On the Nile Near Aswan, Egypt

One thing I always try to make time for when I visit Egypt is a boat ride on the Nile at Aswan.  Many Nile cruise itineraries either begin or end at Aswan, so I’d recommend arriving either a day early or staying a day late to allow time for this opportunity to enjoy a scenic, peaceful, beautiful experience.

My favorite boat captain for purposes of enjoying the Nile River at Aswan is Captain Karim. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

My favorite boat captain to use for cruising the Nile River at Aswan is Captain Karim.  He expertly guides the boat along the Nile, offering close-up views to the many sights along the way, and he speaks enough English to answer questions. If you ask, he’ll play a radio station with Nubian music.

A boat ride on the Nile at Aswan offers beautiful scenery such as this. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

There are many scenic views along the Nile River, and this is exactly why I have done this many times.  After spending time in the urban, high-energy environment of Cairo, I look forward to coming closer to nature when I get to Aswan.

A boat ride on the Nile at Aswan offers beautiful scenery such as this. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

There are two different types of boating experiences you can use to experience the Nile scenery at Aswan.  One is a ferry boat, which is what I was riding at the time I took these photos.  The ferry has an engine which is silent enough that it doesn’t detract from the peaceful beauty of the ride.  The other is a felucca, which is an Egyptian style of sailboat.

A boat ride on the Nile at Aswan offers beautiful scenery such as this. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Sometimes young boys on a small raft will paddle out to meet your boat.  These young buskers sing to you, hoping you will tip them for the entertainment they provide.

I personally enjoy the boys, so when I see them approach, I’m inclined to give them an Egyptian five-pound note.  I used to give them just one pound, but Egypt’s economy has experienced significant inflation since 2011’s revolution, so I tip in higher amounts now than I did in 2010.  You may be wondering what songs they use to serenade you.  The ones I’ve heard the most are “Row Row Row Your Boat” and “Frère Jacques”.

Sometimes young boys will paddle out to the boats on the Nile and sing to the passengers, in hopes of receiving tips. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

One of the landmarks you’ll see on the western bank of the Nile River at Aswan is the steep hill containing Aswan’s Valley of the Nobles.  High on the top of that hill is a structure known as Qubbet el-Hawa, the Dome of the Wind, which marks the tomb of a long-ago Islamic sheikh named Aly Abu el-Hawa.  I have also heard people refer to this structure as the watchtower because of the expansive view it offers of the Nile valley. The entire mountain is also sometimes referred to as Qubbet al-Hawa, encompassing the Pharaonic tombs in addition to el-Hawa’s tomb.

I have personally never climbed this mountain to explore its sights.  There is no road that a taxi or tour bus could use to take you there.  The only way to approach it is from docking the boat on the bank of the Nile River at the bottom of the hill.   From there, you can either ride a camel up the hill, or you can hike up.  If you want to use a camel, it’s best to prearrange for that, because there often are not any camels waiting at the bottom.

Aswan Valley of the Nobles and Qubbet el Hawa
High on a hillside above the Nile River near Aswan lies Qubbet el-Hawa, the Dome of the Wind. On the hillside below it lies Aswan’s Valley of the Nobles. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Another hillside on the west bank of the Nile at Aswan features the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan III,  Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah, the 48th Imam of Nizari Ismailis.  He was born in the city of Karachi, which lies in modern-day Pakistan, and he assumed his title of Aga Khan at age eight, after his father died. His tomb was built in the style of the historic Fatimid tombs that can be seen in Cairo today.

Although the Aga Khan was from Pakistan, Egypt held a special place in his heart because it was there that he met his French wife, Yvette Blanche Labrousse. She took on the name Begum Oum Habiba after they were married.  Below the Mausoleum, behind the trees in this photo, is the villa where the Aga Khan and his family spent their time when they came to Egypt for visits.

Locals report that after he died, the Aga Khan’s fourth and final wife used to visit his tomb in the Mausoleum every day and lay a red rose on his grave. When she died in 2000, she was laid to rest next to him.

The Mausoleum of Aga Khan III looks down at the Nile River at Aswan. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

On another hillside, a historic monastery looks down on the Nile.  This monastery, which dates back to the 7th century, was originally dedicated to a local saint named Anba Hedra who renounced the world on his wedding day. It has also been known as Deir Anba Sim’an. In the 10th century, it was dedicated to Saint Simeon.  In the past, it housed about 300 monks. The troops of Salah ed-Din (Saladin) partially destroyed this facility in 1173.

There are no roads for vehicles leading to this monastery.  If you want to visit it, you’ll need to ride a boat across the Nile. Once across, you can either walk up the hill yourself or hire a camel to carry you. If you plan to use a camel, I’d recommend prearranging it.  This area does not always have camels sitting around waiting for something to do.

