This was one of my favorite days. It was our second day in Aswan and the last evening on the cruise. The sun was shining and it was the warmest weather featured the whole time we were there – a balmy 75.
We started at the Aswan dam, an amazing feat and the largest dam in the world at the moment. The dam created a huge lake that fits about 17 Great Pyramids within it. When they started damming the water, the Egyptians had to figure out what to do with all of the temples along the water that would be flooded and buried under water when Lake Nasser was created. Naturally, the best idea was to pick up the temples and move them to higher ground, easily said, but done in huge chunks over decades.
Next we arrived at Philae Temple, which was moved across an inlet of the lake to a higher island, but situated exactly as it stood when erected. We drove out to a small pier after staring across Lake Nasser at the dam. We made our way past the Nubian goods sellers. The Nubians made incredible art and jewelry, and are particularly famous for carving camel bone. Dad ushered us along, but our guide promised we could stop on the way back. Embarking on a little boat, we went the short distance to Philae Temple. It is a Ptolemaic Temple and much like the others, but this had a view not to be rivaled with. Muhammad took us on a quick tour and I found the carvings of visitors most interesting – one from a “New York Lady” from the 1800s. Augustus, Hadrian and Trajan all built here as well, but Trajan’s little temple was the most beautiful. It wasn’t finished, but it was a room of looming columns and showed how the ancients carved the walls step-by-step because the temple was left unfinished. My mother, sister and I laid out in the sun overlooking the blue water. It felt like the Mediterranean.
We played with some kittens and then went back to the Nubians to shop before heading to the unfinished obelisk at the quarry. I had about three necklaces and two bracelets strung on me by the time we left, a camel bone letter opener and some gifts for friends, all amounting to less than $5. They are all beautiful pieces and will never cease to remind me of the Nubian culture, one of the oldest in Egypt, and some of the kindest people I’ve come across.
At the red granite quarry we climbed up rocks until the expanse of the quarry was in view and what would have been the largest obelisk lay halfway carved out of the earth below. Muhammad explained how this quarry gave the stone of many of the objects and statues we had already seen, and then told us how the ancients carved out the stone slowly over time at an angle. When finished they would flood the quarry and let gravity take the giant slice onto a boat in the river.
We had the best lunch of the trip that day at a local Aswan place. Aswan is celebrated for its cuisine and local Egyptians seek it out. We had skewered chicken, lamb with sauce and I had a strange juice made from fruit that has only a Nubian name. After lunch we stopped at a cotton store as Aswan is famous for its Egyptian cotton. I bought two scarves because the prices had decreased so much, they were only about $12 each.
Next we walked through the local part of town to the felucca boats. Muhammad’s friend would find us and take us on a cruise to the botanical garden on Kitchener Island along the Nile. On the way, two young boys sitting on a surf board of sorts came alongside us to sing songs for tips – we happily obliged because they were pretty good and clearly freezing.
We renamed the island “Cat Island” because there were far more cats than people, and thus it is one of my favorite places in the world now. A local man showed us around the trees and flowers. Like the pyramids, the man did not really work there, but went there to give tours in hopes of gaining funds.
Sailing back was perfect. My sister and I bought jewelry from our ‘captain’ (one of two men that ran the boat), and we went along slowly as the sun sank away and shone on the water. It was relaxing, calm and lovely. The whole day was like that, we saw a lot but were not rushed or exhausted.
We parted with Muhammad on the boat, parted as friends I might add. He told us his time with our family was like being with his family – a very kind comment. After we went to the roof for tea as the sun finished its descent. I had a second massage and picked up our ridiculous photos from the galabeeya night before. We had to pack that night to be up at 4:15 for what would be the longest day of the trip.