Judy in Egypt, Day 2: The Basma Hotel, Aswan

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Crossroads senior web editor Judy Koutsky arrived in Cairo Jan. 29 to begin a two-week adventure in Egypt, sponsored by Wild Women Adventures. Armed with a laptop and digital camera, she is sending on-site reports and photographs back to Crossroads' New Jersey headquarters on a daily basis (or whenever she can get an Internet connection). Agents who have questions or advice for Judy during her trip can send email to [email protected]

ASWAN, Egypt -- From Cairo International airport we caught a flight to Luxor (about 90 minutes), where more than 90% of the passengers departed before the plane took off for Aswan. Normally the layover is about 20 minutes, but we had to "change a tire," so 20 minutes became 90 minutes. The flight to Aswan was about 40 minutes. The new airport here was built two months ago, and it is gorgeous, which is a strange thing to say about an airport, but any Aswan-bound client dreading a third-world-airport experience will be delightfully surprised by this facility.

Aswan is where Egyptians go to get some "r and r." musiciansOur accommodations here, the Basma Hotel, is exactly the type of place I had hoped we would stay during this trip. Landscaped and decorated by two of Egypt's leading artists, the hotel incorporates beautifully manicured tropical gardens, an enormous swimming pool with a swim-up bar and a rich collection of contemporary Egyptian art.

The front foyer is covered with Egyptian murals, and the hotel restaurant is decorated in a Nubian style. Clients looking for the luxuries of a five-star hotel but with local flavor and a small-hotel feel (friendly service, slow-paced patrons) will not be disappointed here. Visitors are greeted by a Nubian musicians and a welcome drink upon arrival.

Clients could spend the day relaxing at the resort, or they could journey to Paradise Island. This is a private island owned by the Basma that can be enjoyed only by hotel guests. By taking a five-minute boat ride, guests can settle into the tranquility of a desert island. The Nile surrounds the island, the desert surrounds the Nile, and the stark contrast of the sands reaching out to meet the river makes a visit here very worthwhile.

henna tattoosWe spent the afternoon on the island listening to Nubian music, eating local barbecue and getting Henna tattoos. The tattoos are done by a local artist and are available at the hotel daily. They make great great souvenirs and wash off in about a month.

Nighttime was spent eating a buffet dinner at hotel restaurant and watching a belly-dancer perform her hypnotizing act. If your clients are looking to escape from the excessive stimuli of Cairo, Aswan and the Basma hotel would be a great recommendation.

I spoke with a representative from South Sinai Travel, which is our tour operator here, and he said very few Americans come to Aswan. This was evident when we got off our bus and locals surrounded us, asking to have their picture taken with us.

Basma Hotel viewI believe Aswan provides an opportunity to explore the diversity of Egypt. Here, the Nubian people -- who have closer ties to Africa, culturally and socially, unlike Cairo, where a strong Middle East presence is palatable -- are friendly and accommodating.

Basma Hotel Aswan: 187 Rooms. Phone (011) 20-9 731-0901. Fax (011) 20-9 731-0907. E-mail: [email protected] Price: $87 single, $119 double. Conferece room holds up to 150 people.

Wild Women Adventures: 152 Bloomfield Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Phone (800) 992-1322. Fax: (707) 829-1999.

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