Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tour time: Aswan

The barren desert shores of the Red Sea are a long ways from the fertile valley of the Nile where ancient Egyptian life started and ended...and that's where we were headed.

04:30 in the cool predawn, we along with 3 from SV Jubilee, loaded into the tour bus for the journey to the Nile to see the great ruin sites at Aswan and Luxor.

The first 4 hours travel was over poorly paved roads that saw only military check points and a rugged inhospitable landscape. The looming Nile was announced abruptly by a refreshing greenery of agriculture that only belayed an increasingly dense populous of penury.

As we turned southwards along the Nile's east bank towards Aswan, our progress was hindered by the congestion of buses, cars, donkeys and carts, and overloaded sugar cane trailers pulled by tractors to the mills. About 400 km and 7 hours later, we arrived at the city of Aswan.

We snatched up Aswani, our Egyptologist guide, then stopped for an authentic Nubian lunch overlooking the river. The tranquil setting was complete with the motorless feluccas (traditional wooden sailboats with lateen-type sails) effortlessly gliding by in the light Nile breeze.

A felucca sailing the Nile

Our first stop of sites of antiquities was the granite quarries used by the builders of the ancient wonders of the Nile to see the Unfinished Obelisk. They were a noted feature of that era's architecture and were required to be made from one solid granite stone. Pairs were placed at temple or tomb entrances for sun gods or others displayed as tributes to kings or queens.

But the Unfinished Obelisk was just that, never finished. It was the largest attempted. During the labourious carving of it out of solid granite, it was discovered it wasn't so solid. Crack! As a crack would be considered an insult to whom it was made in honour of, so progress was halted. And there it sits, in an unglamorous repose.

High hopes cracked

From there, we drove to 2 dams built on the mighty Nile River, the Aswan Low Dam (aka Old Dam) and the Aswan High Dam. The Low Dam provided irrigation but could not prevent the floods. So in the 1950s, the High Dam was built 6 km upstream that could provide valuable irrigation, end the annual flooding of the Nile, and bring electric power to Egypt to light homes and power industry.

Then it was off to the Philae Temple. This Temple was originally located on the Island of Philae but it was constantly being flooded after construction of the Aswan Low Dam. So to preserve it, they had to move it piece by piece about 500 m away to Agilkai Island to be reassembled where today it can be accessed by boat. An impressive feat!

Massive relocation project

Long corridor with just us

Finishing then in Aswan, we headed to Luxor where our hotel was waiting for us. Backtracking for the first couple of hours, then a couple more continuing along the rough road north along the Nile, we arrived late, tired, and hungry.

After a hasty check in, we headed to the busy rooftop restaurant for a typical Egyptian dinner as a 4-piece traditional band sang and played LOUD music. It would have been impossible to sleep so we stayed to watch a couple of following acts accompany the music.

The next act was an urban Whirling Dervish. He was like the Rhinestone Cowboy of Dervishes. His costume was a layered psychedelic affair of light and quilted colours that, with a glass of wine, also got your head spinning like a dervish. As he non-stop twirled, a few different layers would be discarded, giving a new appearance. Very good and entertaining. And he didn't fall down when he stopped twirling.

The following act started with the opposite amount of attire - an Egyptian belly dancer. That ended our first long and full day on tour.

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