From Cairo, John and I traveled south to Aswan, one of the driest inhabited places in the world. It rains so rarely in Aswan, a lot of people don’t bother to build roofs on their homes. We took the day train from Cairo to Aswan, something the local tourism association tries to prevent tourists from doing by refusing to sell foreigners tickets at the train station counters. We read online that if you just hop on the train without a ticket you can buy one on board. You have to pay a small premium but it still works out to be much cheaper than the more expensive night train that’s just for tourists. Being frugal backpackers, we couldn’t resist the challenge of the day train.
We knew the train ride from Cairo to Aswan would be about 20 hours so we made sure to bring a large bag of snacks on board. What we didn’t anticipate was that the train would be full in first class and that we’d have to wait more than six hours before we could get a seat. But that’s another story…
In addition to apples, bananas, dates, bread and hummus, we packed some snack bars we bought from the Alfa Market in Cario. It was weird to find Nature Valley bars in Cairo, but we were just happy to have options — even if they were super sugary! We also picked up some organic sesame bars made by iSiS.
In Aswan, we saw many beautiful spice shops.
In addition to herbs and spices, many shops sold loose tea made from hibiscus and mint.
Buyer beware: take your time when buying spices, herbs and tea. The Egyptian vendors try to sell these items to tourists at an outrageously high markup. They also have a bad habit of getting you to smell and taste high quality products and then packaging up inferior quality products (the good stuff is usually at the front of the store). I can’t give you much advice on what these items should cost, but just know that the first price is given with the expectation that you will try to negotiate a lower price.
The streets of Aswan were lined vendors selling fresh herbs and many types of grains, nuts and seeds.
In the alley ways of Aswan, we came across many fruit and vegetable vendors. However, I must warn you, these vendors are hard to bargain with. If you don’t want to pay a huge markup, that will result in most fruit and vegetables costing about the same as they do in Canada and the US if not more, then they won’t sell them to you. No matter how hard you try to bargain, the chance of you getting a ‘local price’ is slim to none! Well, at least that was my experience. I couldn’t buy a mango for less than $3.00 or apples (from Ontario!!!) for less than $1.00 a piece. But that’s just the way things are in Egypt. You have to yell and scream to buy bottled water for the going rate of 3.00 Egyptian Pounds, which is equal to about $1.00 US.
There weren’t any restaurants that looked appealing in Aswan, so we stuck to eating street food. We found some falafel, eggplant and vegetable sandwiches to munch on. The rest of the time we snacked on the bars and fruit we brought with us from Cairo.
We arrived in Aswan at night and stayed one day before leaving the next morning. We spent most of our time inside, trying to escape the heat. We did, however, make it out for a tour around the markets.
As we walked around the market streets, numerous Egyptian boys approached us with pitches to sell everything from bookmarks to ‘natural Viagra’. We lost count of how many people nodded and smiled at John as they whispered “Turbo Sex Machine?” Apparently they have some kind of herb that’s great for the male sex drive.
From Aswan, we took a mini bus three hours further south to explore the Abu Simbel temples. It was my favourite sight in all of Egypt.
From Aswan, we hopped on a boat and took a two day cruise along the Nile, headed towards the city of Luxor. I’ll tell you all about the cruise in my next blog post about Egypt….