Johanna 's Travel Blog

January 15, 02:45 PM

Next stop was down the Nile to Aswan. We took an overnight train, as I mentioned, with the greatly inflated American Prices. We knew this to the be case because we had to pay $60 USD each. However, we did not have cash on hand and so we had to cut a serpentine route to an ATM. It is really difficult to describe ‘cash machine’ to Egyptians. Our attempts include:

Machine that gives you money
Like a bank, but smaller
Automatic bank
Fast cash (miming inserting a card)

We saw a group of about 100 young men (I guess around 14 years old) sitting crossed legged with hands on heads waiting. For a bus to their school? A military thing? No clue.

Back at the station, we realized that there were several lines (more like clumps) for purchasing tickets. Women in one, aggressive men pushing toward the counter in the next and a few confused looking foreigners getting elbowed in the ribs. Several people came up to us, claiming to be ‘official employees of the train station’ and offered train information. It is really hard to discern between tout, employee and friend since uniforms are never worn. The people behind the counter do not seem any more professional than those on our side, smoking, spitting and pushing.

We got the tickets, picked up our bags and waited as trains passed us by that were missing windows, lights and seats, with people hanging out of the doorways. Ours came (about a half hour late) and once aboard, we could relax in our seat-beds.

These trains were far nicer than the overnight ones we took in Greece. At least the lights dimmed and our compartment locked. In Greece, we took a circuitous train (from Athens) and had to sit/sleep on our bags to protect them.

In Aswan, we walked down the main boulevard (stalls with trinkets for sale, 1000 year old papyrus and the like) to find that the hostel we had read about in Lonely Planet was booked. James loves it when this happens. I could throw a fit and pull out my hair. We then had to retrace our steps to another hostel (‘about 2km away’—that by the way, is the default answer James gives me any time I ask how far.) This one was shabbier. They did do our laundry for 1.5 Egyptian pounds per piece (that means individual socks!!) and while I wanted to collapse into our twin bed with coarse sheets, we decided to instead explore the Elephantine Island. It housed some old civilization or temple. Ask James.

We took the local ferry across after much arguing with the 10yr old manning the payment station (nothing more than a used metal desk with peeling blue paint and a metal box without a latch for coins) and paid 5 for the fare to and from the island. The Egyptians, of course, did not pay.
During this entire process, we refused countless offers for felucca rides and avoided the scrupulous looks of other white people boarding their ferry-cruses.

On the island, we walked through the barn yards of a poor village. Mudbrick and animals all over, we made our way down the ‘local’ sand path. It took a while. At the ruins, we paid to enter and saw the 1st settlement in Aswan. James took about 300 pictures.

We had read about a great vantage point to see the sun set. So we walked about 5km up a hill with cars coming at us and motorcycles swerving inches from our feet (again the whistling men) to go to the Neubian House Restaurant on top of a hill. The path was windy and the sun had nearly set before we made it up. James was happy to see the 1st cataract and I was appalled at the guy listening to me go to the bathroom only to ask me for money for the toilet paper I used when I emerged from the stall. The food was good but took over an hour. I was freezing at that point.

The next day we took another train to Luxor, a more luxe city. Many more hotels and a distinct west and east side. We opted to stay on the west for our 1st night, closer to the tombs but away from shopping and civilization. We had to take a ferry across the river and then a microbus/pick-up truck to the middle of nowhere on the island (the kid driving had no idea where the hostel we wanted was) and were dropped off in front of a man with a rifle. He had about 8 kids watching us closely. I wish I had more energy for niceties (it was good to see the little girls with school books in hand) but I was eager to get to where we were going and out of the dark, isolated streets.

The gun man called us a cab/his friend/brother and for a reasonable price (5 Egyptian pounds) we were brought to the hostel we had selected. Again James was happy to hear it was full. I was cold and less happy. We walked in a sand storm to another hostel and I tried to negotiate the price down for the ‘last room’ available. That was a lie. There were like 5 people staying there and in the end we paid at least twice what we should. At least they had beer. I bought one (it was way too expensive…) and we walked in the dark night down a non existent road to find food. The food was the highlight of the day for me. it was a very filling home cooked meal with the local speciality of clay pot food (called tangine). Lots of vegetables. We played backgammon (James won) while i got eaten by mosquitoes.

The next morning the sun was blinding and we walked down a highway to see some temples. The ticket office refused my student ID because it did not have a date on it (that in my view that’s its magic! It has been 5 years since Columbia issued it to me and I have used it for discounts ever since) and so I had to pay the full tourist price and all in all, to see the temple remains and tombs, we were about 120 Egyptian pounds in the hole.

The etchings and paintings were great. The desert acts as a wonderful incubator. Many of the colors were still visible. Of course we were approached and harassed by taxi driver after taxi driver and touts wanting to show us the insides of the self-explaintory tombs and tell us information that signs already posted for tips. We refused of course.

Later that day I convinced James that we should go to the east side (where we might find more food options, museums and things to do). We took the ferry back over and walked to a cheaper hostel (only $10 for the night! and this time with a banana included in breakfast). We walked all the way (like 5km) up to an incredible temple complex (Karnak) with tour busses whizzing by. There was a cute sign on the road with an x through a trumpet which could only mean that horns were forbidden. That did not stop a single car, horses carriage or bus from honking. There were a lot of people there, tourists of al stripes. So we slipped into the part that was still being excavated. It was an incredible site.

We then walked along the hot road back to the Luxor Museum. Finally a museum with descriptions! They had a modest but well preserved collection (the Lonely Planet had told us it was ‘worth a peek’ which is hard to do with ticket prices at about $15 US…) and then back to town, for a really good meal at a place called Sofra.

Late that night we flew to Cairo where we had scheduled a flight out to Athens the following morning. For the interim of 7 hours, we stayed at an airport hotel. We were told that there were just 4 or 5 start hotels near the airport, and not wanting to take a bus to the city and deal with the chaos in the middle of the night, we opted for the cheaper of the two hotel options, still 116 euros. It was the first place we had been with a bathtub and a double bed. I slept comfortably for the first time in about 2 weeks. James balked at the prices (I felt bad) but it was great to have hot water and clean sheets.

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