Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


Our Adventure in Egypt, Part Nine: Abu Simbel, Lake Nasser, and - finally - the end of the voyage

We left Aswan on Wednesday, 15 November, and flew south into the desert to Abu Simbel, which was one of the highlights of the trip. I had been looking forward to it since we got to Egypt, and we were not disappointed. It was spectacular.

But first, we had to get there! We drove out to the airport at Aswan and waited for our plane. And waited for our plane. And, again, waited for our plane. This was when EgyptAir's absolute disregard for their own schedules came sharply into focus. Even though we had some issues with their timeliness before, our Aswan-to-Abu Simbel flight, which took less than 45 minutes of actual flying time, ended up leaving over an hour late. For no discernible reason, either. So we hung out in the airport, trying to avoid the dozens of merchants selling all sorts of stuff, and avoiding the temptation of ... Sbarro! We had seen fast food restaurants in Cairo - Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to be big in the city - but out here in the wilderness of southern Egypt, the sight of a Sbarro was just weird. We eventually had some pizza at Sbarro when we came back to the airport in a few days to fly back to Cairo, but on this occasion, we just looked on in appreciation that American Cultural Imperialism was doing its fine work!

We finally boarded our flight and took off. It was a short flight over the desert, and then we landed in the southern outpost of Egypt, Abu Simbel. It's a tiny town, but, interestingly enough, looks far more pleasant than the bigger towns farther north. It's probably because the lack of people means there's less pollution and trash. We took a bus from the airport to our embarkation point, which was the only bus we had to take the entire trip. Which was nice. Buses are fine, I guess, but we were packed in and for the ten-minute trip, we were more uncomfortable than at any other time in Egypt, with the exception of our flights. We reached the temple of Abu Simbel, where our new boat was docked, and went down a long flight of stairs, into a small boat with an outboard motor, and away to our new boat, the Kasr Ibrim. As we went down the stairs we kept thinking, "Crap, we're going to have to go back up these stairs, aren't we?" Well, yes. More than once.

Our boat was very nice. Pictures later! But first, we met Ahmed, our tour guide, and rejoined Jim and Alicia, who had taken an earlier flight. We ate lunch and then headed back to shore and up, up, up the steps to visit Abu Simbel.

The two temples are magnificent. I was very keen to see them, as they are ridiculously famous because they were moved when the dam was built and Lake Nasser was created. Of course, several monuments were moved, but Abu Simbel was the most spectacular, so it gets all the press. The setting, according to one of our pretentious tour books, is far less wonderful than it was before the lake came into being, and the writer even says it has lost its soul. I suppose he would have liked it to remain where it was and be lost to the water, but at least it would still have a soul! Despite the rather pedestrian surroundings, the actual temples are wonderful. We couldn't take pictures inside, of course, so I just took a lot of the exterior, most of which I won't show you:

This is the temple of Rameses II. It is, of course, twice as big as his wife's. We don't want those women to get uppity, after all!

Krys gives us some perspective.

The face fell off of one of the statues, and that's his ear. I wish I had a Q-Tip!

This is Nefertari's temple, right next to her husband's.

This is a picture I took the next morning from the boat, but it shows both temples better than the one I took the previous night.

That night we went to the sound and light show, which was better than the one we saw at the Pyramids, but suffered from some technical flaws. I took a few pictures of the temple lit up, and this one came out the best:

The next morning we set sail for Aswan, heading north on the artificial lake. It was a very nice cruise, and we got a lot of relaxing in! The boat was marvelous, built in a 1920s/1930s style that Krys loves (even though it's only 8 years old) and with plenty of places to sit around and relax. We spent a lot of time on the top deck, where they had pillows scattered around to sit on, and in the lounge, which kept reminding me of the bar in The Shining, and I kept expecting a ghostly bartender to show up buying souls. It was a beautiful lounge, though, and we hung out there many times, reading or playing hearts, which I taught to my three traveling companions.

