A Travellerspoint blog

Aswan

Abu Simel

Aswan - the southern most part of my trip. Lonely Planet, encouraging as always - "Outside of the summer months when daily temperatures soar to 50 degrees C, Aswan is an ideal place to..." Not kidding about that whole temperature thing. A local I spoke with told me that the government doesn't actually say what the real temperature is because people wouldn't leave their houses!! I a little bit believe him. The temperatures here posed a challenge for this insane traveler because I was pretty much forced to spend 5 hours mid afternoon tethered to my air conditioned room.

So, why Aswan? It has a few sights to see, but most people use this city as a base to either take a felucca ride (sailboat) on the Nile or visit Abu Simbel. I figured it was entirely too warm to be sleeping on a sailboat but I did want to see Abu Simbel. It is home to two temples - the Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor. The temple of Ramses is breathtaking and truly indescribable. It is carved into the mountain with 4 huge pharaoh statues in the front. It was supposed to be really impressive and even though it involved an insane day trip, I'm all about those (see one day trip to Torres del Paine from El Calafate) so I was ready to go.

Several things factor into the insanity of this trip. The first is that all tours and travelers must go in a convoy. By this I mean everyone gets picked up at their hotel and then a gazillion tour buses and minibuses line up at the edge of town to head from Aswan to Abu Simel together. They claim this is due to safety reasons, but I really can't imagine that traveling at the exact same time every single day with gazillions of tourists doesn't actually say "Attack me please." Also, you go through all these "checkpoints" where absolutely no checking is done. Guards are standing by in highly amusing easter pastel colored booths and not doing much guarding. If nothing else this trip has taught me to never complain about a job again, because I'm fairly certain there is nothing worse than standing guard outside in summer. I think the only person who took the checkpoints seriously was our driver who kept slipping on his seatbelt as we approached each checkpoint and promptly taking it off as soon as we passed through. I don't think the driver safety message has gotten through to this part of the world...

The other noteworthy fact about said convoy is that it happens at 4 am. And hotel pick ups begin at 3. Yes, am.
Initial response is a touch of WTF?? but once you get there and realize how hot it is, all you can say is thank you lord. The convoy arrives at 7 am and you are on your way back to Aswan by 8:45. Yes, that would be six hours of traveling with no breaks down a large stretch of desert road in order to see a temple for under 2 hours. Worth it? Here are some pics - you decide.

Aswan street scene

Aswan street scene

view of Aswan

view of Aswan

rooftop deck - hotel in Aswan

rooftop deck - hotel in Aswan

Abu Simel

Abu Simel

Abu Simel

Abu Simel

abu simbel

abu simbel

abu simbel

abu simbel

sunrise on the way to abu simbel

sunrise on the way to abu simbel

Posted by NYCgirl 08:23 Comments (0)

Amman to Aswan

How bad will Egypt Air be?

"Humorously (or perhaps terrifyingly) dubbed 'Egypt Scare' or 'Insh'allah Air' by jaded travelers the world over, Egypt Air's service isn't particularly good, and its fleet is in serious need of an upgrade, unless of course, you're a fan of rapidly aging Russian planes."

--Excerpt, Lonely Planet

Time to head to Egypt. As I had written earlier, I had seriously considered doing this trip overland but after trying to figure out all the ferry and bus schedules I figured it would be helluva lot easier to just fly. Granted, Egypt Air was the only one who made the flight I needed, and their reviews from Lonely Planet were less than stellar, but it just made much more sense to fly. After I made this decision I heard from someone in my camp at Wadi Rum who had taken one of the ferries I had been considering that, "yes it is the "fast ferry" - as soon as it arrives. Which was 6 hours late and no one seemed to mind." Made the right decision there...

I was headed to southern Egypt - to Aswan and the only way to get there was to fly through Cairo. I had a strong suspicion that my luggage would never manage to find its way so I packed lots of clothes in my carry on. I did not want a repeat of the Great Sarajevo Luggage Debacle of 2009.

