Amazing AbuSimbel (&can I get a decent bathroom?)

Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
Trip End Nov 09, 2010

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Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Apparently, assigned seating is a strictly western phenomenon. We shoved our way onto the 10 pm train to Aswan when it arrived at around 11:30. We were the only Westerners and the locals were none too impressed that we wanted the assigned seats as listed on our tickets, but were kind enough not to put up too much of a fuss (that didn‘t stop them from staring at us as though we were from another planet though). We all settled into our seats for the 10 hour overnight ride (that took 13 hours but whatever!) There was standing room only, so the locals that didn’t get a seat were crammed into the spaces between the train cars. One guy was sleeping inside a small electrical closet under the toilet (YUCK!) MoMo said to the girls--do not go to the toilet alone- ever. That was encouraging…. But we decided to go in the beginning of the trip, thinking the sanity conditions of an overcrowded train would only deteriorate overnight. So, we guarded the door for each other, and tried not to touch anything (which was a challenge given the roughness of the train ride!) Once back in our seats, I used alcohol wipes to clean the arm rests and anything else I might touch, put on my eye mask and ear plugs, and endeavored to catch some zzzzz’s. At some point in the night, they cranked the aircon up so high, that Jeff and I had to get out our sleep sacks AND sleeping bags, and I had to cover my freezing ears. It was unbelievable that it could be so hot outside and so cold in that train! I won’t complain about that though, as at least if it is cold you can bundle up, which is better than sweating through the night!

When we exited the train around 1:00 in Aswan, we were all gasping for air as the temperature was around 115 degrees. We checked into our hotel, but even with aircon running full blast we could not cool the room. So, we all met downstairs and jumped in a cab with MoMo to go eat some kushari. I have no idea how 7 of us crammed ourselves into this tiny taxi, we felt like we were in the clown car at the circus! The kushari was tasty, but I regretted that meal for the next 4 days! That night we went to eat an authentic Nubian dinner. The Nubian people had their houses all destroyed by the installation of the Aswan High Dam so were given free housing by the Egyptian government to relocate. They are a different race from Egyptians- with their own language, customs, and with African facial features. They live along the Nile in small villages that probably haven’t changed much for nearly 100 years. The meal was a bit disappointing, as we were all expecting more of a cultural event, where we would learn about the people, (or, okay, get to buy some “Nubian” crafts) but it was just a meal--and by then my stomach was rebelling against any type of foreign foods. After dinner I called it a night, while Jeff and the others went to the Aswan market, one of the oldest markets in Egypt. All he bought was a kilo of peanuts that were roasted in the sand. They had a nice flavor, but there was a fair amount of grit mixed in!

2:30am alarm clock. Today we are heading to see Abu Simbel. At this point we know nothing about it except that it is supposed to be awesome and we have to go early because the temperatures can be upwards of 120 degrees. We sleep walk to the van at 3am. We meet a bunch of other tourist buses and vans in a huge parking lot and wait until about 4am, where we would all be registered and go together in an armed convoy. We would be traveling in this convoy for 3 hours across the eastern part of the Sahara desert near to the Sudanese border to Abu Simbel. The armed convoy was the result of a tourist massacre that happened in 1997 at another temple (Hatshepsut), where 58 tourists were massacred. Not exactly what you want to hear on your way... But, we have a blessedly uneventful trip and arrive to Abu Simbel around 7am and see Nasser lake and a whole bunch of sand. We all go for a quick trip to the toilets--I haven’t mentioned before that you have to pay 1 Egyptian pound for every toilet you use (about .17cents). We don’t mind paying for clean toilets, but half the time you are paying for squat toilets, not clean, no toilet paper and several species of aggressive flies. Not the best part of Egypt. But anyway, I bring this up now because the lady taking the coins for the toilet asked me if I had a pen to give to her son for his schoolwork. The only pen I had was one given to me by Aaron Gustavis, Bedias electrician. I wonder what he would think if he knew one of his pens was now in Egypt, almost to Sudan?? J

