Saturday, August 4, 2007

17 hours to Aswan ...and beyond.

17 hours. From 5:30pm until 10:30am the following day. That's how long it took for our bus to take us from Cairo to Aswan, on the very southern end of Egypt. Aswan is the last major Egyptian city on the Nile before you reach Sudan, and is the home of center of Egypt's portion of Nubia.

Truth to tell, for a long bus ride, the trip from Egypt to Aswan wasn't half bad. At first, the bus look like it left something to be desired, the seats looked ragged and the broken ash tray on the seat in front of me seemed to be growing some sort of fungus which looked like wood glue. Also, as Sarah observed looking at some torn net hanging in front of her, "even when this bus was new, I'm pretty sure these magazine wracks couldn't hold anything." But, honestly, the bus was better than some we've had, and the Egyptian roads are long, straight and well paved.

In addition, I loaded myself up with over the counter sleeping pills in hopes of actually sleeping on the bus for once, which turned entire trip into a hazy dreamscape with the surrounding desert slowly fading into darkness before returning to sunlight hours later. The trip itself was staggered, with numerous stops for the riders to get out, drink tea, have a smoke, run to the bathrooms or by snacks; but Sarah managed to sleep through most of it while I bobbed for apples and gazed around blearily next to her.

Arriving at the Aswan, we quickly made friends with Yusuke, a 20 year old Japanese tourist who doesn't really speak English. Together, we were accosted with two bickering cab drivers who seemed more excited to push each other around than actually help us. Luckily, another passenger came to our rescue: "Don't go with either of these men, follow me and we will find another cab outside the station." So, the five of us (the passenger had another friend with him) started to make our way out of the station. Suddenly two cars came skiddig to a stop before us. It was the two cab drivers again. The both jumped from their cab, and started pleading with us to use them... before noticing each other and beginning to argue again.

Quickly, we climbed into a bus, and as we pulled away, we all shook our heads in disbelief. Behind us, in the parking lot, the cab drivers continued to fight.

Sarah, Yusuke and I got dropped off at our hotel, across the street from the water front and got settled in. The first thing we did though was book a tour of the Abu Simbel momument for the following day. It's departure time: 3:30am.

Between 1993 and 1997, Egypt had troubles with an Islamic faction culminating with the massacre of 58 people at the Temple of Hatsheput in 1997. Since that time, the Egyptian government has all but eliminated the group, but to this day tourists are still required to travel in convoys through certain portions of Egypt. And, for some reason the convot leaving for Abu Simbel leaves at 4 in the morning.

So, shortly before 4 o'clock, Sarah, Yusuke and I boarded a mini bus, which got into line with over twenty other buses and min-buses to make the three hour drive to Abu Simbel. Like the previous days bus ride, most people on our bus slept through the ride across the darkened desert, awaking shortly before our arrival at the monument.

The pre-dawn convoy prepares to roll out. The buses literally extended out of sight. Safety in numbers, I guess.

Abu Simbel is -in short- amazing. And, it is made only slightly less amazing because (as a result of the convoy) you arrive at the exact same moment at several hundred other tourists.

Abu Simbel. I'm sure you all recognize it from photos. But, I'll ramble about it any way.

This photo gives you a sense of scale... though it also looks like I'm holding a pick purse.

Built by Ramses II (a man who didn't seem to be too big on the word "modesty"), the main entrance of the temple consists of four 30-meter tall statues of himself. The insides of the temple, in turn, are covered with carvings depicting his many successes and victories as well as him interacting with most of the major Egyptian dieties. While not particularly subtle, the whole thing is impressive.

We thought this was interesting. You have graffiti from throughout history... people names and dates from the 1800's next to ancient Greek and Roman.

Almst nearly as impressive as the temple itself is, what's almost as impressive is that the entire thing was relocated in the late 60's. As Egypt moved forward with their plan to build the High Dam, it became apparent that many of the Nile valley ruins south of the Dam would be flooded by the reservoir it would create. So, an International Campaign, lead by UNESCO, leap into action and relocated many of the temples (Abu Simbel included) to higher ground. The entire Abu Simbel temple was cut into pieces, and rebuilt 200 meters back (and 65 meters higher). And then a small mountain was built around it. Like the temple itself, its a process that boggles the imagination.

In this photo you can see the second portion of the temple depicting Ramses (naturally) and the rest of his family. It just amazes me that they could move the whole thing.

After an hour and a half at Abu Simbel, we all piled back in our buses, and the convoy headed back to Aswan.

Just outside of Aswan, we stopped to see the High Dam itself. Completed in 1970, at the time the High Dam (which replaced the pre-existing Low Dam) was the largest dam ever built. 451 people died in its making, and the reservoir it created flooded most of what had once been the Nubian kingdom. It now controls the previously unpredictable flooding of the Nile and provides hydroelectric power. Truth to tell, it wasn't much to look at, but when you realize its scale, it was still pretty impressive.

The High Dam. Not much to look at... but it's huge.

After that, we went to the Temple of Philae. Philae, like Abu Simbel, was another temple that had to be relocated, with the entire complex being moved to higher ground. After haggling with a ferry boat driver, our entire group piled into a small boat to cross over to the island temple. The Temple of Philae was a pleasant complex to wander through, surrounded by lush greet plants, enjoying the ornately carved walls and larger than life pillars.

Approaching the Temple of Philae, after the long bus rides, it seemed so calm and relaxing.

OK, I love every picture of Sarah. But, still, this may be the best photo I've taken... ever. Seriously.

Finally, as we re-entered Aswan, we stopped at the Unfinished Obelisk. This sight, while note as impressive, reminded me of the Moai Nusery on Easter Island. Here though, it was just one massive half-carved obelisk surrounded by signs of other ones which had be previously carved from the quarry (and probably now reside on round-abouts in Europe somewhere).

I'm sure I could make some crude joke about "who has the bigger obelisk," but I'll just let you fill in the blank here.

Having seen on that, we were eager to return home. And, after dinner and beers with Yusuke and another Japanese traveler from our tour, Daisuke, we were happy to call if an early night and finally get some sleep.


ambika said...

That pic of Sarah, along w/ others I'm sure, had better go in a frame on the wall of wherever you guys end up.

Dan said...

Haha. Tyler has a pink purse!

The General said...

Oddly, the rest of the world seems to think pink is a manly color. We've been surprised how often we've seen men wearing bright pink shirts. And, in India, the woman who ran a guesthouse we stayed at once said something like "manly colors like red, pink or yellow..." or something to that extent.

Of course I'm just saying that to defend my pink purse.

...your just jealous of it.