A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Life on the Nile

sunny 42 °C

I was thinking of titling my next novel, “Death on The Nile,” but someone beat me to it. Therefore, I will call it, “Life on The Nile,” and I will write poetically about the languid river that meanders roughly four thousand miles through Kenya, Uganda, Zaire, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and Ethiopia before crossing the Sahara in Egypt and dissipating across a fertile delta into the Mediterranean. It is claimed to be the world’s longest river by some, but Amazonians may dispute that.
Here is Sheila looking for a Nile crocodile in Abu Simbel …
And here is my first attempt to immortalize the river in a haiku …
Equatorial Africa’s tropical waters. Turn oases green.

O.K., maybe I should stick to prose or just let our photos speak for themselves…

Few rivers in the world have as much an impact on a nation as the Nile. Without the Nile, Egypt would be completely arid. Annual rainfall is negligible while temperatures frequently top off in the high 40s.
All life here revolves around the Nile: all significant habitation, all agriculture, most of the transportation and, of course, the fishing. We have had delicious local fish throughout our trip and have seen some monsters leaping out of the gently swirling waters. Here is one of the local fishers!
The relative coolness of the river is a major draw to the millions of tourists who flock here from all over the world – tourists like us from countries where the mercury runs out at 35 – and in cities like Aswan, and Luxor, the banks of the Nile are crammed with hotels seeking relief from the desert heat for their guests. Some of the pushiest hotels manage to shoulder the competition aside and keep the river to themselves. This is the view from our hotel’s pool in Abu Simbel …

No Egyptian package tour is complete without a Nile cruise but buyers should beware. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of ships like this ply the river.
While not all Nile cruisers are aging, slab-sided germ factories belching clouds of black smoke like this – some are.

These traditional feluccas, on the other hand, are entirely friendly to the environment.
The feluccas are here purely to amuse the tourists, and as we walk along the riverfront promenades we are constantly approached by felucca skippers who want to take us for a ride – for a very special price, (because we are Canadian). But all prices are actually based on the prospective client’s ability to pay. Here is the formula they use: Pick a number from 1 to 100. Add enough to feed your wife, 3 kids and the family camel for a week. Then multiply that figure by the number of stars of the hotel where your prospective customer is staying.
P.S. We are now in Luxor and we’re definitely not telling anyone where we are staying

Posted by Hawkson 08:14 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Where You From?

sunny 38 °C

Far to the south of Cairo, where Egypt borders on Sudan, the land is a giant, sweltering sandbox. And, as we crossed the Sahara desert from Abu Simbel to Aswan today, we felt like extras in Sheila’s favourite movie – Lawrence of Arabia. The blistering sun beat relentlessly for 300 kilometres and the scene barely changed; a shimmering sea of yellow stretched to the horizon in every direction then evaporated into enticing mirages of cool lakes and rivers.
There is absolutely no water in this picture but it is easy to see how a thirsty traveller could be driven insane by such a deceptive sight.
These camels from Sudan won’t be deceived and they will take more than a week to reach the market in Aswan. We were in Aswan in just over 3 hours – in the cool comfort of our personal air-conditioned SUV, with both driver and guide, for about 100 dollars.

We flew from Cairo to Abu Simbel, (the most southerly town in Egypt) on Sunday and are now making our way back to the capital overland along the Nile valley. We are in Nubia where the natives are intelligent, hardworking people with rich mahogany complexions and statures that reflect a proud heritage that dates back 11,000 years.
These fifteen-year-olds in Abu Simbel spoke very good English, were worldly, and were quite delightful. Their first question was, “Where you from?” But this is a question we are asked hundreds of times each day, and when we say “Canada” the response is usually, “Ah – Canada Dry.” Television and worldwide communication are bringing the world to this desert oasis. Here we are in a remote Saharan community with a group of lively teenagers who took pictures of us on their cellphones and couldn’t wait to get home to check out our blog on high speed internet.

The 3,500 year-old temple complex of Ramses II at Abu Simbel is spectacular – not least because the entire structure was raised 213 ft. in the 1960’s to escape the rising waters of Lake Nasser. These statues are over 100 ft. high.
Here are some of the temple guards, relaxing between tour groups.

