Team VA's Wonderings

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Early starts and late nights

Day 69 Abu Simbel
It’s tempting to say that the highlight of the day was meeting Tassie Tom and having a good long chat abut cricket over a Sheesha and a couple of Stellas (the rather good local brew, not the pricey wifebeater of Queen’s club fame). Sometimes when you’re travelling, although acknowledging it’s great and you’re very lucky, you realise you’re missing some of the important things in life like birthdays, kids being born and good long chats abut cricket. This was seems to have had the desired effect as it inspired Bell to a fluent ton and the mighty Strausser to his best Test score. I’m pleased to do my bit. It was good to find an Aussie to talk cricket with, it was a bit of an Australia day really.

Having got back from Abu Simbel and had a very deserved shower, I was looking round my room feeling rather disoriented when there was a knock at the door. The guy who’d come up didn’t have much English, but seemed to be saying that either I had a phone call (which seemed very unlikely) or the ship’s captain was downstairs-perhaps he would be asking to dine at his table on the Felucca. Should have packed the DJ. Turned out it was Jess and Fleur, Aussies, who I’d met at Abu. They’d been due to Felucca up to Luxor straight after we got back. However they’d had an obnoxious drunk Swiss (of all nationalities) on their boat so they jumped ship after 200m (he’d serenaded them off with his flute). For some reason they thought I was a better bet and wanted to know about my trip. This exposed my serious lack of knowledge, but they’re coming and now I need to buy some beers rather than writing this.

OK, beer bought. I walked into the place, it looked a lot like an electrical shop. They took one look at me and said ‘alcohol upstairs’. Ahem. Just one last thing on Oz. Australian appears to be my new nationality: it is now the punt of choice for touts, vendors and shopkeepers across Egypt. I’m getting a lot of ‘Aussie’ and ‘G’day mate.’ It certainly beats my German phase from a month or so back.

Of course in addition to having a good long chat about cricket, I did go to Abu Simbel

Might just edge it

This must have been the quietest day trip I’ve ever been on: hardly a word was spoken on the way down or until we got to the High Dam on the way back. I think this was partly due to the 3 a.m. start time and also that the Pollster got sat in the death seat so I couldn’t talk to anyone. I started to right this as the day went on. Quite a good bunch in the end.

Let’s get the convoy out of the way. Unless you fly or take a tardis you have to go to Abu in one the 2 daily convoys.


There have been some very bad terrorist attacks on tourists-these are not to be sniffed at and I am used to inconvenience caused by anti-terrorism. Not as if it’s unknown back home. So the solution in much of Upper (Southern) Egypt is the convoy.

All the Wacky racer driver convene and head off together with some police-not that I noticed them. To start with, at least, everyone travels together. At the same time every day. Anyone spotting the problem? How could the terrorists foil this genius? I mean the government have now changed a road that a bus and a car came down from time to time into a predictable pattern, where a massive target moves down the road at the same time. In fairness it does have to be said that the different drivers and cars means the convoy does stretch out a fair bit. But doesn’t that just mean they’re failing to run it properly?

Clearly I hope no one does the obvious and plants a massive bomb or two timed to hit the convoy, or worse still takes out the police car and then cleans up the rest, but I’m not sure who thinks this is any safer.

And that’s without mentioning the idiocy of making a large number of Egyptian drivers travel in close proximity……

Anyway, we get to the car park and the second wacky races start of the day swings into action. Inevitably there is no indication of the entrance (or even which way to go when you have passed through the ticket barrier), but I start by following the mass of people and then my nose. One by one my fellows fall by the wayside, struck down by their bladders, the heat, the inexplicable need to buy things or, in many cases, the fact they’ve seen too many summers. By the time I pass through the final security check there’s no one ahead of me. There’s no one very close behind either. One of my maion worries about the convoy had been that everyone arriving at the same time would leave the site swamped and we’d probably be rushed so I determined to savour my alone time.

Here’s my first glimpse as I came round the corner.

I passed Nefertiti’s temple to look at Ramses first, correctly guessing everyone else would do the same and so staying ahead of the crowd. There were half a dozen or so people there, who I guess had stayed in the town the night before (or had Michael Schumacher driving their convoy vehicle).

There’s a lot of history that I won’t bore you with (nor can be bothered to type), but this is a major piece of work.

Note the comparison in head sizes. The two temples were buried up to the 19th century and it’s a bit sad how much 19th century graffiti they attracted when uncovered (getting here back then must have been a major undertaking). I hope LeCaros is proud of himself.

The burial must have help to preserve the temple as well as it has.

The second major piece of work came in the 1960s when the building of the Aswan High Dam meant that the valley would become a lake Abu Simbel would disappear under it. So they cut the temples into a number of massive blocks, moved them 65m higher up and created a concrete mountain that looked the real one to house them in. I don’t think I’d have guessed that was the past without knowing it. They look spectacular.

