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Cairo to Cape Town – Egypt Part 2

Thursday 6th August

Had breakfast on the roof at 8am and then 6 of us (Jan, Alison, Wilma, Nicole, Jacqui & Me) decided to go to Philae Temple for the morning. So we went out into the street and flagged down a minibus taxi and negotiated a rate for him to take us to the dock, wait whilst we go over to the island and wander round the temple and then bring us back.

On route to the dock we went through a tourist police checkpoint where the driver was bragging about having a minibus full of women to the policeman and we all had a laugh about how lucky he was!

We then walked down to the boat ticket office, running the gauntlet of guys selling clothes, pyramids, sphinxes and jewellery. Tickets for temple bought we headed down the gangplank to find a boat to take us over, didn’t take long as they were all keen for our business.

The boat ride to Philae is about 10 minutes and relatively relaxing apart from the guy in the boat trying to persuade us to go to his Nubian village after the temple.

Once back on land, we wandered around the temple which is surrounded on all sides by the Nile, learning all about Hathor and the birthing hall from Alison’s Lonely Planet guide!

We spent about an hour wandeing round the temple and then hailed our Nubian boatman to take us back. On route back there was no discussion about nubian village visiting but we did pick up a non speaking salesman who had books on egyptian gods, birds of egypt and a map of the Nile for sale, along with a few necklaces.

Once back the other end we hailed the minibus taxi man and jumped in and headed back to the hotel to cool down.

Early afternoon Nicole, Andrew F and I headed out to find a local restaurant called Mona Lisa, we had been told it was very good. Nicole sat nav’d us a good 15 minutes walk out-of-town, until we came to a huge mosque within a non tourist area. We walked around for a few minutes trying to work out where the sat nav was trying to take us to find it was telling us the restaurant was pretty much in the mosque! So we gave up on that idea and headed back via a different route to the hotel. We found ourselves wandering down a sandy residential street towards the Nile, eventually we came out on a road we had come down on the way to the ‘restaurant’ so we managed to navigate ourselves back to the hotel. We arrived looking bedraggled, hot and sweaty so grabbed a cold can of drink before heading out again in search of the Mona Lisa using verbal directions this time! As it was the Mona Lisa was 400m from our hotel on the bank of the nile, easy peasy! Finally hungry, tired and sweaty we piled into the restaurant only to be told they weren’t serving food! Oh how we laughed! So I ordered a lemon juice and Andrew a cup of tea and we had those, paid and left and gave up on food!

Late afternoon the group headed out on a trip to a Nubian village for swimming, a tour around, a meal in a locals house and henna tattoos, I had done this just last year so decided to pass and spend the time getting jobs done that had been building up! I had such a productive few hours….sorted my bag, finished my first blog, uploaded photos, posted blog, emailed it round, dealt with some work emails, painted my nails, sewed some clothes up, did some washing, showered and conditioned my hair and had a general sort out. Finally about 8pm I headed downstairs to catch the group when they returned and ended up watching Erin Brokovich until they all appeared henna’d up.

We then all parted ways to pack for the felucca and for those that swum in the Nile to wash it all off them! Then crashed out until 3.30am call to prayer!

Friday 7th August

Woke up early, pottered around until breakfast at 8am then popped out to find some emergency rations for the felucca trip.

We pottered around until 11.15 when we met in reception armed with a small bag with just what we needed for the 2 day/2 night felucca. We walked along to where the 2 feluccas were waiting on the river front. Now, if you have never seen a felucca, its like an egyptian yacht with enough room to lay a mattress across it for 14 people to lie and sleep, no toilets, no seats.

So we split into 2 groups and boarded the felucca, spent an hour or so sailing down the Nile until we moored up for lunch. The guys who sail the feluccas also prepare the food, so they had prepared tomato and cucumber salad, beans in a sauce, cheese & tomato mixture and falafel. All to be enjoyed with some bread. Everyone ate in our boat, so at one point we had 25 people all sitting around on the mattress eating.

After lunch we disembarked and headed up onto land for a toilet stop before tying the boats together and drifting down the Nile for a couple of hours whilst we all slept, read, played cards and chatted. Very lazy!

