Our Sun Boat III cruised farther down the Nile to Aswan, where we berthed below the British dam built in 1905 at the first cataract. Nasser built the larger one in 1956 about 80 km south at the second cataract near the Sudanese border. The dams were built to control the seasonal flooding of the Nile and to generate electricity in an effort to industrialize the country. The second dam created Lake Nasser, which is huge, and drowned many Nubian villages and ancient monuments. The Nubians were displaced into public housing complexes which are often painted a turquoise blue here in Aswan. And Unesco came to the rescue of many of the temples. We felt the town was much more prosperous than Edfu - for one thing, the carriage horses were well shod and well fed, though we didn’t ride them.
We visited Philae Temple, which had been moved stone by stone to higher ground and now sits on a romantic island overlooking the Nile. Between 1960 and 1980, Unesco and 50 countries contributed funds and expertise to save Philae and nine other temples from disappearing forever under the dam-created Lake Nasser. As a reward for US efforts, the Temple of Dendur was disassembled and reconstructed inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Many other temples will remain forever underwater.
As we walked from the dock to the Philae Temple, there were the usual vendors and touts along the way. Everyone in our tour group has developed techniques for how to navigate the Souks (market places) - keep your eyes down, don’t say anything, and do NOT let anyone place ANYthing in your hands. Even so, Barry found a carved Nubian mask that he liked and the vendor was more respectful than most, so they struck a fair deal.
From Philae we returned by boat to Aswan and then by bus to the Unfinished Obelisk, which rests in its original place in an ancient quarry and thus provided archaeologists with a record about stone carving technology. Had it not cracked before it was extricated, this 42m obelisk would have stood taller than any of the others still extant, and for this reason it was attributed to Hatshepsut who loved her obelisks big. Hala described the stone mason’s technique of chiseling the granite with a harder rock (no iron tools yet) and wedging wood pieces into natural cracks. They would pour water onto the wood splints causing them to swell and thereby fissure the stone along desired lines.
Next, we visited several shops - a papyrus art store, a linen store, and a wonderful spice market on a busy side street. The spice merchant spent a lot of time with us, showing us frankincense, cardamon, lotus oil, cumin, and so much more. Barry bought a bag of the best peanuts we have ever eaten, lightly salted and still warm from fresh roasting. i bargained for a lapis scarab in the jewelry store across the street, and, even though I held to my price, I know I came in higher than I should have and he made the better deal. Still, it was good-natured fun, and worth the $10 I spent.
In the afternoon, we all piled into a felucca, the traditional lateen-rigged sailboat of the Nile River. We had to get a tow to a southern spot on the river, and then we tacked our way back to port. The river was full of feluccas and motor boats playing party music, people riding on the roof, and everyone having fun. It was a little tight passing between the small islands and maneuvering past motor boats heading towards us. The Egyptians seem to have a different right-of-way system, or maybe no system? We made it safely back to shore and crawled across a few other boats moored at our dock. No one fell in, fortunately.
Dinner was a bit more formal, since it was our last night on board. But we all retired early to our cabins to pack and be ready for a 4 am wake-up call and 5 am drive to the airport.