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Published: February 25th 2016
Carvings in the temple-amazing
Our return from the White Desert found us at the train station in Giza, which is on the west side of the Nile from Cairo. This was good, bad and good. Good in that it made the drive back from the White Desert a little shorter, bad in that we arrived some five hours before our train was scheduled to leave, and good in that Mohamed realized that without his guidance, we most likely would have missed our overnight train to the south. Hard to believe, but quite true.
At this point, we were just coming off a night sleeping on the ground in the white desert, hadn’t seen a bathroom since we had lunch at Yasser’s house in Bahariya Oasis, and were in need of a shower, desperately in need of a shower. And we still had to take an overnight train to Aswan. Sometimes you just have to roll with it….and we did, bad hair and all.
Giza is not a main terminal for the Egyptian railway, but more of a suburban stop. There are only two tracks; one headed north, the other south. It is outdated and not very attractive in the
least. We chose this terminal so as to avoid the traffic in Cairo, but as it turned out, we arrived much earlier than planned as Mohamed wanted to avoid any bad traffic (almost a constant in greater Cairo). On the drive back, Mohamed asked to see our tickets. He then said he was coming with us to the station to ensure our departure. When we inquired why, he explained that the station has no message boards regarding train arrivals and departures. There is a quick announcement in Arabic, the next train arrives, and you’ve got less than five minutes to get on the train, or you might end up there forever.
At the station, we found an outdoor table, which became our temporary home for the next five hours, most of which was spent reading, chatting and looking at the passengers arriving and departing. Mohamed left us for a few hours, promising to return with his wife and child, as he wanted us to meet them. We had a most pleasant time chatting with his wife, who presented us with some sweets as a parting gift. She was a travel guide who spoke excellent English. Their five
Ancient Ruins at Philae Temple
year-old daughter was painfully shy and try as we might, she would not speak to us. Really? Just because we look strange and don’t speak any Arabic? Yep, make sense to us.
Finally, it was time to board our 8:30pm train. Mohamed made sure we were on the right train and we boarded to find our sleeper cabin for the night trip. Brendan had a more difficult time with his cabin assignment and was seemingly moved three times before he finally got his accommodations straightened around. Quite a lot of confusion as our car contained some Indian women who chatted and stood around watching the porter sort it all out. All poor Brendan wanted was his own cabin so he could get settled.
We had a rather bad meal, then turned in early. The voyage was to last for some 12 ½ hours and frankly, we were tired of sitting at this point, so we got the porter to get our beds together and promptly crawled in. Sleep wasn’t that easy to come by, as it was an older train, on older tracks and seemed to lack the ability to stop smoothly at the
many towns and villages required. The real jolt was when they added a car. This would literally make you roll in your little bunk. This happened multiple times throughout the night. Morning finally arrived along with a breakfast consisting of bread, bread and more bread product.
We arrived mid-morning in Aswan, met our guide Rajab and reviewed the plan for the next couple of days. We found that the plan had changed a bit because we were in town on a very important day. We were told that we would tour Aswan for three or four hours which is what we expected but instead of that long nights sleep that we had been dreaming of we learned we would get up early the next day to head to Abu Simbel for sunrise. How early? Try midnight. It was rapidly looking like we might never get another full night’s rest.
We were tired, cranky and frankly bewildered by all this. We had a less than restful nights sleep in our beautiful desert and less than a good nights sleep on the train…..and remember still no shower after two days in the desert, a night train
and facing a day of touring.
Why in heaven’s name should we sacrifice a most needed and well-deserved night’s rest to visit a temple? Simple. Seems that the next day (Feb. 22nd
) was one of two days in a calendar year that the sun (and the God Ra) provide a perfectly placed sunrise that would illuminate the temple just right and make the statues inside looks super cool, with the sun shining on them one at a time. The other day is Otober 22nd
. Unbeknownst to us, this is a major deal in this part of the world, they have a big festival….and there we were. Ok, how can we turn that down?
We’re just going to say it outright. There are limited things to see in Aswan and the town is rather dumpy. We do recommend you come here to see the Aswan Dam, Lake Nasser and the Philae Temple and possibly the Nubian village, which we passed on because of much needed sleep and shower. Our time in this town was limited and as it turns out we were happy with that decision—but those three are worth the trip.
Cabin on train
12 1/2 hours on night train
Lake Nasser is one of the largest man made lakes in the world and until you see it you won’t believe it. We later realized how big when we drove some 270 km to Abu Simbel, only to discover that yep, the lake is there as well.
