Bugger the pyramids, the Egyptians are much prouder of the Aswan High Dam. If you go on any chaperoned tour of Egypt they’ll always drag you along to the dam. You’ll be wasting your breath complaining that you should be spending your limited time visiting Egypt’s older antiquities, rather than what amounts to a concrete wall from the sixties.

Your tour guide likes to give you the impression that he’s granting you special access to a high security area. To aid this deception there is a big sign at the dam saying ‘no video cameras’, ‘no zoom lenses’ and ‘no taking pictures of the dangerously armed juvenile soldiers that are lounging around smoking stinky Egyptian cigarettes and letching at all the female tourists’.

If the signage isn’t all a tourist ruse, then you can only assume that they are indeed very keen to make sure that the dam doesn’t fall prey to Israeli bomber pilots briefed by Barnes Wallis.

Unfortunately, as much as you ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ to keep your tour-guide happy, the dam is not very impressive. This is because it has a very long and gentle slope to it. Thus, illicit zoom lens or not, there is no vertiginous sheer drop to make for a good photograph. However, I’m sure the dam would be great for skateboarding.


There is no arguing that the dam was indeed a mighty feat of engineering. It was paid for with Russian roubles that the resourceful President Nasser managed to scrounge from the communists whilst the USA had their backs turned. The building of the dam, and thus the blocking of the Nile, created Lake Nasser south of the dam.

This had the unfortunate effect of flooding lots of Nubian villages and consigning them to bottom of the lake for ever more. On the plus side it changed the unpredictability of the Nile floods and saved the country’s economy…unless your own particular economy depended on Nubian goat-farming.

As the Nubians were in no position to afford scuba gear for their goats they all upped sticks and migrated north of the dam, where most of them now seem to be employed ferrying tourists around on rickety felucca sailboats. There was also a reciprocal southbound migration. This was when all the Nile crocodiles were rounded up and sent to live south of the dam, in the new Lake Nasser.

The crocs in the north had been eagerly awaiting an armada of badly navigated felucca sailboats heading their way, full of juicy tourists. The only tourists they would be seeing now would those heading for the temple of Abu Simbel, which was now going to be underwater as a result of the Nasser flooding. A prospect that suited the crocodiles. Unfortunately their plans were thwarted once more when they moved the temple, piece by piece, to a new location well above the water level and out of crocodile snapping range.

When I took a felucca trip north of Aswan I found the lack of crocodiles a bit of a disappointment. The rest of the local wildlife made up for it though, especially when we camped overnight by the side of the Nile. I got chased by a gang of scarab beetles and then, whilst I was having a drunken piss, I got startled by a stray camel.

aswan camel

After reporting the news of the marauding camel to the rest of our party, who were still dancing around the campfire, one of them decided he was going to mount the beast. This foolhardy wannabe camel rodeo star was a very loud American, which probably comes as no surprise to you. The camel, however, was very surprised and bit him. Thus the American had to be taken off to hospital and we never saw him again. As he’d been a complete pain in the arse on the entire trip the rest of us invited the camel to join us for a drink.

For my other guides to Egypt click here.