Enroute To Aswan

Trip Start Dec 09, 2005
Trip End Jan 01, 2006

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Flag of Egypt  , Aswān,
Saturday, December 17, 2005

December 16, 2005: A 3:30 a.m. wake up call started the day. This was no small feat after our road crossing and shopping experience of yesterday. We headed out to the airport for a 7 a.m. flight to Aswan, a city to the south of Cairo. It doesn't seem that this leg of our journey is over already. Our week in Cairo has been great. The chance to view the pyramids and the sphinx, among other notable sights. Lots of learning experiences that we were able to share with other Americans we ran into at the airport, who were either headed back to the states or on their way to Aswan, as we were. The 1 ˝ hour flight to Aswan seemed to take no time. But Anita and I definitely took the opportunity for a nap while en route.

As we headed deeper into the country of Egypt, we suddenly realized that we were each the first in our families to set foot on the continent of Africa. This realization was cause for a moment of reflection. Two African American individuals sharing a first-time experience in the Motherland; one we hope we have communicated effectively to our family and friends. And as much as we thought we would find many differences between us and the Egyptians, we're actually finding that we seem to have much more in common than not. We have been told by several Egyptians that we look like them - a flattering comment, for certain.

As the airplane approached our destination, I could see the Nile River snaking through the barren landscape. From the air the place looked desolate, empty and void of life. But as we got closer to Aswan I could see definite signs of life - small villages on the outskirts of town, vegetation near the river's shores and there in the distance, a clump of taller buildings that must be downtown Aswan. It was hard to contain my excitement.

After gathering our bags, we boarded a bus with others who would be cruising the Nile with us. First, we stopped for a brief tour of the High Dam to view this industrial marvel. Constructed in 1971 in partnership between the Egyptian government and the Soviet Union, the High Dam was at that time the largest man made dam in the world, and currently serves a crucial role in maintaining the safety of Upper and Lower Egypt. With Lake Nasser on one side and the Nile River on the other side, it was pretty incredible to realize that if this dam ever broke it would take only 8 hours for a flood of water to reach Cairo and engulf everything in its path. So we see why it is such a strategic location and why the Egyptian Army guards and monitors this area so heavily. We couldn't even take video footage or use wide angle or zoom camera lenses because they are so protective of the area and concerned about terrorist attacks.

While at the dam, we ran into a group of kids who were visiting the dam on a school field trip. I couldn't resist going over to capture some photos of them. And as soon as I did they swarmed around me and began playing their drums to a beat that took me back to the line dancing that we do in my hometown, New Orleans. I broke out my camera and the kids gathered all around me wanting to have their pictures taken. It was great. They also wanted to practice their English on me, and said with their Egyptian accents, "Hello, what's your name?" I kindly answered, "Michael." One of the boys' name was also Michael, and of course there was a Mohammad in the group. All of them were hams for the camera.

At the location of the dam there is a monument erected to signify the importance of the dam, and the partnership between the Egyptians and the Soviets. Built in the shape of a lotus flower (the symbol of Upper Egypt in the south), it features five tall pillars with inscribed words and pictures depicting life along the Nile River.

The bus ride to our river boat took us across the dam and through the city of Aswan, a bustling village that stretches along the Nile River. I saw lots of men walking around in their colorful galabeyas (the local outfits), a lot of hotel construction, children in the streets, and women going about their daily activities. The area is a dry, arid landscape, but beautiful because of the life-giving Nile that runs through it and the mixture of people who call it home.

As we boarded the ship we had to cross through three other ships that were nested side by side. The first ship we walked through featured an impressive lobby with marble floors and mahogany wood paneling along the walls. I was really taken by this boat and hoped it was ours. But as we continued through the other boats, I admired their décor as well, and realized that our boat had to be on the same level. We finally reach the MS Anuket, a small vessel with light oak paneling, marble floors and lots of windows inviting in the natural light. This place is just perfect for a 6-night cruise up the Nile River.

After sipping on our welcome drink of sweet hibiscus we headed for our stateroom to drop off our carry-on bags. We were surprised at how large the room is - almost as large as a hotel room - and equally as nice as our room at the Cairo Marriott. Our cabin is first class accommodations. A quick tour of the room and then we decided to walk around the ship to become familiar with it. With three levels of staterooms, a sun deck, a comfortable lounge and a formal dining room, we feel pretty good about this place, and privileged to be on board with the other 100 or so guests.

What a beautiful view of the Nile from the sun deck. It is breathtaking, and we haven't even left port yet. Lunch in the restaurant was first class also. A buffet of more food than we could eat, caused us to quickly become tired and in need of a nap. After awakening there was afternoon tea (does the food ever end?) served on the sun deck.

Next was the ship's briefing of activities with the other guests on board. Then, believe it or not, it was time to eat again. Dinner was served. I don't even want to go into describing all of the food. Just know that is has all been great. But after such a long day, fatigue had finally caught up to me, and I nearly fell asleep at the dinner table; I could hardly wait for Anita to finished eating. I guess she must have really enjoyed the meal or the company or the atmosphere, because it seemed like she was eating especially slowly tonight. Finally Anita took my hint and we quickly said good night to our table mates and retired to our stateroom, where we were pleased to find that our cabin steward had come to turn down our beds and left a lovely towel folded in the shape of a lotus flower as a welcome. I love this kind of service.

So good night for now. We'll be back at it in the morning.
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