Aswan is a ten-hour ride by (overnight) train from Cairo. This safe, comfortable and easy journey costs 235EG£ for a 1st class ticket. It is very simple; you fall asleep in Cairo and wake up in Aswan, Egypt’s 3rd largest city and the largest in Upper Egypt. It is situated at the foot of the Nile Valley to the North end of Lake Nasser and is home to the Nubians who have a special reputation amongst the outsiders.
We learnt briefly about Ancient Egypt in school so I had long harboured a half-formed urge to experience what life was like in around a land rich in history, and discover places of incomparable beauty long ignored and party forgotten. Sitting on the train, leaving Cairo this seemed like the first real stop in Egypt during this trip (despite visiting Cairo and Alexandria).
Things started very well. The tourist police at Aswan station kindly called the owner of Ekadolli guesthouse, Khaled to pick me up. Instantly, Khaled treated me like an old friend and our first stop was a wonderful Nubian restaurent where the food was so superb that I didn’t mind tipping them nearly 50EG£ (which they didn’t take).
On the way to the guesthouse in Gharb Sahel I got a glimpse of Aswan. It is so beautiful, so deeply, endlessly gorgeous, that it’s hard to believe it could be in the same country as Cairo or Alexandria. Everything about it seems compact and content. Its understanding silence, its placid bottle-green Nile plant life, it’s over large Nubian houses, its ruins, everything. No city has been better favoured by tradition. For hundreds of years Aswan was a highly prosperous city in Egypt, it was a trade centre serving as a trade gateway between Egypt and southern lands, and to some – can be considered the cradle of civilization, but changing political circumstances has made it virtually empty. I’ve been told that Aswan was more beautiful still, but scientists and researchers are moving in and digging up anything they can get their hands on, causing a mess.
It’s a rare place. I walked for a day with my mouth open.
I looked around at the Nubian Museum and visited it’s garden, its lawns swimming in Nubian flowers and the best thing was that I had the whole Nubian Museum to myself, all of it! It was simply fascinating. For example; did you know that in 1882 the British occupied Egypt; their major plan was to increase cotton production. More water was required to implement such a plan, however, and, therefore, in 1902 a dam known as the Aswan Dam/reservoir across the Nile, a few kilometers south of Aswan, was built.
Bloody Greedy Brits…
Later that day, back at my Nubian village I accepted a lunch invitation at Khaleds brothers house and his wife cooked up a magnificent Nubian meal for us. It was vegan heaven. I couldn’t stop smiling or expressing my gratitude.
Back at Ekadolli life was good. I was so pleased with my room, it was clean, spacious, had air conditioning and had an en suite bathroom. The two roof terraces offered a panoramic view of the River Nile and the village surrounding it. I sat on the terrace chatting to the friendly staff all evening until it was time for me to sleep.
I awoke the next morning sad. I didn’t want to leave but I had to. My stomach wrenched with that horrible feeling you get when its time to leave a place you love. During breakfast the staff asked me not to go. It was a sad moment for all of us. We bonded, laughed together, ate together and shared stories. We only had a few hours left but it was just enough time to explore Elephantine Island .
We took a motor boat from Ekadolli which is situated in the village Gharb Sahel along the Nile to Elephantine Island. Instructed by Mohammed (staff) the boat captain took the long way round and it was the best 40 minutes boat ride I’d ever had.
Surrounded by the River Nile, in between West Bank and east bank stands Elephantine Island, home to 3000 Nubians. Our the first stop was the Botanical Garden where a large variety of plants lived. From saffron to dates to mint. At the exit of the botanical garden lay the Ruined Temple(s) of Elephantine Island . It’s FASCINATING. I felt like I stepped back in time. The hieroglyphs on the walls made it real. For once in my life, I was fascinated by history.
Mohammed explained to me that the Germans who work with Unesco have permission from the government to explore and dig up the land in attempt to discover more tombs, hieroglyphics etc… Just two months ago they discovered a new one which in all fairness was jaw dropping. But I understood why the locals were uncomfortable. These Germans come in, and dig up the Nubian land next where people live in the name of science and discovery. The locals are fed up and want them out. Recently they have even started to ‘befriend’ the locals, pretending to be sincere – but rumour has it that they want to soon start digging under people’s homes as it’s a well-known fact that many artifacts from of ancient Egypt lay beneath the beds of the Nubian people. The people won’t stand for it. Go back to Germany.
I learned about every single thing in the temple we strolled into the heart of Elephantine Island where Mohammed grew up. I was amazed at just how close the locals live to the ancient temples. The children use the temple as a playground. Wow. How incredible it must be to wake up and take your morning walk through Ancient Egypt ruins.
We walked along the paths of Elephantine Island. It was an oasis and it dawned on me that this was the most unusual island I’d ever been on.
Mohammed’s friend caught up with us and we met another one of his friends and chilled at the Nile. It was so serene. We then went over to Jamaica Dream Bar on the Nile. It was a joy to see the young boys and girls swimming and jumping in the Nile River. They were so happy. I secretly wished I could join them.
The food came and my gawd!!! It was amazing. Capitan dot-com (owner) really pulled out the stops. The food laid out like a never-ending buffet and it was all (un-requested) vegan apart from the boys grilled chicken. I ate and ate and was the last one eating while everyone else smoked shisha. Travellers tip: eat as much as you can – never leave anything behind, you never know when you next meal will be.
We took the boat back to downtown Aswan where the train station was and it was time to say goodbye.
It was hard to accept that it was real – that people were actually so kind to strange foreigners like me. Even at the end, I had huge difficulty persuading the staff at Ekadolli to accept my cash to pay for the temple tour, botanical garden, River Nile ride, Elephantine Island tour, Nubian lunch and my train ticket to Aswan – they simply could not be made to grasp that it was fair for me to pay up. I tried everything to persuade them but they wouldn’t take my money, so I promised them I would return the future.
Nubians have a special reputation amongst the outsiders; their characteristics are generally considered to be honesty, trustworthiness, good heartiness and cooperation. But this reputation covers not only the people but also their country, which was called Balad El-Aman, a land of safety and security. I am telling you all this because the whole crew and the staff of African Angler are Nubians, and without exaggerating, I have barely ever met better, polite, more helpful and grateful people in my whole life! These guys are very proud of their culture and their values and until today represent them to the fullest!
Nubian Museum, Aswan