This is a description of my current accommodations in Aswan/Elephentine.  No need to read it.  No news.  Nothing exciting. 

It all depends on your level of trust and your need for comfort.  You would either be horrified to know where I live for the next few days or be totally envious.  If you can sleep on the floor, that is a good first step.  No toilet paper, no soap, no sheets, no towel.  If you forgot any of those you are out of luck, have to go and buy some, or live with less.  What you get is a very old looking 2 inch soft mattress and a dirty woolen blanket.  Nobody knows what bugs they might contain, how many dozens of strangers have used them before, or how old they really are, but you just don’t think of stuff like that.  It would spoil the fun!  And that’s where your own sheets come in handy.

Lots of mosquitoes…  Yeah, they seem to be in season, here and everywhere, and unless you have a fancy air-conditioned resort hotel room – it’s only 150 feet from here – you have to live with them.  I keep thinking that at least nobody knows what I normally look like in the morning.  The swelling in my face is usually gone by around noon.  If you can be alone – I mean completely alone, that is another qualifying step for Baba Gool.

I am in a house that usually holds 10 guests.  Baba Gool is booked out year round.  But all of the guests who were here last, have left Egypt in a hurry.  And those who were scheduled to arrive did not show, except me.  If you can be alone in that house knowing that it cannot be locked either day or night, nor is there a door at your room then you have passed another test.  Nor can you put your valuables away such as camera, computer, and lots of dollars in cash.  And all of that in a village in which the average income is likely around $150 per month and everyone knows you are here and everyone knows that there is no lock anywhere, and everyone knows when you have left to go sightseeing…  Imagine this in the States!

And if you can sleep in your room alone as a woman knowing that there will be noise at times because one or two or three Nubian guys might just stop by to use the toilet or make themselves some tea, then you are  definitely a good candidate for Baba Dool’s house!  If you torture yourself with thoughts of thievery, rape, assault or whatever else you can think of, you likely won’t get much sleep and should stay at the resort next door.

The reward for your trust and lack of certain comforts is that you will live in an authentic, 100 year old barrel-vaulted, mud-brick, plastered and whitewashed Nubian house in the middle of a tiny Nubian village on Elephantine island right in the middle of the Nile across from the tourist town Aswan.  No cars, no motor bikes, no bikes; but goats, children, locals, dirt, and boats and that monstrosity of a resort hotel next door at the Northern tip of the island.  They have landscaped their corner of the island, making you feel like you are in Arizona – concrete walk ways,  manicured lawns, pruned bushes, uniformed door men and the whole nine yards.  They have separated themselves from the locals by tall walls and barbed wires…  Baba Dool literally borders the resort and there is one way I found, where I can sneak in the back way.  Passing for a resort guest, I am using their ferry to get over to Aswan.  The locals have two ferries further South.

Baba Dool at the moment feels like a hermitage.  But I can just imagine the atmosphere when the house is filled.  There are three small, dark and cool rooms off the main hallway, but the hall has built in benches and every inch of the house is covered with roughly woven rugs hiding the mix of sand, rammed earth, or concrete in various parts of the house.  The walls are decorated bottom to top with antique baskets, carved knives, woven circles, necklaces, etc.  All Nubian handicrafts, some still from the great-grandmother of the owner.  I have been watching the birds go in and out of these baskets busily building nests.  In the west you would have to pay hundreds of dollars for one of these!   The birds don’t care.

Three cousins are running the place, but the guy who is working the place is Mustafa.  Abdulla is the captain of the Katja, which you can rent for excursions.  And Samir is the owner – I guess, he put up the money.  All three came out to greet and welcome me when I arrived yesterday.  Mustafa gave me a cell phone to reach him whenever I need him.

