The ferry time had changed again to 5 pm with 2 pm boarding for some reason, but at least it actually left on time. We were picked up by one of those open minivans that are clearly too small for 9 people and their luggage. At the terminal it was very chaotic. Our passports held three different immigration and custom forms, the ticket, the Egyptian visa, the Sudanese exit stamp and some yellow piece of paper and all of these needed to be processed somehow. It was mayhem, tons of people pushing and all of them yelling at the same time. We made it onto the ferry without any problems though but found out that there were no allocated seats, only benches, and that women had to sit separately from the men. When we walked in all seats had already been reserved by veiled ladies and their kids but they made room for us and started to intigrate us to their families by sharing food and drinks.
We tried to pass our guys for our husbands and one dad to have them sit with us as there were few men in the compartment but these men were fathers to very young kids. As the men’s compartment was loud and busy the guys then buggered off to the top deck and hid in the shade. I stayed in the air conditioned compartment until I could no longer take the buzz – everyone was talking all the time and tons of kids were running around. I traded my food coupon for dinner (which I believe they made specifically for me, dinner time had passed, supposedly they had run out of food, I was sent to first class despite my second class ticket, and somehow I ended up with half a roasted chicken, okra, rice and salad) and then took my belongings and joined the guys to watch the sunset up top.
I was the only woman along with another white foreigner up there and got plenty of looks. Also immediately obvious was the difference between Sudanese and Egyptian men: the Sudanese polite, the Egyptians more on the ‘hey baby’ side of the scale. Some of them obviously came over to plainly stare at me.
The call for prayer came around 7 pm, all men prayed next to us, pretty soon after that the sun went down.
We passed Abu Simbel and its beautiful temples around 9 pm. Pretty impressive, we may actually travel back to check it out soon (although from here it’s 280km away). I rolled out my mat on deck among tons of other people (all men) and fell asleep. I woke up every hour or so, usually from being uncomfortable on the floor, someone talking, or because someone next to me involuntarily kicked me or vice versa. In the middle of the night I saw a lunar eclipse I didn’t know was going to happen, that was pretty cool. At 4.30 am I heard the call for prayer again and saw all the men praying next to me. Around that time it even got pretty chilly on deck so I disappeared inside my silk liner (also a handy tool against unwanted stares in the morning). Overall it was a good night that passed fast and in hindsight I was happy that I had not stayed in the women’s compartment where people slept on wooden benches, kids cried all night and you could smell the toilet.
I was also glad that we didn’t have cabins as they looked filthy and claustrophobic. There really wasn’t much of a difference between first and second class, other than it was assumed that white people traveled first class.
Before we had boarded the ferry we saw the barge with our truck nearby. This was a letdown as we had expected it to be already half way there. Turns out that someone had parked their car behind the truck a little off to the side and the barge was now lopsided. They couldn’t reach the car owner last night to repark it. We don’t know if we can get to the truck before Monday now.
The paperwork had not ended at the ferry terminal. Upon boarding we had to hand our passports to the men at the entrance. Hours later they came to the women’s compartment and yelled out our names to collect the passports again. Total chaos. Again hours from then we had to go to the dining department to get an entry stamp for the Egyptian visa.
The ferry needed 18 hours on calm water and we gained an hour with the time difference in Aswan but then lost it again by sitting in the compartment waiting for the porters to unload the ferry after we arrived. I had to put my ear plugs in as I couldn’t deal with this chaos. Instead of letting people off first many men came onto the ferry and started yelling. Porters were negotiating their price with the women. Babies screamed. Huge boxes and luggage pieces were hauled around regardless of other passengers standing in the way.
When we finally did get out it was only because people pushed us from the back. You would have thought there were thousands of people but it was probably only a few hundred.
At the aptly named ‘arrival hole’ it was even worse. Three guards and one tiny doorframe against hundreds of pushy folks with big boxes, everyone yelling. Someone pulled the tourist card and us whiteys got to get through unchecked eventually. At this point it had been two hours since arrival and we were all craving the first beer since Ethiopia.
We somehow dodged the annoying vendors, porters and cabbies at the terminal and took a minivan to the hotel.
The hotel is right by the Nile and in the middle of the action and it is run by a lady who is married to a German. She probably learned English and German from him as she sounds like a typical resolute German matron although she looks Arabic. She has lived near Heidelberg, not too far from my parents, so I instantly had a good and useful connection with her.
The hotel has recently been renovated and we have all scored individual executive rooms which is a treat after the Sudan. Full ac, a proper bathroom, cable tv with awful Western channels, minibar, it’s all good and we’re here for three nights!
Aswan from what I’ve seen so far is cool too, very laid back vibe, beautiful views on the Nile, a huge tourist market and fair prices.
David and I left the others at KFC (really? KFC!) and ate for less than $8 at a local place. All I wanted was a chicken kebab but the owner made us try all of the different dishes he offered so eventually we asked for a sample platter of everything and we stuffed our faces for an hour. Delicious.
Then we went for a stroll through the souq where the vendors are as expected guessing our nationalities correctly and then follow up with cheesy lines known for the respective countries. We had lots of invitations to the stores but luckily nobody was overly pushy or annoying which is a relief – I’m sure this will change soon.
You can tell that due to the political problems in Egypt the tourism has gone back and the vendors and cab drivers, buggy drivers and boat owners (felucas) are suffering, as their prices are extremely low and very flexile before you even ask for a discount. We’ll se what the various sights will cost tomorrow when I have the energy to organize something.
On the way back to the hotel we were cornered by a shop owner who turned out to be a doctor of alternative medicine. He asked me to come into his shop and he would treat me for sun exposure as a gift. 20 minutes later I had a number of potions on me, I had been massaged and I was sipping hibiscus tea…all of it for free. Mahmoud is a Nubian doctor from the Sudan where he lives 4 months in the year with the rest practising in this store in Aswan. I asked for a mosquito bite treatment which he obviously also administered on me. Since the treatment was rather sensual (but never creepy, although Dave felt out of place I never had the feeling that the guy was coming on to me) I didn’t mention that the worst bites are on my thighs and instead I bought some of the sweet smelling stuff along with a Sudanese grain called ‘Helba’ which, if drunk for 25 days as a tea (and the grains eaten) after meals works as a cleanse.We both agreed (!) that the Sudanese baklava had given me a jiggly midriff. Thanks Mahmoud! (If this works I will set up a new business). He also gave me an orange sized fruit of some kind that will supposedly treat rheuma – present for my mother (or her knee). He would have kept on going as he also detected the precise location of my constant back pain which I hadn’t even mentioned to him. But I was afraid that I would buy the entire shop so after an hour or so we moved on. First though we met his shop neighbor and talked for a while and if we hadn’t pulled away and ignored a bunch of friendly people on the way we would probably still be there. The souq is open until 9pm…
It is 7pm now and I still haven’t had my beer. We were told that we can go to the duty free shop nearby today and stock up cheaply. I may just do that and chill out in my room.