aswan: welcome home

Right now I am on the glorious roof patio of Bet El-Kerem, a Nubian guesthouse in Aswan. I’m sitting under a huge bamboo roof surrounded by beautiful fabrics on the couches and tables. We’re on a hill, and to my right is a view of the Nile, and the city of Aswan beyond, and in front to the left, a sand mountain, with the remains of an ancient burial site visible. A few people are climbing the slope, tiny dark figures against the blue sky, and a man in robes is leading two camels across the sand. Birds are chirping. A cool breeze is blowing. A call to prayer just finished echoing across the mountain.

We were already planning to take a day off from sightseeing, before I spent the entire night being sick, so the timing was excellent. Allan slept all night, but is now sick. So, back to our story.

B’lal tried to tell us that our Aswan hotel is too far from the city centre, but he didn’t know it is a two-minute walk from a ferry that will take us to town for a few LEs. He finally offered to set us up with someone to take us to Abu Simbel at the same rate we’ve been paying, but only if we agreed to hire that guy for the rest of the time in Aswan. I came back with Abu Simbel plus two days, which is actually what we need, and he agreed. This negotiating power is all down to Abdul from Cairo, the gift that keeps on giving.

The hotel in Luxor was beautiful, but this place is spectacular. It’s a huge adobe house with 20-foot ceilings and views of the Nile on one side and mountains on the other. The walls are covered in fabric with bold blue, white, and orange Islamic designs, or painted sky blue. Our room is very comfortable, cozy, and spotless.

The hotel is run by two Nubians, a brother and sister, who are the most warm, welcoming, generous hosts you can imagine. When new guests arrive, Abdul greets them with “Welcome Home”. He speaks Arabic, English, and French. His sister Shyela cooks and spreads cheer with her beaming smile.

On the roof patio, coffee, tea, water, bananas and oranges are always available at no charge. We arrived at around 3:00, and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I asked if we might get some lunch. In a few minutes, there was warm bread, white cheese and tomatoes and cucumbers. Shyela asked if we wanted omelettes. These turned out to be a paper-thin egg crepes, cooked in butter. It was like finding an oasis.

We spent the afternoon on the roof patio while Shyela and a helper prepared dinner in their beautiful outdoor kitchen. At 7:30 ceramic pots started coming out. There was chicken, duck, and fish, potatoes, rice, bread, the usual array of salads and vegetables, and tiny pieces of the sweet-grain dessert with a dollop of yogurt on top. Several other guests were at dinner, but we managed to avoid contact except for a hello nod.

Not long after dinner, I started sweating, shaking, and hyperventilating. That was followed by five solid hours of vomiting. sigh

Perhaps the tomatoes did me in. They are so red and ripe and flavourful, difficult to resist. I keep imagining that anyone who runs a guesthouse for tourists must keep water that has been boiled available for washing vegetables, but perhaps I am fooling myself. One thing I forgot to pack was alcohol wipes. The public toilets here are not pretty, and there is often not a good way to wash your hands. When traveling anywhere with low hygiene standards, alcohol wipes or baby wipes are important to pack next to your toilet paper. But I didn’t do that for this trip.

I seem to have recovered, and now it’s Allan’s turn. He was going to climb up to the nearby tomb this morning, but he’s lying in bed sweating and moaning. Better luck tomorrow, inshalla.

Photos of the Aswan hotel and nearby ruins are here.

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