Part 4 – Egypt: Luxor, Aswan & Port Ghalib

Luxor – Home of Pharoah’s

LUXOR, EGYPT

map 14 Red Sea
Map: With location of Luxor on Nile River

Tuesday 15 Dec 09

0230hrs: Phone alarm goes off only a short while after I’d finally drifted off to sleep. Andy still sitting up. He’d waited up to make sure I wouldn’t miss my bus and has been trying to get grib files for a weather forecast for when we leave Hurghada. Hasn’t been having much success. Makes me a quick cup of tea. There’s no milk so he uses lemon in the style that he favours. Hits the spot admirably. Very appreciative of this gesture.

0315hrs: Quite cold standing at the front gate waiting for the bus, but luckily I’d put on a thermal singlet underneath in anticipation. Minibus turns up and I’m the only passenger. Head south along the main road turning into various resorts and collecting other people. Nearly all of them Russian except for two British women travelling together. Both are probably in their early thirties. One is a first generation English lady with Indian parents. The other is plump with short blond spiky hair and facial piercings sporting an ample bosom with the words I’M SPECIAL across the front.

Lots of new developments everywhere. New resorts are operating with paying guests right in among several unfinished buildings.

0430hrs: Arrive at a bus terminal and change into one of the larger buses for the trip to Luxor. It’s comfortable enough except for the wobbly wheel at the back but it’s not too noticeable once the driver gets some speed up. The bus doesn’t have any heating. Maybe it’s died from underuse, or the driver has forgotten to switch it on but by dawn I’m wishing I’d had a blanket. Once dawn begins to light up the country I can see extensive agriculture fields. Most plots look small.

Luxor

Morning: Meet an English speaking guide in Luxor with a wide smile who calls himself Cassanova. Now it’s not that I think I’m a particularly expert romantic kind of guy but I don’t really think this bloke could sweep women off their feet like his namesake. He’s wearing one of those trendy white smocks popular with the everyday Muslim set, and a white turban wrapped around the head with a tail hanging rakishly over his left shoulder. Just the thing to turn a girl’s head I suppose.

I wonder if it’s his real name. No nonsense sort of man. He happens to be the tour leader in charge of everybody including the Russians, who have their own Russian speaking guide. That one is a fairly arrogant type of individual perhaps in keeping with the customers. I suppose it’s with a touch of dislike that I note he has a long set of curly eye lashes that have no place belonging on a bloke.

Casanova identifies everyone by their various accommodations. In my case I’m simply “Marina” but he calls the two Brit girls “Habibi”. I’m told it means “sweetie” which doesn’t really sound like a hotel but maybe this is how he gets the girls in. We get packed into a minibus and head straight for Karnak Temple.

Karnak Temple

Karnak is a vast open air museum. Entry cost is £65 and located in the ancient city of Thebes, now the modern city of Luxor. It comprises a number of different temples built over time with approximately 30 Pharaohs contributing.

Make no doubt. This is the second largest ancient religious site in the world after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The original site area was roughly a mile by two miles and was the
most sacred or special of all places in the ancient Egyptian religion. Some of it still lies underneath the city of Luxor. Their religion is the oldest known religion in the world dating from the beginning of the 16th century BC for about 1300 years.

223 karnak temple model 224 karnak temple today
a model of Karnak Temple as it once was aerial view of Karnak Temple today

223a illustrationLeft: An illustration of what it probably looked like.

The most spectacular building is the Temple of Amun with an entry via the
Avenue of Sphinx’s. This Sacred Way used to stretch for 2 miles. The Hippostyle Halls are simply enormous with 134 massive columns in 16 rows reaching between 10 to 21 metres high and with a diameter up to 3 metres. The architraves on top of the columns weigh an estimated 70 tons. You have to wonder how they did that in those far off ancient times.

225 avenue of sphynixes 226 sphynix's
Avenue of Sphynix’s. In the background is
the entrance to Amun Temple and the Great Hypostyle Hall.
a 3km line of ram-headed sphynix’s linked
the temple to the Nile River.
227 central complex temple amun 228 hypostyle hall
aerial view of the central compound of
Amun Temple
A portion of the Great Hypostyle
Hall which as 134 columns in 16 rows.
231 temple view 232 temple view
temple view temple view
233 hyroglyphs wall 235 festival hall
a external wall with hieroglyphic writing Sanctuary of Amun-Ra – aka Festival Hall
236 hyroglyphs 238 excavations
Casanova demonstrating vandalism by
ancient christians
temple grounds view
239 pharou pond 240 obelisk
sacred lake – used daily by the
priests for purification and in festivals
obelisk in temple grounds
241 alabaster sphynix 242 ancient sewer
a sphynix made from pure alabaster excavated section of ancient sewer system

Casanova is a man on a mission. Rush, rush, rush. Regular calls throughout the day for Marina or Habibi as one of us falls a bit behind to look at something a bit closely or take a photo. Despite the detail he goes into I can’t understand what he’s saying most of the time anyway. Did manage to figure out that all those guts he keeps referring to are actually Gods. I just wish he wouldn’t keep asking his own questions like, “Why did he kill his own stepmother?” Sometimes I don’t even understand the question and become lost while he drones answering himself.

After allowing time to wander about on our own for about half an hour we’re herded back into the minibus to drive back to the Nile River. No commentary about anything we’re driving past. Am quickly finding it’s necessary to know all about what you are going to see before you go on any tour, because the guides in a number of ways just aren’t going to be much use.

With not much else to do as we drive through the country I try to envision what a funeral procession might have looked like as it made its way across these same agricultural fields so long ago to the Valley of the Kings or to the Valley of the Queens.

We find ourselves directed onto gaily coloured ferries which are small aluminium boats of about 25 feet with tattered canopies, chipped paint and with bench seating along the sides. Set out across the rive under outboard motor power to the West Bank where we board a different minibus.