Our time on board gave us a lot of time to survey the people we were with. Ahmed, our guide, was yet another excellent person leading us around Egypt. Of our three guides, he was the first Muslim, which I found interesting. Copts make up a tiny percentage of the Egyptian population, yet both our previous tour guides and many of the ancillary people we had met for the company (our driver, Felipe, for instance) were Christian. Just a little nugget I thought was neat. Ahmed told us a lot of interesting things, not only about the sites we saw, but about the region in general. One of the weird things about Egypt is the concentration of people along the Nile and especially in Cairo and Alexandria. You may point out that it's not so weird, since the rest of the country is desert, but I'd point out that I'm typing this from the middle of a desert that has no river running through it (well, no river that has any water in it) and the six million people in this area seem to be doing okay (well, except for the fact that we're going to run out of water in 20 years or so, but that's another issue). My point is that I don't know why they haven't tried building canals from the Nile into the desert and attempt to spread out a bit. With what we know about water conservation these days, they could even make it environmentally friendly! We cruised on the lake, and the shorefront property was barren, and I remarked on this to Ahmed. He told us the government is in the process of trying to get people to move down south and cultivate the land, and when we flew into Abu Simbel we saw some of the canals that have been built, but he said it's a tough row to hoe, because so many people are comfortable in the city. They have no interest in picking up and moving south, even though they live in tiny apartments packed with people and down south they could have an acre of land that, if they live and tend for ten years, becomes theirs free and clear (that's the deal the government offers). Egypt has had many problems since they kicked out the king in 1952, and their experimentation with Soviet-style socialism in the 1960s didn't help - they're still trying to recover from that. So they have created this massive bureaucracy that doesn't get much done, and meanwhile they crowd into a filthy city and leave thousands of square miles of desert untouched. Yes, it's nice and pristine, but there are ways to live in a place and not destroy it.

So Ahmed was a cool guy. As we cruised, we checked out the other people on board. Of course, there were the French. At one point, Krys went up to the buffet table and asked for tea. A French guy standing next to her took it from the server and gave it to someone behind him, even though he saw Krys standing right there. He did this at least one more time and Krys and the server stood there, flabbergasted. I'm far from a confrontational person, so I probably wouldn't have said anything, but Krys likes to get into it a bit more than I do, but I still don't blame her for not saying anything, because what are you supposed to do when confronted with such unmitigated rudeness? It's like your brain can't function correctly because what you have just seen makes no sense whatsoever. This happened to me as well, also in the buffet line. I was the third person in line and a French woman came up and stood on the side, checking out what was offered that day. Suddenly she was in front of me in line, as smooth a cut as you're going to see. The weird thing was, there was one person behind me in line. It's not like she was going to have to wait long or anything. I just stared at her back, shocked into silence by the utter brazenness of her maneuver. I was so tempted to tap her on the shoulder and tell her to go to the back of the line, but before I worked up the courage, she had gotten her food and moved on, and it was my turn anyway. I've said this before, I will defend the French against the accusations of "cowardice" that Americans level at them. I will not defend them against accusations of rudeness.

Then there were the Japanese. They were a small contingent, all together, and they had at least two tour guides. They kept to themselves, and I really don't remember much about them. I know they shared a common bond with the other two big tour groups on the boat, one which I'll get to in a minute. Lastly, there were the Americans. This was a sizable group, which was a bit comforting after the previous cruise, on which I believe the four of us were the only Yanks. They were perfectly regular people, all in one group, and they had an Egyptian guide and an American woman who, I presume, organized the whole thing. And they had Bob.

Bob is an American documentary filmmaker. If you've ever seen a documentary on Egypt over the past decade or so, you've probably seen Bob. He's ubiquitous! Alicia pointed him out to us, and we didn't really recognize him until he started speaking, and then we both said, "Oh yeah! That guy!" Bob was filming a documentary at Abu Simbel, and then he came on the cruise with us. We weren't sure if the tour group had arranged this beforehand, but I can't imagine that it was just a whimsical thing on Bob's part. He became the de facto tour guide on the cruise, and I could see that Mohammed, the actual tour guide, and the American woman who was in charge were perfectly happy to let him do all the work. Often they would hang back, strolling around the sites, chatting quietly, while Bob explained things to the tourists. The tourists loved him, too. Bob had plenty of groupies. Many of them were middle-aged to elderly women, and they thought Bob was indeed the shit. We started to feel sorry for Bob. At one point, Krys saw him sunbathing, and two women came over and bugged him about one of their "assignments" (I'll get to that). Bob, game as ever, helped them out. They were always saving seats for him on the boats we took to shore - "This one's for Bob!" - and trying to get their picture taken with him. His wife was along on the cruise, too - I wonder if she watched all this with a fair bit of amusement. Bob is a rock star of the documentary set!

