Egypt (Abu Simbel, Luxor, Cairo) (2.1.10 – 2.4.10)

It was Monday morning, officially, but it was 2:30AM. Actually, let me tell you about this most strange happening. My alarm was set for 2:30AM, because I had to pack and eat breakfast, ready for the van that was due to pick me up from my hostel at 3:30, and drive down to Abu Simbel. Strangely, I found myself wide awake, and my alarm had not yet gone off. I looked at my clock, and discovered that it was 2:27AM, and while looking at the time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark figure move toward the corner of the room. I should have found this scary… but I didn’t for some reason. I have no explanation for it… ghost maybe? Who knows! Now awake, I packed, and headed downstairs to hand in my key, lock up my bag, and eat breakfast while waiting for the 3:30 arrival of the van. I joined the other passengers, and the van drove around a few more hostels and hotels, picking up a few more travelers. I fell asleep quickly, and though I woke up periodically throughout our four hour journey south, before I knew it, it was 8AM, and we were in Abu Simbel. We parked, and were told to meet back at the van at 10:45AM. I walked along the path to the Temple of Ramesses II, taking in the view of Lake Nasser along the way, and suddenly, this magnificent temple was within view, and every bit as magnificent as I had imagined it would be, based upon all I knew of it. The Temple of Ramesses II and the Small Temple, also a temple of Ramesses II, dedicated to his wife Nefertari, which is the other temple at Abu Simbel, were two of twenty-four temples that were completely dismantled and relocated, a feat that spanned from 1964 to 1968. The Nile was being dammed, which formed Lake Nasser, and in doing so, the lake created would submerge fourteen ancient temples. Eleven of them were saved, due to the work of archaeological teams from several countries, who worked with painstaking care and precision, in order for them to be rebuilt in new locations where they would be safe from the lake.
The Temple of Ramesses II was my favorite of the two, decorated with four large sitting men; two to each side of the entrance, each of which is Ramesses II. Inside the temple were a number of rooms, each telling stories of Ramesses II; there was hardly a blank spot on the wall in the whole temple. In addition to the hieroglyphics and paintings, the temple was adorned with many large statues. It was something quite incredible, and yet another of Egypt’s treasures which forbids photography inside. The second temple was quite unique, because as you’ll see in pictures below, Ramesses II’s wife, Queen Nefertari, is depicted at an equal height to that of her husband. This is the only instance in Egyptian art in which this is the case, as it is the rule for the queens to be depicted as they are in the façade of the Temple of Ramesses II: at full height, the women don’t even reach the height of Ramesses II’s knees. The temple is very similar to the other, and though it is far smaller, it is every bit as exquisite. With 10:45 approaching, I headed for the van, and we then headed back to Aswan. We stopped at the High Dam, which very few of the group were actually interested in paying to go and see. We stayed on the side of the road for the ten minutes it took the others to drive in and out; we were picked up once more and headed to the Philae Temple. On the way to the temple, I got chatting to another of the passengers; a charming English chap named Adrian. We wandered through the temple together, discussing our travels and our next destinations; he was backpacking through Africa, down to South Africa. He was one of the most interesting and charismatic characters I’ve met in quite some time. He decided that he wanted to get an ice cream, and told me that if he was getting one, then I would have to have one as well, so he bought me one, and it was one of the sweetest things any fella has done for me in some time.
After we had seen the temple, the van came to pick us up once more, and then drop us off at our respective hostels. I returned to my hostel (Nubian Oasis, which let me reiterate, I DO NOT recommend, if you find yourself in Aswan and in search of a cheap place to stay), got my bag and headed for the train station. It was about 4Pm at this point, and I attempted to buy a ticket for the 6PM train, but was told that I would have to buy it on the train (they do this to the tourists because it will cost you more on the train). While waiting, I went and sat down at a restaurant so that I could get something to eat, and pass the time before my train’s departure. I got on the train, seriously confused about what to do/where to sit/when to pay for my ticket, and was shown to a seat by a man who I assumed to be a conductor. He then held out his hand, I assumed for train fare, and he said “No, no, baksheesh.” This guy wanted money because he had walked past 10 seats; I was so aggravated! Eventually, the train set off, the conductor came by, and I paid my fare, and three or so hours later, I arrived in Luxor, and was met at the train station by someone who worked at Boomerang Hostel, the hostel where I was going to stay. They were out of dorm rooms, but did have singles for 30LE (around $5), and this was the nicest place I stayed at during my whole stay in Egypt. The woman who runs it is an Aussie who used to be a travel agent, but while on an assignment in Egypt, she fell in love; she’s a total character, honest, sassy, pleasant and genuine. Once in my room, I was ready to crash after a long day.
