Does a felucca passenger shit in the woods?

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
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Trip End Jun 19, 2006


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Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, April 9, 2006

During the Roman Empire, Aswan was a garrison town - and the end of the earth for the soldiers posted here. Sure, the Nubian lands may have extended far to the south, but this was the outpost of "the civilised world".
On the important trade routes from the south, and of strategic military significance, Aswan has a long history of settlement, from Pharaonic times through until today. These days, as it basks in the sun along the banks of the Nile, Aswan enjoys a position as a major tourist hub. Unfortunately, this also means some of the most persistent and irritating touts in all Egypt.
It can be hard work at times, but with the Nile at its most picturesque (Aswan is the starting point for many a felucca trip down the Nile) and the mighty temple of Abu Simbel to the south, it's worth a visit. There's a strong Nubian presence here, which adds a distinct flavour to the usual Egyptian melange.

Abu Simbel is undoubtedly on of the standout highlights in Egypt. It is easily the most grandiose and impressive of Ramses II's many self-aggrandising monuments - he was the Pharaonic equivalent of Donald Trump, no mean feat in a country that contains what amounts to the world's biggest tombstones - the Pyramids. Ramses II managed to decorate Egypt with monumental tributes to his own glory, the way Trump has done with modern America.
During it's famous rescue by UNESCO from the devouring waters of Lake Nasser as the Aswan High Dam stemmed the Nile and flooded ancient Nubia, the temple of Abu Simbel was sliced into 1041 pieces and painstakingly reassembled at a location 200 metres away and 73 metres higher. It was an incredible feat, and a triumphant marriage of archaeology and engineering, thus ensuring that not only could future generations gaze in wonder upon this awesome reminder of the Pharaoh's power, but that Egypt could also charge them a lot of money for the privilege.

One thing this country does very well is milk tourists for every possible dollar. There's a ticket for everything, and sometimes that's just the beginning. When you've just purchased an entry ticket for a temple, and then find that you still need to haggle a decent price for a boat to transport you to said temple, it can understandably get a little frustrating. Hell, this is the country that charged people to look at the sun two weeks ago!
Ironically, one of the best experiences I've had so far is also one of the few I've had for free - the mummies of the Mountain of the Dead in Siwa. Sadly, with the pace that tourism is discovering, and thus disfiguring, that lovely oasis town, this discrepancy will, I'm sure, shortly be remedied by the Government, but for now it remains one of the few free highlights to see in Egypt.
For the most part, though, the people here are wonderful, and genuinely honest. It's the 10% who sometimes can leave you with a bad taste in the mouth.

Anyway, enough griping!! Where was I?

That's right. Because of the terrorist attacks on tourists in the 90's, police escorts are commonplace for tours in Upper Egypt, and thus tourist conveys are often the norm. A trip to Abu Simbel therefore necessitates a 3 am wakeup, with a 4 am muster to convoy (complete with armed escort). Bravely, I never balked at this ungodly start to the day, but duly signed up for the trip. And so, the following morning, feeling somewhat human (although dying for a nap & perhaps a coffee or four), I took my place on the bus and with the lyrics "Oh we got a great big convoy..." rolling through my head, dozens of vehicles shot off into the night.

I won't go into details, but the Temple was superb, just incredible. I explored it's grandeur inside and out, amazed at the scale and power of it. Go see it, there's no other words.
By 11 am, we were halfway home, heading towards the High Dam. We'd covered a lot of km's in the already 7 hours of my day, and I was feeling a little drowsy. So, as the desert whipped by my window, I leant into my seat, hit "Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong" on my iPod, and let them swing and scat me through the timeless sands.
["I see trees of green, and red roses too..."]
As Louis' incongruous words hit my ears, the very desert shimmered and a blue oasis was revealed hanging beneath the horizon. "My first mirage!", I thought, before my tired eyes began to make it known that what I really needed was some sleep. So, as the music played on, my eyes closed on my optical illusion.
["The bright blessed days, the dark sacred nights..."]

The next day found me aboard the felucca "Super Star", helmed by the indomitable Captain Mohammed. Our passengers included 3 Belgians, 1 Pom, 2 Thais, and 2 Kiwis (myself, and a London expat). All set, we stowed our luggage as the boat sashayed away from the dock and tacked off down-river towards Luxor. This was to be home for the next two days and two nights (kinda like Noah's Ark for those with ADD?).
The photos tell the story - it was totally idyllic, romantic,and fantastic fun. The sight of a low-slung felucca slipping through the ancient waters, its curved sail cutting the air, is enough to gladden even the most travel-weary soul. And so it was, as we whiled away the next two days, swapping tales both tall and true, playing cards, singing Nubian songs, and letting the rigours of the past months seep from my tired bones (at least for a little while). I bathed in the swift Nile, dined on camel meat, and loved every minute of it. There were occasional delicate moments, of course (does a felucca passenger shit in the woods?), but the journey was one of the true gems of my trip, to be sure. "And I think to myself, what a wonderful world." You said it, Louis.

Day 3 dawned with us anchored at Kom Ombo, and a long day of temples ahead of us. By the time I had the chance to finally get off my feet and rinse the dust of four temples from my weary body, I had explored the Temples of Kom Ombo, Edfu, Karnak (enormous!!), and Luxor. All were genuinely impressive, and wonderful to behold in both design and decoration. By the end of the day though, I was totally templed-out - a medical condition similar to Asia's Pagoda Fatigue Syndrome, or Europe's Cathedral-itis. I gratefully slumped into my bed at the excellent Sherief Guesthouse in Luxor, and shut my eyes, mindful on an early start to the following day, and a trek through the afterlife at the Valley of the Kings.

To be continued...
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