The Monastery of St. Simeon sits on a hillside above the Nile River at Aswan, Egypt. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Before the Aswan High Dam was built, the west bank of the Nile River at Aswan was mostly uninhabited because of the annual inundation by the river.  As a result of the dam being built, the inundations ended, while south of the dam Lake Nasser arose, flooding the homeland where thousands of Nubian people had lived since ancient times.  Reports vary on how many Nubian people were displaced by the rising lake, with estimates ranging from 40,000 to 100,000.  With the inundations ending north of the dam, some of the Nubian people whose ancestral homes now lie under the waters of Lake Nasser have started to develop a community on the west bank of the Nile at Aswan.

A village named Gharb Sahel has arisen, with homes, hotels, shops, and more.  The Nubians who live there have preserved their traditional architectural style, which is highly effective at encouraging ventilation and insulating against the heat.

It is possible to book a tour of one of the Nubian homes in the village.  There are several who are willing to show visitors their architecture and talk about their lifestyles.

The village of Gharb Sahel on the West Bank of the Nile River at Aswan serves as an excellent example of Nubian architecture. Photo copyright 2017 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

I have found these tours of Nubian homes to be a highlight of my time in Aswan because of the opportunity to learn more about the culture.  The photo below shows the ornaments that dangle from the ceiling and the table with items for sale.  The cool cat modeling the sunglasses is the ferry boat captain who transported us there, Captain Karim.

Captain Karim poses with my sunglasses. Photo copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

After visiting Gharb Sahel, the return trip on the boat offers additional scenic views along the Nile.

A boat ride on the Nile at Aswan offers beautiful scenery such as this. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

El Nabatat Island, also known as Kitchener’s Island, is a popular tourist destination because it hosts the Aswan Botanical Garden. Today, the island is owned by the Egyptian government and is used as a botanical research station.  It is possible to arrange a boat ride to the island and walk through the garden.  I have not personally done this, but it’s on my wish list for a future trip to Egypt.

The Aswan Botanical Garden on El Nabatat Island (also known as Kitchener Island) near Aswan, Egypt is popular with tourists. Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Elephantine Island’s history dates back to Pharaonic times, when it was the southern outpost of Upper Egypt, on the border of Kush (Nubia).  The book River God by Wilbur Smith sets some of its action on this island.  One of the items on my wish list for a future visit to Aswan is to visit what’s left of this archaeology site today.   A boat can take you close to its Nilometer for a closeup view, as shown in my photo below.  See my article about Nilometers for more information about this and others.

Today, a hideous, soulless Movenpick Hotel crouches on Elephantine Island, a blight on the scenic landscape of the Nile.  I hate the sight of this eyesore so much that I’m not including a photo in this blog post.

Elephantine Island in the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt is home to a Nilometer which can be seen when riding past in a ferry boat or felucca (sailboat). Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

In ancient times, Aswan’s population included a large number of ethnic Nubians, and still does today.  With the Kush empire (also Nubians) immediately to the south, it was important to the Egyptian Pharaohs who were based in Luxor to ensure that Aswan was governed by someone who was capable of maintaining the respect and loyalty of the Nubian locals.  For that reason, many of the governors in Aswan over the centuries were ethnic Nubian.  Queen Nefertari, who was honored by the temple at Abu Simbel and the spectacular tomb in Valley of the Queens at Luxor was a Nubian princess whose father governed Aswan.

Because of Aswan’s position on the southern border of Egypt’s Pharaonic empire, some boulders along the river feature cartouches that declare Egypt’s claim on this location, as shown in the photo below.

These boulders along the Nile River near Aswan were carved with cartouches during ancient times to mark the southern end of the territory claimed by the Egyptian Pharoah.  Photo copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

A popular Egyptian pop singer and actor named Mohamed Mounir has built a mansion on the banks of the Nile near Aswan, and it is possible to see it from a ferry boat or felucca.  The mansion is the domed building in the foreground of the photo below.  Many of Mounir’s fans refer to him as “The King”.

In Aswan, the home of Mohamed Mounir perches above the Nile River. Copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Closing Thoughts

When we travel, it can be very tempting to cram our schedules full of every imaginable activity, every day.  This can lead to burnout by the end of a vacation.  I find that the ferry ride on the Nile helps me replenish my energy.  It allows me to spend time in nature, on the river, and it allows me to forget for a while about the frantic schedule that tours often provide.  There’s something fulfilling about being out on the water, simply enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Other Blog Posts About Aswan, Egypt

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy these others posts I’ve made about Aswan, Egypt:

    1. Honoring Motherhood in Ancient Egypt’s Temples and Tombs. This one includes Philae as one of the temples it talks about.
    2. Aswan, Egypt: The Mystery of the Ostrich Egg.  An interesting item displayed in the Nubian Museum at Aswan.
    3. What It’s Like to be in a Sandstorm in Egypt.  Includes a photo of a sandstorm I experienced in Aswan.
    4. Exploring Nilometers in Egypt.  Includes the one on Elephantine Island, which I included a photo of above.
    5. Fellaha: The Peasant Woman in Egyptian Art. Includes a statue of a fellaha at the Basma Hotel in Aswan.