244 ferry DSC_4668a
ferries to take tourists across the Nile River aboard one of the ferries


243 location map

Left: Map showing the East and West banks of the Nile River at ancient Thebes. The eastern side was where the reigning Pharoah lived with his priests and temples. The western bank was the domain of the dead containing the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.

 

 

Colossi of Memnos

No entry cost. Pull up at two large statues which turn out to be called the Colossi of Memnos. Casanova takes off somewhere with the two Brits leaving me with the Russian guide who doesn’t tell me much. Probably trained by the Egyptians. Though he does deign to give me a quick explanation to the order of a couple of minutes, which had taken him the best part of about 10 minutes explanation to the Russians. Maybe it takes a long time to get to the point when speaking Russian. Among some of the bits of information he tells me that I manage to understand, is that the left statue is of Queen Nefertiti. I accept that because I know no better but later find that’s incorrect.

The statues were sculpted out of large quartzite sandstone 3,500 years ago of
Pharaoh Amenhotep III. They stand at 18 metres high and weigh together 700 tons. Their original function was to stand guard to Amenhotep’s Mortuary Temple in Thebes. This pharaoh had been worshipped as a God-On-Earth both before and after his lifetime and the temple is believed to have been bigger than anything known today. An earthquake in 27BC had damaged the statues and their name is related to a noise one of them used to make just after dawn.

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Colossi of Memnon agricultural fields on the west bank of
the Nile River – an area under cultivation for 1000s of years

Hang around waiting, waiting, waiting. Locals sitting at roadside stalls calling and trying to get people over to buy their crappy stuff, the same kind you find everywhere you go.

Alabaster “Factory”

Entry cost nothing. Our minibus eventually turns up about 45 minutes or so later. The usual pack and squeeze and off we go. After a while we stop at a place with several brightly coloured shops nearly all proclaiming to be an alabaster factory. They show us how pottery used to be made by hand using stones and simple iron tools. They also sculpt onyx, basalt, granite and a phospher rock that glows in the dark and is very expensive. Three small palm sized fish sculptures are priced at USD $35 – best price.

Outside, one of the workers who had been demonstrating how the rough alabaster used to be chiselled with a spike hammer picks up a piece of rough alabaster rock. Tries to pull a sale job on me. There’s a bloody great pile of the stuff thrown into a discard heap just metres away. Local children aged 8 to 10 years are out hustling cheap plaster cast statuettes. Some of the younger, more stupid Russians start bargaining with them and the price drops right down to as low as £1 – about 20 cents. I wonder if the buyer’s think they’re getting a bargain.

The children are also quick to pose for photos and do stupid antics in return for a little baksheesh, which is forthcoming from the older Russian women who I guess must be as thick as they think it’s cute.

Stand around in the sun waiting for Casanova to return. The Russian guide is having tea and a chat inside the shop. Our original minibus arrives instead, but the driver just gets out and goes inside one of the shops for tea and a chat as well. No chairs or shade so we all sit in the minibus until Casanova reappears from somewhere with the two Brit girls. We now wait while they are put through the money squeeze as well. Casanova joins the local tea and chat party. Children hang around the windows of the minibus still trying to flog off their own little plaster-cast “antiques” and telling us we should buy now because the shops have “crazy prices”.

1200hrs: Finally underway again. There have been no refreshments all morning and limited opportunity to buy any. Off to the Valley of the Kings where Casanova takes off again with the two Brits and tells me to go with the Russian … again. I had thought I was to go to the Valley of the Kings but he insists that I’m down for the Valley of the Queens instead. This is starting to get a bit irritating. Am wishing now I’d insisted on a printed itinerary. Over to the Valley of the Queens with the Russians who are unusually quiet. Perhaps they’d been brow-beaten again by their guide not to ask questions.

Valley of the Queens

The Valley of the Queens is located on the West Bank of the Nile River opposite the city of Luxor. There are between 75 and 80 tombs. Entry cost £35.

On arrival the Russian guide gives everybody a chat, gesturing everywhere with many attendant eyes following his every move. Not understanding a word I take the time to look around. I see a kind of bare dirt mountain valley with a dirt roadway leading up to a number of cement-bordered holes in the hills. All around are many more cement-bordered holes in the ground with steel mesh grills to prevent access. These are all tomb entrances apparently.

Everyone starts to move off leaving me standing there wondering what’s happening. The Russian guide gives me a quick spiel most of which I don’t understand, points out where I should go. He then takes off to talk with someone back down at the entrance gate. Being unusually smart I work out that I’m to go “There, there and then there … 1, 2, 3”.

A notice board with some useful information stands near the main gate containing instructions that camera’s are to be left back in the bus please. And apparently I can’t visit the Tomb of Nefertiti because it’s a controlled environmental thing. She was one of five wives of Ramessus II but seems to be the most famous. Set off up the path of the hill for the three other tombs.

The Tomb of Queen Tyti is believed to have been the wife of Ramessus III and may also have been his daughter. She might also have been the mother of Ramessus IV. The other two tombs belong to different princes, the sons Ramessus III. The latter son was Prince Amenhikhopeshef and his tomb is amongst the best preserved in Egypt. He was about 9 years old when he died. A premature baby was found in that tomb as well. This belonged to the Princes’ mother who apparently aborted when she heard about the Prince’s death so they put them both into the same tomb.

DSC_4679aRight: Part of the Valley of the Queens

Mostly the tombs consist of a corridor with a couple of side rooms and a burial chamber. All the walls have hieroglyph paintings and symbols. All the tombs are much the same sort of thing, except for the
amount of damage or deterioration.

Find myself waiting with the Russians again at the front gate for our driver to return. When he does we squeeze ourselves back into the bus and tour around until we finish up at the Valley of the Kings. Casanova appears with the two Brit girls in tow.

DSC_4683a DSC_4687a
Valley of the Kings and entrance gate in
foreground
upper right of photo shows the entrance
to one of the Pharoah’s tombs

1315hrs: Head back to the Nile River, board another ferry and motor across the river. Make a landing underneath the Maro Restaurant. Buffet meal with selection of hot or cold dishes, deserts and even gelato ice cream but you have to buy the coffee if you want some. Can’t complain about this. It’s all good quality food. The sort of appreciation you have when you are starving or thirsty in a desert.

