As we left Luxor early in the morning, we were excited to head south to Aswan. Two hours into the drive we stopped at the temple of Edfu. The temple of Edfu was dedicated to the falcon god Horus, and is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. The temple was built between 237 and 57 BC. We already had seen a lot of temples in Egypt, but we still decided on going into this one. The entrance was about $8 and well worth it. We walked toward the temple and we could see some impressive and almost perfectly preserved carvings on the outer wall.
The temple hall had some huge pillars, and unlike in Karnak, the roof of the temple of Edfu is still intact. All over the walls inside and outside the temple we got to see some amazing carvings. Leading from the main hall with it’s huge 18 columns, are various smaller rooms, which are completely covered in paintings and carvings. There were two stairways leading to upper parts of the temple, which unfortunately couldn’t be accessed all the way, but were still very impressive and made us feel like we were in an Indiana Jones movie!
As we still had another two hours on the road before reaching Aswan, we had to leave this impressive temple pretty soon and head back to the truck. The rest of the ride passed relatively quickly and we were happy to reach Aswan, as we were getting hungry.
Before doing so we had one important stop, the consulate of Sudan in Aswan, where we would try to get our visas for Sudan. We were cutting in pretty close on time, but we still made it there before they closed. Hoping we wouldn’t overwhelm them, we split up in smaller groups and went in, but at the end we were all ending up standing in the hallway waiting for the application forms, which took them about 30 minutes to give them to us. After filling those out we had to give them to a worker, who wanted to speak with everyone individually. It all went okay til David was up. We already expected some trouble trying to get his visa since Americans and Sudanese aren’t friendly, so our travel group had someone pre-issue it in Khartoum. We already had the confirmation and the visa number ready for the consulate, but they wouldn’t accept it unless they received a fax directly, which hadn’t happened. All the rest of our group handed in their applications and left their passports, after paying $ 50 each, but David. As neither their fax system or internet seemed to work, they sent us off, saying we should come back after the weekend. We headed on to our hotel which was right next to the Nile, and it was the first hotel with a decent internet connection since Hurghada. We took advantage of this and finally got to work on our blog some, but not after heading to a local restaurant where we got some good Egyptian food.
The next day we spend most of the day inside, trying to escape from the incredible heat. At 4pm we met up with the rest of our group to visit a Nubian village and have dinner there. We crossed the street from our hotel and waited at a dock on the Nile for a bit to get picked up by a small boat. We all hopped in and the boat drove for about 30 minutes along the beautiful Nile. It was so nice to get away from the city center for a bit and finally see some green again. What made it look so amazing was the combination of the blue water, a line of green and then the desert in the background. The boat stopped at a sandy part of the Nile and we got off to swim. David jumped in right away while I was still a little skeptical and only got in up to my knees. For a while we were the only tourists at the beach, surrounded only by some Egyptian people and a lot of Nubians. Most of the Nubian kids playing in the water were very shy, but one kept coming up to our group and had a little swimming contest with David and another woman of our group. Of course David let her win, or it might have been that she was really faster than him, that is my theory at least!
After about half an hour we headed back on the boat and drove for five more minutes before reaching the Nubian village. The first thing we saw were a bunch of little shops and market places, where some locals tried selling us spices, masks and some hand crafted knives. Our group leader and David were very interested in those, but we quickly moved on to the Nubian house where we would be having dinner. The village itself didn’t seem very traditional anymore, as most of the houses seemed to have satellite TV and AC. The Nubian people are an ethic group that evolved in Sudan and South Egypt, they speak their own language but tend to live separated from Egyptians in their villages. There they still maintain most of their old traditions, like always having an open house for any guests or making their own special handcrafted art and furniture. Since nowadays most of them have access to education, some of their old traditions have changed. They learn Arabic as well as Nubian and get married a little later than before (around 20 as opposed to 14 before). In former times Nubians always got married to their cousins, now they can marry into other families and at least the men get a say in who they want to marry.
We got served some hibiscus tea and then got a little tour of the house, which was built in the traditional Nubian style. It had a round ceiling and was painted in light colors to keep it cool. The common areas of the house don’t have a hard floor, but sand instead. The most curious things were probably the two little alligators they kept in a concrete sort of cage. They don’t keep them as pets, but as food. I felt very sorry for them, but as it is their tradition, there is not much I could do about it, and I guess trying to free some aggressive alligators wouldn’t be the best idea in the world.
