Sunday, June 15, 2008

Egypt Trip: Cairo to Abu Simbel then to the Cruise Ship at Aswan - and a Felucca Ride (Day 3)

03:30 hrs OH... MY... GOD! Alarm went off at 03:30 - yes 03:30 AM ... in the morning!

Tried to be ready, tried to have breakfast, tried to book out of hotel by 04:30 to be picked up and taken to Cairo Airport. Made it by 04:45, but that's good isn't it?

A new Guide and Cairo Airport

New guide, a lady called Su, same driver as yesterday, new company rep who was a little slow with English (and probably other things as the driver had to tell him to get the bellboy to bring our luggage). What a quiet journey on Cairo's roads at 5am!! Made it to the airport Domestic Arrivals/Departs without incident. Inside it was a leeettle less sedate than Manchester or Heathrow. However, as per our standing as Travel Plus Customers, we just sat in the chairs that had been pointed out to us whilst company man sorted out our luggage and tickets. Great.

On the journey across Cairo our new courier Su said she would be our guide during the cruise, along with about 10 other English Speakers. She seemed surprised that we were going to Abu Simbel - and she was catching the 6am airplane to Aswan - strange.

Our Itinerary Explained

Turns out that our morning itinerary was something like this: 07:30 flight to Aswan that carries on to Abu Simbel "You sit in same seats, man will come and take next tickets"; we do our own tour of Abu Simbel "get your own English speaking guide"; do the tour, get back on the plane and we will be met at Aswan to be taken to the cruise ship.

So... we got our tickets, luggage was despatched (hopefully to wait in Aswan and not the journey to and from Abu Simbel!). We were taken as far as the embarkation lounge and left - to wait the couple of hours until our flight. Ho Hum. We have since worked out that they got us up so early so that they would only have to make one journey across town - unfortunately for us the courier's flight was 1.5 hours earlier than ours - one Black Mark to Travel Plus.

Checked the flight detail boards (only 4 gates), checked the terminal screen on the wall. Everything was going according to plan and we were quite near Gate 12. However, 15 minutes before our flight, noticed that the boards over the gates meant nothing, neither did the screen. What DID count was the fat man with the BIG voice who simply shouted "257" (our flight number) and pointed to gate 11. So simple really!

1st Hop Completed

Onboard Mary and I were sat together, Lucy and Katie further back behind the bulkhead in 2 other seats. Journey to Aswan took about 1 hour. Everyone except about 6 people got off. Chief Stewardess asked us where we were going, suggesting that we were on the wrong flight. However, the official stood behind her just took over, took our next flight tickets and we moved to window seats. Then everyone else got on. Mostly French tourists with Club Med.

Abu Simbel

45 minutes later we were arriving at Abu Simbel into 37C heat. Everyone piles off and gets on the buses that are waiting and is transported to the site - which we saw from the air as we banked to descend to the runway - it looked very impressive even from that distance!

As I said, everyone got on a fleet of buses - how were we to know ours was supposed to be for the French only?

Our Guide Choses Us

Accosted by Hawkers from bus to entrance. Paid entrance fee LE36 each and was accosted by our guide "You speak English? Come with me please". He had rounded up about 8 of us. Very thick accent but the patter was fine. Explained what the two Temples (one for Rameses II and one for favourite wife Nefertari) were about; how the main one to Rameses had been created so that twice a year the dawn rays of the sun shone exactly into the Inner Sanctum, illuminating three out of the four figures (Ptah always stays in the dark); how a big UNESCO project had salvaged and moved the lot 'uphill' to avoid the rising waters of Lake Nasser; how now the sunrise things happens a day earlier because Temples are 64m higher. The views were tremendous as was the scale of the site. No flash photography so, yet again, we will see how good the camera is.