Each of these tour groups was apparently on some sort of learning trip. They were always doing assignments. Bob made the Americans learn hieroglyphics and translate some of the carvings on the temple walls, while the Japanese group was constantly meeting to discuss what they had seen. At one point we watched the two Japanese tour guides drawing floor plans of one of the temples we were about to visit. They were very detailed, and the next day, we watched as they gathered around their blueprints and compared it to the temple around us. These people were hardcore tourists! At one point Ahmed decided to quiz us on some of the hieroglyphics, and we yelled at him for being too much like Bob. It was quite weird, because we didn't know what happened if these people didn't complete their assignments. Were they shunned? Did Bob yell at them? Did they have to perform some weird ritual while the rest of us were sleeping?

We spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday cruising the lake. We stopped at several minor temples, but I'm not going to go into them in too much detail, but there were some neat places. At one stop we could have ridden camels between the sites, but we, being hard core, walked, and it was quite the long walk. At each stop we had an armed guard. That was fun. We asked Ahmed about it, and he said that terrorists liked to swoop down and take foreigners hostage. I believe I mentioned that we had to fly from Cairo to Luxor because of this. We never got a straight story out of our tour guides about who exactly got the armed guard, but we're pretty sure that it's only Americans. Nobody cares about taking the French hostage! The armed guards were interesting, because they tried to be inconspicuous, but that was pretty difficult to do, what with the automatic weapons hanging by their side. During one of the tour stops, we had another run-in with the French. Oh, those French! We were going to see the tomb of a local governor, who actually was accorded some honors and whose tomb was actually found. This site was sadly ironic. It survived thousands of years without getting broken into. It was one of many that was moved in the 1960s when Lake Nasser was created, but no one thought it was important enough to guard, so someone plundered it after it was moved. Now, of course, they guard the damned thing. It's an interesting little tomb, but it's very small, and the French group was very big. We got to the tomb and had to wait. Why is this a problem? One of our group had to use the facilities, which were beyond the tomb, a decent walk away, so Ahmed said we'd just check out the tomb before moving on. He told us all about the tomb while we waited outside, and then was going to let us go in and check it out ourselves. What did the French tour guide do? He took four or five people into the tomb at a time and gave his whole spiel, before letting them out and repeating the process. There were at least 25 French tourists with him, so he was taking his sweet old time. Ahmed was peeved, I'll tell you that much. We finally got into the tomb and checked it out, and then moved on. While we were waiting for the boat to arrive, we met the crocodile men. These two gentlemen had a small crocodile and an even smaller one, and you could get your picture taken with one or both (for a small fee, of course). Unlike other photo opportunities with the Egyptian natives that I passed up because I didn't feel like paying, I figured it probably wouldn't be too soon before I got to hold a crocodile again, so we got pictures taken. Then it was back to the boat!

So we cruised on. We ate well, relaxed a lot, sat on the top deck and watched the shore slowly move by, stood outside at night and looked at the stars. Living in an urban area, I always forget how many freakin' stars there are. We got a certificate when we crossed the Tropic of Cancer (I'm not sure why) and finally reached Aswan on Friday night. On Saturday morning we took a launch out to Kalabsha temple, our last tourist stop. As usual, it was a nice spot, and it looked like every other temple we had seen. I admit to a bit of burnout by this time, but it was still a very nice site, especially because when it was moved, they put it almost right at the water, and it's a spectacular setting. It also contains some pre-dynastic carvings near it, which were neat to see. Ahmed pointed out a hotel near the site that is run by the government but which never has any guests. He said that when Hilton ran the place, it did good business, but the government took it over because they figured they could make money off of it, but now no one stays there, even though it's fully staffed and ready to go! It soundly vaguely disconcerting, and I thought it would be pretty neat to check the place out. We didn't have time, though.

