer air conditioning and more. Really nice.

After we checked in, but before lunch, we decided to go up top deck and take a dip in the pool to cool off. As reached the doorway up to the pool, I observed a thermometer outside that said the temperature had risen to 120 degrees. That pool really was going to feel good. And it did. But here's the thing - I left the card key for our room and my flip-flops on the pool deck as we swam around for about 10 minutes. When a went to fetch them, the key card had melted into a warped piece of plastic and my flip-flops were far too hot to wear. I had to quickly scoop them up and scamper into the shady part of the deck. After lunch we attempted to go up on the deck again to sit in the shade and read, but by this time the temperature had reached 131 degrees! After a minute of that Diane said, "this isn't good, lets go back to the cabin." She was right and we did.

Later that evening around sunset, when the temperature had cooled to a chilly 90 degrees or so, we went on a fun boat ride on a vessel called a Felucca. Basically, they are small sail boats the likes of which have plied the Nile for centuries. This was a fun excursion as it got us out on the river, in the breeze and we could see Aswan from the river perspective. At right is a picture of a felucca sailing in front of Aswan to give you the idea.

After a restful night on the boat moored at Aswan, the next morning we went to the Aswan "high dam." Built in the 1960s, the dam is one of Egypt's major sources of revenue and regional power. It's also one of the biggest dams in the world. By bottling up the Nile, Egypt can produce a massive amount of electricity with the dam that it uses domestically and exports all around the Middle East. And, by controlling the flow of the Nile, the government can reduce the instances of devastating flooding and occupy the position of a major player in water issues for most of North Africa.

While the dam does not have the "wow" factor of, say, the Great Pyramids, it is clear that this structure is as important - if not more so - to the Egyptian economy and way of life than any tourist attraction. That's why our guide made a point of showing it to us. Here is a shot of the dam. You can see it in the middle of the picture at the back.

After the dam, we went into Aswan town and did some shopping. We purchased some beautiful glass perfume bottles that artisans from that area are known for.

Nubian Village
Later in the afternoon, with only our guide and another couple, we took a motor boat up the river to a Nubian village for a visit. Nubia is a region in the south of Egypt and most of the Sudan. Nubians are the native people of that area. In this instance, we went to one of their homes for a visit. I'm not sure how "typical" the home was as there were plenty of things to buy sitting around (kickback to the guide no doubt), but none of that was a distraction and our visit proved to be interesting. For example, we got up close and personal with some crocodiles. From a balcony offering shade and views of the Nile, we snacked on some home made bread, cheese and honey. And, we partook in smoking from the hooka water pipe - tobacco only just so you know. We really enjoyed this little get-away within our trip because it allowed us to see something off the beaten path, see how some Nubians live, and experience some tastes and smells to go along with all the sights and sounds of Egypt. Here are a couple pictures from our visit:

After seeing the Aswan high dam, but before the Nubian village, we took a small boat over to an island to visit the Temple of Isis. In the heat of the day, we wandered through the ancient doorways and worship chambers, marveling at how old the construction is, how well preserved the carved hieroglyphs were and pondering what the Egyptians of old would have done here in this place thousands of years ago. This was our first temple tour and the basic construction and shape were the template for most the other temples we would see on the trip.

Shoving off later that that afternoon from Aswan, our ship chugged down the river to the site of one of the best preserved ancient temples called Kom Ombo. Notice I said "down" the river. The Nile is one of the only - and certainly the largest - rivers in the world that flows south to north. So, our ship journeyed north back toward Cairo.To be honest, between the time zone change, three aggressive days and the evening hour...we were exhausted by the time we started our exploration of the Kom Ombo temple at dusk. 

But, the sunset and twilight hour bathed the temple beautiful hues, and we learned that the site is the only ancient Egyptian temple that honors two gods simultaneously - Horus (the Hawk) and Sobek (the Crocodile). The temple was also a center for medicine and houses the original ancient Egyptian calendar - remarkably accurate. Ready to drop, we ate a late dinner and then hit the sack and slept hard. In the morning, our ship sailed down river again - this time the destination was a town called Edfu

Edfu is not a tourist destination itself, although you could get an education on what a typical Egyptian town is like by hanging out there. What the city does have is one of the biggest, best preserved ancient Egyptian temples left standing...and we toured it. By this point we were becoming experts on what these temples looked like, how they were constructed and which rooms served which purposes. With this knowledge in our memory banks, the visit here was more about appreciating the art than learning anything new about the structure's function or history itself. Following an enjoyable - and hot! - visit, we went back to the ship and sailed onward in the afternoon toward Luxor.

NOTE: All pictures featured in this article were taken by me, Marc Osborn. They are copy written in my name and are not authorized for any use by anyone without written permission directly from me. 

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