Not quite where we planned to be!
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At last Swanning around is finally on the move again! As most of you know our plans to set off to Costa Rica with Paul and Sheila were blown off course as Jim had a medical problem. We felt very guilty about letting them down but they seem to be having a great time and have posted some fantastic pictures on their blog. It has only whetted our appetite to visit Costa Rica even more, so we hope to get there next autumn, but unfortunately without Paul & Sheila.
Thankfully Jim's operation seems to have been very successful, and although still tiring quickly,he is fine. We are so grateful to Paul and Angela whose barn we were staying in, and who made us feel at home and reassured us that we could stay as long as Jim needed
Because of the complexity of choosing a departure date for our travels before Jim was fully recovered we decided to come and find some sun in Egypt first in the hope that if all went well we could then head for Australia. Jim felt that he would be better off starting our route in Oz as we will travel in a campervan so he does not need to haul luggage around.
So here we are in Egypt. The first week comprised the Nile cruise with friends, Pauline and Colin. It was very enjoyable seeing the temples and tombs between sailing slowly along the river through neverending bucolic (always wanted an excuse to use that word!) scenes. It is exactly as you might expect, low lying banks covered in bright green vegetation, donkeys, cattle, water buffalo, villages, and everywhere people tending their crops. The climate and water from the Nile ensure 3 crops each year of a huge variety of plants including maize, cane sugar, bananas, and numerous vegetables. What is dramatic is the way the green borders of the river give way to the desert. It is not a gradual change but looks as though a line is drawn - on one side is desert, the other side luxuriant greenery.
Evenings on the boat consisted of an example of belly dancing (best forgotten as quickly as possible as the dancer reminded us of a cross between a Cabbage Patch doll and Nora Batty - her body stocking was disastrously wrinkled and we had great difficulty not giggling!), a quiz, Galabaya night when we had to dress up (amazing what you can do with Rohan pack sacks - see Jim's crown), a whirling dervish who was excellent until his high tech innovation of LED lights on his skirt lead to it falling down prematurely, games evening and lessons in vegetable carving and towel folding. The crew tried very hard to keep us entertained and it was fun despite the Disney overtones.
The cruise is a good way to see the best of the antiquities as, starting from Luxor, the boat travels south upriver as far as Aswan, then returns to Luxor before going downriver north to visit Dendera Temple about 90 kilometres from Luxor. Luxor itself contains Luxor and Karnak Temples on the east bank of the Nile and tombs are located across the river on the west bank in the Valley of the Kings, where the sun sets. In Aswan we saw Philae Temple, the Aswan High Dam as well as the low dam built by the British in the 1920s, Lake Nasser, Kitchener and Elephantine Islands and the superb Nubian Museum. We decided not to go to Abu Simbel as I have been before and Jim did not feel like enduring 3 hour drive each way across the desert
We did go around a Nubian village with a local man. Mohamed is very well educated and in addition to showing people around his village he has established a small museum of Nubian life. He had been at one time an engineer at the botanical gardens on Kitchener Island and he started by taking us around the gardens, pointing out different trees and explaining their uses for cooking, medicines, drinks or building materials. It was fascinating! I had wandered around the island on my own a few years ago but had not noticed even a fifth of what he showed us. Then we went to the village and his house while he explained the way of life of the Nubian people. Their social structure revolves around small communities within which they share the tools and waterwheels needed for agriculture. As a result they are a peaceful people and even now have little crime or unsocial behaviour in their villages. Tragically, many of their villages were lost under the water when Lake Nasser was created by the High Dam.
Now we are at the Sheraton in Luxor for a week, overlooking the river, and during the day sunbathing and swimming in the pool. Each evening we sit and watch the sunset. As dusk creeps in fires are lit and the smoke drifts gently, horizontally, but at a snails pace because there is no wind. The numerous birds (4 types of heron, ibis, palm doves, hoopoes, pied kingfishers and many others) race from one side of the river to the other and ibis particularly fly in formation down the river to roost, donkeys bray on the west bank and the call to prayers is heard from numerous mosques. It is a cliche to say it feels timeless but it is the only way to describe the sense of calm and rhythm of a way of life unchanged for centuries.
On Sunday 18th we took a balloon flight to see dawn break on the west bank
The next day we visited the Luxor Museum and had tea at the Winter Palace, which was supposedly built for Sir Thomas Cook, then used by King Farouk, the last king of Egypt and also hosted Agatha Christie when she wrote the first half of Death on the Nile. Obligingly, she wrote half here and the second part at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan so both venues can claim the literary connection. We would have taken tea at the Old Cataract but the cost was FROM approximately £30 which, even considering its history, seemed rather steep! The Winter Palace provided drinks at a slightly lower rate together will canapes in a wonderful setting. It was like stepping back in time and the entrance up split stone stairs complete with red carpet was so grand that we were not sure they would let us in. However, they did and the service, food and furniture was all superb.
Now it's only 3 days before we fly to Singapore, for 3 nights en route to Melbourne, where we plan to collect a campervan on the 30th. All being well we will blog again from there.