Day 3 - ABU SIMBEL
Sleep was good for me and back to normal for Gary but the alarm to start the day came early at 4:30am. Private car waiting we zipped through Aswan as the bustling city awakened under the desert sun. We have a 3 hour drive ahead of us which ended up being closer to 4 so almost 8 hours in the car to see the magnificent Abu Simbel. It was worth the drive, one of those iconic places you don’t want to miss and we were able to close our eyes periodically along the way.
Not much to see in the desert until we stopped for a break and the excitement in the women’s washroom woke everyone up. The cafe was adobe style with colorful cloth hangings, wooden chairs and a friendly vibe, an oasis really. The roof was thatched and as I made my way to the women’s washroom line up I paid the $5EP to use the facilities and get my share of tp, several buses full of tourists were doing the same. The woman behind me in line offered up her share of tp as she brought her own roll and we laughed at the idea of having to do this.
I was standing at the entrance and there were about 8 women in front of me and all of a sudden there was water pouring in through the thatched roof right into where the toilets where. It was not a gentle stream but more like a firehouse size and pressure and soon the floor was soaked and women screaming and aghast in disbelief. There were a brief few moments where we all nervously laughed it off, half expecting something to be done about it. Is this the way they clean them? When I tiptoed through the water to make my way into the stall I could see a man up there just hanging out. What the heck? I’m glad I was not 3 minutes earlier or it would have been me getting soaked from above.
It was truly amazing to walk the path to the 4 Gods carved in stone. Again this temple along with the smaller one for his wife was deconstructed from it’s original home and built here on higher ground.They meticulously placed the temple in the exact direction needed to reflect the morning sun every year on Oct 23. As we were only a few days early, late in the day, it shone on the statues in the back but not directly as it would at sunrise. Chambers within and pillars towering toward the decorated ceiling, it was beyond impressive to imagine the work required to relocate it, but also to think about the life they lived during the time it was originally built.
The two Temples of Abu Simbel, with their unique style, are considered to be the masterpieces of ancient Egypt. The Temple of Ramsses II was dedicated to the four universal Gods Ptah, Re-Her-Akhtey, Amun-Re, and to Ramsses II himself. The great Abu Simbel temple is also called The Sun Temple of Ramsses II.
The 2nd structure is the temple of Queen Nefertari, also Called Temple of Hathor who was the wife of the Sun God.
Everyone there was in complete awe and we politely toured the chambers while taking pictures and videos. No guides allowed in as it would have been chaotic. It was crazy hot for us but a lovely fall day for locals. We were thankful to get back to the lakeside cafe for a cold drink and rest.
Of course the exit took us through stalls of vendors each with their own line to get you in. Only $1 and then they change their story when they figure out what you want. Back on the road by 11ish we bumped and jolted for the next few hours and the desert sun showed a mirage across the sand just like in the movies.
We closed our eyes off and on for the trip back and arrived at the ship just in time to launch with a handful of ships ready to experience the Nile. The harbour was busy with sailboats, motorboats, fishing boats and colourful row boats. It felt exciting in the balmy breeze from the top deck as we took a quick dip in the pool just before setting sail. It was cool and refreshing after a hot day in the desert.
We start to see beautiful palm trees along the shore of the Nile with farmlands and mosques dotting the tiny villages along the way. Kids sometimes yelling from the shore and the occasional cow could be heard, fires burning, and the prayer chants filled the night air on an otherwise peaceful cruise.
The day was not over yet as the tour included a visit to Kom Ombo just down the river. Standing on high ground overlooking the Nile, the Temple of Kom Ombo differs from other temples because of its double entrance, each one is dedicated to divinity: Haroeris with his falcon head and Sobek with his crocodile head.
We could see the original colour of blue and red still evident on some of the columns as the planet Jupiter shone in the night sky above. I loved that we were able to see this at night as everything seemed to pop in gold and silver tones. Kom Ombo's importance lies in its huge sugar-cane production.
After a quick run through of the Crocodile Museum we eagerly returned to the ship for dinner and we found ourselves relaxing on the deck chugging down the Nile in the warm night air.
