Thursday 29th March
Wadi Halfa to Ferry across Lake Nasser
After resting in the hotel and not doing much at all yesterday, today is the day we are heading off towards the ferry and to Aswan in Egypt. We were up early and headed off to breakfast and had our usual Wadi Halfa breakfast of egg, ful, felafels and bread. We bought some extra snacks for the ferry as well as an additional bag to hold all the extra stuff we now have. At 12, we were picked up in a “minibus” that could easily have doubled for a prison van (appropriate really when we thought about the hotel we had been staying in for the past few days in Wadi Halfa) and transported the 4-5km down to the ferry terminal. We changed some money with a man in the street while we were waiting to go as no one wants Sudanese pounds anywhere. We went through customs and passport control to exit Sudan and then waited an hour or so in the customs hall with all of our bags until we could get on another minibus to go the last 1km to the wharf. There were a number of minibuses transporting everyone and their luggage the last bit to the wharf and it was pretty chaotic like everywhere in Africa on these sorts of occasions. Once on the ferry we had first class cabins with bunk beds as well as a small cupboard and a table but no chair. There was also a porthole in ours that didn’t shut properly but as it was breezy and warm, it didn’t matter much. The cabin was extremely grubby and of course we planned to sleep in our sleeping bags… We settled in and had a meal delivered to our cabin (this was part of our fare) – interestingly the food was served on metal plates divided into sections, so the prison theme continued - and then went up on the top deck to wait for the ferry to depart which it duly did only about 15 minutes late at 4.15pm. Some of the other passengers were also in the cabins but the remainder were scattered around the ship – the men up on the deck and the women and children on a lower level in an open space – and this is where they slept. The journey to Aswan across Lake Nasser normally takes between 17 and 48 hours depending on the weather and other variables. We were hoping it would only take about 18 hours…after we left the port in Wadi Halfa, we went back to our cabin and sat reading and watching the water slip by. It was very smooth and gentle in the ferry. At sunset we took some photos of the sun setting over the desert and about 4 hours into the trip we passed Abu Simbel, the famous temple complex on the banks. You could see it lit up as you passed by on the lake. We then ate some of our snacks and wrapped up in our sleeping bags on our bunks and went to sleep.
Friday 30th March
Ferry to Aswan Egypt
Fortunately we didn’t need to get up in the night given the state of the toilets. Lynn woke around 6am, glanced towards the porthole and was surprised to see a rat looking back. David woke up around 7am and we sat around in the cabin reading as the desert floated by. We got dressed because we didn’t know what time we might arrive and then sat back on our bunks – Lynn on the top bunk where she had slept. Before we arrived she had seen the rat another 3 times – it kept poppng up to check whether we had gone. We reached the dock in Aswan about 18 hours after starting in Wadi Halfa so it was a very good journey and now we are in Egypt. Then the fun started. It took us at least two hours to get off the ferry and outside as there seemed to be no organisation whatsoever about checking bags, passport control or anything at all (even though this ferry runs back and forth every week). At one stage we were all crushed into this little waiting hall while we waited for the xray machine (for bags) to check stuff and bags in front of us. Once outside, we met our Aswan guide and after changing the rest of our Sudanese money for almost nothing, got into another minibus and headed off the final 10-15km from the port to the town of Aswan. Aswan is famous for the High Dam finished in 1971. This dams the Nile and forms a monster lake (Lake Nasser) that is over 500km long and is now the 3rd biggest in the world (after the Yangtze River Lake and the Parana River lake in Brazil). We arrived at our hotel and it is beautiful after some of the others we have stayed in. It was quite a contrast to our last place in Wadi Halfa. We changed some more money and then walked through the souk and bought a few things. It was very empty of tourists. Egypt is having a tough time at present – lots of tourists have vanished due to the political troubles here. They hope things will stabilise once the elections have taken place in May. There are so many things to see in this country and there are no apparent problems in this part of Egypt. We came back to the hotel and then headed off to the Old Cataract Hotel for a drink. Apparently this is the hotel made famous in Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile” and it was absolutely stunning and beautiful. Out to dinner then back to the hotel – we have an early start (3am) tomorrow as we are going on a day trip to Abu Simbel.
