Exploring Aswan and a Nubian party

Wednesday 7 January 2009 – Aswan, Upper Egypt

After breakfast I walked through some side streets, the more local areas of the souk. Pulling into Aswan on one of the huge tourist boats that tie up along the Corniche, one would have the impression that it is a modern city with supermarkets and maybe the Egyptian equivalent of a David Jones. The reality is that just a street or two back behind the souk, it could almost be a medieval city as the local go about life in pretty much the same manner they have for hundreds of years.

Gates, just off the Corniche near Philae Hotel, Aswan
Gates, just off the Corniche near Philae Hotel, Aswan
Cooking pots at a stall in the souk, Aswan
Cooking pots at a stall in the souk, Aswan
'Local' souk, Aswan
‘Local’ souk, Aswan
Doorway in Aswan
Doorway in Aswan

There’s a mosque seemingly every couple of blocks and prayer times are a cacophony. I walked up to a huge mosque on a hill a few blocks behind the market, through the local marketplace. Donkeys that appeared to be more dead than alive were tethered to delivery carts. They made the undernourished ponies of the hantours along the Corniche look pampered.

I’m told this is not a call to prayer, rather it is a recitation of the Quaran
Mosque, Aswan
Mosque, Aswan

A delivery in an uncovered hand cart to one of the butcher’s shops in the souk contained a large drum of guts, including a huge tripe – probably of a camel – and a tray of camel trotters, apparently a costly delicacy according to Mike.

Butchers shop, Aswan
Butchers shop, Aswan

Kristafa and I had lunch in the ‘Aswan Moon’ restaurant, which had been a mainstay of previous tours. It fell from favour, according to Patricia, over an incident where the group was once overcharged, and they no longer take the group there. The chicken taouk was OK and the fruit cocktail – layered puree of guava, strawberry and mango – was excellent. Unfortunately it serves no alcohol. The owner went on the Hajj a few years ago and got religion in a big way.

Today is Christmas Day for Coptic Christians. They celebrate with a service lasting for hours at Saint Basils, then promenade through the town, along the Corniche, dressed to the nines on their way to lunch. Many families today had chosen to lunch at McDonalds, as we discovered when we visited to check emails. The women and girls, especially seem to delight in their display of western-style modernity, almost flaunting their finery and lack of headscarves.

I decided that I required a Yasser Arafat headscarf, so set off through the souk to do some shopping. Found a very nice cotton scarf (LE40), a charming pinstripe galabaya (LE120) and was fleeced by a fellow claiming to be one of our boat crew, paying far too much for a couple of resin baboons before I quite realised what was going on. I must be more careful about such crooks and not be afraid of making a fuss if I’m not happy.

Watched the sun set again (not as dramatically as yesterday) from the balcony over a gin and tonic with Chris before we set off on the public ferry (women at the front, chaps at the back!) to cross to Elephantine Island for a farewell party and feast at Esna’s house.

Aswan by night, from Elephantine Island
Aswan by night, from Elephantine Island

She and the village ladies had cooked wonderfully fried cauliflower, a meat and pastry pastillia, cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, as well as meat, chicken and a sort of soft, fresh cream cheese, known locally as ‘Danish’. Delicious, although it all sat somewhat heavily on the stomach.

Fried cauliflower (delicious!), meat pastry, soft cheese, eggs, local breads
Fried cauliflower (delicious!), meat pastry, soft cheese, eggs, local breads
Stuffed cabbage rolls (delicious), chicken, meat, kofta
Stuffed cabbage rolls (delicious), chicken, meat, kofta

The felucca crew and a few of their mates regaled us with drumming, singing and dancing, all the while enjoying nips of our duty free liquor, which was carefully doled out by Mike. He says that left on their own with a bottle, they will down the lot in one go then collapse in an alcoholic stupor, being unused to booze.

Unfortunately I seem to have developed a dose of the ‘squits’ in the last day or so – not what one wants whilst without access to a toilet for the next couple of days as we sail north down the Nile in an open felucca!

Today's towel art at the Philae Hotel

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