aswan to amman

I’m writing this in a run-down hotel room in downtown Amman, the capital of Jordan. It’s been a long day, but we are finally showered, fed, and in bed, and looking forward to going to Petra tomorrow -- the reason we are in Jordan.

* * * *

Something I forgot to mention about Abu Simbel: there is a lot of graffiti chiseled into the rock, on the monument itself, especially on the standing figures in the first chamber. There are names and dates from 1812, 1847, and other 19th Century years. In case you imagine that people “these days” are less respectful than they were in ye olden times, it ain’t so. The graffiti really bothers me -- the disrespect for the creators, and the distraction to us.

I loved seeing Abu Simbel, but I would have liked to stay at the site longer.

* * * *

This morning Allan set out to hike up the sand mountain visible from our Aswan hotel. I unpacked and re-packed all our stuff. Our hosts did our laundry -- and by hosts, I mean her, because he doesn’t do anything but smoke cigarettes, ask guests how everything is -- in a manner that implies you must say things are great -- and order his staff around. Anyway, the laundry was great, but I had to repack everything. Our luggage is very full!

I was having breakfast on the roof patio when Allan showed up, sweating, panting, and asking for the room key. Apparently hiking up a sand mountain before breakfast is not a fun thing to do.

The patio was full of guests, so in order to be in shade, two people sat with us -- a good-looking young man traveling with his mother. They are Korean, and he has been living and studying in Egypt and Jordan for six months; mom is visiting. I said Allan had been hiking earlier, pointing to the mountain. They said, “How was it?” A pause, then Allan said: “Steep.” It was very funny.

We were figuring out our tips for the staff -- an extremely important thing here -- and I didn’t know whether or not to tip the owner’s sister, who does all the cooking. I’ve learned her name is not Shyela -- it’s Nusa. I think we were having a bad language-barrier moment. I thought she was telling me her name, but she was saying something else! I finally decided against giving Nusa money, but I gave her a gift -- one of the pashima shawls I bought in Luxor. Hopefully she is able to wear a colour other than black.

A short time later, she gave me a hand-made beaded necklace -- a distinct Nubian design with three colours in a spiral pattern. I was really touched.

Allan took more pictures of the house, and we took a cab to the airport. Very low marks for the town of Aswan -- but it was absolutely worth it to see Abu Simbel.

Our flight from Aswan to Cairo was delayed, which left negative time to reach our connecting flight from Cairo to Amman. They were both Egyptair, so they held the flight for us (and one other couple) and someone from the airline helped us get through security quickly. Security is tough in the Cairo airport! Even though you have been screened before a flight, you are screened again after. And even though we had just been screened after a flight, we had to be screened yet again before boarding the next one! This includes shoes, and of course we’re wearing our boots because sneakers take up less room in the suitcase. By the end I just stopped tying the laces. Note to self: put nail file in checked luggage. We were held up twice by a little metal nail file.

Once on the plane -- out of breath, sweating, disheveled -- Allan wondered if our luggage would be as lucky as us. Would they be waiting for us in Amman? We were thrilled to find them right away. Thank you, Egyptair!!

Just a walk through the Amman airport and getting processed through customs, and we knew this was a more modern and functioning city than Cairo. I had arranged pickup through the hotel, and we had a long ride into the city centre.

On the flight, I realized there was a problem with our plans. Tomorrow we are supposed to get up very early to go to Petra. Why don’t we stay in Amman one additional night, and push everything back by one day? This was the general plan... until we saw the hotel room.

It’s very run-down -- dingy. It didn’t help that the heater was on full blast, and the air-conditioner didn’t seem to work. We asked at the desk about the A/C. The clerk was quite surprised. It is winter here! (Something like a warm summer day in Ontario.) After we determined that we could, in fact, get the room cool, and there was hot water, and the sheets and bed are clean, we decided we could stay here for one night.

To simplify things, we are still going to Petra tomorrow, and staying in Petra one night, as planned. But when we return to Amman, we’re staying in a nicer place. Tonight I cancelled our return nights at the current hotel, and booked the Amman Marriott for the last few days of the trip.

We needed a few things, so we went out to forage near the hotel. It’s a bustling downtown area, crammed with shops of all kinds. The streets are clean, and no one harassed us. At a pharmacy, a nice pharmacist recommended guava syrup for the cough I’ve developed (allergy-related, I believe). We bought some fruit, yogurts, and water -- the bus to Petra leaves too early to have breakfast at the hotel -- and no one overcharged us. We went into a store selling candy, dried fruits, and nuts. The gentleman there invited us to try pistachios, cashews, and almonds. When we were finished, he came around from behind the counter, chose two fancy foil-wrapped chocolates and gave us each one.

Egypt was an experience I won’t soon forget. It was thrilling to see so much of the ancient world, and it was amazing to do that with Allan. But contemporary Egypt... not a happy place.

Tomorrow, Petra!


James Redekop said...

Never mind 1812, there's Roman graffiti all over Egypt. This one in Aswan reads B. MURE STULTUS EST.: "B. Mure is stupid". Not exactly deep, but the stone carving is impressive. I like the flourish on the border.

laura k said...

Ha! Cool. That brings up a whole conversation on age and authenticity. Graffiti becomes artefact (to some people).

These were people's names, in very prominent places. Although, to be fair to these 19th Century idiots, most of Abu Simbel was buried in sand then. The person may not have known the significance of the rock into which he was carving his name.

James Redekop said...

Some of them did. You might have seen the name "Belzoni" in Luxor -- that's Giovanni Battista Belzoni, Italian archaeologist -- for an "Indiana Jones"-ish value of "archaeologist".

allan said...

Note about dingy hotel: The entire floor of the bathroom was level. In other words, there was no separate area to stand in for the shower. The water just went on the entire floor and then drained through a hole that you uncovered in the floor, like a gym or high-school lockerroom shower. So after I showered before bed, we had to make a mental note to wear our boots anytime we went into the bathroom. Weird.

laura k said...

If they understood the significance and defaced it with their own names, that is beyond disrespectful. Wow.

Dingy hotel bathroom: the sink was in the shower.

James Redekop said...

Belzoni & his ilk were, I think, very concerned with promoting their own greatness as Explorers and Adventurers. When they "discovered" an amazing site or artifact, their interest was in how they could use it to promote themselves, rather than what it could teach them about the culture which created it.

That attitude is what led Heinrich Schliemann to dig through multiple layers of archaeological artifacts to get to his version of Troy.

Indiana Jones was based on that sort of archaeologist, and he's basically a grave robber with tenure.

laura k said...

Interesting! (Also great image.)

Anything I've seen or read about the real work of archaeology shows it to be painstaking, detail-oriented work, aimed at the advancement of human knowledge (and the use of university grant money) with very little opportunity for personal glory.

James Redekop said...

That's what archaeology evolved into after it got past the Belzoni & Schliemann types. Howard Carter (who opened Tutankhamen's tomb) was around the time that that change was happening, when archaeology changed from relic-hunting to a real science.

James Redekop said...

Paleontology went through a similar transformation, between the late 19th Century Bone Wars between Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope, who basically dug up dinosaur bones as fast as they could to sell to museums, with little concern with what went with what. It was only in the early 20th century that systematic rigor got introduced into the field and it became properly scientific.

laura k said...

Lots of stuff about Howard Carter in Luxor. I'd like to know more about him and his work.