Cruisin' the Nile

Trip Start May 07, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Monday, December 19, 2005

To get out of Egypt we decided to take a cruise from Luxor to Aswan and the night train from Aswan to Cairo. We weren't sure if we would be able to get a cruise on short notice but Mara and the travel agent kept reassuring us. There were delays and moments when we thought everything was booked but eventually we did get a cruise on the MS Beau Soleil.

We wanted to check in as soon as possible. The boat is fairly nice. I was dubious about it's "5 star" rating. I had seen one website talking about Egyptian cruises. It listed three type of "5 star" -- standard, deluxe, and superior. It described the standard as about equivalent to Motel 6. We'd be happy with Motel 6 but were hoping for something nicer. Sure enough the cruise was everything we had hoped for. The room was huge, bigger than any cruise or ferry or train we had been on and bigger than many hotel rooms. It had a bathtub, the first we had seen on a cruise. There was no balcony per se but the large window slid open and you could climb over the rail onto the outer deck (where I am sure passengers were not allowed). It had a king sized bed, a refrigerator, and best of all, satellite TV. The meals were pretty good. At least as good as any restaurant we went to in Egypt, which isn't saying much. They had a fruit that I had never tried before (and still don't know the name) so I was excited by that. We didn't get the tour package but the tour guide was happy for us to tag along with the group so it just meant we had to figure out our own transportation and entrance tickets. So far that hasn't been a problem.

The first night we spent in Luxor harbor. Kim and I were Luxored out so we watched movies all evening. The second day we stopped in Edfu and Kom Ombo. Edfu is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. It's dedicated to Horus and wandering around really helped visualize what some of the other temples must have looked like. My advice to Egypt travellers would be to see this temple before others.

Kom Ombo is another great temple. Christians fleeing the Romans lived there for quite a while and defaced much of it but since half of it was buried the bottom half is very well preserved. It's the only double temple in Egypt. Originally crocodiles basked in the sun at that part of the Nile. The villagers didn't like being eaten by the crocodiles so they built a temple to Sobek, the crocodile god to appease him. After the temple was built the crocodiles didn't stop eating the villagers so they decided to build a temple to Horus, the protector god. The two temples are built next to each other and gives the structure a nice symmetry. It also has a balance between good and evil. When the temple was excavated a papyrus scroll was found in a secret corridor. It described how it was a bad idea to build two temples next to each other. The different priests kept getting into arguments and such. One day Sobek attacked Horus but Horus flew away. Sobek then ruled the entire temple. However the people didn't really like Sobek so they all moved North. Eventually the priests stopped getting offerings and abandoned the temple. Horus then came back and reclaimed the entire temple for himself. In the end, good always beats evil.

The third day we came to Aswan. We saw the temple of Philae, the unfinished obelisk, and took a felucca ride to Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile.

Philae is dominated by a temple to Isis that was used long after most ancient Egyptian worship had stopped. Isis was very popular in later times and she was worshipped as far away as Britain. Eventually Christians fleeing Roman persecution took over the temple and used it for their own worship. They defaced much of the carvings and added a few of their own crosses. When the Nile was first dammed (in the late 1800's?) lake Nasser was created, the largest artificial lake in the world. Many of the islands and Nubian settlements were flooded and Philae was under water for half the year. Thanks to efforts by UNESCO the temple was moved brick by brick to another nearby island that was landscaped to be similar to Philae. I think that's pretty amazing. To get to it you must take a motorboat. Why don't they have ferries included in the price of the ticket? I guess this way gets more tourist dollars and puts more Egyptians to work. After seeing so many temples this one wasn't especially striking. It was in very good condition and I wish we had seen these good temples before the more broken ones near Luxor. Karnak would be so much more impressive with a better visualization.

We stopped by the unfinished obelisk which is on the way to town from Philae. It is an ancient granite quarry where an obelisk was being carved out of the rock. It was almost finished when a flaw was discovered and it was abandoned. If it had been finished it would be the largest piece of quarried stone in the world. All in all not very impressive and hardly worth the price of admission. Reading about it in our guidebook was more interesting than seeing it and there was no information about it on location.

We took a felucca ride to Elephantine island before we had to catch our train to Cairo. Elephantine island has a large Nubian village and a good museum. We didn't have much time so we zipped through both. We saw some mummies and some very nice tombs. There is an excavation in progress which looked interested if we had more time. The village looked very poor (even more than Luxor) but nobody was starving and people seemed friendly. Someone tried to guide us but we finally convinced him to leave us wander alone. He told us not to take pictures of anybody in the village. We got to briefly meet the town elder that our guidebook mentioned. He was exactly where the book said he would be, resting against the fence at the museum. He introduced himself as "Haman from the guidebooks". We didn't have enough time to talk with him. The felucca (sailboat) was very nice. It was a perfect day for sailing with a moderate wind blowing against the current of the Nile. It was a fast ride to the island but we had to tac a lot on the way back. The felucca drivers would talk to each other when their boats passed close enough and it was interesting to listen to their broken conversations.

The train to Cairo was uneventful and just like the train to Luxor (mentioned in a previous entry) although we had a little more time to sleep.
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