1400hrs: Calls of “Marina” echo around the restaurant as I’m trying to take a photograph of a felucca on the river below a balcony. Am fed up with this rush, rush business. I keep bawling back “Casanova” until he comes hurrying back. I say, “G’day”, give him my sweetest smile then head up the stairs to the road above. The Brits and I are now handed to yet another guide who places us in a taxi and takes us to the Morris Hotel. It’s the end of the tour and this is where the two girls will be staying tonight. My new mate tells me to please wait in the lounge.

Some minutes later he returns after getting the girls booked in. Tells me I’ll be picked up at 5pm to be taken to the train station. All that rushing and now I’ve got a three hours to fill in. My man suggests maybe I could do something? … Maybe the Temple of Luxor, Museum of Mummification? … ahhh all is now revealed. You see if you can rush everybody and get rid of them early you might be able to squeeze a few more dollars more with something else. You have to have a grudging admiration at their persistency in trying to wring an extra dollar or two out of you.

With nothing better to do a deal is struck to visit these two places with transport and an English speaking guide for £150 but I’ll have to pay the entry fees. Away we go.
The Temple of Luxor is closed.
The Museum of Mummification is closed.
“Maybe you’d like to take a ride in a felucca”?
“Okay. Let’s do that but we’ll have to be back by 4:30 pm to get me to
the train”.
“No problem, no problem”.

Felucca Sailboat

Down at the river are scores of idle felucca’s waiting for customers. Lots of Arabic chatting when I show up until one is selected and I climb aboard to meet a young man named Mohammed and a teenager whose name I don’t catch because it’s different to Mohammed. I guess I’m just used to everybody being called Mohammed. In short order they work the boat along the side of a large metal cruise boat with steep sides until they find clear air, then steer the boat out into the river as the sails fill reluctantly with a soft breeze.

The tide is strong, running probably up to two knots out in the middle. Our boys take the boat over to the other side of the Nile working our way upstream. We travel so close to the bank that occasionally the younger chap has to jump over the side to push us off. My first thought is for crocodiles but I’m told there’s none left here. They’re all above the Aswan Dam in Lake Nasser. Having light winds is good though because as a sailor myself, I get to watch how they work the lateen sail rig. It’s heavy work.

DSC_4692a DSC_4712a
typical felucca which cater to small
groups for sailing on the Nile River
Its a young man’s game taking in the
sails – everything is done by hand, no hoists, pulley’s or winches.
DSC_4696a DSC_4698a
Skipper Mohammed hopes to have
his own boat one day
seated view sailing on a felucca
DSC_4688a DSC_4694a
farmers at left and typical mud-brick
houses
farmer’s camel and donkey – the height of
the banks is typical, and even lower in places so flooding of the alluvial planes each year is common
DSC_4709a
river cruise boat with two lateen sails
for longer sailing voyages on the Nile River

Mohammed the Sailor tells me he’s 19 years old and started working on this boat when he was 10 years old. The owner has three other boats and pays him £300 a month, so he has to rely on tourists to bump up his take home pay. During his younger years he used to go down to the boat after school and during holidays to help make more money for his family. Some day he hopes to own his own boat. I get the feeling it’s going to be a long wait for him.

The boys put the boat around to head back downstream and drop the centreboard. The sail immediately fills sending us scooting along roughly four or five knots with the help of the current. They obviously know what they are doing and we get back to our departure point just a little after four pm. The lad throws the anchor but it doesn’t catch so Mohammed has a go at it. Once we’re securely pinned to the river bottom they get busy to lash up the sails. Mohammed strips off his jeans to shorts and starts scaling first the mast, then the boom reaching high up above so as to roll, wrap and tie the sail to the boom. Takes him about 10 minutes. Mohammed is a great host and asks me to please take another cup of tea with them. I accept the offer and the lad gets busy making it. Unfortunately I now have to rush the tea and meet my driver to take me to the railway station.

I am so impressed with young Mohammed the Sailor. He’s a genuine young man, very polite who tried hard to make sure I enjoyed the ride. Slip him £50 when I shake his hand goodbye which is the largest tip I think I’ve ever given anyone. There was no doubt he sincerely appreciated it. I only hope it helps him to one day to find his dream and I came away with the interesting experience of having sailed on the Nile River on a felucca.

It’s 4:35 pm. There’s my guide with a taxi and we start out for the train station. On the way as I look around, it seems to me that Luxor is probably the cleanest place I’ve seen so far. Streets are neat and mostly swept. Gardens look fairly well tended. Footpaths not too badly torn up. Looked at the city with a fresh set of eyes because I’d learned something from the two Brit girls. They’d been told that builders in Egypt only build and sell the shells of buildings. New owners can then finish the building to their own final designs and taste. I suppose there’s some merit in seeing the building half finished in Egypt. At least you can see how well it’s built, I mean whether it is likely to fall down in the first breeze or stay up a bit longer.

1700hrs: On arrival at the train station my man buys my train ticket for Car 1, Seat 2 in First Class right up the front of the train. Tells me the train is leaving at 5:50 pm. With time to kill I wander across the road to a cafe. Ask for a Nescafe and directions to the WC. Stinky in there, and I do mean stinky. Try to hold my breath but I’m simply busting so have to take a breath in little gasps. Come out and have my coffee. A shoe polisher comes along so give him the job for £5 – I mean I’m rich right? Sip the coffee and watch the multitude of Police standing around watching other people. Some more of them around the side and down the street. See at least one of them in plain clothes being totally unsuccessful in being inconspicuous.

DSC_4713a
Above: Luxor train station
Right: a local toilet – use nose plugs.
DSC_4714a

At the railway station am able to work out which platform to take to Aswan. A sign on the stairs tells me but I don’t know which side of the platform. The notice board is all in Arabic and the times seem to be about five hours out of whack, but whether ahead or behind I can’t work out. Finally meet a man who can speak English who tells me which side and which direction the train will come from. Settle down to read a book.

