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Published: February 26th 2016
In the middle of the night
After such a glorious time in the beautiful, desolate desert, walking into the train station in Giza was a harsh wake up call. We had several hours to spend until our overnight train to Aswan. Mohamed parked us at a table in a café and stayed with us while we read, worked on our blogs until batteries gave out and people watched. After some time he headed home to bring his wife and daughter back for us to meet. We had enjoyed such a nice connection with him that it seemed perfectly natural to meet his family. Had we known what a great guide he is and what a good rapport we would have, we would have utilized him for more of our trip.
The train to Aswan pulled into the station at 8:30PM and with Mohamed’s help, we were boarded on the correct car. It didn’t take more than 5 minutes for the first “I wish Mohamed was here” moment to happen. My ticket had me in the cabin with seat 8, but there were two people in there. Soon the carriage was awash in grumbling, shouting people trying to sort out where they were supposed to be. Me,
I stood stoically waiting, knowing that it would be taken care of without yet another person clambering his cause. While Dave kept an eye out on me, I waited while the others pushed back and forth. Soon, the attendant took me to a cabin and stowed me there. I was happy. I sat quietly. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but it seemed to be over until the same gentleman came and while apologizing profusely moved me to another (my third by now) cabin. I was happy. I sat quietly. This time it seemed to be the real thing and I allowed myself to be very happy. I had the cabin to myself. Shortly after settling in, Dave stopped by to ask if the musical chairs were finished. Spot on he was. He also pointed out that by my being quiet, I ended up with the best outcome of the group. Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets stuck in a cabin with other people.
Of all the different travels and journeys I have taken, I have never been on an overnight train ride. This was something I was looking forward to. Dinner was brought to my cabin shortly after
we left Giza. It wasn’t bad, wasn’t great but still earned a photo shoot. After dinner I stretched out on the seat, which was very comfortable and read. It was pleasant, although with the door closed I did feel a bit as if I were in a prison cell. Dave and Merry Jo were a few cabins down, so we popped in each others cabin once in a while. Surprisingly I was able to fully stretch out on the bed once it was folded out of the wall. The rocking motion of the train was soothing, but too frequently we would jerk to a stop apparently to add more cars. This always involved a rough bump as the cars hooked onto one another and was not as soothing; one time I almost fell off the bed. Morning came quickly and with it came what I would refer to as the Dr. Atkins Nightmare Breakfast. Every item was bread related. Still, it was not bad so I ate what I could. Around 10AM we pulled into Aswan and the train portion of the day was finished. Little did I know that this was not going to be the only overnight journey
I was very happy to not have to share this space.
of the day.
Our guide for this portion of our trip, Ragab, met us on the platform. We went to the hotel, but were too early to check in, so left our bags in the lobby and headed off to explore Aswan. Excitedly he told us that we were very fortunate, that tomorrow in Abu Simbel was the Celebration of the sun passes over the Face of Ramses II. This happens only twice a year, on February 22 and October 22. Sure, we all thought this sounds interesting. In order to be there we will leave early in the morning. Sure we all thought, that sounds ok. Slowly we gleaned the information that early meant leaving at 11:30PM. Oh heck no. I had slept in a tent in the desert, on a train the night before and was in desperate need of a shower and bed. I will admit that I was not sold on the idea, nor was I very excited to do this. While pouting, I halfheartedly took in the views of the Upper Dam and Lake Nasser, the largest man made lake in the world for many years. Grumbling under my breath I rode the boat
to the Philae Temple. True, it was an amazing place. It had been moved to the current location in the 1970’s to preserve it from the water of the Nile, but darn it, I wanted to sleep in a real bed. The temple was beautiful with magnificent carvings, beautiful views and history. It was submerged when the first Aswan Dam was built in 1906 and can be seen in photographs with people boating around it. The last place we visited on the island was a Roman style temple overlooking the water. I will post some pictures, but can’t say too much about them because I was too cranky to really pay attention. Poor Ragab, our guide didn’t know what to make of us. We were suffering from Mohamed withdrawal and were not at our best. Dave was a bit more stoic, but I think he was silently feeling what Merry Jo and I were expressing.