 

I Updated a Few Older Posts About Egypt!

Sometimes I go back and update old blog posts.  This can happen if I get new information, new photos, or need to correct old information.

I just spent a month in Egypt.  I took more photos and learned new stuff.  So I’m adding my new material back into older blog entries.

Here are ones I’ve recently updated:

I have more updates planned.  But I invite you to check these out for now, and I’ll post again when I have more ready to look at.

Backbends of Dancers in Ancient Egypt

Our stereotypes of ancient Egyptian dance involve awkward-looking poses with right-angle positions of the elbow and wrist.  People assume that such images appeared on temple and tomb walls.  But, did they? Here’s a look at some of the dance scenes appearing in temples and tombs in Egypt.

At the Luxor Temple

The dancers in the photo at the top of this page appear on the west wall of the Luxor temple. If you look left to right, you’ll see that each image is bending back a little further. Think of these as individual frames in a movie, showing the motion of doing a backbend into a yoga wheel pose, or maybe doing the first half of a back handspring.  Off to the right [not shown in this picture] there is a group of women playing sistrums (a type of rattle).

This scene is part of a larger mural showing a joyous religious celebration, the Opet festival where the god and goddess are united for conjugal fun. This dance, though, is not considered a ritual religious dance (although those did exist in ancient Egypt).   Instead, it’s more of an entertainment spectacle that was being performed for the pleasure of those who saw it.  

The Luxor Temple was built around 1,400 BCE, which means these images of dancers are about 3,400 years old. 

These dancers are not priestesses worshiping a goddess, but rather secular people who are participating joyously in the annual event.  I kind of think of this as being like Christmas in our North America culture – there ARE sacred events related to celebrating Christmas such as church services and pageants, but there are also many secular celebratory activities such as children sitting on Santa Claus’s lap to pose for photos.

Ostracon from Deir el-Medina

This ostracon (piece of limestone painted with an image) was found at the Worker’s Village near Luxor, also known as Deir el-Medina.  Archaeologists believe it was created between 1292 and 1076 BCE. Today, it resides in Italy, at the museum in Turin.  It bears a strong resemblance to the dancers on the west wall of the Luxor temple.  For more information about Deir el-Medina, the site where this was found, see my post about Deir el-Medina.

The Red Chapel of Hatshepsut at Karnak Temple

Inside the grounds of the Karnak temple near Luxor, there is a chapel known as the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut.  It features images resembling those of the Luxor Temple’s west wall.

The top row shows the backbends.  Off to the right is a harpist playing for them. The bottom row shows men dancing on the left, and women playing sistrums (a type of rattle) on the right.

Archaeologists estimate this chapel may have been built around 1,400 BCE.

The Tomb of Ka-Gmni at Saqqara

Dancers in the tomb of Ka-Gmni at Saqqara, Egypt. April 18, 2018.

These dancers appear in the tomb of Ka-Gmni at Saqqara, Egypt. It dates back to approximately 2300 BCE, and therefore is one of the oldest known images of dance found in Egypt.

Other Posts About Ancient Egyptian Dance

See also my post about the image of men performing sacred dance at the Edfu Temple.

The Three Musicians and the Cat (Tomb of Nakht Near Luxor, Egypt)

One of the most popular images sold on papyrus at souvenir shops in Cairo is that of the Three Musicians. The original scene appears in the Tomb of Nakht. Most organized tours won’t take you there, because it lies in the Valley of the Nobles where the tombs are generally small and less impressive than the Valley of the Kings.

The tomb of Nakht is small, too small for most tour groups to cram everyone in. If a group of more than a handful of people goes, chances are they will need to take turns going in while the others wait outside. Because the tomb is small, there aren’t many scenes to view inside. Most tourists would rather see the spectacular tombs found in Valley of the Kings. 

Nakht lived under the reign of Tuthmoses IV, around 1401-1391 BCE. He was a scribe and a temple star watcher.

However, I’m a different type of tourist.  I enjoy seeing the things that the big tours don’t go to see.  I have visited this tomb several times because I like this scene so much, I enjoy going back to see it again.

Andrea Deagon has theorized (in an article you can find on my web site) that the woman in the middle might be dancing.

Here’s the image on a papyrus one I bought in Cairo in 1999:

Papyrus purchased in Cairo with the image of the Three Musicians.

I asked my guide to tell me about the overall scene. In particular, I asked him if this was a temple performance done by priestesses. He emphatically said NO. He pointed off to the right a section of the scene that doesn’t appear in this photograph which showed Nakht and his wife watching, and he said that this was merely entertainment for the pleasure of Nakht and his family.