Saturday 31st March
Up at 3am for a 3.30am start to Abu Simbel by minibus (a 280km journey). We met at a place near the town with a convoy of other tourist buses and minibuses for the trip – foreigners are not allowed to travel this road except in convoy with a police escort – then set off for the 3 hour journey to Abu Simbel. We had a breakfast box from the hotel (what luxury – a beautiful cardboard box tied with ribbon containing all sorts of treats including a boiled egg, fruit, juice, bread etc.) which we ate closer to our destination. Arrived after 7.30am to the site and walked around looking at everything for about 2 ½ hours till it was time to head back to our bus and the convoy and head back to Aswan. Abu Simbel was found by an Italian in 1813 – he noticed the top (row of baboons) sticking up out of the sand on the banks of the Nile and dug in and found the temple and statues that are famous. When the Egyptians built the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s to alleviate the Nile flood, it was decided that Abu Simbel would be raised in its totality 65 metres higher. UNESCO helped to fund this and it cost $US70m., an enormous sum that the Egyptians were not able to afford then (or even now). It was cut up into pieces and moved higher up out of the lake’s way and it took nine years to accomplish. Totally amazing when you see the scale of the temple and the statues. Anyway it is there now and was very interesting with amazing carvings and hieroglyphics. Back towards Aswan through the desert in the convoy, we visited the Aswan High Dam and then went to the Philae Temple near the town – this temple was raised also but not from the High Dam but from the Low Dam (built by the British in 1912). This temple was amazing and wonderful and we loved it. We were then dropped back at our hotel, had a rest then later we went out for dinner near the river then walked through the souk again and then to bed. Today was hot – around 35C and fine. It is fine all the time here. It usually only rains about once a year here. If it rained more, all their houses made of mud bricks would dissolve. Gertie (our truck) was returned today having successfully made the trip across on the vehicular ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan.
Sunday 1st April
Up later today and had a beautiful breakfast, including strawberries, in the hotel. We and the other 4 travellers had another big day planned and were met by our guide at 10am and walked down to the Nile (across the road from the hotel) to go on our felucca trip for the day. Ali was our felucca “driver” – first we went to the Prince’s Tombs site on the west bank of the river. There was a steep climb up the sand hill to some very interesting tombs – very old – quite interesting – not as ornate as Abu Simbel and Philae yesterday but good nonetheless. We then went down the hill, back on the felucca and sailed to Kitchener Island to the Botanic Garden – walked through for about an hour then back on the felucca again – sailed to a shady spot on the bank for lunch made by Ali. Salad, eggs, potatoes, bread and a drink – very nice. The day had warmed up by now – about 3pm –we then went across to Elephantine Island – the former capital of the Nubian Empire in ancient times – the island is now a Nubian village, but has some very interesting archaeological sites due to its antiquity – these are still being excavated. About 4,000 people live on this island directly opposite the town of Aswan (west bank of the Nile). We then went back to the wharf and picked up Gino and Nat for the final trip by motor boat up to the cataract area (no cataracts now because of the dams in Aswan) – the desert comes right down to the river on the west side. The Nile is just a thin strip of cultivation and green all the way through Egypt (and Sudan) –it is amazing how it has sustained this country since time immemorial. After a stop for a paddle we then went to a local Nubian house for dinner. The house had sand for a floor and steep stairs up to a small rooftop area. The best thing was a tiled tub (like a laundry tub) that contained a metre long crocodile that the family were growing as a future dinner. The crocodile was seriously vicious but that didn't stop some of our foolish fellow travellers from teasing it with their fingertips. Fortunately their reactions were quick and no fingers were lost. The mother cooked us a beautiful dinner, we were shown through the house to look at their bedrooms and generally made welcome. Later we said our goodbyes and walked through the village down to the jetty and then back on the motor boat in the dark to the dock, just a short walk from the hotel. It was a really good day and we all had fun. Tomorrow an early start to go to Luxor and the final part of our Dragoman trip that ends in Cairo on 12th April. Warm to hot day fine as usual.