Travel Tales 3 - Upper Egypt

Travel Tales
by Sherry Reardon
copyright 1996


We were awakened at 6:00 the next morning. After storing our extra luggage in the hotel, we went to the airport to fly to Aswan. The Aswan airport seems to be out in the middle of the desert, with nothing around. Those of us who opted for the extra excursion to Abu Simbel changed planes here for the additional 45 minute flight, while the rest went straight to the cruise ship and hung out for the morning (as I understand it, naps were high on the agenda).

Abu Simbel is on the shore of Lake Nasser, which was formed by the Aswan Dam. The area is very pretty, with the large lake and the mountains. Abu Simbel itself is a pair of temples, built by Ramses II, one for him and one for his queen. Some of you may remember the story, about how when the dam was built, the temples were going to be flooded by the rising waters, and the countries of the world got together to help Egypt take the temples apart, and reassemble them, piece by piece, on higher ground to save them for future generations. The temples are awesome... I can't think of a better word for them. Ramses II was known for making really big statues of himself, and his temple here is probably the best example. We went inside both temples, and the heiroglyphics and everything were really fascinating.

After seeing the temples, we flew back to Aswan and were transferred to our cruise boat, the Solaris. It was a lovely little boat, with 63 cabins on 3 decks, and a nice upper deck with a pool and hot tub. The cabins were very nice, each with a little balcony, This was to be our home for the next 4 days.

Around mid-afernoon, we had a tour of Aswan. We went to the High Dam (we drove over the Low Dam a couple of times too)... I have to say, it was a "hot dam":-) (While Istanbul is at the latitude of New York City, Egypt sits about at the same latitude as Florida, with Cairo about the same level as St. Augustine and Aswan about the same as the Keys. And it was approaching summer there, so temperatures were probably in the 90s in Aswan.) Next we went to the Philae Temple (Temple of Isis), which was another temple that was rescued from the rising waters of Lake Nasser. It was very picturesque, on its island in the middle of the lake. We had to take a little boat over to it, and the boat ride itself was fun. A vendor with an armload of necklaces hopped on as we left the dock, but Ali wouldn't let him sell anything until he had bargained him down to 5 pounds each (about $1.50)... So the vendor sold quite a few of them. On the way out there were several folks selling little rababas, and playing tunes on them (one guy was playing "Alouette", and my comment was that I would want one that played Egyptian songs, not French songs :-)

Next we had a felucca ride on the Nile. I believe we were supposed to see another temple, but it was already dusk and we wouldn't have seen very much anyway. So we just floated by... One of the felucca crew started playing someone's rababa, and then another pulled out a frame drum and started playing it, then started singing while another started pulling people up to dance. They got about as many people as could stand on the floor of the boat, holding hands and circling and just having a great time.

This turned out to be a preview of the evening's entertainment on the ship, which was a Nubian show with a live band. It included audience participation very much like what we'd experienced on the felucca. What fun!


The next day we awoke to the ship under way... we had departed Aswan and were cruising down the Nile (north) toward Luxor. I remember talking to a fellow tour member at breakfast, who was awoken by the sound of the ship's engines. I told her yeah, they woke me up too, but they didn't bother me because I thought of them as kinda like a purring cat... A REALLY BIG purring cat :-)

Our first stop was that morning, at Kom Ombo, a lovely temple from the later period of Egypt's history. It's unusual because it's half for one god (Horus, the falcon-headed one) and half for another (Sobek, the crocodile-headed one). I was particularly intrigued by the details on some of the heiroglyphics here... especially the bellybuttons.

Back on the ship, we continued cruisin'. The weather was glorious, sunny and warm, as it was for our entire stay in Egypt. Many people took this opportunity to hang out on the sun deck, and make use of the pool and hot tub. The delightful buffet lunch was served out here. We had fun chatting with the staff... one fellow was also a drummer, and showed us several percussive sounds he could make with just his hands... including the sound of one hand clapping, and 3 different types of finger snaps (the 'western' one with the fingers on one hand, the 'middle eastern' one with 2 hands and the fingers out, and another I hadn't seen before with two hands forming a fist).

Midafternoon we stopped at Edfu, and had to take a horse carriage ride to the temple. This temple was much older, and here the guide showed us hieroglyphics of dancers.