Music and dance in ancient times were NOT always about religion. Sometimes they were, but not always.

Another part of the artwork inside this tomb features a cat, curled up in a ball. We hear so much about the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet, but I find this image charming  because it looks like a family pet snuggling up for a nap.

Egyptologists call this Theban Tomb TT52. They believe it’s from around 1400 BCE, which means it’s about 3,400 years old.

Honoring Motherhood in Ancient Egypt

Temples and tombs from ancient Egypt offer many tributes to motherhood.  As of 2019, I’ve found one tomb at Saqqara with a madonna scene, and several temples along the Nile cruise route with motherhood-related images, including Luxor Temple, Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo Temple, and Philae Temple.  Here’s a look at the ones I’ve discovered in my travels so far.

Saqqara

Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (Tomb of the Brothers)

At Saqqara, which is just outside of Cairo, the tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, often known as the “tomb of the hairdressers” or the “tomb of the brothers” features two beautiful scenes of motherhood near its entrance.

These are the oldest images from ancient Egypt that I have found so far celebrating motherhood. Although scholars have not determined the tomb’s exact age, the current theory is that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep served either Nyuserre Ini or Menkauhor Kaiu.  Assuming that theory is correct, this tomb would thus have been built in the latter part of the 25th century BCE, making it over 4,000 years old.

One of the images at this tomb shows a small child playing around his mother while she does her daily housework.

Tomb of the Brothers
This scene of a mother and her baby appears at the entrance of the Tomb of the Brothers (often called Tomb of the Hairdressers) at Saqqara. Photo taken March 31, 2019, copyright Jewel, all rights reserved.

The other shows the mother nursing the baby when it’s time to feed him. It’s really interesting to see this madonna-type image that was created about 2,500 years before the time of Christ.

This scene of a mother nursing her baby appears at the entrance of the Tomb of the Brothers (often called Tomb of the Hairdressers) at Saqqara. Photo taken March 31, 2019, copyright Jewel, all rights reserved.

Luxor

The birth room of the Luxor Temple tells how Queen Mutemwia became the mother of Amenhotep III. It offers a fascinating story of immaculate conception, annunciation, and birth about 1,300 years before the story of Jesus Christ. The bottom row shows the ram-headed creator god Khnum molding two children, one to be the physical body, and the other to be his ka (spirit version).  The story goes on to show the god Amun coming to her, the conception, the pregnancy, and the birth. The intent of the story is to justify Amenhotep III’s right to be revered as a god, just as the later story of Jesus used immaculate conception to justify his claim to be the Son of God.

In this segment of the wall, we see Queen Mutemwia (top right) sitting on the birth chair giving birth to her son s the deities Isis and Khnum rub her hands.

Birth Room in Luxor Temple
This scene in the birth room of the Luxor temple shows Queen Mutemwia giving birth to her son, Amenhotep III. The top row shows her seated on a stool during labor, as the deities Khnum and Isis rub her hands. Below that, she is giving birth to her baby.

This birth scene would have been commissioned by Queen Mutemwia’s son, Amenhotep III, to support his divine claim to the throne of Egypt. Scholars estimate that his 37-year reign begin in 1386 BCE or 1388 BCE, which places the age of this scene as being more than 1,000 years before the temples of Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Philae (mentioned below) were constructed.

Interestingly, I had visited the Luxor Temple approximately 8 times without ever seeing this birth story.  Finally, I visited the temple for about the 9th time in 2019, and this was the first time a guide showed me this scene.  It’s not something that every tour of the Luxor Temple includes.  If you want to see the birth room, you may need to insist that your guide include it in the tour.

Edfu

The Edfu temple honors Horus the Elder and his wife, Hathor.  Some of its walls feature scenes of Hathor nursing her infant, Horus the Younger.  Some of these scenes were damaged by early Christians during the Roman era, in an attempt to obliterate the earlier Pagan beliefs.

Near the entrance to the Edfu temple is a special room known as the mammisi, or “birth room”.  This is a small chapel located just outside and in front of the main pylons, and it celebrates the birth of “Horus, the Unifier of Two Lands”.  The mammisi features several images of Hathor playing musical instruments, including sistrum (rattle), frame drum, and lyre.

This scene of Hathor nursing her baby appears on a wall of the temple at Edfu, Egypt.

The Edfu temple that stands today is relatively young, but resides on the site of a much older shrine.  The structure that stands today was built after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, leading to the era of Greek Pharaohs that ended with Cleopatra. The first stone of today’s temple was laid in 237 BCE, and it was consecrated in 142 BCE. This is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt due to having been buried for centuries under sand and river silt deposited by the Nile inundations.

For another of my blog posts about Edfu Temple, see Dance Like an Egyptian!

