Mahmud, the assistant manager of the cruise, gave us a tour of the ship as we were approaching Aswan. He had taken a shine to us and made sure we were always looked after. He also lived in Italy for eight years and spoke near perfect Italian. He showed us that in the kitchen they use mineral water to wash all the fruit and vegetables, have separate fridges for meat, fish, and veg, and introduced us to the head chef. For a small ship’s kitchen, it sure pumped out a stack of food.
When we got to the bridge, Mahmud asked if we wanted to ‘drive’ the boat. Of course cyclone Sam jumped in the hot seat and was every excited to be steering the ship. Then Sam was told by the captain to park the ship alongside the bank of the Nile, by a big jetty. Hubs and I both looked at each other with slightly worried expressions, and a question – WHY would you let Sam dock the ship? Under the careful and close guidance of the captain, Sam parked the ship and spent the rest of the day telling the world about it! Well done Sam! Parked without sinking it.
Our cruise arrived in Aswan and our favourite guide Mohamed met us in the morning and off we went for our excursions that day. First stop was the unfinished obelisk that Queen Hepshepsut ordered about 3500 years ago during her reign – if it had been successfully completed, it would have been the largest obelisk in all of Egypt at 40m tall. Carved out of pink granite, the Queen was being tight and put a rookie in charge of making this huge monument. The inexperienced rookie placed his chisel in the wrong spot and hit a natural fault line, splitting the obelisk length ways. Needless to say, that rookie probably didn’t live til a ripe old age…. There is over 200 acres of pink granite in Aswan. It is very valuable and when polished, beautiful. It’s also so hard. I have no idea how those ancient ‘gypos were able to carve pink granite…
Next stop was the high dam built in 1972 to ‘save Egypt’. The high dam is an engineering marvel – as Donna would say. The base is 900m wide – nearly a kilometre – and the top is 41 wide. There are several military check points there, essentially because if the high dam was destroyed , the river water would be released and it would wipe out 90% of the population, three times over! 90% of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile. Amazing.
The Nile also used to have a large population of crocodiles – the ancient Egyptians actually worshipped a crocodile God. After the dam was built, about 4000 crocodiles were moved to the other side of the high dam wall, away from the bulk of the population. If you follow the Nile River south, you will end up in Sudan. Mohamed told us that they had to increase the crocodile population to 70,000 just to eat all the dead bodies floating in the Nile as a result of the civil war in Sudan. Millions were killed, how awful is that.
We then caught a small boat and went to the Philae Temple – it was moved from Aswan to an island on the Nile near Aswan piece by piece and is in a beautiful setting. It was built to honour the Goddess Isis, mother of Horus and dates back to the 4th Century BC. The Romans took it over as a coptic church and added carved crosses to it. It also had a birthing chamber and there are inscriptions of Isis holding her new born baby Horus (falcon God). Another impressive ancient temple.
Our boat then took us to Botanical Gardens of Aswan. They are ok, but not really worth going out of your way to visit. It was nice to see some Australian flora in the mix.
By then it was time to feed Sam – he was getting edgy. We thanked Mohamed profusely and tipped him 100 LE (Egyptian Pounds) and i gave him an extra 20LE because he was so good at answering all my questions. Hubs and I asked him if he could come to Abu Simbel with us the next day, but unfortunately he has a cousins wedding to go to. He did give us a tip of where to go for sunset drinks – a bar called Sunset, where apparently we would have a beautiful view over Aswan at sunset.
After a nap, we were heading to the dining room and to our surprise, saw our favourite guide Mohamed in reception. He had returned to the ship to drop off two papers for us that he had written on Abu Simbel and Egypt – titled ‘Egypt for Dummies’, which was clearly us! HOW SWEET! So lovely of him to make that effort. I read what he gave us cover to cover. He had a huge impact on my trip to Egypt and I learned so much from him.
It was our last night one the boat and all of us were feeling a little sad. We all enjoyed the cruise. It was great not having to hunt for safe food to eat. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all huge buffets at certain times of the day, and the food was generally pretty good. We ended the cruise with the last round of the world’s longest game of dominoes. I didn’t win…