Rising Above It

Trip Start Jan 01, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

You do not really need to arrange for a wake up call with the hotel in Egypt.  Every morning at 5 am, the call to morning prayers will definitely do the trick.  Unfortunately for today, 5 o'clock is too late because we are leaving the hotel at 3:30 for a day trip to Abu Simbel.  The reason for such an early start is that we need to catch a escorted caravan at 4.  I was not sure whether we needed protection from highway robbers or terrorists.  The fact that policeman were checking the undercarriage of the van was an indication that it is terrorists.  That is the reality of the 21st century.  Of course I have to wonder if the Egyptians are just putting up a show of security.  Every entrance I have passed through had a metal detector but so far I have been padded down only once even though I have beeped almost every time.  One time I had my digital camera in my pants front pocket (obvious rectangular shape) and got no attention...maybe I just have an innocent face.

The ride there was comfortable because through an administrative snafu Intrepid booked a van for 24 when all we had was 12.  Intrepid paid for the difference between the two charter, so everyone only had to pay 145 EGP for 6 hour round trip shuttle and 2 hours at the temple.  With the extra leg room everyone enjoyed a comfortable nap on the drive there.  At sunrise most people started to dig into their breakfast box provided by the hotel for 15 EGP.  I started my breakfast early and did not have enough light to notice that the rolls came with a separate container of fig jam, so I finished the rolls and then ate the jam without bread.  Also it took me 30 minutes to figure out how to get juice out of the juice box without spilling it all over myself.  I noticed I was not the only one with that puzzled look.  It was amusing but everyone managed to get juice even though I think everyone use a different approach.

The temples at Abu Simbel was originally located in a place that would have been flooded when the High Dam was completed in 1960s.  UNESCO realized the danger to this and other temples in the area.  With major international support UNESCO managed to save a lot of the sites by either relocation or excavation.  The temples of Abu Simbel was relocated to a site further inland and higher.  There were several things lost in translation.  First, the original site was carved into a mountain side and was one continuous object; the new site broke the complex into two mounds each housing one of the temples.  Also, before the Nile waters would come up to the entrance but now Lake Nasser (lake formed by the dam) is 25 meters below.  Finally, the orientation of the main temple would have allowed the rising sun to shine directly onto the three god statues on the vernal and autumnal equinox.  At the relocated site, this phenomena happens one day later.  Funny that the relocation team did not bother to patch over the numerous graffiti found on the temple walls and columns.  Vandals as far back as Roman times have defaced the walls.  Fortunately the site was buried and lost to time until it was rediscovered in the early 1800's...otherwise the entire monument would be covered.  I guess the same yen to immortalize yourself by building massive monuments also inspire people to write/chisel their name into the monuments.

After 2 hours at the site, the convoy was leaving to go back to Aswan.  2 hours is sufficient to tour the site...I am still undecided if it was worth the 6 hours round trip to visit the temple.  I think our driver is still in training because he had another person accompanying him.  Also because he stayed in 4th gear the entire trip.  I tried to get some sleep in the van with no luck since the sun was beating down on us in full mid-morning glory.  When I got back to the hotel, the little nap that I took turned into 3 hours of much needed sleep.  There was nothing else on the Intrepid agenda for today, so I decided to visit the Nubian Museum.  I spent over an hour just walking the gardens outside the museum.  One exhibit, which I found most fascinating was the man-made cave with actual cave paintings rescued from the flood of Lake Nasser.  It showed that at some point Nubia was more like an African Savannah with giraffes, lions etc. but eventually it all turned into desert.

For the evening I wanted to see the light and sound show at Philae Island.  Philae Island was another UNESCO rescue project where they moved the entire Temple of Isis complex to another island with higher elevation (Agilkia Island).  The engineers even went as far as land filling the island into the shape of the original Philae.  A lot of trouble caused by the creation of the High Dam especially considering in an effort to control the flooding of the Nile the dams now also prevents the rich silt from fertilizing the farm land along the Nile.  Not thoroughly thought out plan in my opinion.

Since in my sleep deprived stupor, I forgot to see if anyone wanted to go and see the show; I will be on my own for the evening.  They have several showings each night in French, Arabic or English.  The English show was at 7:45.  Arriving early I grabbed something to eat at the docks before hiring a river boat to the island.  Fortunately I teamed with 4 Japanese tourists, an Israeli and her guide on the ferry ride.  The guide was able to negotiate 10 EGP round trip combined with 75 EGP entrance and 55 EGP round trip taxi (you should definitely negotiate a round trip pick up because the taxi will not queue there waiting for a fare after the show) it turned out to be a cheap night for good entertainment.  Wandering through the lite temple at night was quite delightful.  The commentary was a little kitschy but informative on some Egyptian mythology and history.  Ironically, the best part of the show was when we were in the courtyard between the 1st and 2nd pylon and they turned off all the lights.  It was amazing the outline of the pylons framing a sky full of stars.

I actually ran into 3 others from the tour group, Roy, Ruth and Rachel.  I think they may have been mad with the price I was able to negotiate because their ferry rammed into my ferry on the way back; BTW they paid 20 EGP for the ferry and 60 EGP for the taxi.  I gave 5 EGP baksheesh when I noticed the taxi driver had to pay 5 EGP to entry the dock area.  I know he should have already factored this in on the price, but I was glad he showed (of course he would have showed up I did not pay him until the end) and did not try to scam a different price.

I am glad UNESCO and the countries of the world decided to rescue these historical treasures.  I would have hated to see Abu Simbel and Philae erased from history because of some stupid dam. 
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