Kom Ombo

The temple at Kom Ombo, Egypt is unique because it honors two different gods – Sobek (with a crocodile head) and Horus the Elder (with a falcon head).  It’s a fascinating temple to visit, with many interesting images on its walls.

These scenes of women in labor and surgical tools appear on a wall of the temple in Kom Ombo, Egypt.

A unique segment of wall that is popular with many of the tourists who visit Kom Ombo is the scene showing two women using birthing chairs to give birth.  The wall to the right of them features images of surgical tools.

The throne-shaped object on the head of the lower woman is a nod to the goddess Isis and her role as a patron of fertility and motherhood.

One of the tour guides I’ve worked with, Abdul Aly, has proudly pointed out that ancient Egyptians have known about the benefits of delivering babies while sitting up in birthing chairs for at least 2,000 years. In contrast, modern Western medicine only started to embrace birthing chairs and the upright posture since about the 1980’s.

Like Edfu, Kom Ombo was built during the period of the Greek Pharaohs, on top of an older temple site dating from the New Kingdom.  Construction lasted from 180 BCE to 47 BCE.  In addition to the birthing chair scene, I was very fond of the on-site museum featuring crocodile mummies. Unfortunately, the Crocodile Museum at the temple does not allow visitors to take photos.  Another of my blog posts shows the Nilometer at this temple.

Philae

Philae Island at Aswan hosts the beautiful Nubian temple of Isis.  Construction began around 690 BCE, on a site that had hosted an older structure, with most of the temple that remains today being built during the reign of Nectanebo I, ranging from 380-362.  In the 1960’s, the island was flooded by the rising waters of the Nile caused by the Aswan High Dam, and Philae was one of the temples moved to a new site on higher ground funded by UNESCO.

Isis nurses Horus in this scene at the temple on Philae Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Jewel, copyright 2015, all rights reserved.

There are several images of Isis nursing the baby Horus in this temple.  These resemble the madonna-style images of Hathor with Horus at Edfu. There is some overlap of the stories regarding Hathor (which were earlier) and Isis (who came later.)  Unfortunately, many of the images of Isis with Horus at Philae were vandalized during the Roman era by early Christians who were trying to obliterate the earlier Pagan religion.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve featured highlights of how ancient Egypt honored motherhood by selecting several must-see images to watch for that are easy to find if taking a Nile cruise or a Luxor-to-Aswan tour or touring Saqqara near Cairo.  These are ones I’ve personally noticed so far on my travels to Egypt, but I’m sure there are many I have not yet found.  I’ll keep looking, and if I find more, I’ll add them to this blog post.

I encourage you, too, to keep looking on your own. You’re sure to discover more of these images in statues (in museums), tombs, and other temples.

Beverages to Enjoy in Egypt

When traveling, I enjoy sampling local food and drink.  Egypt has a few beverages that I always try to make a point of enjoying during my visits.  Some of these are available in the United States, but many people aren’t aware of them.

Yansoun (Anise Tea)

Yansoun (pronounced yan-SOON) is a tea made from anise seeds, served hot.  I never eat anise-flavored food when I’m home in the U.S., but when I go to Egypt I frequently order yansoun with my meals.  The higher-end hotels and restaurants don’t offer it, because they associate it with the lower classes.  But it should be easy to find in cafes, koshary restaurants, and other Egyptian “comfort food” places.

My Egyptian friends have told me that it’s common for singers to sip yansoun before performing, and even to keep a cup on stage with them, because it soothes the throat and eases any hoarseness.  I find that I like drinking it in the evening, because it helps me sleep.

Restaurants typically serve yansoun with a bit of sugar on the side, but I find I like the flavor of the tea just fine even without the sugar.

Karkaday (Hibiscus Tea)

Karkaday is made from the dried petals of hibiscus flowers, and is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. On a hot day, I enjoy drinking it as an iced tea, but near bedtime I like to drink it hot.  Most cafes and restaurants that I’ve been to in Egypt offer karkaday both hot and as an iced tea. It’s a beautiful red color. Restaurants often serve it with sugar to add, but I personally like drinking it without.

Mango Juice

In North America, it’s possible to order mango juice at Indian restaurants, but in Egypt it’s available at almost every place that offers beverages. Mango juice is reasonably safe to drink because mangos are a fruit that requires peeling.  The vivid orange color looks very appetizing, and mangos are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and vitamin B.  I always ask for mine to be served without ice, since ice is normally made from tap water and may contain bacteria.

Juice drinks made from fresh fruit offer a highlight of Egyptian cuisine. This photo taken in February 2017 shows a glass of strawberry juice and a glass of mango juice. Photo copyright by Jewel, 2017, all rights reserved.