Very, very, hot. When we had disembarked from the plane, we got our boarding cards for the journey back, to save time later. This proved to be a good thing! Our guide told us to get any bus back to the airport, so we did - guess what - Club Med again. Some other Brits did the same this time. We had been told to be at the airport by 11:50. Its 11:54 and still at Abu Simbel site waiting for French stragglers. Ho Hum. Journey back, off bus, through metal detectors, onto plane, get any available seat. Feeling hot and uncomfortable.

Aswan and a Long Wait

45 minutes, off plane. 37C in Aswan also. Rep found us and, lo and behold, all our luggage appeared on the conveyor belt as we approached it. (Only about 8 other cases anyway). However, the lovely air conditioned mini-bus we were used to with Travel Plus was nowhere to be seen. Waited about 30 minutes in the heat (luggage porter waited patiently for his tip, 'guarding' our bags), until finally, amongst a lot of gentle banter in Arabic and a lot of arm waving, our rep was forced to get us one of the local taxis - a huge Peugeot with 3 rows of seats, air conditioned - if you opened the windows. The roads are bumpy but empty. The Peugeot is old and has seemingly bald tyres. This means that every pothole or bump sent us 'mildly' off-course, and all corners were taken with a 'racing line', thus providing us close-up views of the other side of the road regularly. The journey into Aswan town with its downhill, sharp, blind corners provided us with further opportunities to discuss our Travel Insurance, but only briefly!

The Cruise Ship at Last

So by the time we reached the ship - the Movenpick H S Radimis, we were very hot, tired, hot, hungry, slightly edgy and... hot. We were allocated 2 adjoining cabins 414 and 415 on the upper deck. Girls have a twin, we have a '3-pillow double'. Air-conditioned, TV, phone, en suite, superb views. Cool, lovely.

Dumped bags and went straight down to lunch (it is 2pm after all). Hardly anyone left in restaurant, our table allocated to us for the week and lunch served - by Mohamed, a youngish waiter who had taken an instant 'shine' to Katie. Food is good - 4 courses, all waiter service, today's main course was Sea Bass. Water is bottled and cold. We are feeling better. Apart from Katie, who is slightly uncomfortable with her 'special' attention - and also miffed that the seemingly inevitable twins issue raised its head again.

Feluuca Ride

Rest in room (remember 03:30am wake-up?). 4pm down to lobby to go on a short Nile felucca ride for the 'English Speaking' group - about 40 of us. There we met Ahmed our guide for the week (Yep - Su, the Travel Plus guide is nothing to do with us for the week - she is with GATE1 and ISIS travellers - 10 of them). Ahmed is Egyptian, has an American accent, a degree in Geology, one in Egyptology and another in Philosophy. His views on Antiquity should have an unusual slant on things! A really useful thing that Ahmed arranged was for us all to pay LE10 each into a kitty. This will be for all the tips to drivers, guides etc etc during our visits over the next few days. We wont therefore have to worry about who to tip and how much. Lee, a big, smiley American, volunteered to keep the kitty. We found out later that these types of things always come to him - all the office collections and syndicates etc end up in envelopes in his desk!

'English Speaking' meant some Brits, some Americans, 4 Canadians, 4 Germans, a Colombian family and a Belgian couple.

After the short sail and talk, where Ahmed pointed out Elephantine Island, The Aga Khan's Mausoleum etc as well as expounding some of his views, a miserable German moaned that we had not gone far enough upstream where "it is beautiful". Ahmed politely asked him to mention it to the company.

...and rest

Back on board, for late afternoon tea on the sun deck overlooking the Nile - spiffing.

Evening meal at 8pm - waiter service, four courses again - clothes getting tighter with each passing meal. Local beer plus water plus fruit juices. Just sign for all drinks, no tipping, settle up bill on last day. Easy.

Girls exhausted and early to bed, Mary also. I tried to catch up with the diary but at 10:55pm noticed the time and packed up for the night.


* Start 03:30 - end 23:00,
* three plane journeys,
* 37C Abu Simbel
* Lost mini-bus
* mad taxi
* and a Felucca ride.

Not bad for one day! (For foreign readers, this is an example of Typical English Understatement).

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