1830hrs: Train arrives. Look for Car 1 but there’s no seat 2. A seated man holds his hand out for my ticket, reads it then points back along the train. Walk back and find another man who holds his hand out for my ticket. Motions me to follow and heads back up the train past the first man then point out seat 22. Doesn’t appear to be too many passengers anyway. Take a look around. Worn carpet on the floor. Fabric on seats not too bad. There’s a sense of things being dusty but the outside of the train is a definite reality. Filthy would be a better word.

1850hrs: Train moves off only 50 minutes late. Conductor comes around, looks at my ticket, hands it back without a word and moves on. Other people come on board, some giving me a curious look. Too tired to worry about them or anything else so settle down to try and get a bit of sleep. Besides it’s pitch black outside anyway. A waiter comes around trying to sell me a small tray of something. I decline. It’s the last I see of him. Wish I had brought some water. The trip itself is uneventful with several stops. Some of them apparently in the middle of nowhere. Manage to snatch little bits of sleep.

Aswan, Egypt

ASWAN

map 14 Red Sea
Map: With location of Aswan on the Nile River

2200hrs: Arrive Aswan. Most passengers already lined up in the doorway. Porter comes up to sit beside me. Indicates on the quiet that he wants baksheesh … No. Indicates again … No. Indicates…. Ignore him and he goes away.

Step off onto the platform to see a tall, casually dressed young man holding a piece of paper with RUSS written upside down. I can somehow just tell that must be my contact. His eyes fix on me because I’m the only westerner on the train. Introduces himself. His name is Mahmood. He’s polite but not given to talking, simply saying, “Welcome to Aswan”, and “Please follow me Mister Russ”.

We set off on foot outside the station and down the street. No car? Where we going? But we only go about 150 metres or so to a fairly nice looking hotel called the Nuba Nile Hotel. Mahmood sits me at a table where I fill in some paperwork and he gets me booked in. The restaurant is of course closed. Order a chicken wrap and a can of coke to be taken to my room.

The room is spacious. Double room. Has hot water, toilet paper and towels even if they are just the length of one arm. Furniture in good nick. Well painted. Bed quilts, sheets and blankets look clean. The food arrives and I pay the man. No booking up here apparently. Only one TV channel in Arabic so turn it off. Constant noise like water bubbling coming from the refrigerator so turn it off too. Have a shower and get into bed to be entertained by Egyptian yodelling through the wall in the next room for an hour or so before finally falling asleep.

Wednesday 16 Dec 09

0830hrs: Breakfast. One large bowl of cereal available plus milk and sugar. Mostly small meats, salads, cheese and bread. Even some butter and jam. Hot coffee and tea. Lovely hot, strong, unsweetened tea. Collect my gear to clear out. Nothing to pay at Reception.

0920: Still considering whether to get onto the internet to check out the sights of Aswan when my guide appears. He’s 40 minutes early and introduces himself as … Mohammed. Mohammed the Guide II is of average size for an Egyptian but with balding head. He’s friendly, very business like, seems to know his job which you can tell he’s learned his patter off by rote.

His brief consists of reciting facts but with some added emphasis here and there. That’s okay but I wonder if I should take notes or something. At least I can pretty much understand him so I don’t interrupt for fear he may have to go back to the beginning. In any case he’s probably speaking the clearest English of any Egyptian that I’ve met so far. I was to learn throughout the day he has a PhD which was earned by translating one section of a wall in the Karnak Temple. It took him 5 years.

Mohammed leads me outside to a black limousine and introduces me to the driver. The vehicle has a worn but luxurious interior with black curtains pulled aside on the inside of the back window. Settle in and away we go. Mohammed starts giving me a bit of commentary, pointing out places of interest as we pass through the city which is a welcome change from yesterday’s guide.

Unfinished Obelisk

Our first call is to the Unfinished Obelisk. Entry cost £30. Mohammed pauses on a large flag-stoned area in front of a small hill of granite. He picks up a small stone to draw diagrams on the flagstones and gives me a bit of history about this place, then some detail in particular about the Unfinished Obelisk. He points out the path to take and gives me a time to meet him back at the front gate.

260 quarryLeft: Ancient granite quarry site. All obelisk’s in Egypt were carved from the rock here.

The obelisk itself had been hand carved out of the bare rock just using other stones and basic hand tools. Marks from workers tools are still clearly visible. The shape of it can be clearly seen with three sides completed but without any excavation underneath. If it had been finished it would have been one third larger than any other obelisk ever erected, measuring 42 metres and weighing over 1,200 tones. Apparently it was abandoned after cracks were found in the granite.

261 unfinished obelisk 262 the tools
the obelisk was carved out of the bedrock on three sides using rocks to scape enough access to starting using hand chisels to shape it, before a crack was found and it was abandoned black rocks like these were used to scrape away the sandstone before the object could be shaped by hand chisels

I wander further along the path after climbing some rough wooden stairs and rocks around and above the obelisk. A Police security guard yells at me when I move past a rope barrier to take a photo. I yell back at him but hopefully in a jocular manner. He grins and motions me to come closer, then indicates I should follow him somewhere.

We walk along the path for a little way. He keeps saying, “Shortcut” and soon steps over a rope barrier, heading for another cluster of rocks which was obviously another attempt by the ancients to create an obelisk.

This one is much shorter than the first and its top surface is badly damaged as if someone had taken to it with a sledge hammer reducing it to a lot of rubble. However the sides have been excavated and a little stone walkway has been scraped and chiselled to give access all around. The guy takes me around the back to show me how the ancients had been scraping away underneath for about 30cm or so trying to remove the obelisk from its grip in the bare rock.

He points some things out speaking in a staged whisper although there’s no one within cooee distance and the radio on his belt keeps blaring out. He’s acting as if he’s taking a terrible risk by taking me here.

