August 9, 2009, Egypt
It’s hot. It’s hot like I’ve never felt hot before. After seeing the Pyramids of Giza we headed down to Aswan in southern Egypt via overnight train.
TheHotel Hathor, with its grand staircase and shabby rooms, is of a bygone era but with a powerful AC, a view of the Nile and a small but refreshing – and so far as I’m concerned, necessary – rooftop pool, it is a steal at $8/night each.
On our first day in Aswan we took the ferry across the river to elephantine island, still occupied by sleepy Nubian villages. Locals pay one Egyptian pound (about $0.20 in USD). The ferry driver tried to get 10 pounds each but in the end settled for a pound each way. Being way overcharged, followed by aggressive bargaining, and finally settling for being affordably overcharged quickly became the default mode of operation in Egypt.
We wandered around the Nubian villages of the island, which somehow seemed impossibly hotter than the mainland. Fewer women wore their heads covered and most people just lounged in the shade. No one seemed to be working. With only two small stores (both selling only soda, chips, and candy), little farm land, few livestock, and most people napping through the day, I’m not quite sure how the village people made their living. But even in the tiny village of only a few hundred people the income discrepancy ranged from dire poverty to modest modernized mud brick houses, brightly painted and complete with aircon.
Unfortunately it appeared that few government services reached the island, as the area behind the walled main path served as the garbage dump. The sheep seemed to be the only ones employed in waste management.
Most people greeted us with a friendly “Salaam Alay kum” (peace be upon you). Many of the girls and some of the women giggled when they saw us. For the first time in days no one tried to sell us anything. Despite it’s proximity to the tourist town of Aswan, it seemed as though the town doesn’t see many westerners. Which probably wasn’t the best economic fortune, but it was much appreciated relief for us.