Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 3 - Meeting the Nile

Last night, on our way back to our hotel room, we got to see a bride and groom go by. She was so beautiful in her white dress and he looked so dashing in his tux. They stopped and took pictures on the marble staircase on their way to the grand ballroom. A young women standing next to me proclaimed "the groom is my brother," grinning ear to ear. The elation of the wedding got carried into my bones and I ululated with her over their joyous occasion.

We had to get up at 2:30am this morning to meet our driver in the lobby by 4am to get to the airport. After we got dressed and packed, we sat on our patio with hot tea and listened to the sound of Cairo waking up and the party boats winding down on the Nile. Below our private porch was a different entrance to the grand ballroom that lead to the rooms of our hotel tower. Well, would you believe that at 3:30 in the morning those same two newlyweds came out that entrance to head to their room! What a party it must have been to still be going at 3:30!

We made it to the airport and caught our Egypt Air plane to Abu Simbal, with a very short layover in Aswan to drop off some passengers. We were met by a private guide and taken by a private (air conditioned!) car to the site of the great temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II and his queen Nefertari. The history of these two great temples and their move to be saved by UNESCO was quite captivating. After the history lesson by the guide, we were given some time to wonder alone around and inside the temples. This was our first introduction to the painted hieroglyphs inside the temples and our first close up view of Lake Nasser, the largest man made lake that quite honestly looked a little like Lake Powell.

After the private tour, we were taken back to the airport to fly back to Aswan, where we were met by a private guide who was Nubian. In the van, he explained to us the history of the Nubian people and their colonization by the Egyptian government. He took us through a Nubian village with brilliantly painted houses to an alabaster store where we had a tour of how alabaster is made into objects by hand. We were then taken to our cruise boat, the Movenpick M/S Radamis II, had a chance to check into our stunning, spacious room and ate a quick, but mouth-watering buffet lunch. Then we went downstairs to meet our private guide, Ala, a true Egyptologist getting his PhD in the field, who would be staying on the boat and showing us everything for the next few days. We later learned we were quite lucky, since cruise guides were assigned by languages and we had no one else that spoke English on the boat. There were several other Egyptian guides, who spoke Thai, Italian, German, Chinese, Portuguese, etc that had much larger groups. But we only had us in our group, so we didn't have to share Ala!

First on the list of stops for the day were the granite fields where the Unfinished Obelisk lay on the ground. We got an explanation of how these huge objects were carved from the earth with water and wood expansion, transported via boat up the river Nile and then how they were made to stand upright (sand was removed from the bottom and added to the top until it was high enough to pull).

The next stop was to the Aswan Dam, the reason for Lake Nasser. We were told about the history of this humongous man made creation and how Russia helped in its establishment. While crossing the Dam, we saw a pickup truck that thought it could carry much more then it should. Yes, there is a pick up truck under all those metal boxes. All I keep thinking about was that song Ant and Rubber Tree Plant and then of course I couldn't get that song out of my head. And now thanks to Bob, you've got it stuck too. You're welcome.

Our last and best stop of the day was the Temple of Philae located on an island just above the High Dam. This temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis and was saved by UNESCO from the flood waters by removing it from this original location. I think that it was far more beautiful then the Abu Simbal temple for a few reason. One is that it was on an island, so we had to take a boat ride to get there. What could be more serene then four people on a boat heading towards temples being welcomed with granite lions and the sounds of laughter from young Nubian boys jumping in the Nile? Two is that the temple was far less known, so it wasn't nearly as crowded. Three was that we were finally allowed to take cameras inside the temples and take some great shots of the hieroglyphics. Unfortunately, some of the photos showed the damage of a major earthquake from the 1920s while other photos were of the scratching of the God's faces by the Coptic priests who lived in the temple for awhile. What better way to repay the walls that gave you sanctuary from hostile neighbors then to scratch out the faces of the God's that were providing you that very protection?

One our way back to the cruise boat, I wanted to dip my toes in the Nile and take a photo. I was told to keep an eye out for the Nile crocodiles that were said to be seen around that area. Since I had just met Sobek on the walls of the Temple of Philae, I felt safe, but still keep one eye on the water and one eye on the camera, just in case his ancestors didn't feel like protectors that day. We left the Nile and headed back to the cruise ship, where I made a comment on the behavior of the drivers in Aswan in comparison to the drivers of Cairo. Ala told us that in Aswan there are officers that will hand out tickets if the traffic lights are not obayed. What a novel concept.

Once on the cruise ship, we took very long naps since the heat, boat ride, early wake up call and lunch buffet food just did us in. We awoke just in time for unlimited fruit drinks of pineapple, mint or apple juice in the cocktail lounge. The drinks were refreshing after the heat of the day. After sitting in the lounge and watching the other boats sailing on the water, we headed down to the buffet dinner, and then politely declined Ala's offer of visiting a local coffee shop for hookah and strong Egyptian coffee. Instead, we went to the upper deck to feel the breeze, do a little reading while rocking with the movement of the boat and listening to the adhān (call) to Friday prayer from two very close by mosques.

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