One of the common misconceptions of group tours is that you don’t get any free time to explore on your own. This may be true for some tours, but my Gecko’s tour to Egypt offered up plenty of free time and I made good use of it. On our second day in Aswan, I convinced my roommate, Chantelle, to join me to visit the Tombs of the Nobles on the opposite side of the Nile River.
According to my Rough Guide, we could take the local ferry across for 1 Egyptian pound each. So our first task was to find the local ferry. We actually spotted the ferry fairly quickly, but touts soon bombarded us with offers of felucca and carriage rides as we made our way there. One tout even tried to tell us that we weren’t allowed to take the ferry, that it was only for Egyptians. Of course he was wrong and we boarded the ferry without a problem. It ended up being 2 Egyptian pounds each instead of 1 (still only about 40 cents). As we stepped onto the boat, we realized that all of the women were sitting on one side and men on the other, so we followed suit. We also put our sweatshirts back on(it was very sunny and warm by this point) because all of the women on the boat were so covered up, we felt like we should be respectful and not show much skin. I sort of felt invisible, though – neither the men nor women seemed to notice or care that we were there.
After a short trip across the Nile, we found ourselves on the West Bank near a little village. Following the directions in my Rough Guide, we found the small ticket office and handed over twenty pounds each. The Tombs of the Nobles are a series of tombs built into the side of cliffs overlooking the Nile. To say they are not touristy would be a huge understatement – we didn’t encounter any other tourists while we were there and my tour manager didn’t even know what I was talking about when I told him where we were planning to go!
We started climbing up a stone staircase covered in sand that seemed to lead up to the tombs A man from the ticket office followed us at first and then jumped ahead and we quickly realized we were supposed to follow him. What followed was probably one of the highlights of my entire time in Egypt. The man from the ticket office, Mohammed, spoke very little English but proceeded to take us around to the tombs that were open and explain to us, in very broken English, what the gist of each tomb was. Despite the language barrier, he was a total jokester and had us rolling with laughter.
Soon, a friend of his joined us and together they showed us around for more than hour, jokingly trying to explain the stories of each tomb and insisting on taking pictures with us. After the last tomb, we gave them each 50 Egyptian pounds as a tip, not really sure what was typical or expected. All in all, the whole excursion only cost us about $15 so it was well worth it. Not only were the tombs amazing to see – some of the colors remaining were just unbelievable – but the views from the cliffs were great and we enjoyed a unique experience hanging out with some locals.
Note: I visited Egypt in January 2008, prior to the revolution. This post was originally published in 2010.