A Journey Through Time
Our Tour Egypt Visit to Egypt, Part III
by Jimmy Dunn
Tourism is rampant in Egypt just now. It's supposed to be a little slower just before the Christmas rush, but one would hardly believe it at five a.m. in the Cairo Airport as we get ready to move on to Aswan and our Nile Cruise aboard the Radamis I. Thankfully, while we must clear our way through security, Misr Travel handles what would have been a long line for boarding passes, getting us a block of seats on a jam- packed plane. We are scheduled to fly from Cairo, landing in Luxor and then on to Aswan, but the flight ends up being a direct one, and therefore a much shorter ride of only about forty-five minutes.
The airport at Aswan is much better, and we and our guide Soha were met by the local office of Misr Travel just as arranged, soon to be whisked away to our Nile Cruise Boat. Considering the early hour we left Cairo, it remained very early in the morning, so not all of our rooms were ready at this point. We were, after all, ahead of schedule. No problem. Though some of the rooms were ready, those of us without rooms headed up to the bar to sit and relax, and even have a drink just a tad too early in the day. Although no one was in the bar at this hour, we had our own supply of refreshments and simply helped ourselves to glasses and ice behind the bar. This was a nice little interlude, but sooner than promised, all the rooms were ready and we took a little rest before our afternoon tour.
Actually, on this third day in Egypt, we were supposed to tour Philae Temple just south of Aswan and the High Dam. However, Johnny, one of our tour members, could not stay for the entire duration of our trip to Egypt. After Luxor, when the rest of us were scheduled to move on to Sharm el-Sheikh, he was to fly back to Cairo and head home. At this point we had not visited any of the bazaars, and so rather than visiting the High Dam, we elected to do a little shopping in the Souk at Aswan.
So after a fine lunch aboard the Radamis I, our well air conditioned Misr Travel bus arrived and we headed to Philae Temple with Soha, our guide. What fun it is to need air conditioning in the middle of December! Getting to Philae was rather fun, and involved everyone's first small boat ride on this tour. One passes over the old British Dam in order to reach the dock, which is crowded with Nubian vendors and clusters of Egyptian motorboats. To their credit, the vendors along the dock are not very pushy and many of their wares are somewhat unique. In fact, even I purchased a few inexpensive trinkets for the folks back home (Christmas is very near, and my wife and I had already planned on purchasing most of our gifts in Egypt). This was one of the few excursions where almost every one in our tour was present, save for my wife who had already seen Philae Temple on a prior visit and who elected to sit it out reading on the deck of the boat). Even Tigger (Rachel), who was notorious for missing many of the sites, came along, and we soon boarded our small boat for the quick ride to the temple.
Heading out, we all noticed a good variety of bird life along the shoreline, and for some reason, I almost expected a large croc to dart out of the water and gulp one of them down at any moment, though of course in this part of the lake there are probably no crocodiles to be found. We soon landed on the island, where we spent the next hour and a half touring these ancient ruins.
I had convinced most of our tour to visit the temple because of its importance. Of course, this temple was moved from its original island shortly after the construction of the High Dam (not before, as some might believe) to a higher island called Agilika. It was the only one of the rescued monuments that we would visit on this trip, and is also notable as the last bastion of the Ancient Egyptian religion. Here, the pagan gods were worshipped well into the Christian period, though eventually it too was converted to a Christian church. Though there are certainly grander temples in Egypt, Philae has it's own magic, on it's own small island and with its Coptic crosses mixed in among images of pagan gods. And while Tour Egypt currently has a good section on Philae Temple, I had decided to do some extensive documentation for an upcoming series of articles. Hence, I set about taking well over two hundred photos while most of the group followed Soha, who I provided with a recorder, about the temple.
Excursions such as this one were nicely arranged. Here and elsewhere, Soha would first sit everyone down and provide a general overview of the facility before the walk through. Time was provided for the normal tour of the ruins, with some additional time afterwards for people to roam around on their own. A prearranged meeting point was provided where the group was supposed to meet back up at a specific time. In this case, it was the outdoor restaurant on the island. Of course, this is not to say that anyone would be left behind if they did not show up on time, a factor that would come into play a little later on this day.
As we had more or less spontaneously planned, rather than visiting the High Dam, we next moved on to the Aswan Bazaar, where most of our group, for the first time, experienced the required price negotiation process. This is a rather interesting aspect of shopping in an Egyptian Bazaar. It is probably most fun to those least experienced. Most of us experienced enough to get the best price on a product would just as soon have the prices fixed. And even though I know how to work this process, I usually prefer to take along an Egyptian friend, frequently spotting out what I want and sending my friend in to purchase it for an Egyptian's price. Nevertheless, there are a few simple pointers that can greatly aid the uninitiated.
