Aswan to Luxor
19.01.2010 - 28.01.2010
It was now time to visit perhaps my most anticipated place in Egypt the mighty narcissistic temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel (a train and convoy ride away from my current location) whilst also taking in the engineering disaster that was the Nasser dam causing the temple to be moved. I met a few Australians on the train down which made things a little easier because negotiating with 4 people is a lot easier than doing so for one. The hotel we found was not the best but it was usable with a leaky bathroom providing a flooded entry every day. Most people spend only long enough in Aswan to see the temple and then leave straight away but I decided to stay there for a couple of days and try and arrange a felucca trip back to Luxor.
Aswan is an unusual city and there are really only two roads in the city that run parallel to each other, one that runs along the Nile and the other containing the market street. The others merely provide access between the two. The markets here are a lot less aggressive than those in either Cairo or Luxor with the guys prepared to have fun and enjoy themselves as well as making the sale. After a couple of days here it was also nice as they recognized us and were not trying to sell us anything as much as just greet us, making for a lot more relaxed shopping environment and as a result things were actually purchased. However this is Egypt and every day we would get screwed over on at least one meal – very hard to avoid.
The trip out to Abu Simbel involves an early start, joining the 3:30am convoy to near the Sudan border, something that inexplicably started with a 2:30am wake up from the hotel staff but at least they had packed our breakfast. The trip to the temple was reasonably uneventful with nothing more than a few passport checks and some crazy driving but we made it all in one piece. The temple is incredible firstly for the fact that it was built to honour both the sun god and the pharaoh himself but alongside a temple to honour his favourite wife Nefetari also. The temple was also moved due to the Nasser dam because of a potential flooding issue and as with anything else as they took it apart and then subsequently put it back together there was a few bricks left over!
The inside is really quite amazing and extravagant even for Egyptian standards but it’s fitting for the Ramses II, who whilst possibly not as well known as Tutankhamen was a far greater pharaoh and arguably the greatest of them all. He ruled for 70+ years and united the upper and lower kingdoms before extending the empire, twice taking on the mighty Hittites at Kadesh before signing a peace treaty. It is fitting that his temples stand alone in the south and are still one of the must see attractions in Egypt despite their geographical inconvenience. The six giant statues of himself 25m high are an imposing entrance to his temple along with the 4 statues of himself and two of his wife on the smaller temple dedicated to her. Since everyone leaves in a convoy (another ridiculous Egyptian rule restricting independent travel) it is completely impossible to avoid tourists here and getting an empty photo is a pipe dream – but still it is for the picturesque view of the temple and its location over the Nasser dam for which you come.
After taking in the mighty temple it was time to work out my exit strategy and after some haggling on the river shore I arranged a felucca ride that would take me back to Luxor over two days. The journey also included visits to both Kom Ombo and Edfu which despite their difficulty to reach are supposedly quite remarkable.
The felucca ride as it turned out was not quite the great experience (and very different to the product that was pitched) that I hoped it would be although it did produce some great stories. The guys that I shared the boat with were good guys including a Swiss guy that the Canadian and myself started to teach how to speak “non textbook” English and his use and timing of these provided some of the highlights. In between a little (a very little) sailing and conversation there wasn’t much to do except lay down relax and enjoy the view – very peaceful atleast despite an early wake up at 5am one morning by a wave that soaked the boat. Now for the bad bits, firstly the sailing portion of the ride was actually greatly exaggerated and in the two days we sailed for about 4 hours moving little more than 15km, quite depressing really when after 2 days you can still see your starting point. Secondly the crew we had were not greatest and did nothing more than the bare minimum and seemed quite uninterested after finding out we were more interested in the sailing rather than any of the over priced side tours they were willing to offer.
Returning to Luxor I decided to take one more look at the Valley of the Kings, taking in three different tombs. This time I decided to hire a bike and make a day of it with my friends from the felucca. The second visit there was well worth it taking in some of the less touristy tombs and also the most impressive, with the Ramses V/VI the most impressive one of them all and well worth the extra money spent. Between that and a couple nights spent taking in a couple of lazy bars made for a relaxing few days in Luxor, and is a great way to get away from the hectic day to day hassles that Egypt can bring.
I started my last week on this trip in the backpackers paradise of Dahab a cheap place to sleep and a supposedly without the hassles of Cairo or Luxor. Dahab is a really great place to relax and almost not Egypt with its laid back feel, perfect for anyone that becomes tired of the hassles that the other tourist places in Egypt bring. Here there is little to do if you don’t dive, which I have well and truly run out of time for with the only other options being an excursion out to mount Sinai and some traditional loafing on the beach. With only a couple of days here before moving on to Jordan I opted to laze on the beach for a while taking a midday dip to cool down and relax at night with a beer and a sheesha in one of the many beach side restaurants. With the African cup on at the moment every night here is lively especially if Egypt are playing and win and last night a 4-0 win over their traditional rivals Algeria provided for much partying well into the night. It is quite strange to see people partying quite heavily without the presence of any alcohol. This is the type of environment that sucks backpackers in for months at a time and I met a lot of people that were finding it very difficult to leave.