Day 4 EDFU - TEMPLE OF HORUS
Sailed to Edfu overnight waking to many cruise ships docked side by side sometimes 6 boats deep along the shore. We rode in a horse and buggy to the temple of Horus and given Friday is a day off here, the streets were quiet compared to the bustling activities of other days with shops all closed and very little traffic at 7am.
On it’s approach you can see a wall of mud brick that were once homes built over time as the temple was ignored and eventually covered with centuries of life.
Edfu Temple was dedicated to the worship of the God Horus. With a hawk’s head, Horus was the son of the God Osiris and the Goddess Isis and the husband of Hathor. Pretty amazing temple with it’s typical courtyard area surrounded with columns of stone.
Small Horus statues were in various stages of decay and welcomed you at the entrance. The walkway around the temple walls displayed large pictures of battle and the King’s intention to carry his possessions into the afterlife.
This majestic temple dedicated to Horus is considered by most to be the best preserved cult temple in Egypt. According to the Egyptian myths, it was the place where the falcon-headed god Horus revenged the murder of his father Osiris by killing Seth.
Sailing to Luxor was entertaining with vendors offering scarfs and colourful tablecloths from their blue rowboats they attached with ropes to the cruise ships. They would yell at the passengers to show them what they have and if they bartered a price, would come closer to get paid.
We had returned to our room for a few minutes and in the time it took for Gary to go into the other room, I opened the balcony door to watch and I had 2 tablecloths thrown up to me. He was begging me to give him a price but the stitching was cheap and cost was high so I stuffed it back through the balcony and closed the door. They do not take no for an answer very well.
Navigating the canal system took awhile and then it was another 3 hours sail to Luxor. We would visit Luxor Temple after docking tonight and then Karnak before we fly out tomorrow, back to Cairo for a few days. The small blue boats were incredibly entertaining as was the canal system and all the other cruise ships coming and going both ways. Made me realize that Egypt is highly dependent on tourism however, the pollution to the Nile is sad to see. We appreciate the beauty going by and the people working to feed their families.
Short breaks between the temple visits was the only way I could keep up. This was an especially lovely afternoon feeling very relaxed and well rested.
Stepping out of the cruise ship onto the sidewalks of Luxor seemed incredibly clean compared to what we saw in other communities. Polished marble and beautiful walkway along the Nile, we felt like we had stepped into another world.
Luxor Temple was only 5 minutes away by car and you could see it easily from the boat like a beacon of light. Mostafa always seemed to get us to the head of the line with tickets so we got in quickly even though a crowd was gathering. There was always tour buses and traffic backed up in the parking lots. It was only open until 8pm so we quickly went in, not to miss anything.
Again the lights and the night sky with Jupiter clearly in view with most pictures we took was so special. Avenue of the Sphinxes connected this and the Karnak Temple with a 3 km pathway lined with broken and imperfect sphinxes. 67 Sphinxes on each side of the pathway were meticulously uncovered after many years of Egyptian homes being built over top, having no regard for the temple. It wasn't until the arrival of the French that it's significance would be uncovered.
So many years of development, decay and reconstruction can be seen at this site with the mosque built on top of the church using the temple wall for it's construction. 3 changes of religion over time with many kings in between brings an incredible mix of Roman, Greek and Christian architecture to this temple.
King Ramsses II completed the outside courtyard with 4 statues of himself in military stance and as you move into each section of the temple, the different religions are represented with Roman arches, Christian church design and the reuse of temple blocks with Egyptian wall carvings placed upside down.
Flowers carved into the tops of the columns revealed from what reign each was from with open or closed papyrus flowers from ancient Egyptian kings and Greek columns bearing lotus. Depictions of the festival celebrating the completion of the temple can be found closer to the entrance with statues, Roman arches and Christian altar built on top of the other.
The 22 metre Obelisk cut from one piece of Aswan quarry red granite was shipped here on 3 boats during the flood of the Nile. With the help of sand, wood, animals and strong rope, it was erected with the names of kings and their accomplishments, wife, sons and daughters and the God Amon Ra - god of the sun. The 4 sided carved obelisk was topped with a pyramid shaped gold covered cap symbolizing the connection to this god.
After the Rosetta stone was found by Napoleon Bonaparte in the late 1700's, the mysteries of ancient Egyptian text became easier to decipher with Coptic and Greek languages found on the same tablet as Egyptian symbols. This certainly was the temple that represented so many years of regime change.
