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Michael’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 23 Mar 2006

Location: Dahab, Egypt

MapOkay,

I know it's been a while, and most of you are worried sick. Some as to weather or not I'm okay, most people though are just worried about the size of the next update to the page!

So I'm now in Dahab in Sinai (still Egypt) on the Red Sea coast, and I have plenty of info to put in here. The first section I will put in will be about Aswan, after the horrendous overnight train ride from Cairo.... 1st class seating, I'd hate to see second class.

Day 2
Anyway, very little sleep on the train, we roll into Aswan (1000km South of Cairo, on the Nile) and head to our hotel. A bit of freshening up and we head out to the bazzar like tourist lambs to the slaughter. Fortunately, we weren't really looking to buy much, just some food, (in particular fruit) to substitute the almost all bread diet that we'd been living on. Fortunatley for me, and the rest of the people in the group, I had spent one of the countless sleepless hours on the train learning Arabic numbers. Pretty simple, with a direct substitute for the numbers 0-9 and then a repeating pattern from 10 onwards as in English (10 = 1 followed by a 0).

Anyway, find a fruit shop, with a sign indicating that the price of the oranges were 1.25 LE per kg (written in Arabic). However, when I asked, he offered them for 2 LE each. I asked why he had a sign saying 1.25 LE to which he replied - "oh, you smart man, very smart, for you smart man you can have 1.25... hahaha you got me" Now, in reality, the locals probably would have bartered to a lower price, but I still feel I had a moral victory. Everyone in the group took advantage of the price, and it wasn't the last time that my new numbers would come in handy.

In the afternoon, we went to the High Dam that was erected as a hydro station and the power that is harnessed from the Nile provides enough electricity for a heap of countries in the Northern part of Africa and the Middle East. It was also used to try and eleviate the problems created by the Aswan Dam (which we also drove over). However the combined result of both dams creation, is a man made lake, Lake Nassar. It is the biggest man made lake in the world, stretching over 500km long. Then looking over the other side of the High Dam you can see the Nile River, the worlds longest river, flowing through 6 countries in Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. The main problem being that with the creation of the lake, the water levels all rose and numerous monuments and temples that were on the banks of the Nile were completely covered in water. Alot of these have since been relocated to higher gorund (some before High Dam was installed, others after) and subsequently lost part of their mystery.

Then we continued our journey to Philae Island, and the Isis Temple Complex. The temple was sinking slowly each year into the depths of the Nile due to the increasing levels caused by the Aswan Dam, and just prior to completion of the High Dam, the temple was removed piece by piece and replaced as close as possible on nearby Agilkia Island, 20m further above sea level. The Island was even shaped to closer resemble the original Philea Island.

After the tour we headed back to the hotel and then went into the main part of town and had pizza for dinner. This is when the new grasp of Arabic numbers would come in handy a 2nd time for the day. We were looking at a menu in English, and Kathy & Esther (2 girls from the tour) were asking the cook what was on each pizza. While they were waiting for answers, I found a 2nd menu in Arabic. I counted down the menu, till I reached the pizza I was interested in (hoping they were in the same order as the English menu) and read the prices. 20LE for an English menu, 15LE on the Arabic menu... When I asked the guy why we were paying more, he replied, "oh, cos you get tourist sizes" clearly dazed that I knew the prices were different. I said "No mate, that's tourist prices, I'll take a large Italiano for 15 pounds thanks". He didn't argue. In then end, we ordered 7 or 8 pizzas, each with a 5 pound difference in price. Don't think he was too happy.


Day 3
The next day we were up at the most impossible hour imaginable for a holiday... 3am. We were in a bus by 330am heading to Abu Simbel, 3.5 hours south of Aswan, and almsot on the border of Sudan. Thankfully, managed to snag a little bit of sleep here and there, despite the nerves of taking a mini bus down a 'dark desert highway' at almost 140 clicks.

When we finally got to Abu Simbel, man, it was cool. Actually, at 7am, it was stinking hot, and it quickly became apparent why they take tours there so early in the day. Wouldn't want to be there at high noon.

As I walked around the mound (man made - due to the rising waters of the Nile, they relocated the two temples at Abu Simble), I was a little bit shocked to see what looked to be a 'less than spectacular' temple. Then I realised that I was looking athe wrong temple, the Temple of Hathor, that Ramses II built for his wife Queen Nefatari (well, one of his 25 wives, but apparently most loved). When I gazd upon the Great Temple of Ramses II I was amazed. The four stone statues (3 remaining, one lost it's body during an earthquake in the year 27BC) stood 33 meters high and have an uncanny human resemblence with everything appearing in perfect size. No massive heads, lopsided legs, short arms etc. And it was all carved into the side of a mountain. Not created then placed there (as is the case now, due to the relocation, and hence the dodgy looking man made mound, meant to create the feeling of walking into the side of a hill.)

