Saturday, January 05, 2008

Aswan Daze

It didn't take long in this town to finally have a proper adventure. It's been quite a day.

Aswan is much bigger than I pictured - it sprawls for a couple miles along the Nile, although here the desert presses tight against the town. And though it's chaotic and confusing & every other Egyptian that says hello is running a con and I rarely know what's going on, it's also all a bit more manageable. Just not having that nightmare traffic to deal with makes everything else seem almost easy.

I was killing time before I left the city, and went in for a haircut - my first since March, and only the second time I've been to a barber in a year and a half. I loved Middle Eastern barbers in other countries, and was looking forward to an old-fashioned haircut. Cairo, however, was not going to let me off the hook that easily. This guy spent more time blowing and teasing my hair than actually cutting it. I had to avoid looking in the mirror, it was that scary. He started off by giving me a bouffant. I growled and motioned that I do not wear my hair up. Next stage: Flock of Seagulls. I shook my head no. Finally act: David Bowie in all his Ziggy Stardust glory. I gave up.

I was so embarrassed walking down the street that I ducked behind a corner and dumped a bottle of water on my head.

Turns out that it's a pretty good haircut. I like it when it's not all poofed out.

And that was it for Cairo. I shelled out a hundred bucks to change my ticket so that I can fly out of Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea rather than return. I'm not alone, either. I read that Naguib Mahfouz quit holding court in his favorite coffee shop because the commute had grown so unpleasant.

I checked into my hotel in Aswan around 9pm, and decided to take a walk along the Nile. I didn't make it more than twenty steps when a dust-covered caleche driver in a gelebiya approached, took my hand, and offered a ride in his buggy. I turned it down. Grass? He offered. No. Hashish? Thanks, but no. Banana? Uh, no thanks.

He gave a rough sigh. Sir. Banana means sex.

Yeah, country boy, I understood your silly metaphor. I gave my best Cherry Blossom Princess smile (something I learned from the Japanese) and just said, oh, thank you, good night.

The Cherry Blossom routine grew less effective the further north I walked, as each succeeding caleche driver - and it was non-stop - grew more assertive and blunt. I finally turned around when one squeezed the outline of his hard-on through his robes to show me what he had.

It wasn't even that impressive of a banana. I was really expecting a higher quality of harassment.

This morning I took the local ferry across the river to visit some tombs cut in the hillside. And by ferry, I mean a small leaky wooden boat crammed with Nubians. Finally, I thought - I'm having a real Egyptian experience.

Most of the tombs were locked, but I did manage to get in a few. These were for nobles and priests, not royalty, so they were on a more human scale. I was brave enough to scurry down one hole into the darkness - and realized that I could never do this as a career. I like sunshine too much, and I scurried back up just as quick.

Out across the desert, 3 km and a few hills over, I could see the ruins of a 7th Century monastery that I'd read about. I sat at the edge of the Sahara and pondered whether it was a good idea to try and get there. I decided it wasn't, and then headed out anyways. It wasn't a bad walk, and it was great to be out in the open. I spent a few hours exploring the fortress-like monastery, then started what seemed like a much longer walk back to the Nile.

I used Qubbet Heba, the Hill of Wind, as my navigation point. Once I reached the top I met a telepathic Tyrolean who invited me to his place on Elephantine Island for tea. Sure, that sounded good. We walked south along the dune crest, and then down to where he had hidden a rowboat in the reeds.

I spent the rest of the day at his place in the mud-brick Nubian village on the island. It was a great inside look into how people live here.

Next up? Dunno. I got back too late to arrange a tour to Abu Simbel as I had planned. I might spend more time exploring the islands here, or I just might wake up at a brutal hour and see if I can hop on a tour. Abu Simbel is on the Sudanese border, and so there's no choice but to go with a military convoy - at 4am.

No comments: