Friday, 30 May 2008

Inland to the Nile ... May 2008

Avenue of the Spinxes in Luxor
10-28 May 2008

We spent the next a few days cleaning up and relaxing while organising our Nile Cruise and minibreak!! We were recommended the “Nile Admiral” ship and Cairo based GAT Tours and booked everything via internet and received excellent and prompt service. We were able to pay the 4 night cruise (USD76pp pn including all meals, tours, admissions, guides) at a local bank in Hurghada in either USD or EGP which suited us well and they also arranged our transfer to Luxor with the tourist convey to connect with the cruise. This was USD45pp which was much more than we paid for our other transfers we organised independently enroute but worked well for us at the time.

Statues of Menom on Luxors West Bank
 We were picked up by private minibus at 5.30am from our dock in Hurghada Marina along with Annie and Liam off Gone with the Wind to start our Egyptian holiday. By 12.30pm we were checked into our comfortable cabins onboard and enjoying the first of many excellent meals onboard whilst overlooking the famous Nile River. A busy afternoons sightseeing included the Karnak and Luxor Temples, both outstanding sites and our first taste of the immense history Egypt holds. The following morning it was an early start to beat the intense heat of the day. After watching the Hot Air Balloons rise over the West Bank we visited the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepust and the Colossi of Memnon. They were all excellent, although very hot and busy. It was back onboard to let the lines go and we headed south down the Nile as we enjoyed the afternoon at leisure lazing in the shade by the pool, watching life on the Nile pass us by. Late afternoon entertainment was provided when we slowed to transit the Esna lock. The local stallholders take to their boats and throw items of clothing, shawls, rugs, really anything they can onto the ship in the hope that the tourists will like them. If you do then you start the bartering process yelling backwards and forwards until the price is agreed then you throw down the money in a plastic bag and hope it lands in their boat!!!! All very entertaining and many purchases were made.

Day 3 dawned hot and sunny yet again and there were more sights to see. A morning tour to the excellent Temple of Horus in Edfu followed by a short shopping excursion then it was back onboard for another restful afternoon as we headed further south. Our late afternoon stop was at Kom-Ombo Temple, positioned beautifully on a bend in the Nile overlooking the setting sun. Running the gauntlet through the stalls to get back onboard before sailing time was not an easy task. That evening onboard was fancy dress Egyptian style and many of the previous day’s purchases were worn in high spirits. Another early start on day 4 was not welcome after a late night but there was more to see.

Temple of Edfu
 We had arrived at Aswan and visited the great modern Nile engineering feat, the High Dam. This was followed by a short local boat trip out to Philae Island. Here they have resited a temple that would have been lost underwater when the dam was built. This has been undertaken in many places in this area with the help of UNESCO and has truly saved many historical treasures that would have been covered for all time. Next up it was time for our felucca ride around Elephantine Island, unfortunately the wind didn’t come out to play so we didn’t get much of a sail in. Then that was the end of the pre-planned activities so we relaxed and enjoyed another leisurely afternoon on the ship with our unobstructed Nile view, and even caught up on some much needed sleep.

Next morning the 4 of us taxied to the local bus station and boarded the early Upper Egypt Bus Company bus to Abu Simbel. Big mistake, but we must all learn the hard way and it was an experience. All looked ok to start with but before we had even left Aswan we were diverted to the bus company depot and all changed onto a bus that would not have passed a safety inspection in most countries for at least 10 years. It had just been hosed out, so seats (which weren’t actually attached to the frames), floor, basically everything was wet so the only dry seats we could get were at the back, above the motor. Oh well, it was only 4 hours, it would be fine. But it got hotter, and hotter, and hotter, to the point where we couldn’t put our feet on the floor. This was combining nicely with the outside air temperature which was over 40 degrees and of course this bus didn’t have air-conditioning. Surprisingly we actually arrived safely and almost on time, way more by good luck than the drivers skills. We were escorted by a local military man to our overnight accommodation just 4 minutes walk away, the Eskaleh, ph 0020 (97) 340 1288, 40Euro double room. It sits lakeside in a quiet street and is a traditional Nubian mudbrick house. Our cute room had air-con, fan, ensuite and free wifi, (or free use of their computer) the owners and staff were absolute delights and the food very good, the only downside was no swimming pool which might have been good.

Flat out on the Nile after another busy
 morning spent sightseeing
Time for relaxing during the heat of the day then at 4.30pm we headed to the Temples of Ramses the Great and his wife, about 20 minutes walk away. This is the best time of the day to visit as over 95% of the visitors to Abu Simbel do it as a very long day trip from Aswan and have been and gone long before lunch. We had the luxury of exploring with only a handful of others and stayed until the caretaker locked up at 7pm. Then we purchased our tickets for the Sound and Light Show and went back in and enjoyed hearing the history of Ramses and the visual effects of the lighting on the temples exterior. Alone these temples are truly magnificent, but what makes them even more special was that they were also moved when the dam was built to a new site about 70 metres higher than their original location. This was a huge undertaking and has been done superbly, with even the broken pieces lying as they would have fallen. Some parts were repaired, some cleaning was also done, and then they tunnelled it all into the hillside overlooking the Nile. I am sure even Ramses would have approved.