We had several hours to kill before having to meet at 11:30. I took a long overdue nap for a couple hours until it was past time to meet for dinner. We had been given the name of a restaurant that was supposedly down
the street on the corner. We walked and looked, walked and looked, asked some people, walked and looked. It turned out that it was a couple blocks off the street and to add insult to the already crappy evening, it was closed due to the death of the owner. I’m not proud of this, but I should probably tell you before Dave and Merry Jo do. I was tempted to go to McDonalds. Crisp, salty fries were calling my name, but they weren’t convincing enough to get us there. We ate at the hotel and had a delicious Beef Schawarma. After dinner we went back to our rooms for another nap, a hot shower and were ready to drive all night down to Abu Simbel.
From what I can gather, tourists are not allowed to travel between Aswan and Abu Simbel unless they are in a convoy. Whatever the case, we queued up in our vans and headed out on a 4 hour drive. I managed to get some sleep, but the van was erratic, speeding up, slowing down, stopping, bouncing over speed bumps. I am not going to lie; this was not what I imagined my day would
be and I was not pleased in the least. Around 4:30AM we arrived at Abu Simbel. It was cold as could be with a breeze coming off Lake Nasser, dark and crowded with people. This is a huge celebration. Ragab did not come with on this portion of the trip, so we had a different guide. He was very knowledgeable and friendly as he herded us to sit on concrete benches facing the Temple. None of us were sure of what to expect, and I can safely say that I didn’t expect the crowd of thousands that were milling about. Ragab had told us that the sun rising into the Temple would be shown on big screens, but the only screen we saw was a small one facing sideways from where we could stand. I won’t go into the ugly details of it all, but please let your mind wander to where you think cold, sleep deprived, under caffeinated travelers with not enough information may act and then multiply that by two.
The turning moment from that to a good day came as we were being pushed and jostled by the crowds. Police and soldiers were trying to hold
the crowds back while dignitaries walked purposefully with appropriate entourages. Suddenly this Egyptian woman asked us if we were American and wanted to be interviewed on live television. She worked on a morning show (we called it Good Morning Egypt but don’t really know the name) and wanted to interview us. Before we knew it we were on television saying how excited we were to be in Egypt and how fortunate we were to be at this festival. By now it was warming up, dawn was on us and the energy of the place was growing. Our guide took us into the restricted area by the front of the temple to see the screen. He is apparently very well connected. While we were there, we were individually interviewed for a Chinese television show. The sunrise never materialized due to overcast weather. What is supposed to happen is that as the sun rises it hits different chambers in the Temple until finally it reaches the most holy place lighting up 3 statues but not the 4th
which is of Darkness. When it was clear that nothing was going to happen, the dignitaries left and crowds were allowed to file through the
High Dam in Aswan
It wasn't the best dam tour, but hey, we all love a nice dam tour.
temple. Lines were huge, so we were guided to a small marketplace showcasing local goods. As our guide was explaining how these items were made, we were filmed and photographed. Not sure why we were so popular, but even later we had people ask to have their pictures taken with us.
The smaller temple was locked, but our guide had someone open it and we were the first to enter the dark, unlit but warm temple. By iPhone light we were shown carvings and drawings on the walls. More people filed in, lights were turned on and the atmosphere changed, but those first moments were magical. Crowds had vanished, so we toured the impressive large Temple of Ramses the Great. Like the temple yesterday, this had been moved to save it from the lake and flooding. Giant statues line the front, including one badly damaged by an earthquake many many years ago. These statues and the elaborate carvings are what I think of when I think of Egypt. It was far more impressive than I had expected and I was glad I was able to see it even if I had been less than agreeable to the trip.
This is looking towards where the water is released through the turbines.
The ride back was supposed to be in a convoy as well, but I think our driver left the convoy in the dust. This was probably the most reckless drive I have been on in years, but somehow we made it back to Aswan safely. Ragab met us near the train station and we settled in at a sidewalk café for a several hour wait. While waiting we enjoyed some Egyptian pasta with lentils, garbanzo beans, tomato and fried onion. Merry Jo had baked pasta with Béchamel and cheese. I have to say that I enjoyed them both. Dave and I had 2 Turkish coffees to help keep us awake for the 3 hour train trip to Luxor which was comfortable and restful after a long frenetic day. As we approached Luxor, Ragab had porters grab our luggage and we went through train car after train car towards the front of the train. As it turns out, the Luxor train station is undergoing renovation so he wanted us to be as close to the middle of the platform as possible so we didn’t have to carry our bags over the sand that is in place during renovation. We were warming
up to him and looking forward to spending several days in this ancient city with him.
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