Late afternoon we moored up at what can only be described as a sand dune, some people swam in the Nile whilst the rest of us carried on sleeping, reading, playing cards and chatting. About 7pm we had dinner which was nile perch, rice and vegetables followed by an apple. Luckily for us it was Andrew P’s birthday so Em had arranged a birthday cake for him to be delivered to the felucca. So we all sang ‘happy birthday’ and tucked into cake which was covered in an array of fruits and tonnes of cream.

After that excitement we all headed ashore for ablutions and then some people went to bed, a few of us stayed up playing card games such as bullshit, uno and an egyptian game which is like old maid but using kings rather than queens!

About 11pm, once Em’s gin had gone we all headed to bed to sleep under the stars, on a boat, on the Nile!

Saturday 8th August

Early start today due to sleeping outside….light at 5am and was awoken to the felucca crew pulling the roof screen over and tying it. Headed off for morning ablutions on the sand dune and then had a thorough wash with baby wipes, which seemed somewhat pointless as we were all wearing the same outfits for another day and night anyway!

We had breakfast and then drifted along the Nile all morning, would love to describe what I saw but was asleep!

We moored up at a Nubian tomb and found a semi decent toilet, then popped back to the boat for lunch and a swim in the Nile. Then before sailing off we went back on land past the tombs and found a shop selling cold drinks and ice creams, so indulged in both before boarding the felucca for another drift along the nile to Kitcheners Island where there is a lovely botanical garden. We strolled around the botanical garden and sat in the cafe drinking litres of cold fluids. It was 47 degrees and it felt like we were drinking litres and litres but still dehydrated, it become a struggle to stay hydrated! Tough day but we all survived. After the botanical gardens we headed to a monastery up a dune for dinner and the night. This sounds simple but turned into a hilarious debacle! Our felucca arrived first with us adopting the ‘brace’ position – Nubian felucca parking involves accelerating towards the land and stopping by crashing into it! The second felucca came in to moor but the wind caught the sail after all but one of the crew had leapt off, so the sand anchor ripped free and the felucca sailed off across the nile in the wrong direction with one crew frantically trying to turn it around! In the meantime our crew moved us along the bank slightly, we sat watching the debacle on felucca 2….eventually the felucca headed back in the right direction manned by the one crew on the rudder and Steve on the sails! The felucca was hurtling towards us at rapid speed, a few of the guys on our ship could see the crash coming and leapt into the nile to get out of the firing line. We braced ourselves for another crash but the felucca swerved at the last moment and veered into the bush, apparently that is also an acceptable Nubian way of braking!

After all that excitement both feluccas moved again around the bay a bit and we encountered a couple of local guys that were off their faces on acetone (Mikkel found 6 empty bottles!), they had a boat full of kids with them! We watched as they argued with our crew and bbq’ed the world’s smallest fish, using their hands to pull the griddle tool from the fire! After a while they left and we settled down for dinner and chatting before sleeping under the stars again on the Nile. Sleeping was a state not easily achieved that night due to the roasting hot sahel style wind coming off the dune directly into our faces, on the plus side I am sure there is a spa treatment somewhere in the world that utilises sand blasting and hot air as a way if achieving a youthful and smooth complexion!

Sunday 9th August

Woke early again and headed off up the dunes for morning ablutions, watched the sunrise over the Nile before tucking into breakfast. After breakfast we packed up and drifted slowly along the nile and back to the road where we disembarked and headed off to the hotel for a well-earned shower and sleep! We were so excited about getting under the air con, so that was the first thing that went on! Then we sat around desperate for a shower only to find the key to the room containing all our bags and shower stuff was locked away and we had to wait for the manager to arrive and let us in. I have to say I haven’t appreciated a cold shower more than I did this morning, washed my hair twice and conditioned it and after a good scrub felt slightly more normal!

Also got all the laundry done, the first water coming from our clothes was black! Not a good sign!

We then had a nap under the air con before Wilma, Nicole, Jacqueline and I headed out for a home cooked lunch at a river front restaurant called Emy. Had chicken tawook which is basically yoghurty marinated chicken skewers with onion, peppers and tomatoes. After lunch we popped to a pharmacy so everyone could by emergency bits for the bush camping in Sudan…the shop mainly consisted of rehydration sachets, baby wipes, tissues and moisturiser!