I take some photos and make to move away thanking the guy and offering him £10. I know that’s pretty generous of me but I’d got some good shots. There’s a pained expression on his face. Momentarily forgetting all previous experiences and where I was, I immediately think that maybe I shouldn’t have offered him this bribe. Take the £10 back off him and apologise. Silly me … there’s an even more pained experience so I realise my error and give the money back to him.

Now there’s much shaking of his head accompanied by accentuated tsk, tsk’s.
“No entry here …” he says with suitable unhappy looks.

I think I’m going to have to sign him the deed to my house to make him happy here.
Give him another £10 but this only changes the pained look to something closer to exasperation or annoyance? Walk off leaving him there.

264 sarcophagus 265 ancient writing
Basic outline of a statue begins to emerge out of the rock centre photo Hieroglyphic writing in one of the granite pits

At the end of the pathway are several shops selling the usual cheap junk. Each shop owner in turn welcomes me to Egypt and tries to get me to look at their particular collection of stuff which is pretty much the same as thousands of other little shops in Egypt. If none of that is your style there is a final shop selling drinks and packet ice-creams, the kind on sticks. Just keep walking.

Meet Mohammed back at the gate and return to the limo and we set off to Aswan Dam. My new “friend” now forgets about me and starts having an expressive chat with the driver. This sets the standard for the rest of the day while driving around Aswan.

Aswan Dam

Entry cost £20. There are two dams at Aswan. The High Dam and the Old Dam. The Old Dam was completed in 1902 and has a causeway across it. The High Dam was completed in 1970 with Russian assistance. The two dams are now used among other things to control the annual flooding of the Nile River. There are two lakes as a consequence of both dams and one of them is in between the dams. Lake Nasser is supposedly the largest artificial lake in the world so they claim. It’s 550 km long and 35 km at its widest. There are Nile crocodiles in Lake Nasser and in the Nile River upstream, but there are no longer any in the lower reaches. The Nile crocs are freshwater crocs but I understand they can be aggressive, having been known to attack and kill humans.

At the lookout Mohammed points out items of interest and gives me more facts and figures. He tells me that all up the hydro-electric plant has 12 turbines collectively producing over two Gigawatts of power for the whole of Egypt. 11,000 cubic metres of water pass through the dam every second. The scheme was supposed to encourage the establishing of industry here. Maybe it did … or didn’t.

Right: Lookout over Lake Nasser at Aswan Dam.266 lookout

He wanders off somewhere while I take a look about. Spend about 10 minutes or so rubber-necking and return to the limo with a can of coke for each of us. You’d have thought I was giving Mohammed a gold necklace. But I was to find the man is un-buyable as he resumes his sometimes agitated conversation with the driver after telling me we are now going to the Philae Temple. He seems very definite at times only to be met on occasions with, “la,la,la,la,la,la ….” from the driver which I think is equivalent to “no,no,no!”.

Philae Temple

267 templeLeft: Philae Temple was perhaps the most sacred place in the old Egyption religion.

It was dedicated to the goddess Isis and is believed to belong to the period between 4th century BC and the start of the 4th century AD. Entry cost £50. The temple is still being reconstructed on an island in Lake Nasser between the High and Old Dams. It had been covered with water when the High Dam was built but was subsequently excavated by cutting it up into numbered pieces like a huge jigsaw and reassembling on the nearby island.

Down at the Nile River my man talks to a cluster of boat men whose job it is to take tourists out to the temple. There must be dozens of these little tinnies at the landing point all about 18 feet or so, gaily coloured with tatty canopies just like the Nile ferries. Dozens and dozens more are lined up further out. Am led to one in which a big, unsmiling, coal black Nubian guy is seated in front of an outboard motor with no cover on it. He’s wearing one of the usual off-white or dirty smocks with a scarf which alternates as a turban thing. I wonder briefly if the motor will start.

Right: Nubian boat driver.268 nubian

Once seated the Nubian starts to clatter and bang his boat out from among the cluster amid voluble protests from the other boatmen around. Just as well the tinny is made of thick aluminium. He now turns his attention to the motor and gets it started on the first pull, using a length of cord wrapped around the head of the motor. It erupts into a cloud of blue smoke which rapidly clears away and we move out into the lake towards the little island on which the Philae Temple was rebuilt.

On the way Mohammed quietly explains the tipping system here, £10-15 for the boat man and £15-20 for the limo driver. Politely doesn’t mention himself, but obviously he’ll be looking for something more substantial. Steep tipping all things considered. I would guess that kind of money would go a long way for a local Egyptian, but at least he points out various items of interest before landing.

Once on the island he takes me into a room which was once the most holy room in the place where the priest standing in the darkness inside could look out at everybody outside in the light, but he would remain invisible inside in the darkness. Mohammed arranges to meet me at the coffee shop at midday and again toddles off, probably to speak to our driver again over coffee or something.

This is really an impressive place with massive walls covered in hieroglyphs and relief sculptures. Every wall, every column, every surface is covered in carved symbols or writing. At some point in the past the temple had been taken over by Coptic Monks. They’d been so offended by the carvings and representations of Egyptian Gods that they started defacing them. They didn’t get to all of them but the damage they did do is plain to see.

The monks had even stabled animals in the most holy area of the temple including putting carving rings directly into the walls to which they could tether their animals. Maltese crosses can be seen in places carved into the temple walls and columns, and there’s even an altar with an alcove above it for offerings. Finally, among all the other ruination is graffiti in the form of French writing on the walls engraved by Napoleon’s soldiers during his era of occupation.

269 philae 270 philae
inside the temple hieroglyphs cover much of the walls
271 philae 272 philae
the most holy of rooms showing ring bolts carved into the rock by christian monks to tether animals beautiful columns and wall murals carved into the wall
273 philae 274 philae
in the grounds of the temple complex pieces of stone still to be assembled
275 philae  

 

Left: a christian maltese cross carved into one of the doorways alongside ancient hieroglyhphs

Am sufficiently “templed out” so wander over to the coffee area which is just a collection of small huts under big shady trees. Mohammed is there talking to friends. He makes to come over but I indicate he should stay with his friends and order a coffee. It doesn’t arrive. A new discovery. If you’re with a tour guide you get served. If you’re on your own forget it.