Day 5 - VALLEY OF THE KINGS
Early to bed with another early morning to ensure we got our tours in before catching the flight back to Cairo. We traveled into the farmlands with green green fields and off in the distance you could see the hot air balloon enthusiasts. It was an option for us but we decided we’d rather spend time at the temples. I thank them for a beautiful photo opportunity.
We arrived to Valley of the Kings pretty much first in line! So glad we opted for this with hardly anyone around until we were leaving. We visited 3 King’s tombs which were amazing with the colourful depictions of afterlife intentions. So much colour - absolutely beautiful! Hard to believe they are thousands of years old with the colour and detail beyond what I expected.
By 7am we were scouting out Ramses IX with a long passageway to the very end. Every square inch of this temple was decorated with colour and design and I imagined the people that created this shrine to their beloved.
Merenptah was next with slightly muted tones and more yellow. It was a steep walk down pretty far but so enlightening along the way. Stars on the ceiling looked like starfish. An attendant insisted on taking my camera behind the barricade for under the tomb pictures and all around the back and then practically took 60 pounds from Gary’s wallet when he tipped him.
We passed by the unimpressive King Tut Ankh Amun as he was a boy king who died suddenly - the treasure huge and recently excavated the room is now empty and small. The next one we went into was Ramesses III. They all had their special uniqueness about them and this one seemed very vivid in colour and detail. This is Anubis, the jackal despite looking white from it's usual black, the paint peeling away with time. God of the underworld, death and rebirth he was the one that placed your heart on the scale to weigh it against a feather. One must have a good heart with life well lived to pass into a good afterlife.
People were starting to come in quickly in the open air hop on carts that transported us so we headed out after this wonderful visit with a deeper understanding of the connection with afterlife.
TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT
Next stop is the Temple of Hatshepsut a woman who made herself King. I read about her before we came so I was delighted she was next to visit. Quite the story where her husband King was killed and she was involved enough in the royal activities that she took control and made it legal to have a female king. I'm starting to see the strength of Egyptian women in ancient times and I imagine what it would have been like for her to do this. It was unheard of!
Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahari was the Egyptian King Thutmose I and his wife queen Ahmose only child, she was one of the greatest queens and the second who ruled ancient Egypt. She was the fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt taking over the rule of Egypt in 1478 BC. When Hatshepsut's stepson became of age he erased all images of her from the stonework and she was essentially eliminated from any herstory.
Much of this temple was exposed to the elements and there was some excavation work going on all around with huge labeled stones sitting to the side. Incredible the volume of artifacts that may be under all this sand! However so much now exposed to the elements, you wonder how long it will all last.
We stopped at an artisan plant where they make all kinds of statues, dishes and souvenirs made from alabaster, onyx, basalt and other rock mined from the local hillsides.
Beautiful deep pink flowers lined the streets along the road and we made our way back to Luxor with plans to visit Colossi of Memnon and Karnak Temple, then fly back to Cairo. We were packed and ready to go with everything in the back of the van.
COLOSSI OF MEMNON
A quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon revealed 2 very large statues in the middle of a bare lot. We could see Hatshesput's temple in the mountains behind and both statues loomed over the neighbourhood like ghosts from the past. These are from the 18th Dynasty, Pharaoh Amenhotep III originally designed to guard his mortuary temple.
Temple of Karnak covers huge acreage and is believed to be the biggest temple in the world. Connected to Luxor Temple with the avenue of the sphinxes of King Ramses 2nd, this is the biggest hypostyle (pillars) room in the world with 134 columns, obelisks, and the largest swimming pool lake of ancient Egypt.
The afternoon sun was hot as we gathered in the shade of the huge pillars to hear what this was all about. Holding many tombs, this site just kept going and going into individual courtyards with even bigger pillars than the last. There was some reconstruction of the artwork on the pillars supposedly carried out better by women and you could see them high on the scaffolding in their light weight burkas blowing in the breeze.
Through the airport to catch our flight was a little bit rough with the new guide not really moving at the speed we would have liked. Heading back to Cairo after a sweet cruise down the Nile seemed to be like getting back to reality when we encountered daytime traffic back to the hotel room. 10 millions cars in Cairo and they all seemed to be beeping their horns consistently making their way around this pollution filled city.