We then headed back to the hotel and crashed out again under the air con until 5ish when we re-grouped and headed out to the Nubian Museum. I have to say it was the best museum in Egypt so far, really interesting, well organised with a good portfolio of artifacts. Had information of the history of Nubia and Nubian people, pictures of Nubian tombs and temples, mummies, stelae, jewellery, clothing, mock houses and 2 full-sized dressed horses! We strolled around for a couple of hours taking it all in, getting accosted by a group of school kids who wanted their photo taken and to practice their english!

After visiting the museum Nicole suggested swinging by the ‘Old Cataract Hotel’, cataract meaning a bend in the Nile not the eyesight issue! It’s a luxury 4/5 star hotel that looks like it’s a set for an Agatha Christie novel or a meeting place of british Victorian explorers after a long day wearing khaki and hats whilst forging a path along the nile! Very glamorous, we treated ourselves to a mocktail called ‘Nile Smile’ and we shared a platter of egyptian petit fours! After an hour of so of luxury we regrettably left and wandered back to our less than luxurious hotel for bed!

Monday 10th August

Lazy morning this morning before heading to the Sudan Embassy at 10am to get or passports & visas. As luck would have it all our visas were ready even David’s, which was decidedly touch and go for a while as he is american!

So passports in hand we headed back to the hotel triumphant and after a short cool down Wilma, Nicole, Jacqueline and I headed out into the souks for a wander round. Wilma bought a scarab and some earrings, Jacqueline and I bought an oil perfume bar, mine rose scented, which you rub on your skin and leaves you smelling nice, my thinking behind his purchase was when I stink after days and days bush camping I can rub myself with this bar and instantly smell like roses!

We then found ourselves in a sweet and nut shop where the other bought almonds and cashews, the owner then decided to use my scarf to demonstrate what a Nubian wife should look like whilst insisting on photos being taken. Wilma and I got the nubian treatment which involved being pulled incredibly close to the guy, have him tuck the scarf practically in our bra and then take photos of us, hilarious fun. He threw in a few marriage proposals and offered Wilma all the camels in Egypt! Lucky Wilma!

I fabricated an english husband to whom I have been happily married for 2 years, only for the nut dude to tell me I must change my mind and I want an egyptian husband instead. I dissuaded him but did chuckle when he looked positively shocked when I told him I was 35, apparently I look 25 must be all that sand blasting on the felucca the other day!

After that we headed to the cash machine then back to the Philae Hotel for lunch, chicken shwarma sarnie. After lunch Nicole and Jacq headed to the Plaza Mall and Wilma and I headed back to the souks in search of fruit and books for school kids further on in our trip. We wandered through the souks until we came to a barber shop whose owner Wilma had befriended days before, she asked him where we could buy school books and he lent us a young lad called Mohammed who chaperoned us to a shop selling school books. After some dodgy mathematics and bargaining we agreed on a price, Wilma bought the books, we waved Mohammed the chaperone off and popped into the supermarket for a wander and bumped into Mikkel the driver!

We then carried on wandering through the souks, as we approached the nut dudes shop we tried to look conspicuous, thought we had got away without seeing him again as the shop was now shut, only to hear ‘hello, you are back. You have changed your mind about egyptian husband’. Damn! We scampered past him but could still hear him banging on about egyptian husbands as we got to the fruit shop. Bought some dates, pears, bananas and a mango then toddled off back in the direction of the hotel.

Just at the bottom of the steps to our hotel we stopped to look in some old man’s shop as Wilma had been promising him for days that she would go in at some point! We wandered in this pokey dust filled musty old shop to find it opened out in 3 floors, each set of stairs covered with holey old carpets. The shop was musty, dusty and looked like an undiscovered tomb….full of artifacts, furniture, sarcophagi, clothing and bags. Pretty amazing but also sad that no tourists come anymore and no one has bought his stuff.

Sat in reception area for a while on the wifi then headed up to pack for the early start to Abu Simbel tomorrow. Leaving at 3.10am as joining armed convoy at 4am, same as I did last year. I have however heard that we will be too slow for the convoy in our truck so we may have to have our own armed escort in the truck with us and trundle along bringing up the rear of the convoy.

Attempted to have a shower in the morning only to find there is no water in Aswan, apparently a pipe has been broken. So we can see the Nile from the window but cannot get any water to come out of our taps!

Wilma and I gave up waiting for water and headed out to Emy restaurant for a tagine that we shared and a Roselle juice, which turns out to be cranberry!