This was a big side trip almost back down to the Sudanese boarder, but a definite highlight of our Nile Valley minibreak. Next morning we did the wise thing and asked the hotel to organise a private car for us and we joined the 10am tourist convoy to Aswan. Our driver then organised another car to take us on the 2pm convoy to Luxor where we stayed the night at the St Joseph Hotel, on the Corniche. The room was comfortable with air con, ensuite with bathtub, lake views, balcony, rooftop swimming pool, free WIFI, and breakfast included for USD30. The staff were helpful and booked a private minivan for the 4 of us to join the following afternoon’s convoy back to Balvenie and Gone with the Wind in Hurghada. Our final mornings sightseeing included a ride on a horse and carriage with the obligatory stop at the papyrus market, and a leisurely look through the Luxor Museum which has been set out very well, with some excellent pieces recently discovered in Luxor Temple, a couple of mummies, some pieces from Tutankhamun’s Tomb and a host of other interesting artefacts, all displayed well and explained (in English). The transfer worked well and we arrived home to the marina before dark, having very much enjoyed our 8 day excursion. A new adventure awaited us, the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal.

See our web album for more photos
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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Egypt - Where history began ... Apr - May 2008

Crabcastles in the sand at Ras Banas
26 Apr - 19 May 2008

We have been in Egypt now for nearly a month. Our run of dream weather with favourable winds came to a very abrupt end at midnight on the 26th April as we were crossing Foul Bay (aptly named) from Sudan to Egypt. We were hit with a nasty northerly of over 25 knots and experienced our first taste of the famous short steep chop of the Red Sea, unlike any wave action we have come across previously, basically they just stop the boat. So although our target had been Dolphin Reef we bore away about 20 miles short of it and headed in company with Gone with the Wind for Ras Banas. Its a very low lying, windswept, remote spot with a sandy beach and a small army outpost of just 2 personnel. The following 7 days saw more action at Ras Banas than probably has ever been seen. We ended up with a united nations collection of 11 yachts sheltering from the howling winds, 4 of them very skilled wind and kite surfers who were out enjoying every second and entertained us all. We even partook in windswept walks on the beach, choppy snorkeling, very wet dinghy rides and soaked up enforced downtime.

The magical Dolphins at Dolphin Reef
On the 8th day the wind eased just long enough for a mad dash up to Dolphin Reef to join up with another 6 yachts taking refuge in there. Dolphin Reef is slightly dry at all times so affords good shelter in flat water from the seas but no wind shelter at all, but the winds were easing and we had come to swim with the resident pod of dolphins and were not disappointed. We swam amongst over 100 dolphins of all sizes for over an hour, till our little legs just couldn't keep up with them any more. I can only describe this as a highlight of one of the things we are so lucky to be able to do because we have our own boat and the time and flexibility to wait for nature and the amazing sights she has shown us. Just brilliant.

Moving on the next day in calm waters we just kept on going about 64 miles and anchored the night at Samedi Reef. More underwater treats awaited us when we decided to snorkel the reef entrance. There were two huge bommies, with a good array of live coral, very clear water to 20 metres and an excellent selection of small to medium sized fish, with over a dozen varieties we hadn't seen before. This would have to go down as one of the best snorkels we have had since Papua New Guineas Louisiade Archipelago, even if somewhat colder water. Egypt was treating us after such a rough start!!!
Evening camel tour at Port Ghalib
We kept heading north while the winds were light and arrived in Port Ghalib to officially check into Egypt on May 06. Port Ghalib is under construction. They are building an entire new city and have started with the port and waterways area, to date there are a few “American” style restaurants, ATM machines, gift shops and a couple of hotels. The marina, at this point is a very long concrete wall to tie onto, with some med mooring spots also. We had no power facilities, metered water was available via an extremely long hose which didn’t quite reach us as we were at the end, rubbish disposable was charged at USD1 per bag, WIFI was available at USD10 per hour or USD20 per day (not a typo!!!!) but we did get plenty of free layers dust and sand from the building works, and the most flies we have had anywhere. However, check in facilities were reasonably fast and efficient and much cheaper than checking in at Hurghada the next option. Ghalib is really in the middle of nowhere but we relaxed for a couple of days then decided to brave it and try another overnighter to Abu Tig Marina at El Guana, about 15miles north of Hurghada.
All us on the marina wall at Port Ghalib
We had a good weather forecast and left with light winds and flat seas, put the throttle down and motorsailed in light winds. In the afternoon a light southerly set in, and although that is the perfect wind when heading north we were cautious from our previous experience across Foul Bay that southerlies are short lived and turn to strong northerlies at a moments notice, generally in the wee small hours. Unfortunately this was to be no exception and by 3am we had 25 – 30 knots from the Northwest with the short choppy seas that make headway difficult. Fortunately we, along with Gone with the Wind, had made very good time and were almost abeam of the reefs outside Hurghada. Skipper made a good call and as day broke we started heading in through the reefs and ran along the coastline in much calmer water. We passed Hurghada and continued onto Abu Tig for about half an hour but we got out of the reef shelter again and at 8am on May 09 turned back and went into Hurghada Marina and undertook with much trepidation in 30 knots our first “med mooring” experience!!!!

Hurghada Marina has a great location less than 5 minutes walk from the main tourist strip and the old town. It’s very touristy with mainly Russian tourists but compared to the rest of Egypt it is pretty laid back. The marina area is almost completed and will be smart when it’s all finished. Power and water were metered but not expensive, WIFI was free and accessible onboard, berthing charges up to 16m USD20 per day or USD300 per month and it wasn’t too dusty and will be better when all works are completed. It is a good place to leave the boat while off land travelling as it is close to Luxor and the Nile Valley. We took a day trip up to Abu Tig Marina to check whether it would be a better option. It is in an enclosed “tourist environment”, all western restaurants, hotels, very little privacy if stern to, pool club access by membership, WIFI charged and we heard from friends noisy at night with music into the wee small hours. We decided to remain in Hurghada.

For anchorage information on Egypt see the "Gulf of Suez - A sting in the tale" posting with detailed info on the above anchorages

See all our Egypt photos on our web album
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