We started our Egyptian adventure off in Cairo and after visiting the Pyramids of Giza, The Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum, we had a quick rest at the hotel before piling onto a train bound for Aswan.
Aswan exists on the east-bank of the Nile and is generally the second spot you stop to explore Egypt after Cairo. There’s no need to ever bring an umbrella though, because it only rains once every two or three years. You can visit the Nubian Village, sail down the Nile toward Luxor and take a day-trip to Abu Simbel (an absolute, absolute must!) on your own, or, you can do it as part of an Intrepid tour. And that’s exactly what Lorna and I did. It costs about double-the-money, but you experience some things that you won’t be able to do on your own.
On the first day we checked-in to the Nile Hotel. It’s right on the river and close enough to access the main strip and the local markets, which are located down a lane, a street back from the hotel, that stretches about two kilometers.
Here’s the view of the Nile Hotel from the… well… the Nile.
And here’s the view from the Nile Hotel of the… yeah… the Nile.
We were given an hour to check-in to our rooms but no chance for a nap from the overnight train-ride. We didn’t really need it though, because the sleep on the train was surprisingly comfortable.
First stop was the local markets a street back from the hotel. There was every sort of piece-of-crap you can think of to buy, cheap-and-nasty clothing and wooden nicknacks. The only real decent thing to buy were the spices, the silk scarves and possibly a statue, if they could prove it was made out of real alabaster (the local rock). Lorna was looking for a few scarves but didn’t find the right one and I bought a female-winged-version of the goddess-of-love, Isis.
Day-two saw us get-up at 4:30 a.m. to be picked up and delivered to the local airport so we could take a small plane to Abu Simbel. If you don’t know about Abu Simbel and you’re interested in Egyptian Archaeology, I believe Abu Simbel is as-important (if not a little-more) to visit than the Pyramids of Giza. Here’s a free tip for you though (that could very-well see you posting me cold-hard-cash in an envelope), make sure you pre-book your flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel before you get to Egypt. Once you’re in Aswan and you hear about Abu Simbel, your only option will be to catch the 2 a.m. uncomfortable mini-bus that takes nearly four hours to get there. You can’t book a flight once you’re there. Consider yourself warned.
Most of our Intrepid group didn’t pre-book a flight, so they took the bus. They were still amazed that they got to see Abu Simbel, but the bus-trip nearly killed ’em. You see, You only spend two-hours there, and the place is only open in the morning… so you don’t want to be spending eight-hours travelling for just two-hours of joy.
As for our flight… It only took half-an-hour to get there, but the company who runs the flight is dodgy. We were given no information about when we were taking off, how long it would take to get there, where we should go when we land… So, just in case you get to go, here’s some more free tips for you. (I’m starting to get serious about you sending me some bloody money! – cash-in-an-envelope is truly the best way I can think of.)
When you land at Abu Simbel airport, no one is going to help you. No one is going to care about you. You step out of the plane and into a little shuttle-bus. The shuttle-bus will drive for about eighty-meters and then drop you at the airport backdoor. You’ll think, shit, we could have just walked that!
On stepping foot into the mini-terminal, you’ll quickly feel like you’ve been abducted because no one will help you or tell you how to get to the amazing-magical thing you’re there to see.
Here’s the trick. Walk out of the airport, and (unless someone comes up to you and says they are there to take you to the site) hop on the first large tourbus you see and act like you’re supposed to be on it. We actually asked the bus driver if he would mind driving us to the site, because we had been abandoned, and he didn’t mind at all.
Once at the site, don’t forget to ask the bus-driver when he’ll be leaving. He’ll tell you about two-hours. Tell him he’s one of the nicest people you’ve ever met (hell, if you’re female, tell him you love him), and that you’ll see him in-a-bit for a lift back to the airport. This is very important, because, trust-me – you don’t want to be stranded in Abu Simbel. Other than the ancient Egyptian temples, there is nothing there. No shops, no hotels, nothing.