On Tuesday, I woke up later than I meant to, had breakfast, and left to go and see the sights of Luxor, starting with the Luxor Temple. Side note: Contrary to what you may suspect because of the Luxor in Vegas, there is no pyramid in Luxor. After the Luxor, I crossed the river to explore some of the Valley of the Kings, but as I was running low on time, I saw only the Ramesseum, which was fascinating, and largely in ruin. I got a personal tour, with descriptions of a great number of the stories told in the engravings on the wall, as well as a brief visit to a part of the site I’m fairly positive I shouldn’t have been in. After, I crossed the Nile once more, and sadly it was too late to enter the Karnak temple, so I settled on some shopping in the market. I then returned to my hostel so I could internet for a bit before catching my train. Mia, the amazing woman who ran Boomerang Hostel, had been kind enough to help me get a ticket for that night from Luxor back to Cairo; I was due to catch the 10PM train. So, around 9:30, I left the hostel for the train station; I went through security, presented my ticket to the tourist police officer, and asked him if the train at the platform in front of us was my train. He replied “For Cairo, yes, your train.” I was considering picking up some food for the train ride, when suddenly, the train started moving, AND I WASN’T ON IT! So, I ran and jumped onto the moving train, heart racing as I thought about how I’d nearly missed my train, and wasn’t it funny, I thought, that the train was leaving ten minutes early! I passed through the carriages and found my seat, pleased to be on my way back to Cairo. Several hours later, the conductor came by to check tickets, and upon looking at mine, he started to shake his head, and I started to sweat. My ticket had been bought from a scalper outside the train station, and I was suddenly worried that I had been sold a fake ticket. The man in front of me spoke English, and was kind enough to translate for me. It turned out that the time of departure written on the ticket was incorrect, and the train number was for the train that departs Luxor at 11:30PM… so I was going to have to get off the train and catch the correct one when it passed by. Once the conductor had left, the man in front told me to stay on until Asyut, which was his stop; the various trains stop at different stations, and stopping at the big station at Asyut was the only way to guarantee that I would be able to catch my train, the correct train. I should mention that I really should have found it suspicious that the train was early… because as I had discovered after my time so far, nothing in Egypt runs on time, and early? Never! Everything runs late; it is the rule, not the exception. As it turned out, the train I had jumped on was in fact over half an hour late, and should not have been sitting at the platform when it was. After this debacle, I went to text Sara to let her know what was going on, only to discover that I was out of credit on my Egyptian sim! The train I was on didn’t reach Asyut until 2:30 AM, and the correct train would pass through at 3AM. I sought help from a tourist police officer, who ensured he would make sure I caught my train, and with nothing left to do but wait, I sat to have a coke. My train arrived at the police officer took me to my seat, where we discovered someone sleeping in my seat! The officer shooed him away and finally, everything was right. Once the train started moving, I feel asleep quickly. The train arrived in Cairo at about 9AM, and by this point, my phone was dead, so I went to a coffee shop so that I could charge my phone in order to text Sara and let her know that I had arrived. I tried to call, but she didn’t answer, so I stayed at the coffee shop until she replied because I correctly assumed that she was still sleeping. Upon receiving her call, I took the metro to Heliopolis, where she met me; we went to get coffee at Harris Café, as was becoming customary by this point. From the café, we went to buy a sheesha, as it was something I had been intending to pick up. We then went back to her place, and hung out for a while, before leaving to have a nice dinner (our last supper L ). Menna, one of Sara’s friends met us as we finished our meal, and Sara dropped us off at Menna’s on her way to class. Menna and I then drove to Nadir’s to hang out for a while. After class, Sara joined us and we watched ’Across the Universe.’ It seemed as though hardly any time had passed, but the time had come, and I had to bid these beautiful people who I now consider my own friends a ’See you later,’ because it’s only a matter of time before my return to Egypt. Sara and I returned to her place, stopping at the bus station on the way so that I could buy a ticket to Sharm El-Sheikh for my journey the next morning. Once back at Sara’s, we hung out with her family, before finally heading to bed around 3AM, which was ridiculous seeing as we were due to be up at 7AM, so that I could catch my 8:15AM bus to Sharm. Despite the late night, we woke up on time, and with a stop for coffee, made it to the station in good time; as could have been predicted, the bus was late, which bought me more time with my love. My bus came, and I had to go, so Sara and I wished each other well, and said sad ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you soon’s.’ The bus ride to Sharm El-Sheikh was as uneventful as one could hope for, and once at the bus station, after some serious debate, I scored a taxi to the airport for 25LE. Once at the airport, check in was a breeze, and before long, I was on a flight headed back to London.

