After four days in Cairo, it was time to move on to bigger and better things. Actually no, it was time to move on to smaller cities and hopefully better weather!
We took the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan – my first overnight train experience. Although the train was scheduled to depart at 10:00 p.m., it seemed to be closer to 11:00 by the time we finally left. The train was okay, with nice large reclining seats, similar to business class on an airplane. However, it was also very dirty overall and there was only one toilet per carriage. With twelve hour train ride, you have to assume everyone will use the toilet at least once, which sort of makes you fear the worst when it comes to cleanliness and smell. I had pictured something similar to a port-a-potty at the end of a street festival, but luckily, it was not that bad.
The train arrived in Aswan about two hours later than expected (apparently it was running on Egyptian time!) so we got to our hotel around 1 p.m. Not to let the day go to waste, after a short rest and welcome drink, we departed for Philae Island. Philae is the home of the Temple of Isis which was built by the Greek and Roman rulers of Egypt. But, it was not originally built on the island where it currently stands – it was moved when the Aswan High Dam was constructed because it would’ve otherwise been flooded. To get there from Aswan was a short drive followed by a short boat ride.
Early that evening, Chantelle, Megan, Lauren, Khanh and I went to check out the markets in Aswan. They were only a few blocks from our hotel and seemed to sprawl forever. As we walked through, all of the merchants would yell out to us, offering us stuff for “only 5 dollar” or asking us to “come look for free.” My favorite had to be “welcome to Alaska,” referencing the unusually chilly weather at the time. We quickly took the approach not to check out any kiosk where the merchant yelled out to us first; we approached those who stayed in the background and were not intrusive. I tried my hand at haggling for the first time and managed to do ok, getting a scarf for 20 Egyptian pounds and a tunic for 35 Egyptian pounds, which came out to about $4 and $7.
Trying on the tunic was an experience in itself as the stall owner insisted I try it on and started taking off my scarf and sunglasses and bag and handed them to the girls. Then he posed with me as I wore the tunic on and asked the girls “how many camels” for me. That was definitely a running joke in Aswan – I can’t tell you how many times I heard “how many camels” called out in the market over the next two days.
Note: I visited Egypt in January 2008, prior to the revolution. This post was originally published in 2010.