I am sure when the house is full of guests, people would congregate either at the hallway or more likely on the absolutely spectacular roof terrace overlooking the Nile.  But it’s very windy and rather cool at night even though the day today felt like the middle of August.  I was in heat shock coming from chilly, rainy, and gray Cairo.  But I am the only one sitting here with my computer, a glass of whiskey and some chocolate, listening to the wind blowing the blankets around which serve as “doors”.   I got the “suite” of the house, the “4 bedroom”.  That means that it’s big enough for a double set of mattresses for 4 people who know each other really well.  It has a gorgeous view of the Nile away from Aswan facing the famous Kitchener Island (now more properly called the Botanical Garden).  It is famous for exotic plants and birds which Lord Horatio Kitchener, a general of the Egyptian army cultivated here in the 19th Century.  He must have been British.

And you can watch sunsets here!  Sunsets in Egypt are not quite what sunsets are in any American (or European) city.  They are spectacular, overwhelming and happen in full view.  If that isn’t Egypt, I don’t know what is?  Coming from the elbow-room only on Tahrir Square in Cairo, from all the tension there, and from a hotel with a most exotic mix of guests who provided never ending entertainment by just being who they were, to this – it could not be any more different.   I will enjoy every moment of this.  It’s paradise.  At least for a limited while.

Good night.

9 comments so far

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  1. Hi ET,

    Beautiful, honest description of the place. I booked it for myself in Feb. How accessible is the island by ferry in early morning/late evening? I need to get back after the Philae Temple light and sound show (say at 8pm) and also a train to Luxor departing at 7:30am. Guess the morning ferry will be fine.

  2. Hello
    Iam raghda the daughter’s of owner and new manager instead of mustafa of nubian house BABA DOOL , thank you for this description,but now our BABA DOOL IS totally different, rooms with locked door, there are beds in rooms,fresh breakfast , no one can inter and stay in house and use toilet ,you can sleep safe ,and comfortable without mosquitoes . You can find all comfortable ways in our house,I wish to come again.
    This our numbers

    • Raghda, I am so glad to see you found my blog and wrote me a note. I hope you also read that despite all the things you (and I) mentioned – Baba Dool was PARADISE for me. I did not mind one bit the rustic atmosphere. In fact, I will never forget the peace and tranquility I experienced there after all the stress at Tahrir Square. You have a wonderful place there. I hope many guests will find you and enjoy your place. I wonder if tourism has returned to Egypt? I certainly will be back some day again. There is so much to explore. Thanks for writing. All the best to you! ET

  3. Elisabeth,
    I can live with the mosquitoes and hard-floor accommodations. But I couldn’t stay alone in place without doors or locks–especially in these times of unrest. The adventurous side of me says ‘whahoo you go girl.’ The pragmatic side of me says, ‘spend the bucks and stay at the tourist hotel.’ I once was the sole occupant in a big, old, and supposedly haunted hotel. At night I got piece of mind wedging a chair under the locked door knob. The manager encouraged me the next day to stay in a condo adjacent to the detached office. I took his advice. I’m sending you an extra dose of protective mojo this frigid and windy Wednesday. I envy you the heat….

  4. ET,
    I don’t know how much news you are getting in your new place.
    Today, Tuesday, was so fare the largest demonstration in Tahrir square.
    Wael Ghonim, a young Google executive, who put the Facebook website together, which helped to get the protest started, was released from 12 days in secret detention.
    He gave an emotional television interview that moved people in Egypt and world wide.

  5. I love your hotel! It looks like a birthday cake! What a fun room. You must have smiled and laughed when you saw it. How nice for you after spending so much time wondering if you would even get to Aswan. Are all the houses like this or have you lucked out?

  6. Elisabeth,

    I empathize with your computer trials. A thought — .docx files are from latest versions of Microsoft Word. The computer you refer to may not have the latest program. If you compose in MS Word on a different computer, then do a “save as” and choose earlier extension .doc. hope this helps. Also, sorry about long download time. However, the pictures are fascinating and much appreciated here. Thanks for persevering.

  7. Elisabeth,
    I love the Nile crocodile scull!
    Very idyllic place, this BaBA Dool house.
    Are these hand drums behind your bed?
    Real Nubian?

  8. Elisabeth,
    The WCC system is being serviced by our network provider for routine maintenance. Most of the time it’s unavailable late at night ’till early morning EST. Of course that puts a kink in things half way around the world. Work should be completed tonight.