That morning was our last in terms of visiting sites. Jim and Alicia left to catch their flight back to Cairo, and we went back to the boat to hang out and wait for our flight, which was later in the day. It was Saturday afternoon, the 18th of November, and we wouldn't be back home until late Sunday night, which sucked. I hope someone gets around to inventing a teleportation device that won't turn you into a giant fly soon, because flying halfway around the world blows. We went back to the airport at Aswan, which is an international airport. I thought it was "international" in the way some tiny airports near the Mexican or Canadian borders are "international" - one flight over the border and it can call itself international! However, EgyptAir flies from Aswan to London, so that's pretty impressive. We ate pizza at the Sbarro, and after two weeks of eating Egyptian food, greasy pizza tasted like heaven. We actually did eat pretty well on our trip - when most of the meals are buffet-style, you can always find something you like - but sometimes you just want a good piece of pizza. Naturally, our flight was late, but in the late afternoon we made it back to Cairo and to our hotel for our last night in Egypt.

There aren't a lot of highlights from our last night in Egypt, although our hotel room was something to behold. We had no idea what to expect, but when we entered, we were blown away. It was a baroque monstrosity! It was very nice - we had a living room and a bedroom, a (fake) fireplace, two televisions, a powder room and a main bathroom, inside of which was a sauna. We certainly weren't expecting any of it! It was decorated, however, in such a gaudy fashion, with big ugly paintings on the wall, lots of crimson and gold, and all sorts of curlicues. I felt like I was staying at Versailles, which was just weird. We had a nice dinner with Jim and Alicia, who were staying at the same place, and the next morning we headed to the airport for our flight back to New York. It was another horribly long flight, but nothing that was all that awful. Flying over Long Island was pretty cool, though. And then we landed at JFK. We felt like suckers, carrying all our own luggage - where were all the people ready to jump in and take it for us? Man, those Egyptians had the right idea! I guess it's okay lugging your own crap around, because you don't have to tip anyone, but we did get a bit spoiled in our two weeks abroad. We said goodbye to Jim and Alicia, who were at a different terminal for their flight back to Los Angeles, and then we hung out at our gate for a while. After another annoying flight, we finally landed in Phoenix, where my dad picked us up. We were home!

The next day a co-worker of Krys called her (she was taking Monday and Tuesday off) and asked her when she would be back at work. Krys told her, and the woman said she might want to show up on Tuesday, because the bank that ran Krys's mortgage company shut the whole place down and was handing out severance packages. So that was a charming way to return to the United States! They paid her through the end of the year, which gave her a bit of time. So she was home for six weeks or so, and she eventually found a new job because she's so good. It's only a contract job for a few months, but the company anticipates hiring people permanently soon, so we're not particularly worried about that. The only pain-in-the-ass thing is that we have to go on COBRA because our health insurance lapsed, and if we ever had a break in health insurance the new one would classify Mia as having "pre-existing conditions" and not cover a lot of stuff. Don't get me started on health insurance!

So that's our vacation. I apologize for taking so long posting about it, but with Krys being home and Mia being out of school for a few weeks and Thanksgiving and Christmas and the fact that I was foolishly trying to analyze every single issue of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers saga in December (read about them here!), something had to give, and it takes so long to upload pictures to the blog (maybe I should switch to the new version, but I'm stubborn that way and won't switch until they make me) that I often became frustrated and just gave up for a while. I'm sure any interest anyone had in our Egyptian vacation waned long ago, but that's okay - you can always come back later when your interest is back!

