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Published: November 25th 2017
A brief Stay in the town of Abu Simbel
Turning the narrative back to Egypt. Day 5 of my journey.
Mohammed my driver is taking me overland from Aswan to Abu Simbel. A journey of many hours. He speaks little English so we can't chat but he stopped driving in the middle of nowhere (this perfectly describes being in the desert) to point at what looked like a very large lake near the horizon. A mirage! A huge one. I remember hearing tales of thirsty ancient travelers being deceived by mirages and losing their lives, dying while trying to reach the water that doesn't exist, always in the distance.
We stopped, again in the middle of nowhere, at a shady hut festively decorated with flags of many nations ,a llittle oasis in the desert. This was a rest spot owned by a friend of Mohammed's, a very sweet young man speaking quite good English. Like several other Egyptians I saw, he was cheerful and had a round, pretty face, light eyes and a light brown complexion. Could easily have been a Trini.
The place was appealing in a rough kind of way decorated with Nubian touches -
paintings on the wall, the V shaped blocks. Seats were scattered about, some without bottoms or backs were unusable. In the middle of the sitting area was a sizeable collection of petrified rocks that had been found on the site during construction. Just so, sitting there!
Chatted with his friend who asked the inevitable "where are you from". He didn't know TandT but knew enough to ask about the recent bad hurricanes and if they had affected me. That was a common experience in both Egypt and Jordan, many people knew of the devastation the hurricanes had caused and were very concerned to find out about it. After a cup of coffee and a bottle of water we hit the road again.
Entering Abu Simbel it was obvious that a lot of care and attention has been spent on beautifying the town. It's clean, paved, neatly laid out streets are lined with colorful bougainvillea, a perfect match for the cloudless blue skies. Pharaoh Ramsis II the Great is the raison d'etre for Abu Simbel and the care shown is befitting the entry to one of the home sites of the greatest Pharaoh who ever lived
Driving through the
town though I was startled by the sight of a countless number of huge trucks, the massive multi-wheeler type common on highways in metropolitan areas. They were incongruous here parked along quiet village streets amid bougainvillea. Literally dozens of heavy trucks, maybe even a hundred or more. Parked up, street after street. They all seemed laden with the same cargo which looked like large floor tiles. I learned that these vehicles were waiting to clear with Egyptian military security and customs in Abu Simbel then head across the border for Sudan 40 km away! And yes those were tiles, a major export from Egypt to Sudan, a trade which is controlled by and in the hands of the Egyptian military! Apparently they don't operate the same way as the military in other countries.
My hotel here, the Tuya Hotel was charming. It is recently built in the Nubian style with a domed roof, V patterns along the top of the facade, and vignettes painted on the interior walls. My room is small but not tiny, air conditioned, flat screen TV, bathroom with all supplies. But not everything worked. Located on a pretty and quiet street overlooking the Nile, within
easy walking distance of the Temples at Abu Simbel.
I sat on a chair on the sidewalk outside Tuya (named for an Egyptian queen). It was breezy and quiet, and I felt like an Egyptian, sitting on the roadside like so many do. Just across the road, the blue waters of the Upper Nile. They say I can drink the tap water here but I'm not feeling lucky, so no thanks. The full length of the road has been beautified on both sides with bougainvillea in pink and white and deep pink, amid date palms and low ficus. Across on the far bank of the river I see domed buildings signaling their Nubian style. And overhead a deep blue sky, completely cloudless.
Later the call to prayer echoed all around, near and far, across the river and back. Afternoon prayer. It's thrilling to hear.
The hotel receptionist is a man. Virtually everyone who works in a public space that I went to was male. Hotels are staffed by men. I believe I saw 2 women hotel staff in the entire two weeks of my vacation. His English is pretty good so we chatted about the Arab Spring and
what difference it has made. Like almost all the others here who I asked the same question, he replied with regret that the military have taken away individual personal freedoms. Changes have not been for the good of the country. The military rule and accrue benefits e.g. they just opened a large hotel complex for the army in Cairo. Looks like Pharaohs still rule Egypt.