We walk around two huge mounds of sand and gasp as we get our first glimpse of the two temples of Abu Simbel, built in the 13th centure BC. One of them has four, 60 foot tall statues of King Ramses II. It is incredible, and no pictures will ever do it justice. It is worth coming to Egypt just for this temple. King Ramses II was a bit of an egomaniac, and depicted himself as a god in many of his statues and seems to have more statues than any other pharoah. He is also the most likely pharoah to have “Let Moses’ people go”. We aren’t allowed to take our cameras inside, but we were blown away by the huge statues inside as well. You have to see it to believe it. The other temple is smaller but also amazing, a tribute to his favorite wife, Queen Nefertari.  These temples were once located down the hill from where they are now, but once the dam was built it raised the water level of Lake Nasser and they were going to be under water. So there was an incredible 6 year project to cut the temples up and re-install them on higher ground. WOW. After being amazed for 2 hours, we headed back to Aswan to get our bags for the felucca cruise.

The wind was fierce as we arrived back in Aswan, which meant we weren’t going to be allowed to sail the felucca. The result of this was sleeping on the felucca across the river from our Aswan hotel on the shore of a Nubian village. A felucca is a large, flat boat with a four inch mattress under a shaded top and a sail. There were 7 of us on the boat plus 3 Nubian crew members. There is no bathroom on the felucca, which meant we either had to find a tree along the shoreline, or go to a Nubian house. During daylight, the crew led us to a Nubian family house that let us use their bathroom--well, I use the term loosely… it was a squat toilet, and the shower head was directly overhead so while trying not to fall down or touch anything I had the drip drip drip of the shower on my head. Not to mention it had quite possibly never seen the likes of Clorox and stank to high heaven. And I still had an upset stomach. ‘nuff said…

The next morning we got the word we were going to be allowed to sail- hoorah! And we would have the chance for a shower and toilet before we left. We all did a little happy dance, although I don’t know where we thought we were going-- we ended up right back at that same Nubian house--needless to say none of us took them up on the shower…and thus began a lazy day and night sailing towards Luxor on the River Nile exactly as people and animals have done for thousands of years. There was a lot of desert with a few green plants right on the shoreline and sporadic villages, but mostly just peaceful sailing. We stopped for awhile on a sandy shore for a swim and the water was surprising cold and clear. It was still very hot during the day, but there was a breeze so it was tolerable. We went to bed when it got dark and rose with the sun. It was very relaxing except for the constant wondering when the next bathroom bush would be located J The crew was selling us beer and sodas and prepared all of our meals over a propane burner on the felucca. We ate falafel, friend chicken, tahini and lots of pita bread! Alcohol has generally not been part of our diet in Egypt--being a Muslim country it is not served in restaurants or sold at the grocery store. We did find a chain of stores called “Drinkies” and it felt like a speakeasy--we got our beers tucked secretly away in black opaque bags.

On the morning of the third day of the felucca ride, we docked near Luxor to begin a couple of more jam packed days seeing more temples
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Hair on Fire on

This is absolutely incredible!

Jein Gadson on

Looks awesome guys. I thinks brewskiz on the nile is the best!! Nice.

Victoria on

Nice blog entry and set of photos!

It feels like the more disgusting the bathroom facilities are, the more jealous I get of your adventures and travels. I don't know why...I think it's because it means wherever you are going must be pretty damn amazing and worth it. And from the photos you've taken, Egypt looks soooo amazing and beautiful.

We miss you. Can't wait to catch up when you are done with your travels.

Cynthia on

amazing photos -- i think i like these the best of all! what a grand adventure

Ben White on

Awesome story.......... exciting...... have fun.

Ben White

Roger Gordon on

What an adventure...but...what a trade off. We take all that "clean restroom" stuff for granted until you visit the other side of the world. I relished your stories and it was as if I was right there with you. Got to run now...have to use the toilet.

Page on

Great entry Tamara, great story, great pictures! Cooling off in the Nile...amazing!

Linda on


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