Saturday, March 5

Welcome to Alaska

Egypt is hot, even in October, and Aswan was experiencing record heat (like 110° F). So, all of our activities were before noon, or after 4 p.m. Whenever Egyptians greeted us outside in the heat, they all greeted us with “Welcome to Alaska!” Some would take the time to explain why that was funny, but I think I got it right away.

After our first night in Egypt (we pretty much crashed when we got to the hotel), we got up early to meet our guide, Mohamed (of course, right?). After an “Egyptian” breakfast that included hibiscus juice (not my favorite), and after a third failed attempt for me to withdraw money from the ATM (I had miscalculated the exchange rate), we met our guide at 8:30. The boat wasn’t ready for us to check in until afternoon, so we piled into an air-conditioned (THANK GOODNESS) van, and visited our first Egyptian sites.

We started with the unfinished obelisk. I’m not sure about Amanda or Lisa, but I was quite giddy with the fact that we were in Egypt… Egypt, people! OK, the unfinished obelisk is the largest known ancient obelisk, but it cracked as it was being carved out of bedrock, so it was abandoned. I’m not sure how this worked, but apparently, Egyptians used boats and sailed finished obelisks from Aswan to Cairo up the Nile.

Unfinished Obelisk

After the unfinished obelisk we drove in our van (did I mention that it was air-conditioned?) to the High Dam. I think it was at this point that Mohamed told us that after the Luxor Massacre (in ’97) tourism in Egypt decreased from 25 million a year to about 9 million a year. I can’t remember if that was ALL tourists, or just American tourists. But Mohamed told us not to worry, snipers now protected all tourist attractions. Hmmm… I just chose not to think about that.

High Dam

It’s amazing how much you can visit in one morning.

After the High Dam, we went to the Philae Temple. We had to take a boat to the temple, and you could tell this is a huge tourist attraction by the LARGE number of boats waiting at the dock. I would seriously say there were hundreds of boats. They were more than double-parked, they were stacked at least 4 deep, so maneuvering our boat out to open water was interesting to watch. As it was getting closer to noon, it was getting hotter, so I pulled out my hat… yes, my hat that I bought especially for this trip. I was glad to have it. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking to myself, “was I really in Egypt?” If not for the pictures, I might not believe it. What an amazing experience.

The crowded boats


After Philae, it still wasn’t time for us to board our cruise ship, so Mohamed took us to a “government” store. A government store is (or was in October, 2010) a store where there were fixed prices (supposedly less expensive than any non-government store), no haggling, and better quality products. We went to a perfume store, got a free soda, Lisa got a neck massage, and Amanda bought some Lotus perfume (I didn’t get any here, but finally broke down later in Cairo and also bought some Lotus perfume). From what we were told, you can only get Lotus fragrance in Egypt, so… why not?

It was finally time to get on the boat. Our room was really cool. It actually had three beds, so there would be no sharing during our cruise! We had lunch, relaxed in our room, and explored the boat until about 4:00, when we left for our last destination – the Aswan Botanic Island. We took a Felucca to the Island, piloted by a couple of Nubians (they were quite nice). About halfway across the Nile (yup, I said the Nile!) we ran out of wind – Feluccas are powered by sails – and we were almost stuck. However, we finally made it. The island was heavily populated with wild cats, so Mohamed warned us (especially Lisa) to NOT TOUCH THE CATS! It was difficult, but Amanda and I kept Lisa in line. Mohamed also warned us about NOT picking any flowers and that the guys with Uzis patrolling the gardens might try and trick us in to doing so. We didn’t see any guys with Uzis until we were almost ready to meet back up with Mohamed. This was the “guns & roses” part of the tour.

Our cabin

Guy with Uzi

Felluca sail

We returned to the boat for the night. The dinner buffet on the boat was quite good. I loved the variety of food. A couple of the cooks asked my name, and remembered me each time we went for a meal. “Did you like what I cooked for you today, Katie?” They were quite cute!