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Monday, January 17, 2011

Adventures to Aswan and Abu Simbel

October 5-7
Day 128 - 130

We arrived in Aswan about 3 hours later, it was hot on the train and we were ready to get off.  We hadn’t really figured out where we were staying in Aswan and again, I took for granted the fact that I’d be able to find a wi-fi signal to look up places to stay.  We weren’t particularly worried though because our guide, had given us a name of a place to stay.  The problem that we had when we arrived though was that the tourist office was closed and we couldn’t find this hotel that was recommended to us.

Outside of the train station we were approached by a man who asked us if we were looking for a place to stay; I usually stay clear of people who try to offer us places to stay near the train station because the places are usually overpriced (they have to pay a commission to these people who bring in customers) and If they need to have salespeople to actively bring people into their place, it’s usually not that nice. So Lee took his card and we never gave it a second thought. 

We walked around but really didn’t know which way to go. We had all of our belongings and it was getting tiring walking aimlessly around the city.  We decided the easiest thing to do was to have someone watch the bags as the other walked around to gather information.  Just then, we saw some people who looked familiar! It was the Japanese couple and the Chilean mother and daughter from our tour to the Valley of the Kings and Queens the day before! They were walking around Aswan. I told Lee I would watch the bags as he went to catch up with them.  We found out that they were also looking for a place to stay.  The Japanese couple who had their Japanese guidebook had already been sorted but the Chileans didn’t have a place to stay and were looking for something a little nicer than the hostel the Japanese were staying at.  We decided to walk around with them for a bit then realized we didn’t want to spend extra money and knew that we weren’t going to want to stay in the same place that the Chileans were going just because we had different budgets.  So we ended up splitting up and finally finding the hotel that our guide in Luxor had recommended.  The place turned out to be really dark and dingy and nowhere near the price range the guide had told us.  The receptionist at the hotel also didn’t know our guide…so we decided to leave and find somewhere else.

Lee was getting tired so I had him sit with our bags as I went to look around for internet and/or a place to stay.  I must have left him for about 30 minutes as I found a nice place nearby that wanted to charge us $80 a night.  They also had wi-fi so I thought I would get Lee and come back to have coffee as we surfed the web in their cafe.  It turned out though that you had to pay for the wi-fi! Why should I pay when I can get it for free?

Along the route from where I left Lee to the hotel, I found a connection and quickly looked up places.  We found a place and decided to go there as it seemed to have good reviews. We decided to get in a cab and go out to this place and negotiated the cab to take us down the street for about a $1. We arrived at the hostel and they were booked! Damn!

It was now almost 6:00PM and we had already been walking around for close to 3 hours!  We asked around and were recommended a place nearby. We walked around and got lost and finally found it after 10 minutes even though it was only 400m away! When we got there, I had Lee go up and check out the room. I told Lee that I would trust his decision but that I didn’t want to go up so I would stay down and watch the bags. I anxiously waited for his verdict downstairs and tried to determine the condition of the room from the expression on his face when he came back down to see me.  His first thing to me: ‘You need to go check it out yourself’.  So I said okay, and told them - since I was the wife, I wore the pants -  that I would go up and decide. So Imagine: Motel 7….you know, stained sheets, cracked walls, rusty faucet…okay, it wasn’t that bad but it was pretty bad. I tried to look like I was really disappointed and inspected each nook and cranny.  I didn’t say anything and we walked back downstairs in silence.

I told Lee that it was pretty bad and he agreed. I told him I could sleep there if I needed to but it was bad. We had already walked around for 3 hours so we were tired and it was starting to get dark and we needed to find a place to sleep!  So, I told him, let’s try to get a really good price and if they agree, let’s do it.  So they quoted us ‘Eight-teen’.  That’s like $4 we thought but no, we needed to go down lower! I think Lee found my unrelenting negotiating spirit endearing.  So I confidently told them 10EGP ($1.75) for the two of us. They looked at us with shocked faces? We were confused and asked them, why not. They said that our offer was ridiculous. But we said the rooms looked run-down and we were not paying 18EGP.  They still looked confused so I wondered if we misunderstood them.  I asked them to write down the price and he wrote down ‘80’. EIGHTY?! That’s $14.25, no that was clearly too much! For the two of us, we had stayed in much nicer places for just EGP50 I was not happy that they thought they could get us because we were tourists.  We laughed at the misunderstanding and told them ‘no thank you’ and were really not sure what we should do.

I asked Lee for the business card of the guy that approached us earlier and he said he dumped the card. Oopsies. It would have helped to at least check it out, we thought after. I remembered the Japanese couple telling us that they were staying somewhere near the station so we headed back in that direction and tried to look for something…the problem was that we really couldn’t find places off the main road.  We took a back street and when we turned the corner, I recognized the name of the place the Japanese were staying and so we decided to go in and have a look. At this point we were really tired and desperate. The price was more than we had wanted to pay, but it was still cheaper than the earlier dump. So we took it. We got upstairs and were pleasantly surprised at how clean the rooms were. They had nice clean sheets with the company’s named embroidered on the pillow cases.Needless to say, we had a filling dinner - 1/2 chicken with a bunch of sides for only $3.25 if you’re curious - and a good night’s rest.

