My 'Dam' Day in
Me and the Aswan High Dam.
May 26, 2006
After an overnight train ride from Cairo, I arrived in Aswan this afternoon.
The train ride was yet an experience in itself. I had to tell three different guys I was married. Two of them wanted to
know if I married an Egyptian guy. I think the fact that I can’t understand one Arabic word that they say should be a
sign that my husband is probably not Egyptian. These guys sound shocked that Matthew is American. On that note, I’m
almost sad that it’s almost time for me and Matthew to part ways. He has helped me out in so many awkward situations.
He has been so patient and understanding while I go off on my own and see the sights. He is even staying in Cairo right
now for business while I’m in Upper Egypt for the next five days and has no problem with me seeing so many things that
he has yet to do. For all of these things, I thank this fictional guy.
One guy in my little car of six chairs originally seemed harmless. But then that changed. He wouldn’t stop talking to me
despite a) knowing I was married and b) the fact that I was listening to my ipod. He kept asking me questions in barely-
there English so I kept having to take my ear buds out (this was also around midnight on an overnight train as I was
working on falling into a nice slumber--or at least as nice as possible considering the uncomfortable chairs). When I
couldn’t hear him, he then moved to the seat next to me to start small-talking in English I couldn’t understand. I then
literally barked at him “I’m married (while showing him my ring finger)! I need to sleep.” I’m glad to report that this did
the trick. People are very slow at taking hints.
A guy who worked on the train woke me up and showed me to my own private car so I could lay down with nobody else
around. They do this quite often for a bit of baksheesh (if you didn’t read my previous journal on this, that means ‘tip’).
And I was more than happy to baksheesh away. Now that there was daylight, I could see that the scenery had
completely changed. It was as if we were going through miles and miles of oases. Everything was so lush (palm trees,
etc.) yet it was smack in the desert. And it didn’t hurt that we were riding along the Nile either.
Little tidbit of information that can confuse a person: the northern part of Egypt (i.e. Cairo) is considered ‘Lower Egypt’
while cities in the southern part of Egypt (i.e. Aswan, Luxor) are considered ‘Upper Egypt’.
After fourteen hours, the train would finally arrive in 108 degree Aswan. People don’t really come down to Aswan just to
see Aswan. Or at least this person didn’t. It’s the main gateway to the temple of Abu Simbel. The only way to get down
there by road is to go in a police convoy. These leave at around 4:00am. My wake-up call is for 3:00am. Luckily Aswan
does not have too much (if anything) to offer so an early bedtime is more than possible.
Upon checking into my hotel, I realized how loose the star rating is out here. I was told I would be staying in a ‘three star’
hotel. In my book, if a hotel a) doesn’t have towels; b) doesn’t have a sheet on the bed; and c) hands you a bar of soap
and a roll of toilet paper at the same time they hand you the key to the room (because these things aren’t standard in the
room), a three star rating is a bit generous. Make that a lot generous.
It was time to put things into perspective now... I do have a great view of the Nile. I do have a bed to sleep in. I do have
air-conditioning. I do have a bathroom in my room. I don't have to watch an Egyptian guy (with his bare feet on the little
table) hack his phlegm directly into the little garbage dispenser in our train car (imagine what I would have seen if I
wasn't riding in 'first class'). In addition, I also get more use out of my towel and cocoon (i.e. travel sheet that you slip
into) that I brought with me.
Our outing today consisted of the Aswan Dam and the Philae Temple.
First stop: Aswan Dam.
Remember that moment in National Lampoon’s Vacation when they get to the Grand Canyon and Chevy Chase gets out
of the car, looks around for a few seconds and then says something like ‘Okay, let’s go.’ That’s how I felt at the dam. I
mean…it is a dam. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl…but is it possible to find something such as a dam that interesting to
look at??? In any case, I took a few pieces of information about from this. This dam created Lake Nasser—the world’s
largest artificial lake. It is also the second tallest dam in the world. Also, Russians helped the Egyptians fund and build
this and many are still here working with electrical stuff (not a very technical word for it but I admit to knowing nothing
about this subject). There is a friendship monument here (for Russia and Egypt) that the two Chinese women had to get
out at for ten minutes to take pictures of. Have I ever expressed how much I loooove being on tours???
In addition, the High Dam is big. Really, really big. Here are some facts:
Length: 3600 meters
Height (at the highest point): 111 meters
Workers involved in construction: 35,000
Workers who died: 451
No doubt, the building of this dam was controversial. One of the most negative effects was going to be that many temples
were going to end up being historical sights for fish and everything else that would be making their home in the water. On
the flip side, this dam was going to be the solution to the annual floods that took place here. The building began in 1960
and ended in 1971. The positive effects of the dam have been a 30% increase of cultivable land and the country’s power
supply being doubled. I would like to thank the authors of Lonely Planet for these facts. I would have no idea as my mind
wandered thinking about the time that Clark Griswold took his family to see the Hoover Dam in National Lampoon’s
Vegas Vacation. I couldn’t help but feel extreme empathy for Rusty and Audrey at this moment.
So that was the dam tour that I went on.
Philae Temple proved to be more interesting to me (actually it was next to impossible to not be more interesting). We
took a motor boat over to Philae Island. This is the home of the Isis temple complex. The beauty of this trip to Philae
Temple was that it was going to be the first temple that I saw. It would be impossible to not be impressed by the reliefs,
With the help of Unesco, this was one of the temples that was rescued from beneath the water. The actual disassembling
process took place from 1972 through 1980. They literally went underwater and moved this temple, stone by stone, to
Agilkia Island (which was twenty meters higher). This temple dates back to 380 B.C. yet it was moved to higher ground
in my lifetime. I could not believe how recently these efforts took place.
This, more or less, wrapped up my day in Aswan. If you’re left feeling like it wasn’t extremely exciting for me, you would
be right on the money.
The front of Philae Temple.