As we drove to the airport in Amman I was a little intimidated by the armored tank with armed soldiers at the ready. Men carrying guns were everywhere. Made JFK and Newark seem a lot friendlier pretty quickly. The airport is total chaos. You walk in and put all your belongings in a conveyor belt - the first of like 8 times before you board your plane. Women have a separate entrance for getting screened where you are felt up by another woman behind a screen. Always fun. The woman at the Egypt Air counter looked genuinely confused about my destination and did not inspire confidence that my luggage (or I) would arrive in Aswan.

Time for passport control and then upstairs to a waiting area before you can go to your gate. I was amused to see KFC and Pizza Hut. In some ways this airport was totally foreign an in some ways it so wasn't. There were lots of really religious looking people in the airport - it felt like everyone had robes and head scarves. One woman had a small child who was playing and I smiled at her and she gave me a dirty look. I think it may have been because I was dressed so immodestly (by which I mean a tshirt and capris). I have to say I have never felt like such an immodest dresser as I have on this trip. I've pretty much resorted to wearing about 1/8 th of the clothes I brought here since everything else is either too revealing (shorts) or too hot (pretty much anything!) I think I'm doing such a good job until I get stared at or some guy says something in Arabic and I think wow, I could really use one of those tour groups right about now. Marisa Tomei's voice from My Cousin Vinny is always in my head saying "Oh Yeah, You Blend."

I reiterate again - except for Amman, I often feel like I'm the only person traveling alone in these parts!! Fellow tourists are always flummoxed when I tell them I'm traveling alone and walking through the markets in Aswan I will see not one other Westerner. It's definitely different than the usual youth hostel feel of tons of people traveling alone. Maybe they were all smarter and came before the summer!

Back to my flights. I had been quite apprehensive but the flight to Cairo took off as planned. We left exactly on time and it never felt like we were going to crash even once. I was totally down with Egypt Air. Landing in Cairo (and Aswan) is totally interesting. You look out the window and it literally looks like you're about to do an emergency landing in the middle of the desert. Just sand everywhere. Then all of the sudden, a runway magically appears.

I get off the plain and even more chaos ensues. No one tells you where to go or what to do. I was sent to all these lines until someone finally explained you have to go to a bank and buy your visa. I did that. Then I went to the counter where it said domestic transfers and everyone else seemed to be talking to the guy behind the counter. He sends me to immigration. Except this is just for people transferring flights. and it's totally closed and apparently no one but me is using it. Some guy shows up and tells me to remove the rope and come on through. I answered his questions, got my passport stamped and seriously had no idea where to go. There were about 10 gates, it was like 1 in the afternoon and except for a few cleaners there was not a SOUL in the airport. No information desk, no shops, no signs. Just gate 21. I sat there for like an hour trying not to be concerned. Finally another family shows up. It really was so odd and I just kept feeling, does anyone else fly to Aswan?

A few more security checks, herded to the next waiting area and finally board the plane. Lest I become too confident with Egypt Air, an announcement comes on that we are returning to the gate for some mechanical difficulties. Soooo what I wanted to hear. We finally leave and the plane is making some strange sounds. We did arrive in Aswan late in the afternoon and a flight attendant announces that it's 42 Celsius outside. I was like wow - I'm not sure what that is, but it's hot. and it's almost nighttime!! LP mentioned that temperatures in Aswan could reach 50 in the summer time but I was like um no way - that isn't humanly possible. So, actually, it is.

This airport is seriously a hut in the middle of the desert and of course after like 3 minutes the luggage is done coming off and mine is so not there. I was familiar with that sinking feeling where the conveyor belt stops and you just know. I wouldn't say I was surprised, but I was a little disheartened. Mostly cuz there was NO ONE there to talk to. No office. No person. No nothing. Some guys finally helped me track someone down and while we were filling out a report he suggested we look in the international section. (and by section i mean the other conveyor belt in the room which is on the other side of a glass wall) I told him that Egypt Air assured me my luggage would arrive on my flight from Aswan but he said let's look. and we did. and it was there. I still don't know if it came on a different flight or if somehow it was the only piece from my plane put on a different belt, but i was very happy. I think the airline worker was too cuz I wasn't exactly the happiest person. I couldn't believe there wasn't even a place to buy water in the airport while I waiting! Time to negotiate yet another taxi cab and make my way into the city. I really don't like the game where they tell you 3 times the price just to see if you'll bite and then act like they're doing you the biggest favor when you get tired of arguing and agree to a price you still know is too much but are willing to settle for. God how I can't wait to see a taxi meter again....