Asir Farola (Strawberry Juice)

This consists of pureed strawberries, perhaps with a small amount of water added.  The vibrant red color looks beautiful in the glass!  I always try to drink some while in Egypt, but I recommend exercising some caution – some restaurants don’t adequately wash the strawberries before making the beverage. Even those that wash the strawberries may use tap water to do it, so there is some risk of bacteria.  I enjoy strawberry juice very much, and am happy to drink it despite the risks. The vitamin C content will give your immune system a boost.

Dom (Sometimes Spelled Doum)

The dom palm tree grows primarily in southern Egypt and Sudan. Its botanical name is hyphaene thebaica.  Dom fruits have been found in some tombs from ancient Egypt.

I think of this fruit and the beverage made from it particularly as being associated with Nubian culture.  The fist-sized brown nuts are soaked, then pureed with sugar and water to make a delicious beverage.  I’ve also seen dom nuts used on strings of beads for decorating doorways in homes. The leaves of the palm tree are often used in making baskets.

The dom fruits grow on palm trees such as this one in Kom Ombo, Egypt. Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

This photo shows a dom tree whose fruit hasn’t ripened yet. The fruit will turn brown when ripe.

I usually drink dom when I go to Aswan.  It’s a little sweet, but not too much.  Some places in Luxor and Kom Ombo will also serve it, but I don’t think I’ve ever found it in Cairo.

Sahlab

Sahlab is a thickened sweet drink, served hot.  Historically, sahlab was made from orchid roots, but today you’re more likely to find it made with cornstarch, arrowroot, or other thickener.  The ingredients include milk, the thickener, and sugar. It is served garnished with chopped pistachios and cinnamon.  I like to use it as a dessert drink.

Sugar Cane Juice

Sugar cane is one of the crops that many Egyptian farmers grow.  If riding in a bus or train from Luxor to Aswan, you’re likely to see many fields of sugar cane along the way.  So it’s only natural that sugar cane juice would be readily available throughout Egypt. There are small storefronts in many neighborhoods of Cairo where you can watch the vendor squeeze the sap out of the sugar cane for you, while you wait.

The juice is a light green color, and of course it tastes very sweet.  It is usually served at room temperature.  I always try to enjoy at least one glass of it when I’m visiting Egypt.

One time when a friend and I were riding in a taxi in Cairo, the driver pulled off to the side of the street before arriving at our destination.  He got out of the car, and went up to one of these sugar cane storefronts in a residential neighborhood.  It seemed odd at first that a taxi would stop en route to its destination while the passengers were still inside.  When I realized the driver was heading for the sugar cane juice vendor, I thought, “Well, I suppose it’s only fair that taxi drivers might get thirsty while working.”  We waited what seemed like a much longer time than I would have expected for him to get his glass of asir (juice). To our surprise, when he returned to the cab, he had not only a paper cup of it for himself, but also a cup for each of us!  We so much appreciated his kindness!

Erk Sous

I’m kind of amazed that in all my trips to Egypt, I haven’t yet tried erk sous. Maybe I’ll have to try some next time.  It is a sweet licorice syrup made from anise.

Legendary Egyptian dancer/choreographer Mahmoud Reda wears a costume of an erk sous (licorice syrup) vendor.

Erk sous is typically sold by street vendors carrying an urn on their backs, similar to the one in this photo.  The photo shows legendary dancer/choreographer Mahmoud Reda wearing an erk sous vendor costume for one of the skits performed by Reda Troupe. The very first Reda Troupe show in 1959 featured such a character in one of its skits.

Lemon Juice, With or Without Mint

Lemon with Mint
As you can see in this photo, lemon with mint has a slight greenish tint to its color. Photo copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

In Egypt, the lemon juice is delicious, made from fully ripened lemons, with some water and sugar added.  I like ordering a variation of it, which is lemon juice with mint, as shown in the photo.  Both are refreshing.

Beer

The primary two brands of beer that you’re likely to find in Egypt are Stella and Sakara Gold. Photo copyright 2019 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

Many restaurants in Egypt don’t serve alcoholic beverages, which makes sense when you consider the fact that it’s a Muslim country.  In Egypt, the craft of brewing beer dates back to Pharaonic times.  The religious prohibition came later, with the Arab conquest and conversion to Islam.

If you’re a connoisseur of craft beers, leave your beer-tasting mind set at home when you visit Egypt.   It’s not the place to explore IPA’s, porters, stouts, red ales, bocks, or other malty brews.  That said, places that do a large amount of business with foreigners often offer alcoholic beverages, and there are some local beers you can try.

Today, the two dominant brands of beer you’re likely to find in Egypt are Stella (no relationship to Stella Artois) and Sakara Gold.  Both are lagers, and both are manufactured by Al Ahram Beverages Company.  Other brand names exist in Egypt, but they don’t have the market share that these two do.

Why I Haven’t Posted New Entries Lately

You might be wondering why I haven’t posted any new blog entries lately. It’s because I broke my wrist on November 16, 2018. Ice was involved.

