Wednesday 31 January 2008 – Aswan, Upper Egypt
Arrived in Cairo at 7am. Customs and immigration was among the fastest I’d ever experienced – immigration a quick stamp and customs nowhere to be seen – not at all the ordeal nor the level of inefficiency we had been led to expect in Egypt.
When a bus that had been ordered and confirmed failed to materialise, we felt that the country better fitted the image that had been described. It finally arrived about an hour late, during which time we enjoyed the limited comfort and charm of Cairo International. Eventually we were whisked away to the nearby Sheraton Hotel to pass the time with toilets, watery coffee and expensive cakes until it was time to return to the domestic terminal for our flight to Aswan.
Cairo Domestic Terminal was more chaotic (much!). But the flight left more or less on time and we arrived at Aswan International – a huge mausoleum of an arrival hall, much of it closed off. So close to the edge of Lake Nasser and the desert, a strip of vegetation lined the roads all the way into Aswan. Clearly there is no shortage of water!
The Philae Hotel has buckets of faded charm and bathrooms to match. But proprietor Madam Hanan was in residence, supervising affairs, so we managed, although Chris complained long and loud about his bathroom, and the water from the shower that inevitably went everywhere.
A felucca took us around Elephantine Island for a gentle orientation to Aswan and the area near the First Cataract. I was incredibly weary from a day and a bit in aircraft and airports, but even in this state I almost had to pinch myself to believe that I was actually floating on the Nile! After a couple of hours in this pleasant activity, we headed to a fairly ordinary dinner (Kofta and lamb kebabs) at a restaurant on the river. Then I was unable to find the energy to stay awake to welcome the new year, and was asleep almost before hitting the excessively firm mattress.
Apparently new year’s eve was marked by fireworks on the Nile and welcomed noisily along the Corniche outside the hotel – but I managed to sleep right through. I did wake at some point during the night with a headache and feeling as though my body had been hit by a bus. The hours sitting upright on the plane (there had been no sleep) had taken their toll. The firmness of the bed was straightening my spine out again, but the stiffness clearly wasn’t giving up without a fight. I took a couple of neurofen and went back to sleep. When the hotel wake-up call (wisely organised by Patricia) woke me in the morning, I didn’t feel great, but certainly much better. This improved during the day, and throughout the trip the firm beds actually kept my spine in good nick and I suffered no more such discomfort.