It's the new year now, even though I'm keeping the date of 31 December on this post, just to symbolically finish up last year. We'll see what I do with the blog, because I really do have less time to devote to it. The kids are getting bigger and Norah is demanding more and more interaction with her parents - the nerve of these kids, demanding interaction with their parents! - so I might be less reliable about posting than I have been in the past. But I'll still be throwing stuff up here a few times a week, so I hope my vast readership (all eight people!) comes back regularly! And, despite my long-windedness, I do hope you enjoyed our vacation pictures. We had a great time, and I highly recommend checking out Egypt if you have the time and money. It's a stunning place to visit, and it's so unlike a lot of places that have become Americanized. I love American culture as much as anyone (as you can tell by my running to Sbarro the first - okay, second - chance I got), but it's very neat to see things from a different perspective. Egypt is a fascinating country, and I know we saw far less than we could have (Alexandria, for instance, would be neat to visit), but we had a wonderful time, and I hope you guys liked the nifty pictures.

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Our Adventure in Egypt, Part Eight: Aswan

We spent only a day in Aswan, which is the ancient southern border of Egypt, but it was pretty busy. There's a quite a bit to see, encompassing the ancient through to the modern. So it was another long day sightseeing!

This is Aswan. Well, part of it.

We spent some time at an ancient quarry, checking out how they made obelisks. We didn't actually see the procedure, but this obelisk, which was abandoned when it developed a crack, is a good primer for learning how they quarried them out of the surrounding rock. It's pretty neat. Once you could walk on the obelisk, but those were the good old days before everyone was so worried about preserving things. Stupid preservation societies!

Then it was off to the Aswan High Dam, modern Egypt's great engineering feat. It's actually the second dam at Aswan - the first was completed in the early 1900s, but that wasn't good enough! So in the 1960s the Egyptians, with Russian help, built another one, and although it's certainly impressive, it's just a dam. It did destroy many Nubian villages along the Nile and mean that the Egyptians had to spend millions and millions of dollars moving ancient monuments to higher ground when Lake Nasser behind it rose up! So there's that. This is Krys on the dam:

To commemorate the Egyptian-Russian collaboration, they built this monument near the dam. It's a lotus flower, the ancient symbol of rebirth. It's meant to be large and majestic, but it's like a lot of Soviet architecture - kind of oppressive.

This was Tuesday, 14 November, and I was beginning to feel not very good. How do I mean? Well, I believe I have mentioned that one should not drink the water in Egypt, because it's not really clean at all. I hadn't had any water to drink, but I must have gotten something in me, because I was feeling some rumblings in my tummy that signaled the beginning of Montezuma's Revenge, or, since we were in Egypt, the "Curse of the Mummy." Before we left, Krys had heard that if we ate the local yogurt, we would not get sick, because the bacteria in the yogurt would get us acclimated to whatever was going into our bodies, and while we were in Cairo, I ate yogurt. Foolishly, when we got on the boat I stopped eating yogurt, and it caught up to me on Tuesday and Wednesday. Naturally, I immediately began eating yogurt again, and that helped, but those two days weren't fun. It wasn't horrible, but I was in some discomfort, and I just had to run to the WC quite often. My father had to miss one whole day while my parents were there, because he was so stricken. So I guess I got off lucky. Anyway, I didn't enjoy the dam and the rest of Aswan as much as I could have, because I kept feeling something going on down below.

But enough of that! We drove back into town and hopped on a boat to visit the Philae Temple. Philae is actually pretty cool - because of the flood when the dam was built, it's on an island in the middle of the lake, and it was one of the many that had to be moved, but the setting is spectacular. It's also a pretty cool temple - and remember, we saw so danged many it's hard to stand out, but Philae was pretty neat. The way the Egyptians moved it is pretty cool, too - the temple was built so that when the Nile flooded annually, the water would actually cover the lower parts of the temple. So they built a dam completely around the temple, pumped all the water out, and dismantled it block by block and moved it to higher ground. Of course, now the temple is completely dry, which isn't what its builders intended, but at least it's not completely underwater.

