Aswan


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Africa » Egypt » Upper Egypt » Aswan
December 19th 2006
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 24.0818, 32.9108

... only I can't. Many stops, lurchy ride, jet lag - whatever it is, I lay awake all night. Once the sun is up, we can see the surrounding countryside - sugar cane fields, many donkey carts on the road, much more conservative dress among both men and women.
Upon our arrival in Aswan, we transfer to a van, then drive to the lake for a brief cruise to the island with the Temples of Philae. The temples were built during the Greco-Roman period, on the island of Philae. When the lower Aswan dam was built at the end of the 19th Century, the temples were totally submerged. After the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, however, the water levels of the lake changed, and the temples were now half-exposed, half-underwater, causing rapid decay. UNESCO funded the task of moving the temples of a different, wholly exposed island nearby. It was quite an undertaking, with the building of coffer dams and artificial atolls.
The temples are beautiful - they have a wide variety of column capitols, which was typical of Greek architecture, but with the figures representing papyrus or lotus flowers, which was typical of Egyptian architecture. Our guide, Muhammad Ali, tells us that the Greek pharaohs built these temples in the Egyptian style to placate the priests of the old religion. Part of the roof has been restored so that one can set a sense of the darkness of the interior rooms (though this effect is entirely destroyed by artificial lighting). We learn that the carvings are relief in the interior and incised on the exterior walls, as one type shows up best in dark and the other best in direct sunlight.
After our tour, we wandered about, taking photos, then had a coffee, sitting under the bougainvillea, with a view of the water. We took our boat back to the mainland, admiring the rock islands and bird life. Lovely morning.
Our next (brief) stop is Aswan High Dam, to admire it from afar. As no water coursing through the sluices is visible, it is less impressive than Three Gorges. The signs all talk about how the benefits outweigh the costs, reminiscent of the Three Gorges project information for tourists. Something there is that does not love a dam...
Then, we go to see the granite quarry, with the broken obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut. Here, the
souvenir sellers are set up in a central bazaar (through which one is required to pass to exit). The three sides of what would have been the world's largest obelisk are all carved, and we wonder how they would have carved out the fourth side. How did they cut under all those tons of stone without metal tools? Must have been space aliens....
After the quarry, we go to the cruise boat for a buffet lunch and to check into our cabins. The kids have a single bed in their cabin. When we ask to change cabins, they change out the beds instead. I guess that works as well.
In the afternoon, we do a cruise up river, through the first cataract, in an area with very unique plants, mostly tropical. Many ibises on the banks and a few flowering trees. It is a gorgeous afternoon, and we are at the golden hour. The most fun was maneuvering through the rapids, with the water flowing quickly around the rocks (though both Paul and I flash on the Jungle Cruise ... must we always be haunted by Disneyland when we travel?)
We then ride camels (very uncomfortable; why didn't I remember that from
years ago?) to a Nubian village, where we met our guide (who is too smart to ride camels). It takes some time to find him; meanwhile, I am adopted by a local girl. She first takes my hand, then, seeing that Kyla has her armed looped through mind, does the same thing. But she wants to sell me stuff (of course), or, failing that, be given money, which will not happen. Finally, we find Muhammad and visit a Nubian house for very good mint tea and nibbles (very salty cheese; dry bread in delicious sesame oil dip). I am thoroughly attacked by sand fleas or other invisible insects, but our visit is otherwise fine. Muhammad smokes tobacco through a hookah while we check out the crocodiles that the household keeps for protection.
Back to the small boat, then down river to the Nubian Museum (a van meets us dockside to drive us up the hill to the Museum). Beautiful building, constructed out of polished stone. It is now night and the building is lit up from below; it gleams. Museum itself is well-done, with displays providing both context and samples of artifacts. Everything from tiny stone tools to enormous statues. Also, we see photographs taken during the moving of the temples of Philae. Upstairs, there is an exhibit about building the Aswan High Dam from the perspective of the Nubians, "Through Their Eyes." The dam displaced large numbers of Nubian people, submerging their agricultural land, villages, and ancient sites. We had heard rhetoric from Muhammad that the Nubians are better off now - they have electricity, schools - shades, again, of the Three Gorges Project. But the photographs tell a different story, even if the text focuses on how many sites were protected or moved. Clearly, the exhibit is trying to be about the Truth, while very much under government censorship.
We return to the cruise boat, while I promptly collapse in bed. The others go to dinner, then we all turn in, exhausted.


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