Take a look at the various junk stuff on sale and then front the counter to at least buy an ice cream on a stick. Give them £100. That’s in spiteful retaliation for ignoring me but they don’t seem to have much trouble cashing it. Anyway, I need the change for the tips I’m yet to pay. Lots of tourists are wandering around and it’s fairly warm so I guess they must be doing a brisk business anyway, even if there are only a couple of people here right now.

Back to the boat, climb on board and return to the boat landing. Slip the Nubian guy his tip who judging by his smooth, unlined face has probably never smiled in his life but manages a quiet, “Thank you”. Step ashore, back into the limo.

1230hrs: Mohammed leaves me back at the Nuba Nile Hotel. I’m to be picked up at 1400hrs by my old mate Mahmood from last night and taken to the Bus Depot. I’ve got an hour and a half to kill so decide to take a walk. Wander along the tree lined esplanade facing the Nile River, stopping at times to watch the felucca boats. The wind’s up today and they’re charging downriver, turning about and tacking back upriver.

Am approached by all kinds of differently dressed men, every one of them polite and enquiring but all trying to drum up some business for themselves. One with a briefcase even offers me a single room for the night for £15. Must have been a goodie. On the way back to the hotel I stand aside for a short and fat woman wearing a brown burka. She’s only as tall as my chest and waddles from side to side rolling like a boat going over a wave, passing unnecessarily close and touching me as she works her way around me. Roll and touch. Roll and touch.

276 aswan 277 aswan
street view – Aswan street view – Aswan
278 aswan 279 aswan
felucca’s on the Nile River – Aswan multiple style dwelling – have to wonder who lives at the top levels

1430hrs: Mahmood picks me up in a yellow private car and takes me out to the bus station. Tells me the bus will leave at 1500hrs. Settle down to wait at the cafe next to the bus station and order a Nescafe for each of us. Waiting, waiting. Find out that one of the staff has had to go somewhere to get two sachets of Nescafe coffee.

An old man in a dirty dark brown smock, a week’s growth of grey beard and a filthy turban comes up with his hand out silently asking for baksheesh. Shake my head. He stands there silently talking to himself and moving his hands about, then moves off into the bus lanes striking odd poses and with his mouth still silently working all the while. Poor man. He comes back after a while and picks up my empty coffee glass and tries to drain any dregs of coffee. Mahmood gives him a glass of water which he gulps down thirstily, spilling most of it down the front of his smock, on the table and over my backpack.

1510hrs: Mahmood points out the bus I’ll be leaving on. Try to tell him he doesn’t have to wait but he doesn’t seem to understand. Tells me he’s working so I let him be. Another bus arrives and the driver gets out and disappears somewhere. Mahmood tells me he’s going off to drink tea. Another elderly portly man who has been wandering around for the past hour trying to cadge money climbs aboard. There’s no one in there so he comes back out again. Someone slaps him on the head sending his turban askew.

Eventually the driver returns and Mahmood leads me towards it. Am a bit confused. He’d told me the other bus was going to Hurghada. This new bus is supposed to be going to Cairo? A Spanish man is also confused. He wants to get to Cairo and had been told the other bus was going there. But all is well. This bus is going first to Hurghada via Luxor then on to Cairo. That is assuming the balding and badly pockmarked rear tyre holds out.

Mahmood points out on the ticket that I have seat number 11. Climb onboard. An approximately middle aged dumpy Egyptian woman sits herself down in Seat 11. She looks at me quizzically with startling green eyes and pencil thin eyebrows as I draw next to her. Sit myself down in the opposite aisle. I don’t think they pay that much attention to seat numbering as long as there is a seat. In a little while a youngish Egyptian man joins her assuming a lovey-dovey attitude, whereupon the woman adopts an almost permanently pained expression from then on. Would love to know the story going on there.

1540hrs: The bus leaves the station. A man in civilian clothes carrying a little box comes around checking tickets. Says nothing about Seat 11. Apart from me as a foreigner there is the Spaniard and a Brit guy. Apparently no more than five foreigners can catch the same bus because it’s a security thing. Any more than that and a Police escort has to come along as well. Decide to try and stay awake at least until it gets dark. It’s going to be a long night. Stare outside at the passing scenery as we travel along the Nile River. Lots of tall grass, thick clusters of date palms, cultivated fields, mud brick houses in various states of disrepair and regular military check points.

280 nile river 281 locals
cruise ship sailing on the
Nile River
two men sit chatting near the end of the day at an unknown town north of Aswan

1620hrs: Stop at an unknown town for 10 minutes. Manage to buy a small can of coke and a small bottle of cold water.

1840hrs: Stop at a rest stop beside the road near the village or town or city of Esna. Not much here at this stop for food and drinks except for the usual wafer biscuits and packets of chips snacks. There is a rough roof sitting on top of timber poles, no walls and an uneven dirt floor. A man at a table at the rear is selling cups of sweetened hot tea. Look at the toilet off to one side but am not game enough to go in there so walk across the road behind a derelict hut for a piddle.

Back at the rest stop there are several freshly made amphorae’s lined up among the rubbish and clutter lining the road. Earlier beside the road I had seen what I’d assumed to be a small bus shelter except that the bench seat had holes cut in it. They had looked like the sort of toilet where a bin was placed below the hole … but surely not. It wasn’t private enough and sitting right beside the road! Had been kind of curious about that. Now I understood. The amphora jars are still used to this day as water jugs and they get placed into the holes of the benches to hold them upright. The water is then available to anyone passing by.

This one here is a larger system with each large jug having a lid. A single cup stands on top of one of the lids and people at intervals come along, remove a lid, dip the cup and take a drink. A very good way to earn a dose of volcanic diahorrea if ever there is one.