And of course, we took pictures:

Before we went back for lunch, we stopped to get money from an ATM. I have mentioned the adventurous nature of this endeavor previously, but my experience was okay - I got what I needed. I must have cleaned the bank out, though, because Jim, who went after me, couldn't get any money. He and Mourad had to go into the bank and bug the tellers, and while we were waiting, we looked around the street - such as it was. We were a block away from the main road in Aswan, and we were standing in an alley that was totally unpaved. The bank had a nice edifice, but the sidewalk below it was cracked and incomplete. Across the street, which led up a hill and was also little more than an alley, although it was haphazardly paved, were several shops. Krys wanted to take a picture of a carpet store in which two kittens were wrestling, but she didn't want the proprietor to notice and demand a tip, so she missed the opportunity. I did take a picture of the street, however:

I didn't take as many "slice-of-life" photographs as I wanted to, because we were on such a tight schedule, but the ones I did get do a good job showing Egypt. This is a typical street, after all. You can get a good sense of an Egyptian city from this picture. This is a nicer section of town.

Next we were off to our tour of the river by felucca, which was fun. We sailed south for a while, past the Aga Khan Mausoleum high on the west bank of the river. It looks like a neat building, but tourists aren't allowed to visit - it's a recent tomb, after all, and sacred to the Ismaili sect of the Shi'ites. We sailed past Kitchener's Island, which Kitchener turned into a botanical garden, and then past Elephantine Island, which is one of the oldest sites in Egypt. It's been used since pre-dynastic times, and was the southern boundary of the kingdom for centuries. The theories are plentiful as to why it's called Elephantine - I'll let the experts thrash it out! On the northern tip of the island, a hotel is being built. It looks like an airport terminal. Why do people allow ugly things to be built in pristine settings?

Then we turned north once again and sailed past the Old Cataract Hotel, which jazzed Krys quite a bit. Krys would have been perfectly happy being a horribly rich British person in the 1920s and 1930s, I think - come to think of it, so would I. So she is very intrigued by the lifestyle, and the Old Cataract Hotel fits that perfectly. Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile at the hotel, and my mother and father went inside and said it was magnificent. We didn't go inside, because we were on a boat, but we also heard they don't allow people in it anymore. Maybe my mom and dad were so obnoxious that they decided to keep tourists out! We sailed between Elephantine Island and the mainland, getting some nice pictures of the island, and then we headed back to the boat. All in all, a very relaxing afternoon.

This is the Aga Khan Mausoleum, high on the hill.

Some people say Elephantine got its name because these rocks look like elephants. It's certainly possible.

This is more of Elephantine.

We had a nice evening on the boat and went to bed early. We needed to get up and get on another plane! Yes, we were flying further south, deep into the desert, to visit what for me was the highlight of the trip: Abu Simbel. You know there will be lots of photographs of that!

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Our Adventure in Egypt, Part Seven: Cruising up the Nile

Sunday, 12 November, was our day off. We didn't have to get up for anything, and we spent the day cruising south on the Nile from Luxor to Edfu. If you check out the map here, you can see Luxor and Aswan. Edfu is about halfway between them. So we had nothing to do but enjoy ourselves. So we did.

Before we left Luxor, I watched a little television. We didn't have CNN like we did in Cairo, but we had a movie channel that showed bizarre movies. I watched The Naked Gun, and the censors cut out the scene where Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley "made love" in full body condoms. Yet they let all manner of cursing go through. It was interesting. There was also a movie starring William Baldwin and some French chick. Later Graham Greene showed up. It was truly bizarre, with the French woman living two separate lives, and in one of them she's an assassin and in the other she's kind of a simpering wuss who is married to William Baldwin, but whom she doesn't completely trust. The movies had commercials, and they would tell you what the movie was called, but this movie refused to go to commercial! It was very vexing, because I was mesmerized by the awfulness of the movie and was dying to know what it was. I had to wait until I got back to home and once again had access to the magic of the Internets to find out it was Shattered Image, and the French chick was Anne Parillaud, who was in La Femme Nikita, a very good movie. You should, however, avoid this one at all costs. The last movie I watched (for a very brief time) was called Tower of Terror, which stars, I kid you not, Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst. I bet that's one she'd like to erase from her résumé!