The following day, not knowing what to do, we headed off to the Nubian Museum as recommended by my best friend Abdil who had spent some time living in Egypt. It was so funny because here Lee could not get through security without letting the metal detector go off.  Each time he would walk through, it would go off and he would have to take something off and walk through again. He must have walked through at least 5 times! I almost thought he would have to take off his pants!  Five minutes later,IMG_2939 we finally got the clear and proceeded into the museum. What we saw in the museum was interesting but hard to understand as there wasn’t too may English descriptions. After an hour or so in the museum, we headed out and found a cemetery and tried to walk through respectfully; we were trying to find the infamous unfinished obelisk that never got carried out of the city because a flaw was found in the rock and the project was eventually abandoned. Aswan is famous for its many rock quarries and Aswan is home to many of the rock works found at the pyramids and throughout Egypt. We found it or think we found it as we came across a place with huge gates. We could see what looked like an obelisk behind the bars but really weren’t sure.  We took photos just to be sure.

Later, we decided to try and see if we could do another felucca ride since everyone said it was a ‘must do’ in Aswan. We had already been on a felucca in Luxor so we weren’t desperate to do it again unless it was cheap. We made it just in time to catch sunset and managed to get a ride for 20EGP ($3.50). It was a nice ride down the Nile as we passed other feluccas and some carrying locals jamming to Bob Marley.  It was funny because the guy who took us out was paying careful attention to me and made Lee man the boat. I felt bad and kept reminding the guy that my boyfriend was tired and that he needed to get back to steering the boat. I think Lee manned the boat about 40% of the ride! Maybe the guy was trying to get us back because we got him to take us out for so cheap!

After our ride, we decided to splurge a bit and have some comfort food - McDonald’s! Lee was so shocked at how big his burger was and I must say, it was pretty big! Biggest McD burger I have seen anywhere! Inside the restaurant, I was trying to affix my scarf onto my head as the local women do and couldn’t do it so Lee made an honest attempt and tried to get it on.  But he’s an American guy, how would he know how to put on a hijab?  Two girls seated outside noticed that we didn’t know what we were doing so motioned me to come outside. They were kind enough to help me and asked me why I was doing it. I thought it a strange question but I told them I wanted to blend in…I think they thought it was funny.

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Later that night, we tried to go to bed early because we decided to go out to Abu Simbel the next day. Again, we really didn’t know what it was but a friend on facebook had asked if we were making the trip down there. We figured it was famous and learned that many people went down there from Aswan.  We tried to bargain and got a tour for 65EGP ($11.60) which I thought was the best deal since the hotel guy told us he was giving us a 10EGP discount and a girl on our Valley of the Kings tour told us that she paid around 70EGP for the short tour. We later learned some people paid 65EGP for the long tour and you know I was pissed!

We were abruptly awaken by loud banging on our door at 3:00AM. The bus was coming to pick us up at 3:30AM to take us on a police escorted convoy to see Abu Simbel located 3 hours and 300km away, just a stone’s throw away from the Sudanese border.  Who ever heard of a tour at 3:30AM? It was a really interesting experience though as there must have been about 20 cars and buses who participated in this convoy. I believe this happens everyday!

We slept for most of the way and I woke up just in time to see one of the most beautiful sunrises that I have ever seen in my life with a very clear view of the sun rising over the desert horizon.  We arrived at Abu Simbel at approximately 6:30AM and everyone from the buses offloaded.

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These massive rock carvings, also known as the ‘Nubian Monuments’, were constructed by Ramses II, almost 3300 years ago, to eternalize himself and his queen Nefertari and believed also to intimidate its Nubian neighbors.  The monument which was originally carved out of a mountain was moved and reconstructed over an artificial hill in 1968 when the Aswan High Dam was constructed which resulted in the formation of an artificial reservoir, Lake Nasser. International donations flooded in in the years leading up to the construction of the dam as people from all over the world wanted to save the monuments from being submerged by the creation of Lake Nasser.

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I was glad we went there though we didn’t really spend too much time here. For a 3 hour bus ride at 3:30 in the morning, you’d think you’d be able to spend a least an hour or so here but we only had about 45 minutes. What made it more challenging was that there were so may people and to go inside, we had to line up for about 15 minutes. Again we were prohibited from taking photos here and saw some people getting caught by undercover officers.

After we reported back to the bus, we started on the road again. At the last minute Lee and I had decided to do the ‘long tour’ which included 4 stops versus the short tour which only included Abu Simbel; for 10EGP more we decided it was a better deal to do the long tour.  After driving back for about 2.5 hours, we wondered if we were on the right bus and that the hostel remembered that we had switched tours and that we weren’t put on the short tour bus. It was an ongoing joke for Lee and I as we sat in the bus and really didn’t know which tour we were on and were too shy to ask someone for fear that we were really on the short tour bus. Finally, we made a stop and we were relieved that we were on the correct bus. The two other stops, Aswan High Dam and the Unfinished Obelisk - which confirmed that we did find the right place the day before - we decided not to go and see as we didn’t think it was worth it. We did however get out to see Philae which is the island where the ‘Nubian Monuments’ were originally located before they were transferred to its current location. We had to pay an additional fee to get across to the island and at one point, thought we wouldn’t be able to go to the island because the boat people wanted us to pay 20EGP ($3.50) to get there and back when it really should have only been 5EGP or so. In the end, we solidified our efforts and as a group ended up paying only 10EGP per person. Philae was not only picturesque but serene and alluring and I was glad that we got to go here.

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After we returned back to the hostel around 1:00PM, we decided to walk around a bit and try to exchange more traveler’s checks for Lee and stop to find a place to eat. We had a nice early dinner and made friends at the restaurant.  Here we learned that Aswan had some of the best water in Egypt and I decided that I wanted to try it.  To be honest, I thought the water tasted weird but I smiled and told them how great the water was in Aswan. After our leisurely dinner, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for our train ride to Cairo….I was finally on my way to see this great city!

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