Now we sit on the banks of the Nile in Aswan and watch the feluccas in the rays of the setting sun.
The heat of the day is fading and the streets are beginning to bustle with touts offering all manner of things, calling, “Where you from?” And you can bet that their second brother’s, first wife’s cousin lives in Toronto.

Posted by Hawkson 03:45 Archived in Egypt Tagged seniors Comments (2)

In an Egyptian Market

sunny 28 °C

Cairo, once a stunning city of beautiful buildings and elegant people, is now as disheveled and dowdy as an elderly widow who’s got into the gin and let herself go. The city still has some good bones but it desperately needs a facelift and a boob job to perk it up. Even the much vaunted Egyptian Museum which opened in 1902 is cracking under the burden of age and the weight of its exhibits. It is bulging at the seams with tons of five-thousand-year-old statuary and funerary. The place is crammed with mummies and all of their burial accoutrements; jewellery, weaponry, and even full-sized chariots and boats for use in the afterlife, and, amazingly, much of it is in near-pristine condition: richly decorated coffins could have been painted last week, and the joinery of wooden chests and chairs is as sound as it was three thousand years BC. The highlight of our visit was the gilded death mask, sarcophagi and funerary objects of King Tutankhamun. But these are a mere 3,300 years old; ‘brand new’ compared to most of the museum’s artifacts.
Cameras are confiscated at the door so we can only show you the exterior …
A new museum is due to open in 2012 – we’ll see!

Scenes from the souq...
Today we visited the labyrinthine Khan al Khalili souq (market). It’s May Day - a public holiday – and we were joined by about 20 million locals. The souq lies in the heart of Cairo’s Islamic district and is a vibrant, bustling warren of narrow lanes crammed with pushy purveyors of everything under the sun – and everything is ‘special price’ just for us because their second-brother’s first-wife’s third-cousin lives in Toronto... Honestly!
Egyptian cotton was front and centre, along with plenty of touristy knickknacks, but this is a serious marketplace where the Egyptians bargain for all manner of everyday goods. However, despite the constant assurances that everything on display was being personally knocked out by a handful of skilled craftsmen in a dusty workshop just a few steps away, we saw far too many boxes like these, stamped, “Made in China.”P1050274.jpg
But this isn’t the first time in history that Egypt has been besieged by foreign marauders: descendants of The Pharaohs lost to the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottoman Turks and even the French and British – and each of these invaders stamped their own mark on this part of Africa.
We saw many colonial European style houses when we took a short cruise on the Nile but, in contrast, we visited monuments and streets which have remained unchanged for millennia.
Cairo may not be ideal for the novice independent traveler – few people outside the tourist trade speak English, and written Arabic is just a squiggly worm – but we’ve had no trouble. Much to the chagrin of our hotel’s taxi drivers we quickly mastered the Metro and whenever possible avoided the roads. The traffic is a nightmare – no one stops at pedestrian lights and they only give way at red signals if a policeman is there. But, compared to Hanoi or Bangkok, it’s a cakewalk. The cars here usually stay on the roads, not the footpaths; there are few motorbikes; and friendly locals will help you to cross the speeding traffic. Here's the baker's boy showing us the way.
The Caireans have, in general, been very friendly and helpful – especially the ones who have been angling for business – and our first visit has been a great experience. Now we are off to Abu Simbel to visit the temple of Ramses II.
Here are a few cultural mores we have learned by experience:
Egypt sprung its clocks forward an hour last Thursday night – but no one told the Canadians, (who nearly missed their breakfast on Friday).
The hotel concierge gets pissed off if you hail your own cab.
Certain carriages on the Metro are reserved for women only.
Not all restaurants bedecked in flowers and lights are celebrating their opening night – some are preparing for a wedding reception and don’t want a couple of Canadians gate-crashing the event.
Whatever your destination, all taxi drivers stop at the ‘most best’ and ‘most famous’ ‘Papyrus Museum’, ‘Papyrus Centre’ or ‘Papyrus Institute’ en-route. These are all euphemisms for high priced papyrus shops where they claim that, unlike all the others, their pictures are genuinely hand-painted by famous artists, and they will give you a very special price because their second-brother’s first-wife’s … You know the score.

Posted by Hawkson 12:28 Archived in Egypt Comments (4)

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