Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Back to Aswan and depart for Cairo

Alfresco breakfast at sunrise in Nubia – hibiscus tea, juice, fresh bread and a nice omelet, courtesy of the chickens they keep right there.

Then it is back to the convoy and a 3 ½ hour drive back north to Aswan.
In Aswan we take a motorboat trip, and tour around Elephantine Nubian village. Elephantine is an island in the center of the Nile at Aswan. It was the original ‘border town’ between Egypt and the Nubian lands to the south. In antiquity it a was important both for border defense and as a trading post.

The island has been inhabited from the Early Dynastic Period through Roman times through the present day. There are some well preserved temple ruins but we do not have time to see these. Maybe next time. Honestly at this point we are so saturated with temples and monuments, it would have been difficult to absorb any more.
We see traditional crops, fodder, narrow streets, and mud brick homes up to three stories high. In some places the home is on both sides of the street and there is a bridge at the second story level connecting the two parts of the home, as you can see above.
We had a very nice lunch with our host Mohamed who is the owner of Animalia House. His wife, a local math teacher, made and served the very ample amounts of food, to which we could not do justice. He gave us a great demonstration of all the ways Nubian people use date palms. The trunks made into sawed lumber, to frame their houses. The spines of the leaves make rattan that is fashioned into furniture, stiff baskets, fish traps, bird cages. The leaves are used to weave rope, mats, and flexible baskets - and of course there are dates to eat.

Rattan furniture and bird cages, made from date palm leaf spines

He showed us how Nubians surround the courtyard of their homes with very fine sand and sweep it smooth with a date palm broom. Then you can see if there has been a snake or scorpion crossing the sand by its tracks. There was a pet tortoise in the courtyard – charming creature.
Traditional Nubian "kitchen"
Animalia House is a sort of museum including traditional rooms and furnishings, of plastered and painted mud brick, with clever ventilation arrangements and displays of he way of life along the river and the natural world that is now beneath the waters of Lake Nasser.
Nubians comprise ad 300,000 to 400,000 population minority in a nation of 86 million. Mohamed’s museum included mineral samples, an insect collection including scorpions and scarabs, preserved fish including an electric fish, an enormous (four foot long) Nile perch, and a very ugly catfish that is considered too unclean to ever eat. Tilapia of three kinds are the main food fish from the river.
His reptile specimens included horned vipers, cobras, and a huge Nile crocodile, as well as a little two foot croc that he said were sometimes kept as pets. He also had stuffed animals like foxes and jackals, and birds like falcons and herons.
As we walked back to the riverside with our guide, he identified more plants including castor bean, and the type of fig tree that is part of the Osiris legend. This is a variety of strangler fig that will completely enclose its original host and the story in the myth involves a tree that grows around the coffin of Osiris in Syria. It was turned into a column for a palace and Isis had to plead for it so she could reclaim her husband’s body.
Elephantine Island has a place in history and was a site of shrines in antiquity. Later there was a colony of Jews after the Diaspora from Israel. The name comes from large smooth rocks just off shore, thought to look like elephants.
We go back to Aswan and with Dalia we walked to the spice market. The merchant promises Dalia he will give us “local” prices. Jim selects about $5 worth of spices he does not really need and the merchant wants to charge 150 Egyptian pounds, about $25. Jim just walks out and the shopkeeper wants to bargain. Cultural incompatibility. Dalia seems a little embarrassed.
She must leave us to catch her train back to Cairo - she always has to take the least expensive option. She turns us over to a local guide, who brings us to a nice restaurant with a great vantage point above the city.
We have more hibiscus tea, some cakes – there is a little gray tiger kitty and accepts some salty bread sticks as a gift. We wished we had something better to give him. We watch sunset and take pictures of the Nile at the first cataract and Elephantine Island. It is very beautiful.

We were off to the night train where we have an unremarkble travel dinner served in heated foil packets in our compartment. We leave at 7 pm and eventually settle into our separate bunks – upper and lower. We sleep reasonably well on the scheduled 11-hour train and our thoughts are with Dalia sitting up in her 13-hour train making local stops along the way. Tomorrow it's Cairo.
more pictures from today are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/eloise.hedbor/20110125?authkey=Gv1sRgCILA_4nwg9vG2wE#

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