Egypt – Aswan

We traveled from Cairo to Aswan on the Sleeper train that ran through the night to arrive at 9am in Aswan. The Airbnb accommodation we booked was on Elaphantine Island, which is an island in the middle of the Nile river, which we needed to take a ferry to reach. The ferry ride is only 5 minutes long, and there is a ferry every 10minutes. The island is home to the Nubian village, and it is away from the hustle and busle of Aswan.

Aswan was a lot hotter than Cairo, and the temperature peaked at 41 degrees celcius on the day we arrived. It was nice to see water again, as Giza was a dust bowl. Aswan was a lot less dusty and had a lot more trees and greenery.

Aswan was a bit more conservative than Cairo, and almost all the locals were wearing traditional clothes, and on the ferry the men and women were separated with their own sitting areas, so we were not allowed to sit next to each other. We did not know this would be a problem, so the ferry driver had to tell us to please move seats to the appropriate areas.

While in Aswan we visited the Aswan botanical garden, which is on another island in the Nile river. We took a boat from Elaphantine island to the gardens, which were interesting, but very small. Another attraction in the area is Philae temple, which we decided to visit. We were approached by two German travelers who wanted to share a boat with us to save on costs, as a boat is needed to get to the temple, which is also on its own island. The boat that took the four of us was ridiculously small for the job, but we made it anyway.

What was interesting about Philae temple was that it had been relocated about 800 down river to where it stands today. Due to the building of the Aswan High dam, the temple would have been flooded, so it was moved piece by piece to the new location. Apart from the two German travelers we met, we didnt see any other foreigners while we were in Aswan, and we really stood out while walking through the markets.

Again we were bombarded by touts trying to get us to take a felucca ride on the Nile, buy sarongs and souvenirs at every turn. Even the taxi drivers would drive slowly next to us for minutes trying to persuade us not to walk and to use their taxi instead. Because we stood out from the locals, everyone would stop to ask us where we were from, and when we replied ‘South Africa’, they would respond by exclaiming ‘Bafana! Bafana!’

followed by a confused look and the question ‘But you are not black?!’. It actually amazed us by how many Egyptian people did not know where South Africa was, and that we are from the same continent.

We found Aswan to be quite a dirty town, full of garbage and random street fires made by people trying to burn their refuse. There were so many old battered cars from the 80s driving around, and lot of half built and broken buildings everywhere.

We really enjoyed the tranquility of staying on Elaphantine island, and looked forward to getting home each day, as there are not cars, or people that harass you, just the beauty of the Nile river flowing by, and the farm animals roaming the narrow paths.

It was in the markets in Aswan that we discovered the local street food pita breads with their various fillings that we could buy for almost nothing. We also discovered that the local cheeses and halva was amazing and really cheap compared to Cape Town. We ended up gorging ourselves on cheeses, halva and other local foods for the time we were in Asan.

On one of the days we decided to do a 6 hour round trip by car to visit Abu Simbel temple, which is close to the border of Sudan. We got a driver to take us on the journey, and had to provide our passports the night before so that he could get security clearance. We were not sure what exactly that was about at first, until we started our drive to the temple. We passed through multiple police check points, where our passports were checked and the driver had to produce identification and licencing, while the car was searched. This was our first taste of the police/military presence in Egypt to combat terrorism.

On the journey to the temple, we stopped at a small rest stop in the middle of the desert, and the owner of the had a baby crocodile that he had rescued that he showed us. That is proof that there are crocodiles in the Nile river, something to consider when you swim in the Nile!

Because we went with our own driver, we arrived about 2 hours after all the tour buses that try to arrive at Abu Simbel at sunrise. This meant that we totally avoided the crowds, and we were the only ones there.

Temple was amazing, and had also been relocated about 1km to higher ground piece by piece over a number of years, in order to avoid the rising water of the Nile from the Aswan High dam.

After 4 days in Aswan, our next destination was Luxor, so we booked a Felucca boat to take us half way there, so that we could experience traveling on the Nile like the ancient Egyptians did. We started at 8am and it sailed zig zagging down the Nile river towards Luxor. As the sun set, we anchored on the banks of the Nile and slept under the stars. It would have been great if the felucca had a bathroom, instead of just using a random bush along the banks of the Nile river. In the morning after breakfast we continue our journey to Luxor. The felucca dropped us at a pickup point, and a car took us the rest of the journey, stopping at two temples (Kom Ombo and Edfu) along the way for us to explore.

It was at these temples that we experienced the worst harassment by touts we have ever experienced. The combination of desperation for money, and not having any concept of personal space, while not wanting to take ‘no’ for an answer was a very uncomfortable experience.

The rest of the drive to Luxor was interesting to see the desert landscape along the Nile river, and we found it funny to see so many grown men riding donkeys for transportation, just like in the bible stories.