Egypt_004.jpg

Posted by NYCgirl 08:18 Comments (0)

Wadi Rum To Amman

Wrapping up Jordan

Last day in Jordan. Woke up in a Bedouin camp and I'm going to sleep in the loud, busy and crazed capital. Today was quite the journey. First there was the trip from Wadi Rum back to Petra. On the only public bus that leaves there. Once a day. Usually. (Getting a sense of my frustration with public transport in Jordan yet?) In Petra there was the delightful minibus back to Amman. This time I was one of the last ones on instead of the first, so I didn't have to wait that long for it to leave. (The drivers are super sticklers about not leaving until each and every seat is filled). This time I was the only Westerner and female. I never feel unsafe here, but I feel like people actually just stare at you like you're an oddity and don't feel uncomfortable about it. It was kind of like the time I was hanging out with a six foot guy with red hair in Beijing and everyone stopped him to take his photo. I guess I should be thankful no one tried to pat my head or touch my beard.

On the other hand, everyone on the bus was quite nice and moved so that I could have one of the single seats. I'm constantly impressed with the respect that women are treated with on the whole. Random ancillary note - I had an insightful conversation with myself on this bus ride. I was thinking about how it often feels like everyone else here is on some sort of organized tour and I often find myself in places with no other foreigners. I was feeling tired, worn out from never knowing my plans because everything is so up in the air here and I started wondering do I really love traveling or do I just like seeing foreign places? I think a lot of people can travel to a country and see its famous sights without ever speaking to a local, taking public transportation or ordering something off a menu that could very possible end up being brains.

I'd like to think I enjoy the local culture and learning more about the people, but sometimes I just get frustrated when things are done so differently than how I'm used to. I've had amazing moments while traveling alone of talking to locals and meeting really cool people from other countries, but sometimes I look longingly at the bus tours being herded around and think, wow it must be nice to have everything planned and know where you're sleeping tonight. O guess I've been outed as a fake world traveler.

Ancillary note over. Back to our mini bus. Apparently another wonderful local custom is to not open any windows because it's too loud. Apparently suffocating to death is preferable to a bit of wind noise. No there was no AC. I seriously thought I was going to pass out. I can't remember being that hot since lying in a train car going through the Gobi desert trying not to move an inch and generate any body heat. We arrived in Amman and of course it was time to negotiate with another cab driver. That is by far my most unfavoritest part of travel here. One taxi driver actually said to me - a few dinar is no big deal for you, to me it is. I think it's interesting that they perceive all Americans to be dripping with money.

I was wholly unconvinced this driver actually understood where we were going and there was insane traffic in the downtown area. It was probably about the scariest 45 minutes of my life. I lost count of near misses with other cars and buses. Then we spent the entire time discussing why I "no married." Not the first time I've been harassed about that by the way. Islamic men are worse than Jewish mothers!!! It seems every taxi driver is offering to take you on a tour or drive you somewhere else. You're always hearing "I have for you special price" or "I have for you tour." This guy was all "I have for you marriage" "I come back to the US to marry you. You are pretty" While certainly flattering I was like can you please focus on the road and not our impending nuptials??? Then he asked me if I was Muslim or Christian (well he didn't say Christian - he just started crossing himself). I figured that wasn't the time to introduce a third possibility to him, so I just said "I am nothing." This then led to a (mostly) Arabic lecture on the merits of Allah. and Him being one. He had me repeating something in Arabic (I hope I didn't convert by accident) and I was just too tired to argue.