I had to cancel the trip to Egypt I had planned for December 1-17.  It’s disappointing, I’d planned to include some adventures in that trip that would have been new to me, such as visiting the Siwa Oasis.

It hasn’t been easy to type in my current condition, therefore I haven’t been creating new blog entries.  Expect something new from me soon, once I have healed a little more.

Sunsets and More on a Caribbean Cruise

I always keep an eye out for moments of beauty in nature when I travel. Here are some I appreciated on my 2018 Caribbean cruise.

The first night at sea, October 28, 2018, we enjoyed this beautiful sunset.

On October 29, 2018, the sunset offered a very different mood, but was still very beautiful:

The next day, October 30, 2018, I found it very peaceful to look out over the water, and enjoyed the sun’s reflection:

On October 31, the coast of Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras offered a scenic view:

The island of Roatan, Honduras, looked beautiful when viewed from our cruise ship. Photo by Jewel, copyright 2018, all rights reserved.

The sunset on Halloween evening offered a spectacular display of color, reflected by the sea:

Caribbean Cruise: A New Adventure for Me

In October 2018, I did something I’d wanted to do my whole life: I went on a Caribbean cruise!  One of my friends invited me to join her and share a stateroom with her, and I jumped at the chance!

We booked our trip through Susan Strong of Sanborn’s Travel in Corpus Christie.  Susan was a pleasure to do business with, and I would gladly recommend her to others.  She also came with us on this cruise, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her a bit.

This was a one-week adventure, with three stops and shore excursions. Our cruise ship held about 6,000 people:  4,000 were passengers, and 2,000 were staff. It’s amazing to think of the ship as holding more than 4 times as many people as there were in the rural community where I grew up!

On this trip, I was able to do the following things that have been on my bucket list for most of my life:

  1. Go on a Caribbean cruise
  2. Swim with dolphins
  3. Visit Mayan ruins

Before the cruise, I was very frustrated with Royal Caribbean because of the many struggles I had dealing with their buggy web site. Royal Caribbean’s telephone support people were polite, but would put me on hold for 20 minutes at a time, only to come back saying they were unable to solve the problem.  Fortunately, once I boarded the cruise, things went smoothly, and I was able to have a great time with my friends!

Exploring Liberty of the Seas

Our ship for this cruise was called Liberty of the Seas, and it was operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

This floating city featured a large informal dining room with buffet that was open all day, several sit-down dining rooms, bars, shops, swimming pools, hot tubs, a fitness center, a spa, and more.  It featured a variety of entertainment on board, including bands playing music for dancing, movies, game shows, and other acts.

Each day, the carpets on the floors of the elevators on the ship told us what day of the week it was. I found it somewhat fascinating to think there are people whose job it was to change the elevator sign every day.

On the top deck, there were two swimming pools: one for children, and one for adults.  The children’s pool also featured a water slide.  I kept intending to try it out, but somehow my time filled up with other activities and I didn’t get to it.

Near the children’s pool is a dispenser of soft serve ice cream (shown above) called Sprinkles.  The ice cream cones are free, and I enjoyed several of them during the cruise!

The promenade deck was the level that featured many shops, bars, and restaurants.  During the week of the cruise, a number of events were held there, including a Halloween party for adults.  I particularly enjoyed the jellyfish sculpture that hung from the ceiling!

I enjoyed several treatments at the spa on board the ship, including three massages, a salt scrub, and a facial.  Word soon got out in our group that I was doing this, and the final night of the cruise our organizer Susan gave me a certificate proclaiming me “the Spa Queen”!

The Views

There were many gorgeous views to enjoy while on board the ship.  I found it very peaceful to stand at the side and look out over the intense blue of water and sky.

Our first two days of cruising, we were out in the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.

We saw several beautiful sunsets during the cruise.  This photo shows the one that greeted us our first evening on board.

The Shore Excursions

The ship made 3 stops during the week:  Roatan, Honduras; Costa Maya, Mexico, and Cozumel, Mexico.  We had the option of either purchasing an excursion package, going into town to shop and explore, or staying on the ship and enjoying the many facilities it offered.

The number of options for each stop was amazing. It was so hard to choose what to do!

Closing Thoughts

I enjoyed the cruise very much, and would going on another in the future, especially if I had a friend to go with.  Although Royal Caribbean’s online check-in process was extremely cumbersome due to a poorly designed web site, once I was on board the ship I was able to relax and enjoy the cruise.  I took over 500 pictures throughout the week.

