10 December 2009

How to ... Do Nothing in Aswan

We’ve been here for nigh on two weeks now, and while Aswan has many attractions (Temple of Isis! Nubian Museum! Tombs of the Nobles!), two weeks is a long time to be waiting for your car to arrive (and your spare clothing, and, yes, stationery - I can’t last long without my stationery bag). But we are still here, so I thought I’d give you an insight into our day and how we stave off boredom:

9.30am - Roll out of bed and climb up to the roof terrace for breakfast - it’s the same every day but at least you don’t need to brave the streets in search of nourishment. We have pancakes and fruit, lemonade, tea, toast with butter and jam and triangles of cream cheese. It took us a few days of trying to change some parts of the order (cold milk instead of hot, scrambled eggs with the toast) to realise that it’s not worth the trouble explaining this to the Manuel-like waiter every morning. Now we just eat what we’re given. Thanks to Alex we have a supply of magazines to read over breakfast, and there is wifi internet, so Stuart can get his fix of email.

11am - If the weather is hot (not that it’s ever really cold, but on occasion we’ve had cloud and the temperature drops to a chilly 20C) someone might sunbathe on one of the two loungers, and there is even the possibility of jumping in the plunge pool on the roof. It’s freezing, so perfect for an overheated holiday maker. The roof terrace sits above the busy Salah-en-Din Road, so there is an orchestra of toots and shouts to listen to. It’s easy to while away most of the morning here.


1pm - We are rationing ourselves to one item of touristing a day, so by this time we may get on the ferry to the west bank of the Nile for a visit to the Tombs of the Nobles, or take a fellucca boat to visit the botanical gardens at Kitchener Island. It’s not hot through the day, so practically any amount of wandering round ruins is still a pleasant activity. Unfortunately going to a tourist attraction always involves a huge amount of bargaining with the local 'business men’, fellucca captains or ferry ticket sellers, guides and assorted vendors of food and tack. It’s still hard work, even after our varied experiences throughout Africa, and here bargaining is much more a normal part of the day, unlike further south, where bargaining is mostly part of the tourism infrastructure (i.e. locals pay a fixed price and mzungus/faranjis are charged as much as possible). So we tend to start with a certain amount of hesitation, because we know that the first price we are quoted will be massively inflated compared to the prices charged to locals. Still, with a bit of good humour we normally manage to keep relations civil, and we spend a few hours acting as if we were the average tourist.


4pm - Hunger sets in. We seem to manage with two meals a day here, which might be due to the climate or just that we don’t actually do anything all day. Whatever, we retire to our local haunt, the Aswan Moon, discovered after a thorough investigation of the local eateries (we tried two other ones before settling on this one). The restaurant is set partly on the bank and partly on a pontoon set on the river. A fabric-covered awning keeps out the sun, so it’s a good place to spend the rest of the afternoon till sunset, watching the felluccas pass by, herons coming in to land and generally admire the light on the sand dunes on the other bank where they are not obscured by the hideous construct of the Mövenpick Hotel on Elephantine Island. Our late lunch consists of lentil soup with a squeeze of lemon, grilled chicken with rice, hummus, babaganoush and flatbread, strawberry juice and Om Ali for desert followed by a Turkish coffee. We have learnt to spin this out until it’s dark, chatting with the waiter or Shahad, the fellucca captain, and sometimes we get a visit from Mahmoud, who is arranging for the car to get here from Wadi Halfa (Inshallah) and who regularly gives us updates that turn out to be incorrect.  


7pm - Back to the hotel to watch movies (thanks to the blessings of iTunes, Pirate Bay and the hotel’s fast internet connection). There is more tea drunk while sprawled on the bed in the room, eating the chocolate Alex brought from England - thanks, Alex! Early nights are a given, since there are so many reasons to get up in the morning - not.

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