Jul 07, 2005
From the desert outpost of Wadi Halfa, I arrived in Aswan at a huge, modern and brand new ferry terminal. At the docks are two huge tourist boats in the style of Mississippi steamers but built to tens times the scale.
For the few foreigners, not Sudanese or Egyptians, our passports were collected before we landed and then we were escorted off the boat before everyone else. From there, Egyptian security was a comedy of errors. A half-dozen soldiers with a mismatch of guns meet us in the terminal. The x-ray machine was not working, so a soldier tells us to wait as a he plays with plugs and bangs on the machine. We wait 10 more minutes before another soldier comes in flips some more switches, and then gives up on the x-ray machine.
They ask us one-by-one if we have video cameras or laptops. I confess that I am traveling with a laptop. They force me to unpack my bag, pull out the laptop, and then remove the battery so that they can record the serial number in my passport. But somehow, they misinterpret things, writing down the serial number as 123456.
As that's wrapped up, as a group we're told to wait again. Now it's time for the prayer call. All of the soldiers leave us and wander off to pray. I would have been tempted to just leave at that point, but they still had our passports. After a seeming eternity, the soldiers return, give us our passports and we're free to enter Egypt.
As I walk in search of a hotel, I'm amazed by the sights and sounds as compared to Sudan. I see package tours offered to temples, tourists in shorts, souvenir shops, ATMs, and postcards for sale. For weeks, I'd barely seen any women. While, Aswan is extremely conservative by Western standards, it's very liberal as compared to Northern Sudan. When I check into my hotel there are actually Egyptian women there, working, confident, smiling, and friendly. And after a few weeks of largely subsisting off of flatbread and beans, I'm thrilled to have a diversity of food here in Aswan.
The Italian photographer checks into a nice hotel for $10, I find a less nice, but more than I need, hotel for $5. Once before, she had seen dancing in Aswan, and wants to see it again. We plan to meet up that evening. After the authentic experiences of Sudan, I'm not at all excited about some dance thing set up for tourist groups. But she offers to pay, so I'm not going to say "no".
When she shows up at my hotel that evening, it turns out that she also has little interest in any touristy shows. We decide to head out for dinner instead. But then a half-block from my hotel, we hear music. We were looking for dance, and coincidentally we run right smack into a wedding party with traditional dance and phenomenal costumes.
Gold is a traditional wedding gift as a dowry. And at a party the day before the wedding, the bride wears the gold showing it off for everyone. As the party was pretty much for the women, I just stood off to the side and took pictures. But my Italian friend got to dance. We hung out in the party for quite a while, and made some local friends.
What a great introduction to the Egypt.
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