Shopping late in the day helps. Egyptians like to make that last sale of the day, and have a tendency to go lower on the price near closing time.As a general rule, shoot for a price about half as much as the merchant's first offer. For very typical Egyptian souvenirs, the price may even go lower, but for some products such as gold or precious stones, and other specific products, there may be less negotiation range.Ride the success of others. If you are shopping with others and some of them seem better at it than yourself, you can get the same price that they negotiate. Pick shops that are not crowded with shoppers. If there are lots of buyers, the merchant may move on to others if facing a tough negotiator. Never act like you simply must have the product. After some negotiations, act like the price is still too high and walk away. The further you go, the lower the price will usually become, unless other shoppers are waiting to be helped by the same merchant. This is why it is best to find a shop with few, if any other shoppers, besides yourself.
It is best for people to know before visiting an Egyptian bazaar that the merchants can be very pushy, trying to get tourists into their shops. Walking through any of them in Egypt, one will be approached with every ploy imaginable. We have found that it is much better to prepare tourists for this, rather than them being surprised by the process. I have found that it is best simply to ignore the pushy merchants as I walk along, though sometimes I must be very firm with a few that are too persistent. I make a point to choose the shop I wish to visit, rather than allowing the merchant to choose me. In fact, near the end of our bazaar experience, I was getting tired and found a chair in front of one of the shops. Rather than harassing me to come in, the owner of the shop was very polite and cordial. Hence, I rewarded him with one of the few purchases I made that day.
All of that said, our group enjoyed our time in the Aswan bazaar, making a few good deals along the way. Many in our group purchased spices, while others bought a variety of Nubian items, a specialty in this location.
Now, while most of our group remained fairly well together, others broke off and looked about on their own. This actually caused a bit of a stir. We were, as usual, provided with a tourist policeman while in the bazaar. While I was really unaware of what was happening in the background, our dispersal generated a cry for backup and soon there were other tourist police for our splintered group.
Upon leaving the boat for Philae earlier in the day, we were all issued boarding passes, and informed that the boat would depart at about five in the afternoon. Hence, everyone knew at what time they should return to the boat. This being my first time as a tour leader, I nervously returned to the boat somewhat early to make sure everyone made it back on time. As 5:00 p.m. rolled around, and we were still missing several people, I pictured myself staying behind as the boat left dock to round up my missing tourists and transport them by alternative means to the next docking point. Not to worry. The boarding passes issued earlier were in reality a head count to make sure everyone who left the boat were back on board. The boat manager, I was informed, would not have left anyone behind, irregardless of the boat's scheduled departure. Anyway, our last two tour members finally showed up (Allen and his cousin, Tigger), just a bit late, and each accompanied by their own tourist police who were working overtime to look after our small band of travelers. I am always impressed by the efforts Egypt makes in protecting their tourists, even though I have actually never felt threatened in this friendly land.
While all of the meals aboard the Radamis I are inclusive in the cruise price, not all were buffets (which were always very good). That night, as our boat smoothly moved north, we were offered a very good menu including our choice of various fish and beef. Later, being the first evening of the cruise and as is usual on most Nile Cruise boats, we were given an orientation with introductions to the ship's staff. I am indeed most impressed with these people. The entire crew of the ship made a notable effort to make passengers feel welcome. By the end of the voyage, it seems that most of the crew knew something about every guest on the boat, and greeted them personally. After the orientation, most of us then retired for the evening after a long day which began in Cairo very early that morning.
The next morning I was a very poor tour leader. Most of our tour woke up in a new dock at Edfu, but I had been to Edfu many times, and I slept through the first excursion of the day. Afterwards, we moved further north to Kom Ombo, one of my favorite small temples in Egypt. I also documented this interesting, dual temple with nearly 200 photos for a future series. However, the real highlight of that visit for me, having been to Kom Ombo several other times, was the snake charmer. I knew they existed in Egypt, but had actually never stumbled across one before.
Afterwards we moved on to Esna. Esna is where the locks are located, but this time of year they are closed. When the locks are closed, most tourists must switch boats, but rather than having to pack up and then unpack, we stayed aboard the Radamis I, electing to take a fairly short bus ride into Luxor the next day to tour the famous temples on the east bank. However, I will leave our visit to Luxor for the next in this series of articles about our visit to Egypt, for there were some very special moments that that need just a little more space than I can devote at this point. However, as a final note, we will be doing a complete review of the Radamis I in the very near future.