I left the cramped dorm room and free wifi of Cairo on an overnight train to Aswan almost a week ago. Although the lights were left on all night the first class car was the nicest train I’ve traveled on in a long time. Many things people have told me about Egypt have turned out to be exaggerations. I’ve figured out that a lot of people come to Egypt who aren’t exactly used to hard travel. Even my guidebook coddles it’s readers—I’m shocked by some of the obvious comments in there.
Aswan was a beautiful spot on the Nile and I found a hotel room with attached bathroom and a Nile view for only a little more than my Cairo dorm room. I sampled my first koshary there, but I also had a shocking sampling of the local male population. I was possibly the most covered foreigner in Aswan, wearing long pants, long sleeves, a scarf, socks and at times a winter coat but I still got hassled by men. Walking down the promenade along the Nile was the worst. Felucca captains would try to sell me a ride on their boat and finish with a proposition for sex. I generally ignored them, but one man, around 75 years old, wearing a traditional robe and white turban followed me when I wouldn’t speak to him. After he exhausted his felucca pleads he cornered me and asked me for sex. He continued to ask me more details about the subject while I looked down and realized he’d cornered me right in front of a garbage can. Although my first instinct was physical violence, I restrained myself and simply threw garbage in his face. He didn’t even blink.
Walking along the suq to buy some food I routinely heard kissing noises, hey baby, oooh so nice, oooh la la and so on. After a few days people started to ask me why I was so angry, smile baby, why are you alone?, are you angry because you have no boyfriend? I have to brave all of these things just to get a can of diet coke. The hassle for money isn’t so bad, it’s the blatant sexual remarks I hear whenever I’m in public.
I ran into a Canadian who I’d met in Jordan on my day trip to Abu Simbel and we booked a felucca trip together to Kom Ombo. I figured that booking through a popular hotel with a guy would help out a bit. The journey started off to a bad start when the three teenage Mexican backpackers we were grouped with were an hour late and our noble-looking old captain jumped off the boat as we sailed away. Instead of our trustworthy captain we were left with two young men as our crew. We sailed two and a half days, two nights along the Nile toward Luxor. The boat would have been more relaxing if I wasn’t the only female and the only non-smoker on board. We routinely docked on banks with no cover for me to use the bathroom and my nerves were tested.
Luxor, the so-called “hassle capital of Egypt,” has been a breeze compared to Aswan. There are a lot of comments, but they mostly stick to the sale and not my body. I am still getting cat calls, whistles and requests for sex but they’re yelled from passing cars and whispered as I walk by. In Aswan it was literally in my face.
I spent my first day on the East Bank at Karak and the Luxor Museum. Am I the only person not interested in mummies? The monuments here are massive and photos require a human figure in them for scale. I’m still surprised to see paint remaining on some of the temples and wonder what the tombs on the West Bank will look like. Tomorrow I am heading over there, possibly to The Valley of the Kings. Everything is quite spread out and almost everyone takes some sort of tour or hires a car. I like to stay for long times to admire the details and draw so my schedule doesn’t fit into this type of sightseeing. I spent four hours at Karak when most people spend one. We’ll see how it goes, I’m planning on heading over by ferry and renting a bike or picking up a shared bus on the other side. It’s not glamorous but it lets me interact with the local women and gives me the time I need to see things my way.