All I Want for Christmas is a Visa for Sudan

December 21, 2015 – We’re feeling right at home in beautiful hospitable Egypt now as we sit in the bazaar drinking tea. Smoke from the bubbling hookahs swirling overhead, call to prayer reverberating in every direction from the minarets, we sip our tea and watch the general 24/7 chaos that is daily life in Aswan.

It seems we’ll be here a few more days while we wait for approval from Khartoum (the capital of Sudan) regarding our applications for the Sudanese visas we need to move on. There are endless opportunities for the stranded traveler in Aswan: aside from doing laundry, catching up my diary, attempting to bribe government officials, and planning our next move, here are some of the things we’ve been up to.

We got up at 3 am (Egyptian-style tourism – traveling in a convoy, with police escort) to visit Abu Simbel, the site of Ramses II’s sun temple:

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The temple is on the shores of Lake Nasser: a bit too close to the shores actually. In the 1960s water rising due to the Aswan dam threatened to submerge the temple altogether and UNESCO had to step in with a plan to dismantle, move, and reassemble this 3500 year old temple.

Yesterday we spent a beautiful lazy day hiking up into the sand dunes and then floating along the Nile – we drank from it too – and stopped at a little beach mostly empty apart from some camels.

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We ate lunch in a Nubian village nearby (lunch unfortunately seemed to include a spot of crocodile-baiting as the owner of the house we ate at was keeping one in a cage in the hall). And then we cruised back on the roof of the boat at sunset:

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Speaking of interesting meals, here’s my dinner:

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I knew I was ordering pigeon, a local specialty I wanted to try….I didn’t realise I was ordering the actual pigeon itself if you will, head and all.

We spend a lot of time in Aswan’s labyrinthine bazaar. It’s wonderful! We wander along in the shady covered maze eating falafel and pitas filled with baba ganoush, past fruit and vegetable stalls, chunks of camel dangling on meat hooks, tourist kitsch, traditional clothing, 90s clothing, plastic dishes, heaps of spices, CDs, fish, dusty pots and pans…everything. Here I am at our favourite falafel stand (where the price has changed every time, gradually lowering until we now, possibly, pay the actual local price of about 20 cents apiece):

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There is very little hassle for us since in many cases it’s quite clear to the vendors that we aren’t there to shop, like this guy chopping up and weighing out a whole cow head:

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Of course, everybody likes to make a sale and as we walk by piles of scarves and pashminas I’ve lost count of the number of men who say to Oyv ‘Lucky man….’ or murmur ‘Wow, nice eyes….matching shawl?’ while flapping an armful of beautiful fabric at me. But possibly the funniest was today when a man in front of a table piled with jewellery said to Oyv ‘Maybe you’d like to buy a bracelet for your daughter?’

One thing they haven’t got lots of is beer: muslims don’t drink a lot. So we’re saving some money and calories that way. Of course, it’s not hard to find much of anything and just this afternoon as I bought an icecream the shopman whispered furtively to me: ‘You want beer? I have.’ and he slid open a cupboard behind the counter to reveal a can of Stella.

Sightseeing aside, we’re still waiting on that visa, which will come in a few days – Insh’allah (God willing), as they said at the embassy when we applied. Not so keen to put all our faith in Allah just yet, we returned to the embassy yesterday with our new Egyptian friend and self-appointed ‘fixer’ Ahmed, in an attempt to ‘see if there was any way to help this situation along’. But no, after a lot of chatting and smoking (on the part of the consulate officer and Ahmed), the answer remains the same: ‘Very soon, insh’allah’.


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