Besides arriving over three hours late, our overnight sleeper train to this city of about half a million was actually quite comfortable. The tracks followed the Nile River the entire route — when dawn broke, the importance of this water source in Egypt became crystal clear. On our right were irrigated farms, lush with vegetation. And, on our left was the arid desert, completely desolate of life.
Aswan, a city perched on the east bank of the Nile, is the last major stop in this country before the Sudanese border. After arriving in the filthy train station, we grabbed our backpacks and walked to our new home: the Nuba Nile Hotel. Between fourth floor rooms, out-of-service elevators and no water pressure, it is easily the dumpiest accommodation that I’ve had in 40 days. It certainly does not qualify as a 3-star hotel (per Intrepid’s promise) — and has me longing for bygone days.
Without anything we could do about it, we hopped on a small bus and headed to the High Dam, which was responsible for creating Lake Nasser, the world’s largest man-made lake. Afterwards, we took a boat to Agilika Island to see the Philae Temple, which looks straight out of Indiana Jones.
It’s an amazingly well-preserved place and walking through it with our guide, we essentially had it to ourselves.
We returned to the port and boarded a small motor boat for an introduction to the Nile, the world’s longest river. Its waters are crowded with cruise ships, small day boats, canoes and feluccas, the Egyptian sailboats that we’ll be taking on Wednesday. Hamdi, a Nubian elder, pointed out the significant monuments lining its banks and also explained how the High Dam displaced his village — before taking us on a tour of Elephantine Island, where they have now resettled.
We docked where the world’s longest river meets the world’s largest desert (the Sahara). After climbing a dune, it was time to pop open a refreshing, locally-brewed Stella beer.
A camel ride brought us to the Monastery of St Simeon, said to be one of the best-preserved of the original Christian strongholds in Egypt. Oscar provided a bumpy, yet spit-free, ride.
Exhausted, we returned to our lovely abode to rest up. We leave tomorrow morning at 3:30 a.m. on an escorted police convoy to Abu Simbel, home to the Great Temple of Ramses II.