The next morning we were scheduled to sail at 10 a.m. We slept in until well after 8, and Krys didn't even make it down for breakfast - I went down to the dining room and got her some food. We were tired, man! Our American compatriots, Jim and Alicia, had a bit of an adventure. Jim wanted to find an ATM, because the ship did not have one. Reliable ATMs are a bit scarce outside of Cairo, but Mourad told him he could find one in Luxor. Before the ship sailed, they went on a road trip through the city looking for a cash machine that actually had, you know, cash. Alicia told us later that he went to, I believe, six ATMs before he found one that was willing to dispense bills to him. Either the machine wasn't working or the bank ran out of money. I've said this before about "developing" nations - it's not the big things that you notice, because there is horrific poverty in this country. It's the little things, like banks having no money. What's up with that? Jim made it back on board right before the ship left, and all was well. We eventually needed cash too (remember, you need to tip everyone, including dogs that don't attack you and camels that don't spit on you), and we were able to find an ATM in Aswan. Still, when finding cash is an adventure in itself, you know you're in a fun country!

We left Luxor and headed south. Cruising the Nile was wonderfully relaxing, and I wrote many postcards. The boat had a pavilion on the top deck with a swimming pool (too cold to swim!) and a bar with many wicker tables. Krys and I spent a great deal of time on the deck, watching the shore slide by. When guide books say that rural Egypt is a lot like it has been for thousands of years, they're really not kidding. We passed villages with block brick houses (many with satellite dishes - they're poor, but not savages!) surrounding a mosque, and people raising various animals (mainly goats) and hanging out on the banks. It was still very neat to see the greenery on the banks and, just beyond, the desert. It's very hard to get used to it, because it's so bizarre.

We got used to the pampering, too. The Mojito was a nice boat, and of course, all our needs were taken care of. The meals were buffets, all the time, which actually got a bit annoying, because we would have a really good meal one night and then another night where maybe the options weren't as good. For the most part, though, the food was fine. It was in the dining room, however, that we first dealt with our nemesis - French people!

Most of the people on the boat were French. I did hear at one point people speaking perfect English without an accent, but that was only two people, and I don't know where they came from or where they went! The rest of the time we were surrounded by French people! Now, I have no problem with French people. Well, not many problems. The French are fine - they're weird and quirky, but that's why we love them! I love the whole "overweight men wearing Speedos" thing that they have going on, and that constant smoking? dig it, man! In Egypt, they're like most of the world - smoke away! And so the French did. It's weird coming from a country like the U.S., where we have no smoking anywhere! I wondered how many Americans actually take advantage of the free-smoking atmosphere in Egypt - are American smokers so conditioned to not smoke indoors that even when they have the opportunity, they don't take it? I don't know. Anyway. One morning at breakfast, Jim, our traveling companion, ordered a custom omelette at the omelette bar. The guy was merrily cooking it when a Frenchwoman - we called her Crazy Omelette Lady from then on - came up and demanded his omelet. The guy who was making it was perplexed and chuckled at her. She got very angry that he would not give her the omelet, even though, you know, it wasn't hers! Later, apparently, they made the guy apologize to Crazy Omelette Lady because he laughed at her, but Jim did get his omelet! This would not be the first time the French did weird things on the cruise. Crazy Omelette Lady herself would offer us some more amusement - she seemed like she wasn't having a very good time. She almost got in a shouting match with one of her compatriots one night - we couldn't figure out why, because none of us speak French! Damn.

We had to pass through a lock on our way downriver, and the trip got a little bizarre there. Many boats cruise the Nile, so there's a line at the lock to go through. We sat just north of the lock for over an hour, waiting for our turn. The moment we came near the lock the merchants swarmed all over us. Weren't we on a boat, you say? Well, yes, but they were undaunted! They came up in little boats of their own! The water was thick with men selling things. They would wave their products in the air, negotiate a price, then hurl them up to the top deck. Considering our boat was four stories high and these guys were standing on a rocking row boat and throwing straight up, that's pretty impressive! They were selling clothing, which was wrapped in plastic bags. The buyer would put the money in the bag and throw it back down. Now that's capitalism! It was pretty funny - we would be standing there and suddenly a projectile would come flying up over the rails. You had to get out of the way quickly! All the merchants could speak a little French, as they were the dominant nationality among the tourists, apparently, but they could also speak a little English. Of course, they wanted to haggle, even from 100 feet away. Krys got a shirt for 5 pounds, but when she went to give the guy the money, he wanted more. Then he tried to get her to buy a few more things. This went back and forth for a few minutes, until she got fed up and threw the shirt back. No sale for greedy man!

