So after our journey through the rocky desert, we arrived in the lush valley of Aswan nestled between sand covered hills either side, dotted with lush green islands and awash with feluccas, ferry boats and small fishing boats. The Riviera of southern Egypt? We were dropped off at noon-ish from our Air Conditioned microbus into the heat of Aswan, at the footsteps of Kelany Hotel. We were lucky to find a cheaper accommodation during our stay in Aswan, at this backpacker hotspot, which had been recommended by our friends who had visited here a year ago on their adventure round the world. Clean, humble accommodation with air-con, a shower and proper toilet. What more could you want. And a fab little roof terrace for breakfast.
Having a lazy bone in my body, I caught up on some sleep from the early start, while Martin (the human Duracell battery) went for a walk along the Corniche, dodging the felucca touts and found a ferry for the excursion to the nearby island of Elephantine. The rest of the day was spent pottering in the cool evening around the local streets and a good meal on a moored boat nearby. Following a fab breakfast of fresh fruit and pancakes and lemon juice (apparently common fare in backpackers hotels) we had a full on day of sightseeing. We visited the excellent Nubian museum, a wonderful place with fascinating history of Nubian / Egyptian local heritage and artifacts, some exquisite in fine detail that leaves you in sheer awe of the artisan skills of the time. Back out into the heat of the day, we strolled through the landscaped gardens of Museum on our way to the local cemetery, with mud brick shrines dating back to the 9th Century – fascinating. Accompanied, of course, by an “obligatory” guide to show us the highlights. After this we walked to the unfinished obelisk… the biggest granite obelisk in Egypt at 42m tall. Well over half way to completion and some numpty hit the fault line –big snap – not a popular person.! Just like a donkey that refuses to walk on, I felt the heat and my feet and so we got a taxi back to the Hotel. But a fabulous day from the contrast of the cool modern interior of the Nubian hotel, to the dusty small city of graves we had seen.
We finished the day with a coffee in the home / café on the Nubian village on Elephantine island. The owner chatted with us for a long time, and was a huge fan of crocodiles: stuffed ones hung from the ceiling, and a few live ones were dotted around the house in glass aquariums – we declined the offer to hold one and have a photo taken – best not eh?. Having met the “Chief of the village” the night before, we re-visited the island the next day and with the obligatory escort / guide / we are coming with you whatever you say – we visited the local island museum, original home to 19th century archaeologist. Behind the main building (which was sadly closed for renovation) we visited the extensive remains of the earliest settlement in Aswan, called Abu – over 5,000 years old with temples and with some fine carvings. Of great interest, hidden down some steps was the Nilometer… horizontal carvings in the wall, mark the height of the Nile to help forecast the fertility of the land (from the silt of the river) for the following season. Marble version exist alongside the original Egyptian, reminding you of the changing history of the time.
Whilst on site, I had a bout of travellers tummy and Martin very kindly found me an Egyptian building site “facility”….. like a donkey, again I refused and waited for a proper toilet… in the semi-derelict museum – which wasn’t much better. Outside our guides (hijackers) were waiting. We walked round the local streets and passed the local school, had a quick look in a local Nubian Village house reconstruction and following a long walk past our ferry point we both (like donkeys) refused to go further – baksheesh, baksheesh…. And we clamboured down the rocks to the ferry onwards to the nearby Botanical gardens set on a nearby island.
I spent a good time feeding the local cat population chilli and lemon crisps (which they loved) and we relaxed for a few hours before heading back to the main Corniche of Aswan. That evening we had a wonderful stroll through the local souq, the warm smell of sandalwood and dried Lotus wafting on the breeze. The hum and the bustle of locals selling their wares, bargaining for prices, little shisha pipe cafes nestled between the shops, kofta kebab and falafel stalls and the kids running around and playing was magical. So rich with colours, patterns, smells and noises – it is famed as the best souq outside Cairo and you can see why – A wonderful place, just like the Bull Ring in Birmingham (NOT).
Our final day in Aswan saw us in another taxi across town, then bargaining with the sea of ferry boatmen for a ride across to Philae Temple…. We got the smallest dodgy old speed boat around, but the driver was a happy young man and we arrived in one piece. Our Egyptology friend Abdullha from dahabiya said in the whole of Egypt his three favourite temples where Edfu, Kom Ombo and Philae (sorted). Again dotted with some beautiful fine carvings, and with our history lessons from Abdullah, we were started to spot a few familiar things: the rattles to scare away evil spirits, the dotted lines of perfume offerings, the pointy skirts of mortals opposed to the straight skirts of Gods, gods on plinths etc etc… all fascinating stuff. This is one temple well above the waterline, but others, such as tidal markings on the walls where the Nile would flood in summer and then recede in winter – many meters of difference. Hence the speedy big rescue project by UNESCO in the 1960’s to move / rescue many sites from the flooding Nile after the High Dam was built. Our speed boat took us back to the Jetty and our waiting taxi took us to the Hotel, we checked out and were on the road again. This time by train back to Luxor….