282 amphoras 283 drinking spot
amphora’s still being used as a way to store water at a rest stop
between Aswan and Luxor
free water from communal water jars – just help yourself to some projective diahorrea at Esna, Egypt

On the way again. It’s dark outside and a colour movie starts playing from a VHS cassette tape player and flickering on a TV screen mounted up the front. The picture suffers badly from white noise lines, is very jerky and loud. Finally the plot settles down into some kind of melodrama involving mostly shouting, shooting and bloodshed. In between these activities on the screen, a bratty and whinging three year old throws little tantrums and even manages occasionally to sob convincingly at a volume to compare with the movie. Nothing to see outside except when the bus pulls up at the numerous check points.

The movie stops and another is put on. This one is obviously a parody of a James Bond type of film. Although it’s meant to be an Arabic comedy it also involves mostly shouting and lots of shooting, killing people and bloodshed.

2145hrs: Stop at the village of Qena. Loud shouting starts up in the aisle of the bus and a man is being ushered off. A young Egyptian lad tells us the fellow was a friend of the driver and had been demanding a free seat. Stretch the legs for a bit outside though it’s very cold now.

2215hrs. Reach Safaga on the Red Sea coast to the south of Hurghada. Only stop long enough for people to get off and retrieve their luggage.

Midnight: Finally reach El Gouna Bus Depot. I don’t recognise it having not seen it before so wonder where I am for a moment. Apparently I’ve got to get off here. A sign says El Gouna but I still don’t know how far it is to Sekala. Find a taxi who offers to take me for £25 – no problem. There are two guys in the taxi and they take to right to the front gate of the marina – no problem.

Walk down to the boat to find it all in darkness. Roger and Andy are asleep. Creep inside and enormously relieved, climb into bed.

Port Ghalib, Egypt

 

map 14 Red Sea
map of the Red Sea showing relative locations of Hurghada and Port Ghalib


Thursday 17 Dec 09

Late rise for me. Roger and Andy have been busy refuelling the boat and getting additional fuel in jerry cans. We’ll be leaving Hurghada probably around 1000 on Saturday. Take clothes to the laundry man. Maurice from Cobble comes around for sundowners. All head up to the local Sphinx Restaurant in the marina for dinner. Chat with some Brits for a while. Get an invite to join them for dinner uptown somewhere but don’t really feel like going out.

Friday 18 Dec 09

Roger and Andy continue with refuelling, filling and bringing jerry cans back to the boat. Also do some shopping. I spend most of the time bringing this journal up to date and starting to caption all available photographs. Hope to have them done so that I can burn off a CD and post it home from Port Ghalib. All the photographs and files at least will then be off the boat before we make our run to Aden in Yemen.

284 luxury boatsLeft: The two large boats at the rear allegedly belong to a high ranking officer in the Saudi Military

Have a chat with Ian of Rhumb Do to give him what detail I can about taking a tour to Luxor. Jamie of Esper interviews Andy for a podcast which he publishes on his website http://www.followtheboat.com. Andy pays the marina fees and obtains a valuable list of contacts for calling into Port Ghalib and other places to assist with getting clearances and so on. Colin and Tricia of Moody Time give Jenzminc a lovely Christmas card with a wish for fair winds. Nice gesture.

Early evening Maurice and all of Jenzminc arrive on Alice for dinner. We have soup followed by a Shepherd’s Pie except there are various vegetables in the mince and a dessert of strawberries and cream. While having dinner young Mohammed the Laundry Man arrives with the washing for Roger and me. Hard and honest worker that young man.

Saturday 19 Dec 09

0730hrs: Today we start out again on our long journey home via Port Ghalib to officially clear out of Egypt. Everything is done. Last minute charging of mobile phones and computers, sending of emails. Andy changes the gas bottle.

0830hrs: Canopy over the cockpit is taken down. Dinghy pulled up and secured on deck. Walk over to a corner of the marina where a yacht is tied up. It’s called Heart of Oak and is English registered. Was first seen in Port Said then in Ismailia, and last seen after it hit a reef somewhere north of Hurghada and Port Endeavour and had partially sunk. Anecdotally the skipper had no charts and had been relying just on a pilot guide book. Apparently he’d been arrested but that is unclear. The latest gossip is that he had gone back to England. Details of any crew not known.285 heart of oak

Right: SV Heart of Oak had hit a reef and foundered north of Hurghada and was laying on her side with sails still set.

0945hrs: Crowd of yachties stand by to give us a hug, a handshake and good wishes. Lo Brust hands Andy the weather forecast for six-hourly periods over the next couple of days.
286 farewellsLeft: Yachties from the Vasco de Gama rally farewelling Jenzminc as she’s about to depart

Colin’s mother of Moody Time tells us to take care of pirates. I tell her in all seriousness, “Never you mind about pirates, we’ve got a secret weapon”.
She looks up at me under her eyebrows and says in that lilting manner of the British, “Oh yeah ..”,
“Yes. As soon as they come in range we’re all going to line along the side, pull down our pants, bend over and give them a brown eye – it’s bound to work!”
They’d all been expecting something serious … something that they may be able to use as well, and it got a good-natured laugh all round.

Power cable and gangway pulled in. Lines slipped and with final waves goodbye moved out of the marina toward the open sea.

1005hrs: All shipshape and secure. Wind light northerly. Motoring. The log isn’t working properly, only showing a speed of just over two knots. Andy tells me he’ll have to go for a swim underneath to fix the problem. Simply lifting it out from inside the boat won’t do the job.

1020hrs: Some dolphins playing around at the bow in the clear water. A motor cruiser tour boat has been feeding and calling them for the tourists onboard.

287 tourist boats 288 dolphin spotting
tourist boats trying to attract dolphins with bait tourists spotting dolphins
289 dolphin 290 glass bottom boat
dolphins alongside Jenzminc glass bottomed boat sightseeing the reefs

1045hrs: Seas rippled. Calm. Depth around 8-10 metres. Can see bottom but not in sharp detail. Dark patches of coral here and there. A glass-bottomed tourist boat glides along slowly nearby. Depth hits six metres. Roger goes up forward to keep a lookout.

