May 7, 2010
Boarding the Nile Adventurer in Aswan
This morning, we boarded a flight to Aswan which was a very short trip and easily done. At the airport they met us with an air-conditioned bus and cold towels to wipe your face and neck.
We drove a 20-30 minute trip in the bus to Aswan. Zainab commented on several buildings as we passed through the towns. We were outside the city now and most of the men were wearing the typical country dress with the long linens. The women were all covered up with the full hijab. Zainab was telling us yesterday that the women's dress was a matter of fashion. It is only more recent in the last 40 years that women have started to wear the Islamic dress by the influence of Iran, she was saying. The Iranians seemed to be setting the trend for the Islamic countries and they preferred a lot more conservative dress. She said that was why you see the women covered except for the hands and the face. She said that it was strange however because you could see a mother not covered with her two daughters that are covered head to toe without even their face showing. She said it was all just the trends for today and would probably change later depending on the fashion in a few years. According to the Quran however, she said that it is only crucial for the woman's hair to be covered, it does not say anything about the coverings from head to toe - that is simply some Muslims' interpretation of the scripture.
We arrive at the boats -they have a private dock for their boats and we passed by several others that were crowded with 'regular' boats that looked like cookie cutter images of each other. Once we step inside we are again welcomed and given cold towels to refresh ourselves. We are seated in the lounge area above the main deck and given a cold hibiscus drink in a champagne glass. They collect our passports in order to check us in and the staff welcomes us. There are two different groups on our tour - the English speaking and Spanish speaking from Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. They introduce a host for each group that is here for us if we have any questions. Our host is Ahmed and he told me later that he has been working with the boat company for 9 years.
The Nile Adventurer is docked between two other boats - the Sun Boat IV and III. They are lined up parallel to each other and we walk through the lobby to the Sun Boat III which is a smaller more intimate boat - luxury still. The captain of the boat explains that the thing that sets these boats apart from the others on the Nile is their use of common space for guest entertainment and comfort. We see on the other boats that there is cabin space and then the top floor is for sunbathing. On the Akorn boats they have spacious lounge areas on all three of their floors. The decor is amazing and I noticed that the Sun Boat II has a more "egyptian" feel to it with the decor and the aromatic incense that they have burning in the common areas. There is a beautiful pool on the roof along with a treadmill and elliptical machine. In the cooler months, the capitan said that the guests really enjoy running while cruising along the Nile. On the Sun Boat IV, it is a much larger ship and just as decadent as the rest. Both this one and the Adventurer have a gym and spa area for massages. The IV also has a clinic area attached to the gym. We find out that there is a doctor that accompanies the guests on every cruise - and his services are free of charge. We take a look at the suites and presidential suites which all can have King beds and lounging areas. Each one decorated a little different to make it a special theme.
After we take our boat tours, we have a minute to freshen up and prepare for our afternoon tour. We load back in to the bus and head to the unfinished Obelisk query. It is afternoon and the sun is harsh. We are one of only a couple groups at the site because of the heat. We climb up the stairs on the rock face and see the amazing feat of the unfinished Obeslisk - about 70 ft long! Our guide explained that they cut the stone by repeatedly taking a round rock the size of a bowling ball and climbing to the top and throwing it down. How many times would it take to cut the rock 6 ft down like they did?! And then they had to move it to the Nile and float it downstream. Zainab said they are doing a study of the Nile to find the boats that sank while trying to take these Obesiks to their destination temples.
On our way out we go through the shop areas and are harassed by the vendors! They are very persistent even when we do not show an ounce of interest. Help us if we did show interest, they would never let you go without buying something. At the pyramids the other day, one of the men in our tour was mobbed by a vendor while walking from the bus to the boat museum. He put a head covering on Roberto's head and said it was a gift - "no problem" because he has a friend in Mexico and wanted to give it to Roberto because of this. Hmmm, sketchy. So the deal is that they give you gifts and then when start walking off, they either ask for a gift back or accuse you of stealing and demand payment. Good to know. We encountered this selling technique in several of the markets along the tour. By the end, we were pros at finding the best route through the mob in order to come out unscathed and with the purchases you actually wanted to make. There's a point when you have to just relax, be patient and realize that they don't mean any harm. Its simply the way bartering is conducted in Egypt and they are just trying to make a living. It was surprising to see how well the younger generations would pick up on it as well. There was one boy about six or seven, that you just wanted to buy his scarf because he was trying so hard. There were several times along the way that our group ended up purchasing trinkets not because we really wanted them but because a fifty cent or dollar purchase for us would mean a lot to a young kid selling it.
After the query, we escaped the heat in the bus and continued on to the Temple of Isis. We took a boat out to the island and then Zainab walked us around the ruins. By this time in the afternoon the heat was stifling. I tried to pay attention to every detail that she was explained but found it hard. They try to keep you hydrated but its so hard in the dry heat. You'd have to employ someone to follow the group around all the time with a cooler of water. They did a great job however of making water readily available on the bus before and after each stop. Several times there were sodas and juices as well when we had long periods before the next meal. Yes, we were well taken care of and pampered I would say.
Part way through the temple tour I noticed that Matt was not looking so well. He was pale and his stomach was giving him horrible pains. Zainab took note and tried to hurry the boat boy to steer us faster back to the bus on the other side of the lake. We made it just barely in time. Matt became seriously ill. We rushed back to the boat and they asked us if he would like to see the doctor. They had a full time doctor on the boat so he came and took Matt's vitals, examined him, and prescribed a shot for the stomach pains. Through out the night, Matt was still horribly sick and the doctor periodically came to check on him. It was nice to have the peace of mind to know there were numerous people aware of the situation and checking in to make sure Matt got well. It was a rough night of fever, chills, vomiting and restless sleep but he made it through. I made sure to wake him every hour for a sip of water and sprite and also to periodically take the pills the doctor had prescribed.
Also that night (and on a lighter note) they had the captain's welcome reception. They introduced the crew and did a very brief safety presentation. In all I believe there were about 50+ crew and only 24 guests aboard. Along with the crew, we were introduced to the Cairo office staff that accompanied us on the tour. They broke the group of 24 guests into even smaller groups and assigned hosts to them. Our US group of eight was hosted by Ahmed. He was available to us for any questions about the tours along the way. I spoke with him at the Welcome Cocktail Reception that followed. He had started as a guide when he first began in the tourism industry and later moved to management in the office. He told me that it was a great fit for his abilities and skills and that he enjoyed it even more than his time guiding. I thought he was a great host and we got to hear him tell stories about his little baby girl. You could see his face light up with that look of a proud adoring father.
Dinner was served a la carte following the cocktail hour. We had a choice of two different appetizer/salads, a soup, two main courses, and two delectable desert choices. We relaxed and got to know everyone around the table a little bit.