Monday, March 19, 2007

Gently Down The Stream

Apart from the dam and Abu Simbel there are other things to see and do in Aswan such as taking a stroll through the trafficless peace of Elephantine island in the middle of the Nile, cross over to the other bank completely for desert exploration or check out some of the old temples. Of the latter, the temple of Isis at Philae is another structure that was rescued from the rising waters of lake Nasser, although the glue-job wasn't as artfully done as at Abu Simbel. It certainly merits a visit due to the fascinating reliefs and their graffiti. Now in general I'm against graffiti, it's neither clever nor funny, but this particular graffiti dates from the 6th century AD and documents the final death throes of paganism in Egypt. Although much of Egypt had become Christian in the 4th century the ancient gods were still revered in Philae for another300 years until the Greek emperors finally pulled the plug on religious tolerance. So the peaceable Christians went down to Philae and ransacked the temple, scratching out images of pagan gods (especially the faces), gouging crosses over hieroglyphs and leaving Greek and Coptic slogans on the shrines saying "Osiris is a big sissy!" and "Ra sucks big time!" (OK, so I made that up, but I'd really love to know what is actually written there)

Seeing as the Nile is the longest river in the world and that, to all intents and purposes, is Egypt, no visit would be complete without a cruise down the majestic artery. And Aswan is the perfect place to organise such a trip - innumerable cruise ships are moored on the bank along the Corniche, with on board lounges, cabins, restaurants and every conceivable amenity. But you know me, no way am I going to let comfort get in the way of saving money, and so we opted for a felucca instead. Feluccas are traditional, single-sailed lateen boats that can easily be seen plying the waters up and down the length of the Nile. It may be a particularly touristy thing to do, but then again in Egypt there is very little to do that isn't, and so we found a boat to take us down to KomOmbo (what a great name) for two days (to get an idea of how slow a means of transport the felucca is, Kom Ombo is only 45km downstream of Aswan). As with all situations where one is in a confined space for a length of time the enjoyment to be had often depends on the company, and we were lucky to to share our boat with five funny and friendly people (a quick cheer for Faye, Tom, Adam, Fred and Joanne) that made the time pass very quickly and enjoyably with conversations about travel, films, food and politics. Part of the reason the trip takes so long is because the prevailing wind along the river is always from the north and so we had to constantly tack (all the time watching out for the hulking cruise ships that would bulldoze past) to make any progress. Not that we did any of the sailing, we just sat back, chatted, dozed and watched the river bank slip past. But I believe the brief spell of R&R was merited and necessary as we steel ourselves for the uber-toutfest that is Luxor.

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