As I make additional posts about the cruise, you’ll be able to find them at this link:

Cruising the Caribbean

 

Snorkeling with Dolphins at Roatan, Honduras

I was excited when I saw that one of the shore excursions that our cruise ship offered on my 2018 Caribbean cruise was “Dolphin Encounter and Snorkeling”.  Swimming with dolphins has been on my wish list for many, many years, and I was so happy to see there was finally an opportunity! For $154 U.S. dollars, the tour offered:

“Experience what it would be like to be a part of the pod in the wild as you interact with curious and friendly dolphins on this unique dolphin swim and snorkel tour.”

Logistics

When we got off the cruise ship, we were met by a representative from Anthony’s Key Resort, which was the local tour operator that was offering this excursion.  They took us via bus to the cove where the dolphins lived.  There were changing rooms for us to change into our swimsuits, and lockers we could use to store our belongings until we were done.  We each received a set of swim fins and snorkel mask, and then they led us down to the water. They said we could bring cameras and phones to take photos.

Jewel receives a kiss from Callie.

Meeting Callie

The trainers separated us into two groups.  Each group would work with one trainer and one dolphin.  Our trainer instructed us to wade into waist-level water, standing side-by-side.  He called over a dolphin named Callie.  He used whistles and hand signals to give requests to Callie.  After she performed each task, he rewarded her with fish. Some of the things Callie did for us included:

  1. Swimming past our line so we could pet her as she passed.  Her skin was very soft.
  2. Swimming with her belly pointing up to the sky.
  3. Jumping up out of the water.
  4. Going to look for objects buried in the sand, then bringing them back to us.  The trainer told us that dolphins have excellent built-in sonar, and they can use it to identify where items are buried.
  5. Flapping her tail on the water to make a big splash.
  6. Going for a “tail walk”, which meant rearing up vertically out of the water, and then “walking” across the surface of the water with her tail.  This was my favorite part!
  7. Posing for photos with each of us in turn.

The following video shows Callie going for her “tail walk”.

For part of the above activities, we had an opportunity to use our phones and cameras to take photos.  For the photos where we posed with Callie, a professional photographer snapped photos of each of us, and naturally we were given an opportunity to purchase those at the end of the tour.  As an individual (i.e., not part of a couple or family), I was able to purchase a package with all of the photos with me in them for $45.

The above “dolphin encounter” activity took about 30 minutes.

Snorkeling

After the “dolphin encounter” part of our tour, we set our phones and cameras aside and put on the snorkeling gear.  We swam out into the cove.  As we swam, the dolphins would come along to swim with us.  They often chased each other, passing underneath us close enough to touch.  Sometimes they surfaced and swam next to us.

This video shows Callie and Allie leaping together during the initial 30-minute dolphin encounter:

The bottom of the cove was not as spectacular as what I saw when snorkeling at Maui.  The fish were not brightly colored, they were simply a silvery color.  There were some coral formations, rocks, and seaweed to look at, but the colors tended to be neutrals.  I was happy with it, though, because the dolphins were so much fun!

This too lasted about 30 minutes.  It felt like the right length of time. At the end, the staff called us to the shore, collected our snorkeling equipment from us, loaded us onto the bus, and took us back to our cruise ship.  I went to bed that night happy, dreaming of dolphins!

About the Dolphins’ Lifestyle

Some people have asked me whether the dolphins seemed to be captives or abused. Based on watching them, I got the impression the dolphins are comfortable in their habitat, and staying there by choice.

According to the trainer we worked with, the dolphins who live in the cove were born there.  They consider it their home, just as your pet dog would consider your house his/her home.  The dolphin behavior I witnessed seemed consistent with that. The dolphins were not restrained, and had enough freedom in a large area that they could have opted to swim away from us and stay away.

Callie accepts a fish from her trainer as a reward for indulging the tourists.

The cove at Anthony’s Key is fenced off from the open Gulf of Mexico.  At times, the trainers will open the gate to allow the dolphins to play freely in the open water.  The dolphins voluntarily return to their home afterward.  A dog might run joyously around when taken to a dog park, but will choose to return home where his food and his social group live afterward, and the same is true of dolphins.

If I Were Going to Do It Again…

I would take:

  1. Dry clothes to change into after snorkeling.
  2. Swimsuit.  (I’d wait until I get there to put it 0n.)
  3. Something to photograph the dolphins underneath me while snorkeling.  This could include:
    1. Either a zip-top bag on a neck lanyard to put my cell phone inside, or
    2. A waterproof camera.
  4. Sunglasses
  5. Sunscreen, maybe also a hat.

I’m glad I removed my contact lenses before leaving my room.  It’s all too easy for water to get into the snorkel mask and wash a contact lens out of the eye.

I did take my prescription eyeglasses, and I wish I would have left them in my locker with my dry clothes when I changed clothes at the cove.  I took the sunglasses off when we got into the water, and they became an extra thing to remember to grab and take with me when it was over.

The island of Roatan, Honduras, looked beautiful when viewed from our cruise ship. Photo by Jewel, copyright 2018, all rights reserved.