Aswan is a Nubian city in the south of Egypt, on the first cataract of the Nile. Here Agatha Christie wrote her murder story while she stayed in the Old Cataract Hotel. The O.C. is a stunning anachronism of colonial architecture that appears on the seared Nubian landscape like a mirage. It was built when Queen Victoria's realm extended out into Africa. It is the last vestige of the Raj. I come to the Old Cataract for cocktails at sunset. World class Martini's and British civility are served up with peanuts. The Cataract's bar teeters above the giant boulders, boulders so massive that they change the course of this giant river. Its a great place for day's end. The O.C. also has an English rose garden. The restaurant's great formal dining room is drop-dead other-worldly-magnificent. The food is first class, the music and decor is beautiful beyond words. But I can not afford to stay here as a guest.
I board down the Nile a piece in Aswan proper, near the docks. I fall into a daily pattern; up at four thirty in the morning; I dress and put my photo gear together. Then, for eight cents, I take an engine-powered ferry and cross the Nile. I sit knee to knee, the only white man in a boat filled with turbaned Nubian men; dressed in Galibeyas; garrulously Salaaming each other; waving with their walking sticks; friendly and quick-smiled. Aswan is the most African part of Egypt. It's heat only increases its exoticism.
As the sun rises I make my way through west bank villages shooting photos in the early morning light. The Nubian's paint their homes in rich mango's and deep dark blues. By nine o'clock, I go back to our air-conditioned hotel room and sleep for the rest of the day. Then, late in the afternoon, like the rest of Aswan, I too awaken. For it's only in the coolness of night that we can breathe here. The heat abates as we take our sunset diners on a Nile barge called the Aswan Moon. We eat grilled aubergine - eggplant - and tomato soup.
Adventure trekkers can book a two day sail down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor on a felucca, the same type boat the ancients adored. Nine passengers can sleep rough but sweet on the deck a for only $40 each, plus the food you bring. This is a winter or spring destination, especially if you want to sail the Nile. Aswan has a wonderful night-time souk. Shop for authentic gold, silver and African craft works. Save some money to drink and dine at the Old Cataract - you will feel like royal. There is a great overnight train from Cairo to Aswan - book a bed for $100. Or use the city as a jumping off point to go south to Abu Simbal.