The merchants were funny to watch, because they swarmed like locusts to each new ship, abandoning ours (or any other one) like a stripped-to-the-bone carcass. It was certainly entertaining, which was nice, because we were waiting so long to go through the lock. Finally, it was our turn, and we headed into the structure. Nothing says quality locks like a Romanian-built lock, I'll tell you that much:

As I mentioned, we spent all Sunday cruising, and on Monday morning we went to see Edfu. It's a temple. I mean, it's a nice temple and all, but we saw so many of them, and they all blur together after a while. Edfu is stuck in my mind because that was where I decided that Krys was going to be the tipper from then on, but I'm not getting into that. Anyway, the temple was Ptolemaic, meaning it was built when the Greeks ruled Egypt between the 330s B.C. and 31 B.C., when Octavian won the Battle of Actium and Cleopatra killed herself (Cleopatra was Greek, in case you didn't know). It's a neat temple because it's very well-preserved, and you can check out the various Christian trappings that the Copts installed when they "converted" it to a church. They out crosses into the walls and placed an altar in one room. We also saw many more carvings in the rock, explaining the rituals and the myths. Lots of people can read hieroglyphics, and it's interesting to have someone explain them to you, because they make little sense otherwise. Here are some pictures from the site:

This is Mourad in action!

Jim and Alicia, our American traveling companions, stand by the big falcon statue.

Which way should we go?

We got back on the boat and headed south once more. It was another relaxing day. After the hectic pace of the early part of the vacation, we loved this portion - I highly recommend a Nile cruise if you're planning on going to Egypt (and isn't everyone?). Late in the day we approached Kom Ombo, which is not too far north of Aswan, our terminal destination. Kom Ombo is very neat to approach, because it's right by the river on a small plateau, so the view is spectacular. We docked before any other boats got there, which Mourad said was a good thing, because we'd have it pretty much to ourselves. It's nice having a tour guide and a small group, because they know when the best time to see things is, so we weren't overwhelmed by other tourists. This would come in handy at Abu Simbel, when we missed the large groups that show up there. So we went ashore and wandered around the temple. It's another Ptolemaic temple, and it's neat to remember that the Ptolemies, who were descended from one of Alexander the Great's generals, tried very hard to integrate themselves into a 3000-year-old tradition. Well, it's neat on the one hand. On the other hand, it's kind of sad that the Egyptians didn't make any architectural advances in 3000 years. But that's the cynical view!

This is difficult to see, but that little shack right below the temple proudly advertised its "Internet caffe." Never let it be said that the Egyptians aren't on the cutting edge!

This is a woman giving birth. Part of the temple was dedicated to Imhotep, who was a famous doctor (among other things), so there were women giving birth and various surgical instruments on the walls.

This is a mummified crocodile. Crocodiles were sacred in ancient Egypt, and apparently they used to hang out near the site. Mourad kept telling us there were crocodiles in the water, but we never saw any.

Finally, that night we went to the lounge in the Mojito for a goofy Nubian musical fest. I say goofy not because the music was goofy - it was very good, actually - but because after the music, a Nubian dressed in "traditional" clothing came out and took people out of the crowd and made them dance around and make strange noises, which was supposed to be some sort of Nubian ritual. The Egyptians sure aren't politically correct! It was fun to watch, and it was even more fun when Mourad told the guy to take Krys and Alicia up on stage. They hopped around and made weird noises while Jim and I tried to avoid being seen. I did manage to get some pictures, even though the lighting was poor:

That night we docked at Aswan. And so another stage of our journey was completed. Who knew it would take longer to write about it than experience it????

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