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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Friday, February 12, 2010

Aswan, Egypt

USSR/Egypt Commemorative Obelisk, Aswan High Dam

Travel Date 28th-30th March 2008
Click on any picture to see a large version

On arrival by train in Aswan I immediately met Emad and flew to Abu Simbel, returning by car late in the day. I enjoyed Aswan, despite the fact that it was “tourist central”.

I spent quite a bit of time just wandering around the place, strolling through bazaars and markets, eating snacks from small stalls or cafes, or just sitting at rickety tables on sidewalks outside cafes. I also wandered around the backstreets without ever feeling insecure, getting a feel for the town.

I had plenty of time to do that, as, after spending the first night in the Marhaba Palace, a reasonable 3* hotel, I spent the second night in the Nile cruise boat which remained firmly anchored in Aswan instead of heading for Luxor. I will write more on the way they dock the boats in a later post on the cruise down the Nile. We were four out from the bank and a couple of km from downtown. There was a choice of taxi or pony-cart to get there. I tried both options and preferred the pony-carts. They were usually cleaner than the cabs and more fun.

After a while I found that I had become de-sensitised to being a magnet for every small child hoping for baksheesh as I passed, or the entreaties of bazaar salesmen or adult baksheesh seekers. I was able to tune them out and continue wandering, looking and listening at my own pace. Strangely, they seemed to sense that and gradually the approaches eased as time went on, especially when I walked away from the tourist areas and out towards the residential areas.

The Marhaba Palace was nothing special but it was clean and comfortable and I slept well there. Breakfast was excellent – a great buffet and eggs cooked to order – and the views of the Nile from my window were spectacular, both night and day.

After I had booked in on the boat I ate my meals on board, but until then I ate at cafes in the back streets where the locals ate.

I generally tried lots of appetisers rather than main courses. Prices were cheap, which let me reject the occasional course that seemed good on the menu (not that I could read most of them) but was unsuitable when served. I usually looked for a cafe that was moderately busy. That had two advantages: it showed that at least the locals liked the food; and I could point to dishes that had been served to others when I ordered. I enjoyed a wide range of delicacies. I have no idea what most of them were, but they didn't cause me any problems. I suggest a similar approach if you visit. I applied my traveller's rule: no salads and no fruits that could not be peeled and everything else thoroughly overcooked.

On my second day Emad took me by car to the Aswan Dam and then on to Philae; I'll write more on Philae and Abu Simbel in my next post.

It is impossible to over-state the importance of the Aswan dam to modern Egypt. The dam was completed in 1970, built by USSR engineers. This obelisk, also built by them, commemorates their achievement.

The "high dam" replaced this older dam built by the British at the turn of the 19th century.

One thing I could not show in the photos is the strong military presence protecting the dam. Their presence is not surprising.

If Egypt lost the Aswan dam it is quite obvious that it would cease to be able to sustain its present population, economy or culture. It is simply vital to the nation for many reasons, including regulation of the Nile's floods, hydro-electric power, irrigation and fish production. To put it in context, the Aswan High Dam's reservoir storage capacity is a little over four times the capacity of the Hoover Dam reservoir.

Unfortunately everything has a price. In this case 90,000 farmers had to be moved to allow Lake Nasser to fill, the ancient sites of Abu Simbel and Philae would have been lost to inundation if they had not been moved to higher ground, and most importantly the annual floods previously provided rich silt to upper Egypt's farmlands. That silt is now slowly silting up Lake Nasser instead of enriching the flood-plains or the delta. The failure to provide that annual flushing is also causing some environmental problems in the delta.

However, the benefits demonstrably out-weigh the negatives. Although it now represents only 10-15% of Egypt's electric power, when the dam was completed it doubled Egypt's electric power and supplied power to many Nile villages for the first time, bringing local economies into the 20th century.

Unfortunately, no-one mentioned that to this guy patiently digging a hole in the concrete in a bus stop south of Aswan. Apparently his boss has yet to discover the jack-hammer. I was there about fifteen minutes; he went down about 2cm.

Cheers, Alan

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