Other than the difficulty-factor in getting to Abu Simbel, the second you walk around the hill and see the four 3250-year-old statues of Ramsesses II, your excitement level will reach that of Lorna’s in this photo.
It is important to note that the statues and chambers that house the most incredible Egyptian sculptures and hieroglyphics you’ll ever see in your life have been relocated!
Yep, the entire thing, all the statues and chambers would be under water right now and rotting away, if they hadn’t been moved, because of the construction of the Aswan High Dam that was built between 1960 and 1970.
It took four years and forty million dollars (at the time) to cut everything up into large chunks and move it all.
Personally, I don’t like the fact that the Abu Simbel temples have been moved. I believe the Egyptians built temples in particular locations for very specific reasons. You know, aligning things up with the sun and the stars for… well, they had their reasons. We just don’t understand them. The information has been lost for some reason because of a big black-hole in human existence.
Still… the British government, since its 1882 invasion and occupation of Egypt, decided that it would be better to build the dam to stop intense flooding from happening to the area to allow better farmland planning. This would of course raise the water level and would cover the Abu Simbel (and Fila – in another location) temples.
So they moved them.
The Abu Simbel temples, although moved, are amazing and you must see them before you die. When looking at the drawings and statues, especially inside the many rooms of the temples, try not to do too much research before the trip. Look at the drawings and draw your own conclusions as to what they mean.
After being amazed at the three-thousand-odd-year masterpiece, we made our way back to the bus station. Our bus had left early, for some reason, so we hitched back on another to the airport.
This is where things escalated to a stranger level once we asked to check-in for our flight. We tried to show the man behind the counter our passport and identification, but he didn’t care. He handed us one female and one male flight ticket and said he didn’t know when the flight was leaving, but we should just keep an eye out for it.
Although I told him a few times, what he was doing and suggesting was absolutely-ridiculous, we didn’t even have our own names, eventually we hopped on a plane and flew back to Aswan, where the guy who had dropped us off in the morning was waiting for us as though everything was going to plan.
As soon as we got back to the Nile Hotel, we caught a pimped-out-private-black-cool-mobile to a dock on the Nile where we hired a private boat to take us on a cruise to visit Fila Temple on Fila island.
As with Abu Simbel, Fila Temple had to be moved to another nearby island because of the construction of the High Dam in the 1960s. The temples are thought to have been built for Egyptian gods Osiris and Iris around 2350 years ago.
Fila Temple will seem very impressive to you… if you don’t see Abu Simbel first, that is. It’s still worth a visit though. The private car will cost you around $20 AU return for two people and you can hire a boat and driver for around the same.
That night we had dinner in the Nubian Village across the river from our hotel. The Nubian Village is said to have originated up to 7000 years ago. Today the locals are still somewhat disconnected with the modern world, using modern electricity but pretty much nothing else. The houses are made out of local hand-made bricks and food and water is sourced locally. Because it barely ever rains in Aswan, most of the Nubian houses have no roofs. The locals still speak Noban, as opposed to Arabic like mainland Aswan one-hundred meters away.
There’s no carpet either, the floor is made up of sand.
Through Amr, our Intrepid group leader, we were invited to one family’s home, where they made us a very tasty meal.
Straight-after the meal they threw us a local party.
All of a sudden about ten teenage-male Nobans burst through the front entrance of the family home and started belting out their local musical favourites.
It was a night to remember.
The next day we packed our bags and hopped onboard a falucca.
Our big bags were placed under the floorboards and we were cooked lunch, dinner and breakfast over twenty-four hours sailing down the Nile, headed for Luxor.
To say we had fun playing chess and backgammon…
…while taking in all the Nile had to offer like wild animals, sand dunes and ancient temples…
…and staring at the stars as the sun set…
…to parking on the riverbank overnight to drink and dance around a bonfire…
…to using the riverbank in the morning as the most beautiful water closet ever…
…before continuing our journey toward Luxor…
…would be an understatement.
Rob Kaay is an Australian author and musician.
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