Everyone talks about how insane Cairo is with the traffic and people and inability to cross the street. How there are no traffic lights - you just start walking and hold your hand out and cars just stop. Well that was going on big time in Amman this afternoon and I'm thinking I'm too weak to handle Cairo!! Everything just felt so loud, hot and intense. Total chaos. Heading to Egypt tomorrow morning. I hope Allah keeps an eye out on Jews....

Posted by NYCgirl 10:39 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Desert dehydration or squat toilets?

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is a gorgeous desert in southern Jordan - about an hour and half away from Petra. I believe parts of Lawrence of Arabia were filmed there and it is a stunning landscape. I originally intended to do a jeep tour in the desert and make my way back to Petra, but given the abysmal public transportation in this country and everyone's assurances that sleeping in the desert was the highlight of their trip, I decided to book the jeep tour along with the sleep in a Bedouin camp option. So as it turns out, deserts are hot. Even in the afternoon. Which in theory meant I should be drinking a lot. But I had to carefully balance this need with my future need to go to the bathroom.

As some of you may know, I have an aversion to squat toilets. While apparently incredibly healthy and better for the body, for some reason they always end poorly for me. I hadn't seen any since China/Mongolia and was spared until reaching Wadi Rum. I was in the DESERT, trying not to drink so that I wouldn't have to pee. Doing it during the day was bad enough, but my biggest fear was having to go in the middle of the night. I apparently am the only person in the world who figured it was a wise idea to sleep in the desert and not have a flashlight. I should point out here - Bedouin camps are not lit up so much at night. Of course at 4 am I wake up and really really have to go. I look outside and realize that walking the several hundred feet to the outhouse is not going to work well. I strongly considered just going outside the tent (kind of what I did on Olkohn Island in Siberia, except that was in front of someone's home - really don't ask) but figured that was kind of disrespectful. Half asleep and desperate I remembered my Ipod. I literally used the backlit screen to guide me. Thankfully I was under the impression that there were no animals in this desert except for ants and beetles. The next morning I saw what were clearly tracks from an animal of some nature. Armed with this information, I think I would have chosen a bladder explosion over leaving my tent in the middle of the night.

But enough about my bodily functions. Wadi Rum was beautiful. During the day there were sand dunes, ruins and mountains to see. At night there was a gorgeous sunset followed by a sky full of stars that I can not even begin to explain. I wish my camera could have captured the beauty, but I guess this is one that will have to just remain in my head. It was pitch black and there were just thousands of stars. It was spellbinding. The Bedouin community that organizes and runs these tours are pretty interesting. On the one hand they're totally old school with their dress, customs, language and jeeps (more on that in a sec). On the other hand they're all walking around talking on their cell phones and clearly catering to a tourist community that is quite modern. The whole cell phone thing is so weird. It was sketchy enough in Petra where you could barely enjoy the fact that you were at an ancient site with all the cell phones - but I'm kind of curious about where the cell towers in this desert were....

I was in the camp with about 20 other people and we just lounged, ate, drank tea and watched the sunset and the stars. The tent was really comfortable and I think I may have had the best night's sleep since arriving here! It gets a little cold at night and it was such a treat to be unhot for a few hours. The sand got really cold overnight which I found kind of interesting when I tried to leave my tent in the middle of the night. It was such a relaxing night and the kind of moment you really need when you're a frenetic traveler (who me???) that never stops moving.

The next morning on our way back to the main "village" to get the mythical public bus, our jeep totally broke down. Now this wouldn't surprise you if you saw how these jeeps were literally held together with duct tape. Literally. There were so many wires sticking out of the ignition - I half expected Jack Bauer to show up and tell us which one to cut to diffuse the bomb. The day before it had totally conked out several times but this time it was just done. The two guys I was with were all ready to strap on their backpacks and walk. Through the desert. I was all NOT SO MUCH! The two of them got out and worked on it with him and thankfully we arrived in the village in time for the bus...