After the tour of the house we got served some traditional Nubian food, which was mostly veggies and rices and some chicken. The food was really good and it was very interesting to hear about the Nubian people. When we finished dinner, some women in our group got traditional henna tattoos by one of the local girls for about $3. We watched the girl for a bit and then headed out to look at some of the local shops again. I bought some blue powder at one of the stands, which supposedly bleaches white clothes. The shop owner tried to charge us some ridiculous amount first, like they always do, but after starting to walk away I ended up getting the powder for less than a third of what he asked first. If I would have to guess, I probably still overpaid.
The next morning we would all meet up after breakfast to go on a two day and two night trip on a felucca. Feluccas are the traditional sailing boats of the Egyptian and Nubian people, they even fought off invading armies in ancient times with them. We didn’t really know what to expect when we crossed the street and headed down the dock, as we only had seen the feluccas from afar. We split up in two groups and hopped on our boats. The boats were really big and almost the whole deck was covered with comfortable mattresses,which we would sleep on at night. The deck was shaded by some sort of linen, which was great in that heat, but made it impossible to stand upright. We left the dock and started sailing downstream on the Nile. It was very impressive to see the Nubians doing the sailing, sometimes we got really close to shore or to some rocks, but we quickly learned that they know their job.
After a while we stopped on one side of the river, where we would eat some great lunch of pita bread and various kinds of dips and meat. We were on the bigger boat where all the cooking and eating was done, so we had to squeeze together when the rest of our group came over for meals. The feluccas didn’t have any facilities, so nature served as toilets whenever the boats stopped.
The wind wasn’t great, so after lunch the boats just drifted in the middle of the Nile for a bit. It was getting really hot in the meantime, so some of us, this time including me, jumped in the cold river to cool off. The current was pretty strong, so we had to hold on to the boats and some ropes to not drift away. It was a little scary but also a really fun experience. The boats opened their sails and took off while we were still swimming. Getting back onto the boat while it was moving fast was challenging, but we ended up doing it.
Out of convenience the workers picked a spot not far from a bigger road to tie up for dinner. Not long after we stopped another worker came and brought the fish for dinner and a cake, as it was one of our group members birthday. We enjoyed a good dinner by candlelight under the stars, as in the meantime the workers had opened the cover of the boat. We enjoyed a piece or two of cake and had some beers and gin. Some of us went to lay down and read or sleep and the rest just sat and talked or played cards. We didn’t stay up too long as we expected to be woken by the sunlight and heat around 5am. The night was surprisingly comfortable and I ended up sleeping well.
We woke up really early and got some tea and breakfast before setting sail again and moving in the other direction. We stopped at a place where we could go and see Nubian tombs, but only a few people in our group decided to as it was just too hot. We had another great lunch before sailing to a small island in the river, where there was a botanical garden. We passed on that as well and just waited on the boat, a good decision as most of our group said it wasn’t anything special. We sailed on for a bit until we found the spot where we would stay for the night. Before dinner we had another swim in the Nile and then headed to bed really early, as we were really tired.
The next morning we had a super early breakfast on the boat before sailing back to Aswan. We had to get back early in order to go to the Sudanese consulate and to try our luck again with David’s visa. We spent over 5 hours waiting in the hot rooms of the consulate without any luck getting the visa approved that day. We were assured it was issued in Khartoum and that a confirmation was sent to the consulate, but due to their incompetence or unwillingness to find the copy, and them not accepting our printed one, we were sent off and advised to come back tomorrow. We had to try to cheer up after that experience, so we spent the evening with some people from our group on the hotel’s rooftop, enjoying a few beers and the swimming pool.
Without much hope we headed back to the consulate the next morning. We would try again to get David’s visa, however our chances looked pretty bad. Without the visa we’d have to fly over Sudan and meet the group a week and a half later in Gondar, Ethiopia. The rest of our group would pick up their passports and visas, as it isn’t a problem for most nationalities to get them. We were advised to wait another half an hour and kept our fingers crossed when suddenly a lady appeared with David’s passport and visa application and said he should go and pay and then she’d issue the visa! We were so relieved. After paying, an embassy employee apologized for the mess the day before and assured us there wouldn’t be any more problems. We had to wait for another 20 minutes and then finally David had the Sudanese visa in his hands!
Super happy, we headed back to the hotel and met up with some people to go to the local market, where David would get a haircut and we’d buy some things we would need for Sudan, like a headscarf for me to cover my hair in public.
The next day we would join a military convoy in order to get to Abu Simbel. The only road leading there is a military road, so we were lucky to be able to go as the alternative would be a 30 hour ferry trip which has been described as 30 hours of hell. After a night in Abu Simbel and visiting the temple there we will head on to the Sudanese border and spend a week in Sudan, which is supposed to be an amazing and beautiful country. As soon as we get internet back, which could be a while, we will write about it here!