Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 7: Aswan and Abu Simbel

Day 7 - Aswan & Abu Simbel

Daytime High: Aswan - 45C, Abu Simbel - 50 C

Our trip to Abu Simbel started out in the most interesting of ways. Abu Simbel is located 3 hours drive (300 km) south of Aswan close to (ie. 40 km) the Sudan border (yes, that Sudan always making the news).

In order to go there, the buses and vans must travel as a single convoy, with the first convoy leaving at 4:00 a.m. The purpose of the convoy is to protect the people going to visit this very special temple from a few dangers. First, the temperature extremes seen here are very real and a threat. In the past, vehicels have broken down and not found within a day. Needless to say, in temperatures as high as 65 C in peak summer, this is a major concern. Therefore, buses are only loaded half full in the event vehicles break down, so the passengers can board and be driven to safety. Second, there is still some unrest in this part of Egypt, so it is easier to patrol and protect the highway if all vehicles travel together. Armed guards accompany the buses at the front, back and middle of the pack in the event that some less "desirable" people decide to overtake the convoy. If you ask me, the convoy seems odd, since I think it makes you even more of a target. This was also the case for the way back to Aswan.

To avoid the heat of the day, we had a 2:30 a.m. wake up call for a 3:15 departure from our hotel. We met up with the convoy and left as a posse. Just because we left as a convoy does not mean that the driving was predictable and uniform. Vans were passing buses, buses were passing vans and cars were passing both. The road was the shits, but there are always surprises to be had. Although the road winds its way through the desert (think rocks and sand, lots of freakin' sand), there were pockets of civilization, which were visible in the distance due to the obvious amounts of vegetation that rise from nothing. The most incredible sunrise was seen with the dull orange glow growing into intense, white hot rays as the sun came over the horizon. Its no wonder the ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun!

After some snoozing, a breakfast on the van provided by the hotel and some world domination (Risk on the iTouch), it was arrival time. One of the drawbacks with driving as a convoy is the mass arrival of tourists and the toilet traffic jam after 3 hours on the road. We got our tickets and entered the gates of the site, to be stunned by... a pile of desert rock. "Yippee, let's get back on the bus" is all I could think. Well I am glad I put forth just a little bit more effort. As we walked around the mound of desert rock, we were greeted by the most amazing site... four, 80 ft high carvings Ramses II, sitting majestically in the low hanging sunlight.

After a brief but informative disucssion of the site and significance, we were turned loose to explore. By this time, the heat was starting to get uncomfortable, but the sights to behold were worth the pain. Inside the temple was glorious pictorals representing great moments in Ramses II life including his great war victories, which earned him the title "God of War". The murals were beautiful and would have been even more stunning if they were still painted. Alas, time and tourists have taken their toll on the great works of art.

Outside Ramses II Temple - Photo not cropped to leave people in for perspective

No Photos Allowed - Except if you Pay the Temple Guardians
Vince snapped this photo (with a random tourist) by pretending to only speak Chinese...

Vince thought the Broken Statue of Ramses II needed to be reinstated...
Nice Art on the new headress!

Vince Yelling - In case he can wake the dead...note the size of the top of the statue

Our next stop was the temple for Ramses II wife, Nefertari (no, not Nefertitti who was a completely different person). This was a real treat as this temple was also beautifully carved with large stone figures guarding the entrance to the temple. Given the large number of tourists, it is almost impossible to get a photo of just the monuments, but the God's were with us today as we had a chance. In between convoys of tourists, there was a small window of people-free picture taking, but I had to act fast. There was an old British couple that were sauntering up to take a picture. I covered the distance between myself and them in a flash and jumped in front of them as they readied their cameras. I ended up hip checking the woman and face masking her husband to buy some more time (just kidding, they were patient with me). Sherrill jumped into frame and we managed to get a decent shot off. Thanks!

Nefertari Temple

The trip back was uneventful as everyone was tired and quiet. Once back to the hotel, we went out for lunch to our favorite place, McD's... for the free wifi of course (and the onion rings). We upated the blog and went back to the hotel for some much needed pool time. The water was surprisingly refreshing with most people going in for a quick dip before some more lounging by the pool. I ended up staying in there for a few hours to cool my core temperature down. After the pool, it was off for a few quick showers before our dinner for the evening... Egyptian pizza.

We strolled through the crowded streets of Aswan towards the pizza joint. It was the end of Ramadan, so it was especially lively. The pizza was interesting... I had a sausage and chicken margharita??? (all veggies) pizza, which was surprisingly un-offensive. The sausage, as I was to discover, tasted like all-beef hot dogs, which is probably what it was. A nice surprise and yet another nod for the versatility of hot dogs (goes well in maki sushi rolls as well).

After dinner, we had the pleasure of visiting a spice shop where we got to learn about spices and guess which ones we were smelling (by the way, Sherrill was terrible. When asked what spice was used for teeth, she replied with, "Flouride". Answer = cloves). She picked up a few items (not sure how this works since she doesn't cook...) and we walked the "market gauntlet" of merchants trying to not make eye contact or answer the most painful sequence of phrases. Let me explain:

Merchant: "Come look in my store"

Me: "No thank you"

Merchant: "Where are you from?"

Me: "Canada" - friggin Canadian culture of naievity and never wanting to be rude when asked a question

Now comes the painful part, which happens without fail, every, F-R-E-A-K-I-N time,

Merchant: "Oh, Canada... Canada Dry, never die"

Spice Market - Beautiful Colors and Smells

This part gets very old, very quick, but I understand that Egyptians used to love "Canada Dry" (a kind of orange pop, not ginger ale), until the plant got shut down. Oh well, I guess it is also Canadian to be tolerant...

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