Later, in the lounge on the ship, some of the gang brought out music cassettes they had bought and were dancing around to them. The staff seemed to think this group of bellydancers was a real trip...

My mom hadn't been feeling well this day... you know, the "Pharoah's Revenge"? So, since she still wasn't feeling well at dinner, she put in a call to the ship's doctor, who made a house call to our room. He showed up wearing a galabeya (men's caftan), a turban, and a painted-on moustache. He looked rather comical... my mother wondered what kind of doctor he was. His bedside manner put her at ease though. He asked a few questions, diagnosed the problem as dehydration (he said the diarrhea itself is generally not a problem, it's dehydration that makes you feel weak and sick), gave her a shot and prescribed some pills and vitamins to help her rehydrate, and advised her she'd feel better by morning (which, as it turned out, was absolutely true). The cost: $20 for the house call, and $5 for the drugs and vitamins. So there are a couple of morals to this story: 1) Make sure you stay hydrated when you're out in the hot sun, and 2) Don't be afraid to go to the doctor if you get sick. Oh, and by the way, the reason he was dressed funny was so he'd be ready for the Galabeya Party that evening.

The Galabeya Party was an occasion for everyone to "look local", and wear the local outfits they'd bought. They played (taped) music, and everyone would get up and dance... it was fun for everyone, but it was especially interesting to watch (and dance with) the staff--they had such great "native" moves.


The next morning we were greeted with colored eggs at breakfast--it was Easter Sunday. We docked at Luxor, our final destination on the cruise. We visited the temple of Karnak in the morning and the temple of Luxor in the early afternoon. Both were impressive, of course.

In the late afternoon we had a dance class with Cassandra (this was arranged by some of her students, who apparently were suffering withdrawal symptoms after not having had a class with her in almost 2 weeks). I think Cassandra is the best, so I appreciated the opportunity. (I found it interesting that one woman on the trip, sort of a free spirit type, was originally planning to stay a few more months in Egypt after the tour, but ended up deciding to move to Minneapolis to study with Cassandra instead.)

In the early evening was the (optional) Sound and Light show at Karnak. Karnak is a huge site, and I wondered how they could do it justice if we just sat down to watch the show. Well, they do it by having you walk through the site, stopping at major points while they sound-and-light in that particular area. Then you end up sitting for the final part of the show. It was pretty cool.

That evening, our last on the boat, they had an oriental show. It was somewhat similar to the one we saw on the Humphris, with not only the featured dancer (sorry, I did not get her name), but 3 guys who did some Saidi, dancing horse, and whirling Dervish stuff. The dancer had some good moves, but seemed kinda bored at first, until she brought some of our group up for some audience participation and saw we could dance. Then she seemed to enjoy it more... as did we.

The next day we took a smaller boat (a "sea bus" :-) across the Nile to the West Bank. The ride itself was amusing... the boat drivers let people from our group drive the boat, showed us how to tie a turban from the head scarves we had brought, and danced to the music that played through the speakers.

First we went to the Valley of the Kings, where all the Pharoahs were buried, and we visited 3 tombs. They were all interesting, carved into the sides of the mountains, the inside walls all covered with heiroglyphics. The third tomb we went in required a long climb up stairs, then a long climb down stairs, and then the insides looked like they'd been drawn in magic markers--quite different from everything else we'd seen.

We went next to an alabaster "factory" (another store, thinly disguised). They had some nice stuff... and outlandish initial asking prices. For example, one hand-made green alabaster bowl (very lovely) they asked 385 pounds for (about $120). They eventually took 70 pounds (about $20) for it. We also visited the temple of Hatsepshut, and the Collossi of Memnon (2 huge statues), before returning to the ship.

Around 5:00 Ali and Cassandra had arranged for Kyreia, the last of the Ghawazee, to come and give us a class and a performance, with local musicians to provide live music. The teaching, per se, was not the best (Kyreia does not speak English, so we had Edwina Nearing (?) there speaking on her behalf; also Kyreia had a hard time just repeating the same move over and over again to help us learn it, but I suspect the live music made it hard for her... when they changed, she had to change too.) But it was a thrill to have her there, and just to be able to observe her dancing. And you can learn a lot just by watching.

After that, we collected our stuff, and it was back to Cairo.

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Last Modified: 9 Aug 1997