1055hrs: Depth up to 90 metres. Dark blue sea. Several offshore small islands, some not much more than sandbanks with a few small salt tolerant plants along the shoreline.

1530hrs: Headsail up. No change in conditions. Wind less than five knots.

1600hrs: Safaga just behind us lying invisible in the front of a larger group of mountains that juts up all along this coast. Following the western side of the Red Sea about 10 miles off the coast. East coast is too far away to see. Flat blue sea. Trolling lines put out.

Dusk: Headsail and trolling lines pulled in.

1800hrs: Roger makes egg, salad and toasted pita bread sandwiches. Hits the spot.

1930hrs: Sliver of moon sets. Blackness deepens except for the odd town. Still about 10 miles from the coast. Milky Way turns splendorous forming a fairy light track across the sky running south-east to north-west. Andy points out Polaris – the North Star. Even though the stars shift as the sky turns at night, Polaris always points North and has been a Northern Hemisphere navigation mark for eons.

Have only seen one other boat since Hurghada and that one after dark. It turned into one of the little coastal towns.

Sunday 20 Dec 09

PORT GHALIB

Port Ghalib is just a new settlement and is an official Port of Entry for Egypt. It lies on the coast near the township of Marsa Alam which is some kilometres further inland. There is a large airport and big jets are taking off and landing. Marsa Alam relies on tourism with wind buggies, trekking and camping in the desert. The port itself is probably one kilometre square. There are some small shops and a mini-mart not worthy of the name. No post office. Residential villas. Seems to be a playground for wealthy Arabs with a motor yacht, several of which are berthed around the port.

Sunday 20 Dec 09

0400hrs: Pull up and secure Jenzminc alongside the cement dock outside the Harbour Master’s building in Port Ghalib. Everybody gets to bed.

291 port ghalibLeft: Harbour Masters building and dock. SV Grey Donkey tied up alongside.

0500hrs: Local official in company with two Policemen stand outside calling, “Hello Captain”. Very polite. Tells us the Harbour Master’s Office will open at 1000. We ask about fuel. He tells us if we want fuel we’ll have to move away to another place nearby. He points it out to Andy.

0520hrs: Our man runs around the marina to the new location. A few minutes later we arrive to find a group of four security people ready to take our lines. We need to use three ropes to tie to the buoy and reach the dock. Grey Donkey is berthed here. She’s a Belgian boat and had been in Hurghada yesterday moored directly opposite us. As Jenzminc reverses into the dock the other skipper comes out with more fenders to make sure we don’t scratch his boat or something.
“Please … do not touch these here”, he says indicating the stanchions. Indeed, they do look rather thin and flimsy.

Right: Port Ghalib marina area292 marina area

0540hrs: All tied up. Documents presented and our presence explained to the Port Official. He takes our passports and the ships papers away. Close to dawn and turning light outside. Sit down for a cup of coffee or tea.

0930hrs: A security guard tells Andy he cannot go swimming so he’s unable to fix the log transducer here. We’ll have to wait until we get back outside. This is a bit annoying at first because people are swimming about 20 metres away, but it soon becomes apparent they’re doing diving maintenance work on the berthing buoys. Andy contacts the Port Authority by radio. There are just two boats here and they tell us we’ll be second to attend the fuel dock for more fuel. They also tell us we’ll be second in getting our passports processed. After that we can go directly to the Harbour Master’s dock and officially clear out of Egypt.

1000hrs: Update this journal and burn a precautionary DVD disc with all journal entries and photographs taken so far. A man comes around asking for the marina fees. We consider this unusual since we aren’t visiting here and nothing we’ve read so far says anything about this requirement if a vessel is just transiting through clearing into or out of the country. The Egyptians never seem to let a chance go by.

Go for a walk around the port complex. Flies are thick and friendly. Very new buildings with lots of untenanted shops. No post office and unable to post off my DVD. Will just have to hide the DVD somewhere on the boat in the event of piracy although that situation we consider quite slim. There’s a lot of media hype about piracy but the level of danger given by the press to pleasure yachts although possible, is statistically unsupportable. Such reporting makes for better media sales I suppose.

Return to the boat as it starts to move around to the fuelling dock. During fuelling a man starts checking Andy’s papers and says there’s a problem with Customs. All the official papers are present except for some receipt, or document or something from Wadi Dome that says everything has been paid. I wonder if he thinks we got all our other official papers for free? Seems to me it’s just a minor clerk having a power surge. After all, we’d visited Hurghada since then. The chap came and went a couple of times.

293 fuellingLeft: Taking on fuel

1100hrs: Fuelling completed. Move over to the Harbour Master’s dock.

Approx Midday: Grey Donkey slips her lines and takes off. The skipper tells us he hadn’t had any problems with the paperwork. It was just the length of time it took for officials to process it. The crew appears to be a family of husband, wife and a son. The son looks strikingly like Harry Potter complete with glasses. Wave goodbyes.

Waiting, waiting. An older, different Customs man comes down to the boat. Quite distinguished looking. Has our papers in his hand and looks over the boat. Says, “It won’t be long”, gives us a big smile and heads back into the building.

1320hrs: Whatever the Customs problem was seems to have been resolved without our further assistance. Got our clearance and have permission to leave. Don’t need to be told twice. Lines in, fenders put away, head out to sea past the poor desolate looking yacht lying there. It lay apparently abandoned on a sandbar at the entrance to Port Ghalib with sails still set, torn and fluttering in the wind.

Moved out into the open water.

294 leaving port ghalib 295 grounded yacht
leaving Port Ghalib foundered yacht SV Antares on shoals
at the entrance to Port Ghalib
296 skipper
Left: Jenzminc skipper Andy – south of Port Ghalib


END OF PART 4

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