Sunday, February 4, 2007

Downtime in Aswan.

It was sometime after noon when we arrived back to Aswan after spending the morning touring Abu Simbel and Philae.

The mini-van dropped us off in front of the hotel. Lunch was on the agenda for everyone and we agreed to meet back in the lobby in 15 minutes. On the notice board, there was a note from Daniel to meet back in the lobby at 6:30 for a briefing of the next day's itinerary. With that in mind, we walked out of the hotel and headed towards the corniche which was lined with plenty of restaurants to choose from.




Along the way, we passed the souk - not much to look at.



We found a restaurant, ordered lunch, ate lunch and when the bill came, realized we had been completely ripped off. A heated discussion ensued but we paid the bill anyway. We pretty much stomped out of the restaurant feeling angry, disgusted and stupid. Lesson learned.

Nothing like some shopping to calm frazzled nerves so we headed to a nearby jewellry store where Kirsten and Laura had previously made good purchases. Lei went in search of an ATM so she went off on her own.

Inside the jewellry store, I looked around but wasn't really in the mood to buy anything. I was just getting ready to leave when someone (Dora??) suggested going to the famed Old Cataract Hotel (where Agatha Christie penned "Death on the Nile") to watch the sun set over the Nile. We asked the shop owners what time the sun sets and they replied around 5:45p so we agreed to meet in the hotel lobby at 5:20p.

Read about Lei's love for sunsets.

On the way back to the hotel, I bumped into Daniel and told him of our plans to meet in the lobby at 5:20p and to go to the Old Cataract afterwards. I then headed to an Internet cafe to send out a few emails. After that, it was back to the room to rest for a few minutes.

Lei and I headed down to the lobby at 5:20p and Daniel was there along with the rest of the group. He briefed us on the next day's itinerary and then left us again to enjoy the night in Aswan.

The group, minus a few, headed out of the hotel. Although it was only about 5:30p, it looked like the sun was already about to set (it is winter, after all) and we wouldn't make it to the Old Cataract in time. We hurried down to the corniche and walked towards the Cataract. By the time we arrived, the sun was pretty much down over the horizon. Both the sign posted on the hotel entry gate and the guard that was posted as sentry told us it would cost us 85 EG to even just step on the hotel grounds. For that price and no sunset, I was going to turn around but someone managed to convince the guard to let us in for a sneak peek for free - we agreed with the guard that we would only stay for 10 minutes. We quickly scurried inside and admired the beautfully landscaped garden. Inside, the hotel evoked images of the old Orient - it looked like a scene from "Death on the Nile" which starred Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot. We weren't able to step out on the covered veranda but it looked like a very inviting place to have high tea and enjoy the sunset.

We left the hotel after a few minutes. Across the street was a mall offering a rooftop cafe. Several in the group opted to go there. Dora, Sandy, Lei and I decided to head back to our hotel. Along the way, we passed the Coptic church.



The Coptic Christians only make up about 10 percent of the Egyptian population so it's rare to find a church amongst all the mosques. If you're interested in learning more about the Copts, check out the Encyclopedia Coptica.

We stepped inside the church and it felt more like being inside a community center than a church. There were lots of people (men, women and children) milling around, chatting and laughing. As we stood in the courtyard, we saw one wedding procession march out and another march in.

We soon left the church behind and headed back towards the hotel, in search of a place to eat dinner. Along the way, we heard the sound of music and cheering - we decided to cross the street and check it out. There, we found Bride #1, from the Coptic Church, dancing with her new husband. The happy couple was surrounded by young men dancing. Young girls and women, trilling a unique sound (I have yet yet to figure out exactly what the singing stle is - Egyptian?? Nubian??), provided the musical backdrop.



We continued our walk back along the corniche and decided to have dinner at the same restaurant that Daniel had taken us to the night before. After dinner, Lei and I did some souvenir shopping and then called it a day.

...and what a memorable day it had been!!