Although the rear view may hint at it

So today they really represent two man made technological marvels. I’d love to dive to the original sites and have a look: there must also be some wonderful that weren’t saved in this way. I’m not aware of anyone doing though. Divemaster here I come. A significant number of birds live in Ramses’ temple, I’m not sure if that was the case before the move. Anyway, a few more pics:

No pictures are allowed inside, but unlike Petra the interior is quite something. There must be about a dozen rooms, mostly covered with wall pictures and reliefs telling tales of the mighty Ramses. The inner sanctum had four statues of the temple gods and Ramses, which twice a year are lit up by the rising sun. Naturally given all this effort, history and splendour, this is a slick operation

When I emerged, the crowds had arrived

One of the sad thing about the 3am start was the number of people, myself included, pottering round this great sight, yawning helplessly. It has to be said that the Missus’ temple nextdoor isn’t quite in the same class, but is still impressive.

As I sat waiting to go, it was clear that they route the aircraft over the temples as they descend. So back to the wacky races to speed up to the High Dam (3 hours or so away). The instant we start, every vehicle swerves into the left hand to attempt pointless overtaking/blocking the car behind. More sleeping and quietness got us there to the most useless tourist site in Egypt. The dam isn’t especially high, it isn’t especially wide, it isn’t especially attractive and it’s not very interesting. The only thing I find interesting about it isn’t recorded in the propagandist spouting about Egypt’s great technological achievement (no mention of the dubious environmental cost) is that 451 people died building it. Out of 35,000 workers, or well over 1%. It is also 17 times the volume of the great pyramid, which I reckon will be at least 17 times better to visit.

Then to the temple of Philae. This is another of the temples to be moved to be saved from Lake Nasser and it may be a more impressive achievement that Abu. Philae was on an island and previous dams had meant it was submerged for part of each year. They put a dam round it so they could remove to another island, which they landscaped to match. Now that is some big vision.

It is very beautiful, but with the heat and tiredness everyone’s brains were scrambled. Still I took some photos

That should be a monkey playing a lute in there.

And finally to the unfinished obelisk, which they made a good start on

before finding fatal flaws in the rock and giving up. Bugger. At 42m and 1168 tonnes it would have been the heaviest piece of stone ever fashioned. Time for a cold drink I think.

Day 70 Felucca-downstream from Aswan
Ah, Egypt. Today had a reassuring air of farce about it. By the time, I wandered into reception Jess and Fleur were already waiting. While I chatted to them, paid my bill and had the inevitable wait for change, the comment from reception ‘have you confirmed with the captain’. 15 minutes after the captain was due, I went to ask if he was coming. A quick phone call and we were told he’d been 15 mins. So we went snack shopping.

Captain Habi seemed pretty cool and we were half way to the boat when we had to stop and reverse after Jess’ sleeping bag fell off the top of the service taxi we were in. By now we were united with Shona, a Canadian who was joining us. There were two more bods on the boat, where we sat and waited for another hour till the other 6 made it-never did work out whose fault that was. At this stage the boat was very full and Habi’s promises of another boat, a bigger boat and two boats varied so much, we were resigning to this being it. Lunch looked a little lightweight and I felt like Chewbacca as I looked onto the next 5 meals.

I forget exactly what distracted the crew, but we smacked into a rock pretty hard not long after we set off. Further up we were just about to be overtaken by three large cruise ships when the police, complete with tinny siren and megaphone came down the river shouting and turning round boats. I was convinced they were going to hit each like the star destroyers in Empire, but the big boats were fine. There was a power being raised and dropped (for some reason) so that at times it was in the Nile (that some people were swimming in). We were small and plodded on. After we had snuck under we got some sort of ticket, then as they headed off the police crashed into us. Maybe they wanted more cash. Then after picking up yet another passenger we had to row across the Nile

as the other boat was now behind us and cooking up dinner.

Egypt really knows how to do shambles.

Still all turned out well in the end. We got an extra boat, got a great spot for the night away from everyone and everything, dinner was superb, we had a few beers round the camp fire

and got a visit from a taxi driver. Despite feeling rather drowsy, there was no sleeping on tour. When I finally clambered back aboard my felucca the others were all abed and I curled myself foetally into a corner.

Natural born sailor me

Day 71 Felucca
So. Day 71. A day spent entirely on the Nile. I did nothing except watch the world go by and thoroughly enjoyed it. We landed on an island with cows and had lunch. I took a photo and the big biats that pound up and down the river in surprising numbers.

And, er, that was it.

Day 72 Kom Ombo, Edfu, Luxor
We camped by the pick up to go to the temple of Kom Ombo. Fortunately at Kom Ombo we transferred to another vehicle as the first was a little cosy

Tomorrow I am going to the Valley of the Kings and a number of other spots in Luxor. I haven’t digested enough history to make any sensible comment on today, so I’ll just do some pics.


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