Thursday 1 January 2009 – Aswan, Upper Egypt
After a breakfast of a sort of croissanty-thing, jam and a thin omelette (a breakfast we were to come to know and ‘love’), we reboarded our felucca for Sehel Island, upriver a couple of kilometres from Aswan towards the old Aswan Dam on the First Cataract. Its strategic location resulted in many inscriptions being made in the granite during ancient times, for both religious and political propaganda reasons.
Mike Jenkins neatly debunked the common myth that the famous ‘famine stele’ was proof of the biblical plagues; instead he says it was a tidy bit of propaganda by one of the Ptolemies to link his status as a foreign ruler (the Ptolemies were Macedonian, like Alexander the Great) to the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs.
We had been warned that the bead-selling ladies of the island would not take no for an answer, but I found them pretty tame in comparison to hawkers I’ve encountered elsewhere (such as Kuta Beach). They didn’t try too hard at all. In the end I did buy four strings of beads from a lady who did not speak as much as jabber, for LE20. Chris bought a very fetching beaded prayer cap.
A leisurely sail brought us back to Aswan earlier than expected, so there was time for a stroll along the Corniche will Chris and Ellen. We bought postcards and stamps, then rejoined the group for a stroll through the souk.
Mike and Patricia introduced us to several vendors they do business with regularly, including spice merchant Ashraf, who put on quite a show, including sniffings, tastings (excellent dates!) and cups of karkaday (hibiscus tea) all around.
Chris and I purchased heavy woollen Aswani scarves against the chilly evenings. Dinner was at a restaurant in the souk notable for its pink sawdust floor. As it turned out, more noteable for that than its food! I ordered kofta, which was edible – lots of cumin and parsley. Chris and others ordered kebabs which turned out to consist mainly of gristle and fat, and were not at all nice. At least in the kofta the gristle and fat was ground up very fine!
Back in the souk we had passed several halal butchers’ shops at which hunks of meat were hacked indiscriminately from carcasses hanging in the entrance. There seems little use of ‘cuts’ of meat as we understand them. However each meal was served with plates of eggplant dip, salad and good bread (good bread is middle eastern flat bread, very like that we use at home; ordinary bread is stale white bread rolls that are very tough and chewy – it’s mainly these we get for breakfast). Judy had pigeon, which she said was ‘alright’.
Our group of ten (plus leaders Mike and Patricia ) consists of several couples:
• Anita and David, thirty-somethings, from Launceston
• Claire and Geoff, fifties, from Melbourne
• Judy and Chris, fifties, from Woollongong
• Chris and myself (we sort of became an honourary ‘couple’ for the duration – it sort of worked better that way!); and two singles:
• Adam, thirty-something, a teacher also from Woollongong
• Ellen, thirty-something, from Townsville
The latter two tended to be thrown together by default, and because Ellen proved utterly incapable of being able to do anything on her own; she I suspect would have been quite happy with that arrangement, but both Chris and I had quickly realised that Adam really wouldn’t.
Abdul, a native of Luxor, our Egyptian guide for Upper Egypt was also with us. Ahmed, Mike and Patricia’s local agent and a native of Elephantine was always in the background, popping up at all sorts of odd times and places throughout our journey.
After dinner, Chris, Adam and I retired to taste our various Scotch whiskies; Adam’s Johnny Walker Blue label (unimpressive), Chris’ Bowmore (not half bad) and my Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, which was sublime and won the contest hands down.