21 May 2008

A Trip down the Nile

Our trip begins with a 5pm taxi pick-up from the Hurghada Marina along with our friends from S/V Shiraz and S/V My Chance. We were taken to the downtown area of Hurghada from where we embarked on 3-hour van ride to Luxor.

No matter if you travel by bus, van, or rental car, it is mandatory to travel in a police-escorted convoy in certain areas of Egypt. The convoy is a legacy of the Islamic insurgence of the 1990’s when several thousands of people were killed, mainly locals. In 1997 a large group of tourists were killed at a temple in Luxor, which is why the convoy still remains today. It can be a bit of a hassle, and I don’t see how this will detour any attacks. It just rounds all of us tourists up in to one big easy target. But I digress.

Upon our arrival to Luxor we check into our hotel for the evening. Thanks to the air conditioner never coming on, it made the night's sleep hotter than on the ‘Piper. Morning came where we were planning on seeing the sites of Luxor. But when our guide showed up, he asked us "Where is your luggage?" We were swept up into a taxi and taken to the train station for a 3-hour ride to Aswan.

The guide in Aswan didn’t know we were booked for a tour to Abu Simbel and at one point it looked like we might not be making the voyage on the Nile at all. It was all very confusing and a bit unnerving. But luckily, we are flexible with our days and travel. From what I gathered from other travelers, this is just the Egyptian way of doing things.

We finally got it all together and checked into our room on the ship. But it was not the original boat we thought we were going to be on. But it was still OK with us. It was even better after we changed rooms since being above the engines with diesel fumes filling the air wasn’t our cup of tea. Our new room sported a bigger window and a refrigerator.

So now we are introduced to our guide Imed, or "Ed". A very pleasant, knowledgeable, easy going young Egyptian with perfect English. Ed takes us to the site of the ‘Unfinished Obelisk’. This area of Aswan is Egypt’s only source of granite where several obelisk’s have been hacked out, including the one that stands in Hyde Park in NYC. This unfinished obelisk was to be the single heaviest (1100 tons) piece of stone ever completed. But a flaw appeared, and so it lies unfinished.

Next stop... the Aswan Dam. The old dam, built by the British, was once the largest of its kind. But now the new dam built with assistance from the Russians stands higher, longer, and wider.

Once back to our ship we were given the wonderful news that Ed was staying with us the rest of our trip down the Nile. That evening we engaged in a sunset Felucca ride with a quick stop through a Nubian village. Felucca’s are a traditional canvas sailed boat, much smaller than the ‘Piper.

Our next morning we were up and out the door by 3:30am and in a convoy to Abu Simbel, home to the Great Temple of Ramsses II and Temple of Hathor and Nefertari (Ramses' wife). Besides these temples being awe inspiring sites on there own, the amazing part of this places is that they were taken apart and moved to their current location. With the building of the Aswan High Dam, these two temples would have been submerged. So they just moved them here. An engineering masterpiece.

The Cliff Note version of the history of these two temples goes like this: Ramses II loved himself and loved power. So he built this temple for himself to make his enemies shake in their boots. The temple of Hathor was built for Queen Nefertari, Ramses’ favorite wife. And this all happened between 1274 and 1244 BC.

Once back to the ship we hit the lunch buffet and shoved off for the town of Kom Ombo. We arrived late afternoon and jumped ship to visit the Temple of Kom Ombo. During ancient times this area of the Nile was filled with crocodiles, so this temple is dedicated to Sobek (croc god) and Horus. Cliff Notes on Kom Ombo: This temple shows remains of a small mammisi (or birth house), reliefs of first recorded medical surgical instruments, a Nilemeter, and the first recorded calendar. One other quick note this temple took over 400 years to be built. Way cool.

Back on the boat once again and this time we do an over night motor down the Nile to the town of Edfu. Traveling down the Nile just before sunset and watching the green of the fertile riverbanks float by from our comfy double bed was a beautiful way to experience so many awesome sites. The tranquility of the river and the magical sites of the winter white Herons dotted amongst the fertile landscape of corn, cotton, and sugarcane was not a bad way to unwind after the day.

Next morning we fill up our bellies once again at a buffet and meet our guide Ed in the lobby where he has a horse drawn carriage waiting for us to take us to the Temple of Horus. This temple is the most completely preserved Egyptian temple and helps to fill in a lot of historical gaps, a 2000-year-old history lesson. Part of the inner hall is host to the laboratory. Here all the necessary perfumes and incense recipes were brewed and stored, and the ingredients are listed on the walls. Beautiful to see in person. [more links]

For the rest of the afternoon we are free to enjoy the amenities of our ship the M/S L’aube Du Nil. The 4-story ship included a sun deck on top complete with a pool, lounge chairs and disco area. We wasted the day away with a few beers and making new friends on the ship. Every morning when our room was cleaned up the towel guy would arrange our towels in all sorts of exciting animals. Be sure to check out the photos on Flicker. Overall, the ship was super chill and an excellent way to experience the magic of the Nile River.

Our last morning we checked out of our rooms and hoped on a bus to visit our last two stops, the Valley of the Kings and Temple of Karnak. The Valley of the Kings was amazing, a high point for me on our trip. I’m just amazed at the age of these temples and how they did all of this building so long ago and it still looks good. We visited three of these royal burial sites and each one more impressive, not at all what we pictured. The Karnak Temple was our last tour of the trip. It is a huge complex of obelisks, pylons, and sphinx some as old as 1000 years.

I could go on with more details of all the sites. But I don’t want to bore you too much. All in all I think you can tell buy our entry we had a really great time and were completely impressed with everything we saw. We are looking forward to Cairo and the Pyramids.

More later.

Love to all,
Amy and Tom

Notes From Ron:
  1. There is no Hyde Park in New York City. However, there is Hyde Park with a obelisk in Sydney Australia. But it is made of sandstone, functions as a sewer vent, and is not from Aswan. Perhaps the guide was thinking of Cleopatra's Needle, an authentic ancient Egyptian obelisk from this area that is now in NYC's Central Park.
  2. There is an island in the Nile River at Aswan named "Elephantine Island" that has Nubian villages. It has no bridges, so it must be reached by ferry or on a Felucca. The Nubians have built a museum to their culture and history.
  3. Here is an excellent page about the Temple at Kom Ombo and the treasures within. Here is a good one that explains how the ancient Egyptian Calendar at Kom Ombo is read.

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