Ok, we showered (yeah finally!!) , had a nap, went to dinner, had another nap and were up meeting the van before midnight. But the truth was, were not terribly excited at this point. The travelers were cranky….still. We were hopeful that at the end of this trek we would be glad we went but there was lack of enthusiasm, a lot of doubt and a bit of whining by those who will remain nameless (MJ & Brendan).
We learned that tourists in this part of Egypt must travel in a convoy between Aswan and Abu Simbel. What? The road has only been there a few decades. Before you had to fly. We never really found out why but it is what it is. Our names and passport numbers were called in to the military or the police or someone and we were allowed to proceed. Our
van joined in a convoy of more than one hundred vehicles heading south for the big event. We were told it would take us 2.5 hours but it actually took 4.5 hours. When we got in the van we took some melatonin in hopes that we could sleep most of the way. Sometimes we were speeding along at 140 km, sometimes stopping, sometimes crawling….a whacky ride all together. Our driver was a mad man who might want to try Formula One driving.
Crawling out of the van at Abu Simbel in the pitch black of night, still cranky (would this ever pass?) and doubtful, but willing. We followed our guide to the temple and were surprised by its size. We followed a lighted path around to the front where we found a few thousand of our closest friends. Some were standing in line to gain entrance to the temple at sunrise, some just milling about. We joined some who were seated on cold concrete stadium benches in front of what looked like a stage. At the time we were under the impression that we would have a good view of performers, a light show and we were
told there would be big screen TVs set up for all to view the miracle of light.
Have we mentioned yet how freaking cold it was and that none of us wore enough clothes—needless to say the whining and attitude continued? We kept giving each other looks of “what are we doing here?” “This better be good!”
After we sat on the freezing cold cement benches in the dark for 45 minutes Brendan realized we must be in the wrong place because there were no big screen TVs. We asked our guide and got conflicting answers. He went off and talked with people for a bit. No new information was given to us on his return. MJ went off on a scouting mission and found the one lonely little TV screen in the most unusual place where nearly no one would be able to view the sunrise inside the temple. Finally, we decided we were done with the cold benches and would go stand as close as we could to the 50 inch screen and wait—at least we would be close to the mob of people and gain some body warmth. A bit more
grumbling from MJ and Brendan, Dave’s patience with them was growing short.
Another twenty minutes go by and we’ve decided our view is pretty good and attitudes are improving. People-watching becomes entertaining.
A few moments later and Egyptian woman approaches MJ and is asked if she speaks English. She introduced herself and it turns out she is a celebrity from a TV show – A Good Morning Egypt type of show. She has requested that we join her for an interview about where we are from, why we are attending the festival and what we think of our travels in Egypt. So now—all three of us end up on the morning show. Once our interview was finished the TV personality assures us that we will be famous and as we move around Egypt people will know us; so far that has not happened and we are glad.
Moments before sunrise we see a trail of dignitaries cutting in line and going into the temple. Tension was high, armed military placed in strategic locations for crowd control. The thousands of people in the line for the temple start squeezing together afraid someone
will get in before them. It could have turned our badly but fortunately the masses calmed down and continued to wait. We were happy not to be in the rope line during all of this. We continue to hold steady in our viewing location. Finally, our guide says, if you want to see the screen better I will take you behind. We weren’t sure what he was up to but he’s lived in this area for 40 years and seemed to know everyone so we followed. After all of that he walked us into the restricted area two feet from the TV screen. He asked us if this was better. We starred nodded and chuckled. Driving hours in the dark via convoy, sitting and standing in the dark in the cold, cold ended very anti-climatic…..it was a hazy morning and the sun didn’t shine in the temple. No one saw it light up. The TV screen stayed blank. Our guide decided to show us around the grounds. Before we could leave the restricted area the Chinese TV station in the area grabbed all three of us for interviews on their show. We are certain word got out that the Americans
They tell the story
were a top-notch interview and the competition wanted a crack at us. We were certainly more skilled for our second interview.
At this point we were happy and could do nothing but laugh about all of these crazy events.
In Abu Simbel there are two amazing temples honoring Ramses II—our guide got us into the small one first. He had his friends unlock it so we could go in. For a few minutes we were in there alone enjoying the hieroglyphics. And….it was warm.
Without a doubt we will tell you when you come to Egypt it is worth the travel south to see these two amazing temples.
It was time to hop back in the van, join the convoy heading north back to Aswan, enduring the crazy driver of our van who sped entire way back…something about the convoy and not falling behind (the rules, you know). We were dropped by the rail station, where we sat for two hours and then boarded our train north to Luxor.
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