Headed back to the room for early night as 2.30am start

Tuesday 11th August

Up at 2.30am, left hotel at 3.15am and jumped on truck and headed out of Aswan on route to Abu Simbel. We had to join and armed convoy that left Aswan at 4am.

We drove, bringing up the rear of the convoy for just under 4 hours before we reached the town area of Abu Simbel. We parked up at a dubious looking establishment which was supposed to be a hotel, it was murky and dusty and looked like someone had just pulled the covers off the furniture 2 minutes before our arrival. As it turned out there was an issue with the booking, the manager hadn’t turned up and apparently they didn’t have enough rooms for us as people hadn’t checked out! We looked around at the empty, dusty reception and were all thinking the same thing…..’what people?’

So our Mr Fixer found another hotel up the road which we walked to with our bags, again due to the lack of tourists nothing has been maintained and hotels have been shut up and unused for years, so we rocked up at this traditional looking hotel, lovely reception room. Very excited to have a hotel, that excitement was quickly diminished when we saw the rooms! I have to say Nicole and my room was in a slightly better state than others, we had a couple of geckos, ants over the floor, bed and dresser, a toilet that didn’t flush and a couple of bits of rat crap dotted around. Others appeared to have had to move rooms due to spider egg nests, excessive quantities of rat crap, geckos in the bed, alive and dead, gecko skeletons on pillows and general animal related issues!

Anyway after a quick spray with my industrial insect killer we sorted the ants, scared the geckos off and removed the rat crap and the room just looked grimy and shabby.

We had a semi decent ac unit which worked but gave us a sore throat and a cold, clearly Egyptian hotels have no protocol for Legionnaire’s Disease!

Anyway the group headed off in the heat to Abu Simbel, I stayed behind as was planning on going to the Sound and Light show in the evening instead.

So I used the prison style shower and had a nap, Nicole returned and also showered then we both had a nap for about 3 hours.

Upon waking we pottered for a bit before getting dressed and heading down to a restaurant that Em had found which served cold drinks and had wifi.

At 6.15pm I headed back to the hotel to meet with Alison, Jan and Andrew P to go to the Sound and Light show at Abu Simbel. What an amazing experience, about 12 or so people there in total, we sat in prime position and waited for the lights to go down……the show began with us plunged into darkness with a posh english voiceover talking about the wind and time etc etc…the show told the story of Rameses the Great and his wife Nefetari and how he managed to rule for 67 years and build Abu Simbel, pictures, hieroglyphs and lights were projected onto the 2 temples to the ambient music, us sitting watching with the lake behind us and the sky full of stars! The show lasted for about an hour and then we had some free time to walk up to the temples with them lit up. It was a weird feeling walking amongst the temples of Abu Simbel in the dark, its like they come alive more at night!

Anyway, the guards clearly wanted us out as they turned all the lights off in a hint to get us to go! So we headed back to the restaurant with wifi and had a 4 course dinner, all home cooked Nubian food. I had Nile perch with rice and veggies.

After dinner we wandered back to the room and tried to sleep as even with the air con on it was sweltering. Nicole woke at 12.15am having a brief mental breakdown, I was alerted to this by her knocking over the water bottle and muttering ‘shitballs’ numerous time! after a bit of a heat fuelled delirious laughter she swapped ends of her bed and tried to sleep again.

Wednesday 12th August

Alarm went of at 5.15am, which happened to be the moment I rolled over and got comfy again! We showered in the prison style shower and packed a camping bag as the next 5/6 nights or so are camping! Half of that is bush camping so shampoos, soaps and towels become irrelevant! Baby wipes are the way forward!

As I type its 7.27am and we are waiting to load us and the truck onto some kind of boat to travel 2 hours across the lake to a military road that will take us to the Sudanese border!

So…how to sum up Egypt…what have I learnt in the last 2 weeks….well 47 degrees is fucking hot when travelling up the Nile on a felucca, egyptian men will still propose marriage even if you say you are married, room 403 in the Orchida hotel Aswan doesn’t exist….402 and 404 do as do 103, 203 and 303 but no 403. You can eat food cooked in nile water and still live, Nubian complementaries in a hotel include ants, geckos alive and dead and some rat shit and the term ‘shitballs’ covers all eventualities!

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