2.21.2017

aswan

Last night our car to Abu Simbel fell through, and we weren’t sure what to do. There are dozens of tour companies that will arrange transport, and our hotel does that for most guests, but the prices are wildly inflated, and the driver sees very little of it. What to do? Call Abdul!

At first I thought we couldn’t ask him for anything else, but then realized that a call would benefit him, too -- either directly through a fee from an operator, or indirectly when someone in Aswan sends him business in Cairo. He was very happy to hear from me, and I could tell we were bringing him business one way or another. I said, “Abdul, how can I thank you? You are wonderful!” He said, “You are wonderful! Thank you and your husband and be safe and enjoy Egypt!”

* * * *

Allan spent most of the day sleeping, practically comatose. I encouraged him to eat some dinner, which turned out to be a bad idea: dinner reappeared shortly. This morning we were both feeling much better, and had some breakfast. Immediately after that, I started feeling queasy again. Also, every muscle in my body hurts from yesterday’s vomit-fest.

After breakfast, we walked down to the little ferry slip, two minutes from the hotel. There are a few stalls selling water, soda, chips, and such, and a waiting area with stone seats and a thatched roof. The ferry is segregated, men from women. The older women all wear black galabeyas and hijabs (some wear a one-piece garment with a hood), the girls are in modern clothes with colourful hijabs. A few of the women wear niqabs, but they also are very “dressed up” -- fancy galabeyas, jewelry, henna designs, eye makeup.

Directly across the Nile is the big Aswan esplanade with all the big hotels, and the cruise ships lined up across from them. We had to meet Abdul’s contact in a hotel lobby. Apparently he is the only punctual person in Egypt, because when we arrived 10 or 15 minutes “late,” he had already left and called his supervisor. Supervisor made much of our lateness, but eventually the guy came -- and it turned out that he’s not even the driver. There is yet another layer of useless middle-person! No wonder it costs so much. But it’s still considerably less than booking it through our hotel or a tour agency.

We made arrangements for a car for some sightseeing tomorrow, and to Abu Simbel the following day. Tomorrow happens to be a big day at Abu Simbel, when thousands of people gather to see the sun rise and light up the faces of certain statues. A good day to avoid!

We set out to find the Nubian Museum, and I was really hurting. I’d be fine for a bit, then I’d be overcome with nausea and dizziness, off and on. It was not pleasant, and much of the walk was uphill. The air quality is very bad (as it has been everywhere on this trip), and that wasn’t helping. Adding insult to injury, we both got bitten by mosquitoes while we slept. I had to call it quits before we made it to the museum.

The Nile around Aswan is full of islands, and very busy with river traffic. Right smack in the middle of the river is a big island with a giant Movenpick resort, a real eyesore. Some of the islands have ruins, parks, or other attractions. There are many ferries, boats offering rides to tourists, and many, many feluccas. The ferries are small and basic -- benches around the boat, one level. They hold around 30 people. The feluccas look beautiful in the water. The men trying to get you to take a ride, not so much.

We took another ferry to Elephantine Island. I was really feeling bad, and Allan was itching to do stuff, so we split up, I think for the first time on this trip. I waited in the shade near the ferry slip and Allan went off to explore some ruins. That was uneventful, although I felt like crap.

Allan returned, and we tried to negotiate with a guy to take us by boat to our west-bank stop, but the fares were ridiculous. The regular ferry only costs a 1 LE, for tourists maybe 5 LEs for two people. So we ferried from the island to the east bank, walked down the esplanade, then ferried again from east bank to west bank. Very easy to do, except for the annoyance of the constant “Hello! Welcome! Where from? Felucca ride? OK? Maybe later?” We’ve been the only tourists on these ferries, except for one other couple on one trip. There are lots of tourists here, though. At least a dozen huge cruise ships are docked.

Aswan looks like a rural town with a thin veneer of big-city on top. The big street itself is dirty, run down, ugly, and under construction, but there are wide sidewalks and big hotels. Immediately off that street are dirt roads, donkey carts, piles of garbage, tiny dark “coffee houses” filled with men smoking sheesha, stray dogs, stray kids.

Walking between ferries, I was hot, nauseated, aching, and itchy, but I felt better knowing we would soon be back at the hotel. Once changed, washed, and lying down, I felt much better. I don’t think I’m sick anymore. I think it just wasn’t completely out of my system yet.

More random notes:

-- I’m drinking instant coffee! This is a tea-drinking country. The coffee choices are Turkish coffee or packets of instant, which everyone calls Nescafe. I tried the Turkish coffee at first. The first two sips are all right, then you’re into the sediment. I switched to instant, and I never get more than two cups in a morning. At home it takes me four cups of strongly brewed coffee to function properly.

-- There are no napkins or serviettes here. People use tissues instead. I would think if you were trying to conserve resources, you’d use cloth napkins, no matter how infrequently they’d be cleaned. Nope -- tissues.

-- When we left Luxor, it was Sunday, and that made me remember another similarity between Islam and Judaism. (I listed a bunch earlier in the trip.) Friday is the feast day, and Saturday is the day off. Wikipedia tells me that this is not the case in every Muslim country, but it is in Egypt. As we drove out of Luxor, children were waiting for buses or riding in donkey carts to school, the girls in gray galabeyas and crisp white hijabs (looking very nun-like), the boys in gray slacks and white shirts.

-- Selfie sticks! I had never heard of them, Allan knew of them but hadn’t seen them in person. All the heavily touristed sites we’ve visited have been besieged by people with selfie sticks. If I’m not the last person in the world to hear of this, Google it.

-- I’ve mentioned that everyone here smokes. How about guards smoking inside ancient temples? Signs say No Flash, No Touch. But men are smoking!! Nicotine and smoke -- occurring all day every day -- have got to be more damaging than the occasional pop of flash. Then again, the “no flash” is only enforced if you haven’t paid someone off. Or the sign is only there so someone can ask for a payment. But really, smoking?

-- On our drive from Luxor to Abydos, I saw what must have been a Bedouin person shepherding a flock of goats through the desert. Although despised and even for a time banned, their culture survives. Imagine that.

-- There is no concept of accessibility here. Sometimes the sidewalks are so high off the street that I need a hand from Allan stepping up or down. I’ve yet to see an elevator. I believe I saw one disabled person in the museum in Cairo, but other than that, people with disabilities are not a visible part of society. I imagine for many people with disabilities here, it might as well be the 19th Century.

Egypt has participated in every Paralympics since 1972, but Paralympic participation is not an indicator of everyday access and opportunity. Here’s a good article from Muftah: People with Disabilities in Egypt: Overlooked and Underestimated. Do you know Muftah, by the way? It’s an excellent source of information: check out their mission statement here.

1 comment:

allan said...

So ... did B'lal decide to sabotage our car to Abu Simbel because we wouldn't tip him?

Tissues at meal times are very ineffective. They are also silly in a culture in which much food is often eaten by hand.

The cruise ships dock sideways along the riverside. There are no docks. A second cruise ship parks alongside the first one and the passengers from boat #2 walk across boat #1 to get to land. Then boat #3 comes along and those passengers walk across two boats to shore. I saw as many as five boats parked side-by-side at one point.

I remember seeing a video of a prankster coming up behind people (in NYC?) with a big pair of shears (like you'd use to clip small tree branches) and cutting tourists' selfie-sticks and then running away! That guy should come to Egypt, he's be very busy.

From all the touts' calls today as we walked down the street along the river, I am thinking my name is actually "Felucca".