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Petra

Petra

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Posted by NYCgirl 10:38 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Jordan day 2

Amman to Petra

About to embark on the day I was most looking forward to for this trip. Seeing Petra. Lonely Planet mentioned a tourist bus leaving at 6:30 am but I wasn't sure if I would need reservations on it and my hotel told me that city mini buses leave from the bus station starting at 6. Lonely Planet said 7, but I figured I'd get there as early as possible to maximize my day in Petra. I left my hotel at 5:30 am and was all ready for the bus...which doesn't come until 7....and doesn't leave until totally full. At 8 am our bus departed with me as the only Westerner and one of two English speakers. Thanks goodness for the very nice man who was the other one. He explained what was going on and translated everything from me. We actually talked for several hours and our conversation was really one of the main reasons I love traveling alone. He was a doctor originally from Baghdad who had been living in Jordan for the last four years for economic and safety reasons. His wife and children were still in Iraq and he was such a positive, good natured person which made me reflect on how much we have and how much we take for granted. We talked a little politics, but mostly about every day life and his experiences. It was very interesting and I'm not sure where else I would ever meet someone to have this conversation.

After a quick rest stop (toilets in one room, several rugs in the other - I assume for praying - seemed like an odd juxtaposition) we were in Petra about 3 hours later. I could feel the excitement building and couldn't believe I was finally here. After arriving at my hotel (very nice place - Lonely Planet we are officially friends again) in Wadi Mus, (the small "city" near Petra) I dropped off my backpack and headed straight down to Petra. After passing all of the souvenir and snack shops named Indianna Jones, it was time to head on in. Again it was mid day but it didn't seem quite as hot as yesterday.

I won't go into too many details about the hike thru Petra - I will let the pictures do the talking. But I will say the experience was not what I expected. To begin with, the entire place is so over commercialized. I understand that tourism is Jordan's main industry and I understand that "rich" tourists are a great source of income, but it can get annoying after the 50th time that you are offered a camel, donkey or horse ride or begged to look at trinkets, postcards and sand bottles. I really think I spent more time saying no thank you (ok the thank you part lessened as the afternoon went on) than I did looking at Petra. Also, everyone talks about the big moment where you enter Petra. You've walked like 1 km thru this "siq" which is like a canyon and all of the sudden it opens up to a magnificent view of the Treasury building sculpted into the wall. It was definitely impressive but I guess not as awe inspiring as I expected.

That said, as the afternoon wore on and the tourists thinned, Petra began to feel more magical. The sunlight changed the colors of the mountains and there were places you could walk where you were all alone. Got lots nice photos with no one else in the shots. I also enjoyed exploring some off the beaten path areas - ones where I was the only person among the beautifully colored rocks and you could really feel the magic of Petra. By 6:30 pm as I was one of the last people out of the park, I seriously considered the donkey thing! Walking through Petra doesn't really feel like hiking unless you actually do a hike or climb tons of stairs up to the monastery but I didn't do that. It felt like just a lot of walking. But all of the sudden out of nowhere i was like wow, I don't think my muscles will ever move again. I didn't realize how exhausting it was.

On a random side note - dear fellow tourists: I know it was sunny out, and it can be difficult to see the camera screen, but really it is not that hard to take a photo which does NOT manage to cut my head off. If you are not up to this challenge, please when I say "Would you mind taking a photo?" graciously respond with "No, I truly am not capable, I must sadly decline." You won't hurt my feelings.

On the cab ride back to Wadi Mus, the cab driver and I chatted about my future plans. I told him I was planning on heading to Wadi Rum but wasn't sure of the details yet. Since every taxi driver in this country seems to be a tour operator (he had a business card and everything) he offered me "special price" to organize my trip to Wadi Rum. He offered to drive me there very cheaply the next morning since he was already going to pick up some other tourists. That didn't sketch me out and I gladly took him up on the offer. When he offered to arrange the Jeep tour through the desert as well as the night of camping with the Bedouins I was a touch more skeptical and told him I had to think about it. But here we are at 6:30 am and I'm getting ready to hit the road with him after breakfast. I figure it's only one night, how bad can it be? I know, famous last words. I don't think there's any internet in the desert, so stay tuned for Wadi Rum update when I return to civilization.

Next stop - Wadi Rum desert. Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Petra

Posted by NYCgirl 10:38 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

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