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Pole to Pole

Day 59: Luxor to Aswan

Aswan, Egypt 
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Aswan: Shehan's first customer for a year.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAt 2.15 in the afternoon we reach Aswan, the capital of Upper Egypt, 550 miles from Cairo. The Nile begins to break up at Aswan, and will not, for several hundred miles, be the orderly river we've come to know and love. It is divided by the bulk of Elephantine Island, then broken by a series of cataracts and two dams.

My thermometer, laid out for five minutes in the sun, registers 121 Fahrenheit, 50 Celsius. The river seems busier here. Maybe it is because the town itself is bigger than Luxor, and contains modern high-rise blocks and a four-lane Corniche, or perhaps the narrowing of the river around the islands concentrates the traffic. Feluccas with weirdly misspelt English names, like Hapey Tripe, drift about, looking for tourist business.

Bid our farewells to Wahid and Abdul and Gerald and Pat and seek out the Old Cataract Hotel. Try out one of the fiacres lined up hopefully along the Corniche. My driver is called Shehan, and he's very proud of Abla, his black horse with white copper blinkers and the hand of Fatima on the saddle. Shehan says that the Gulf crisis has been very bad for business: 'For a year nobody come'.

I ask him what he did during that time.

'Sleep,' he replies matter-of-factly. 'My horse sleep at my home. I sleep in the car.'

It's belly-dancing night at the Cataract Hotel. The audience consists almost entirely of tour groups, but Romany assures me that the belly-dancer is the real thing. Every now and then she will lead some victim from one of the tables to dance with her. All this does is demonstrate that belly-dancing is not something anyone can do after a few beers. One grey-haired man is so confused by the encounter that he wanders the room in a daze, unable to find where it was he was sitting.

Romany, who has already given Nigel a djellabah for his birthday, goes down to the floor for a word with the dancer, and glances over in our direction. Nigel disappears like greased lightning, not to be seen again until his birthday's over.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 59
  • Country/sea: Egypt
  • Place: Aswan
  • Book page no: 129

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