The temple was big, and all cut into the face of a mountain, but it was also unbearably crowded. Toruists everywhere, mainly French, German, and Japanese, but everywhere. And they all came from Aswan, either by plane or bus, and were there at 7am.

It is safe to say Ramses II was the man. He ruled for 67 years (or something in the 60's) and had 25 wives and over 200 children. He also had more temples than you can shake a stick at. The man was kept busy. But he also had an ego. He set himself up to be worshipped as a god, not just a king. The pictures on the wall of the temple show him (as a king) making making offerings to Ra (Sun God), the god of fertility and himself depicted as a god. Not a bad job if you can get it!

The temple also has a magical little trick that on the 22nd of February and October, at dawn, the light comes directly down the middle of the temple, through the front 'door' and lights up three of the four statues in the very last room (Ra, fertility god, and Ramses II, and leaves the god of the after life in darkness) for 24 minutes. It used to happen on the 21st of the month, but during the relocation in the 60's and 70's, they couldn't figure out where to put it so that this would still occur. It took 11 months just to figure out how to make it happen on the 22nd. Those Egyptians must have been smart.

Then there was the temple dedicated to his favourite wife, which in itself would be pretty amazing. However, compared to the Great Temple of Ramses II, it kinda pales into insignificance!

On the way back to Aswan (we were on the bus by 9am) we stopped at the perfume shop. They have all of the essential oils from the floweres that are later diluted and used to make commercial perfume, everything from Channel No. 5 to CK One. And damn, you can tell it when you smell them. Needless to say, I didn't buy any, no need to smell good, when you're a backpacker and aren't wearing clean clothes! Besides, I brought my own from home (which I later found out had all but evaporated during my travels already).

In the evening we went to a Nubian Village for dinner. We jumped on a boat and headed to an island in the Nile. The Nubians are the people of Egypt that came from further south in Africa (Sudan? I wasn't paying attention to this part of the lecture I guess). I do know that the Nubian people were all relocated due to the building of the Dams as their houses were all destroyed by the rising waters and they now make most of their living off of the tourist dollar.

Once on the island, people came from everywhere trying to sell hand crafted stuff to us. It was just like being in the bazzar. The houses were all painted in beautiful colors, and as we walked to the house we were having dinner at, kids started coming out to say hello. I arranged to get a photo with a boy and a girl (knowing full well it would cost me a couple of pound) as the sun went down. They were the only two kids there at that stage. Next thing, it was like a scene from the "Village of the Damned", with kids coming from everywhere, holding out there hands wanting to get money for being in a photo. A couple people chipped in, one person claiming it was the best black and white photo he'd ever taken. I asked why he took it in black and white, and he said "I didn't, but they sure as hell are black, and you look ghost white standing next to them".

We got to the house and sat down to have dinner. Again, sheesa pipe and henna tattoos were on offer, and again I opted for the pipe instead of the tattoos - this time the pipe wasn't tourist friendly, being very harsh, and I didn't keep up with it for too long. We had a great dinner of traditional Nubian food (potatoes, rice, pasta, veges, soup and mice meat sausages) and looked around their house. No roof's, apparnelty it doens't rain enough to warrant them. We also met their pet crocodiles!

On the boat ride back, the nubians pulled out the bongos and started singing some traditional (and maybe not so traditional songs) and we all started dancing traditional nubian dance.... way too cool. My favourite had to be "She'll be smoking marijuana when she comes, yee ha" (to the tune of 'she'll be commin round the mountain when she comes' not so traditional!).

When we got back to the hotel, I wandered up to the roof top pool and had a look around at Aswan at night. Pretty soon I was buzzed by a couple bats and decided to call it a night.


Day 4
In the morning we headed to St Simeon, an old monnestary and one of the best preserved early Christian strong holds in Egypt, on the other (West) side of the Nile. The Nubians had set up a cammel trek to the monnestary, but unfortunatley, due to the waiting for the cammels, we didn't get a chance to go inside the ruins. Figured I'd see enough by the end of the trip anyway. Most of it was in tatters (from what I could see) due to the wear of th emudbrick over the centuries.

Somehow, I also got stuck with Lou-Lou the camel. But judging by the get up, everyone thought it looked more like Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Before I was sure it was a chick, (I wasn't getting that close to check) I liked to think that maybe it was a bloke, who I named Pimpin Ken, and figured it may have been thru the Arabic version of "Pimp My Ride" though. Apparently not... It was actually quite good fun, adn Lou-Lou had plenty of go in her.

At 2pm, the 3 nights of Felluca sailing started..... and that will have to wait for another time (should be in the next 24 hours....)

Hope your all well, and the updates will come thick and fast again soon.

Michael