Aswan-Abu Simbel

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December 3rd 2015
Published: December 5th 2015
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We arrived to Aswan, the most southernmost largest city in Egypt shortly after midnight. We stayed at the Keylany Hotel ($34) one block in from the Nile River and arranged our trip to Abu Simbel ($15) which departed in a few short hours at 0300.

Abu Simbel is regarded as the most impressive of all the sights in Egypt next to the Pyramids of Giza. There is a daily armed convoy that drives to the location 300 km from Aswan, across the vast and empty Sahara desert. Abu Simbel is only 25 miles from the border of Sudan, in the area known as Nubia. Nubia is a geographic cultural location that lies in the Nile River valley spanning southern Egypt and Northern Sudan.

We departed on the convoy, which consisted of 20 or so tour buses, vans and cars led by a pickup truck full of armed tourist police. I couldn't find any reports of any prior attacks against foreigners in this region, so I was unsure as to why the necessity of an armed convoy and they have been doing it this way for years and years. I sat next to a young University student from New Zealand who has been traveling throughout the Middle East by herself for weeks. She said that she has had such a wonderful time and that she hasn't had any problems whatsoever except for being teargassed for some unknown reason in Bethlehem.

We arrived at Abu Simbel just after sunrise at 0700. The monument is carved into a mountainside on the banks of Lake Nasser, the worlds largest artificial lake. It was moved from its original position in 1960's after the Nile River was dammed creating the lake and thus threatening to submerge the monument under water. The workers completed an engineering feat by literally moving a mountain to save Abu Simbel.

The monument is awe inspiring and epitomizes everything that is beautiful and mysterious in Egypt. There are four Ramses II statues guarding the entrance, each over 60 feet tall. You enter the mountain between these throned Pharaohs into the numerous chambers within filled with intricate hieroglyphics. There is another smaller monument beside the main one, this guarded by several standing Pharaohs.

We returned to Aswan in the afternoon, had an amazing Nubian lunch at Al Masry, and arranged for a felucca sail on the Nile with Mustaffa, who we had met earlier. Aswan is famous for its feluccas because the Nile here is so scenic and clean compared with the other cities on it's banks.

We arranged for a one hour sail with Mustaffa, the first of countless captains hocking their boats for cruises down the Nile. Once underway we quickly got talked into 1 1/2 hrs. because the "wind was good" and we could circumnavigate Elephantine Island fast in these conditions. Elephantine Island is picturesque island in the middle of the Nile with a Nubian village on it.

We sailed around the island, enjoying the sunset and call to prayers echoing off the water and mountainside. I dozed as I watched the cliffs pass by dotted with ancient tombs and shrines carved into the stone. As we almost rounded the island we lost wind in the rocky narrow pass and were stuck dead in the water in a sailboat without paddles. For the next hour Mustaffa tried in vain to maneuver to find wind and called for help from passing boats. Eventually he decided to let the current push us and backtrack the way we came where wind was found once again. By the time we got back it was over a 3 hr cruise. We wondered if Mustaffa intentionally brought us around the island knowing full well it would extend the trip, and that he would get paid for the extra time. We fairly paid him for his time, but we are quickly learning that many Egyptians are never happy with what they are paid and are constantly trying to get more money from you. In these extremely hard economic times for them it is understandable, but it doesn't make it any less annoying to us.

We ended the night wandering the streets and finding some cookies at a bakery and some tea and coffee at a cafe and Dennis getting a great haircut at a local barber. He told me that the barber was so pleased to have him there that he refused payment until about the fourth time he insisted to pay.

We met such charming and friendly people today, once again. Dennis is constantly being complimented on his mustache, gets tons of smiles and giggles from the young scarved Muslim girls and is told repeatedly that he looks Egyptian. Twice today someone said to him "Hello Mustache, Welcome to Alaska," whatever that means. As we walked back to our hotel from our walk I felt some tugging on my sleeve. I immediately became defensive afraid I was about to get attacked or pick pocketed, but it was a little boy, about 5 years old saying "Kiss me, kiss me right here" as he was pointing to his lips. Not wanting to actually kiss this little boy for various reasons I just gave him an air kiss, and he thanked me and ran away into the night giggling with a beaming smile.

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6th December 2015

I have too travelled this part of Egypt and was mesmerized by the carvings. I remember the armed convoy. I'm enjoying your experience with the people! Something you don't quite get with a tour group. Imagine this New Zealand student traveling on her own! Egypt is an incredible country with a fascinating history! You two go to the most wonderful countries!

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