ABU SIMBEL is just up the road. It is stunning. It is synonymous with one Pharaoh, Ramsis II 1303 - 1213 BC, And with UNESCO 1964. It's size! It's art! It's antiquity! It's restoration! There's nothing small about the story.
The valley where the colossi were rediscovered after being buried under millenia of sand, was inundated when the Aswan High Dam was built in 1960s. A global effort, led by the UN, undertook to move the entire Temple monuments within 4 years, cutting them into blocks, and reconstructing exactly as before, faithfully reproducing the original setting at a new location 250 meters high above where it had originally been built.
Today the Abu Simbel Sound and Light show is acclaimed the very best of all such shows in Egypt. And it was impressive. Modern
laser beams were creatively and effectively cast across the faces of the two Temple monuments to tell their ancient story and their modern rescue, with light creating images to sounds and music.
Ramsis II (or any of the various ways the name is spelled Ramesses Rameses ) is the person we think of when we think of an Egyptian Pharaoh. HE was THE Man, the third Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty.
"... two vast and trunkless legs of stone standing in the desert....
." were seen and reported in 1813 by Johan Ludwig Burkhardt who visited the site (the same Burckhardt who deceived the Bedouin and was led in to Petra one year earlier, 1812) later Giovanni Belzoni found the entrance to the Temple in 1817.
Abu Simbel's colossal figures of Ramsis II became big news in Europe. Those reports inspired Shelley to write the 1818 poem OZYMANDIAS I am Ozymandias, King of Kings... Look on my works ye mighty and despair. Nothing else remains.... "
Which actually is NOT true! Ozymandias
is the Greek version of the Pharaoh's Throne name" UsermaaatRE SetepenRE
" = the Chosen of RE, the Justice of
RE is powerful". As Pharaoh he became the living embodiment of the God RE, whose power he assumed, Thus the ending of his name RE. Similar to the infallibility bestowed on a Pope when he ascends to Vatican leadership. Which leads me to wonder... Could the Roman church have assimilated this successful 3,000 year old Egyptian practice (the same way they assimilated other popular rites which they did)..... having male successors to the throne upon who were bestowed the authority of the gods. A Pharaoh was spiritual and political ruler of Egypt. A Pope is the same for the Vatican City.
The visit to the ABU SIMBEL TEMPLES merit a separate blog entry which will follow next.
I met some lovely people in Abu Simbel. First my driver guide who met me on arrival in the town, was very nice. We mounted a scooter to ride the short distance between Tuya hotel and the Monuments, that was good fun. That night an unexpected encounter with some guests at my hotel. I bumped into them, three my-generation folks, waiting outside the Tuya as I set off to go to the show. We got to chatting, a Kiwi couple and
their Egyptian friend from way back, who were waiting for their "trucklet" to take them to the Sound and Light show. They invited me to join them so I did.
Karen, Clive, Salwa and I went to the show together. Next was dinner. They had tried the Tuya restaurant already and gave 3 thumbs down. Once I figured I could use my card to pay I was in. Their company was much fun, and we laughed a lot....it seems Karen always falls after bargaining for over priced goods. Karen and Salwa were old friends having worked together at a UN agriculture agency in their youth. They were visiting with her in Cairo. We settled for an authentic Nubian style restaurant at a hotel which was designed to be a virtual museum, a tribute to the Nubians. The owner himself is Nubian. We were accepted though we had no reservation (they require it). The food was plain and simple but tasty. Rice, okra, chicken or Koffa (meat). And I had a taste of Clive's beer. The only time alcohol passed my lips for 2 weeks!
Finally the trucklet took us home after dinner and laughter. I would not meet
them again as I hit the road early next morning. The encounter was a lovely addition to my memories.
Remember to scroll below for more photos. My visit to the Temples will follow next.
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