First view of Abu Simbel

One of the four statues of Ramesses II. Note his wife, Nefertari, standing at his feet

A view of the statues inside the temple, taken from just outside the entrance

The front of the smaller of the two temples

Nefertari, standing at equal height to her husband, Ramesses II, shown on either side of her.

It took me a while to figure out how to make this work, but I didn’t want to bother a stranger to help me take a silly picture. Setting my camera on my moleskin and angling my fancy set up just so yielded a most excellent result.

Queen Nefertari

Hieroglyphics at the temple entrance

Lake Nasser, created when the Aswan High Dam was built to dam the Nile

The Philae Temple in Asawn, another monument that had to be relocated due to the damming of the Nile

The view from the island on which the Philae Temple stands

Hieroglyphics inside the Philae Temple

More of the Philae Temple

… and more

Adrian and I

Luxor Temple

In this picture I am touching a key of life, or ankh, for good luck.

More of the Luxor Temple

One of the sphinx statues in the rows of Sphinx that lead to the entrance of the Luxor Temple

The front of the Luxor Temple

Statues of Ramesses in the Ramesseum

The god Amun giving Ramesses II good luck with the ankh

Inside the Ramesseum

A disintegrated part of the mummy of a worker, buried in the Ramesseum. This was in the area that my tour guide took me to; I’m fairly positive I shouldn’t have been allowed here.

This was taken in front of the huge statue of Ramesses II that lies in ruin at the front of the Ramesseum

Here is a better view; his head lays in the ground.

This is a view in the front of the destroyed statue; the feet stayed in place, but the rest of the statue has fallen.

From left to right: Nader, Sara, me, Menna, AbdelGhany, Sika, Lobna

Sara’s wonderful family!!! From left to right: Sondos, Sara, Salma, Sara’s father, Saeed, Sara’s grandma, and Sara’s mother.

The last photo (for now) of Sara and I, just before I left to get on the bus to Sharm to catch my plane back to England.

To conclude my entries about Egypt, which are LONG overdue…but we won’t go any further into that, I will just say that Sara is one of the most beautiful, remarkable people I have ever met, and I feel so very lucky to be able to call her my friend. I cannot wait until the day when we can meet again; maybe it’ll be on my turf next time!


3 responses to “Egypt (Abu Simbel, Luxor, Cairo) (2.1.10 – 2.4.10)

  1. You’ve seen things I have yet to see in Egypt, Liz!!
    I can’t believe how time flies by because reading that felt like yesterday!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I will be traveling to Egypt soon and found it very inspiring.

    When surfing the net I came across this Egypt travel guide which might be of interest to anyone planning on traveling to Egypt. Very useful and informative – Egypt Travel & Vacations

    Actually, I am dreaming of this Egypt Nile Cruise Tour 🙂

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