Aswan and Abu Simbel (24 – 27 July 2008)
Buying the train tickets from Cairo to Aswan was such a mission! First, we arrived at Cairo train station the day before departure just to be told that the tickets were sold out, but we could return the following morning a 7:00 to buy a ticket for the 7:40 train that same day – is it just me or does this make no sense at all? How could the tickets be sold out if we could buy them the next morning before departure? So after the big exodus to the train station and standing in the Egyptian version of a queue (a bundle of men pushing and shoving to get to the front) we had to go back to the hotel empty handed.
The following morning, we had to take the risk of checking out of the hotel and making the long journey back to the train station all in hope of getting two tickets to Aswan. When we arrived, there was already a ‘queue’ and our chances of getting tickets looked very slim. I asked the police officer at the entrance if all the people in the queue would get tickets onto the train. He looked at me as if I asked a million dollar question and then replied “probably not”. There was a man next to the officer who interrupted and I thought “here we go again – some kind of chat-up attempt”. He asked where we were going to and said to come with him. He pushed right in front of the group at the ticket counter, screamed something in Arabic to the man behind the glass and then we waited….next thing I new, he handed me two tickets to Aswan. Needless to say, we were not very popular with the rest of the crowd who gave us death looks. We wanted to give the Samaritan some baksheesh, but he refused and said with a big smile: “Welcome to Egypt!”
I always feel so ashamed when someone unexpectedly steps in and helps us like this. It is just so uncommon for the Egyptians to do something for nothing! We’ll never forget this guy.
So we were on the train to Aswan – first class tickets presented comfortable reclining seats to make the long journey slightly more bearable, especially since the advertised 12 hours turned into 14. The 10pm heat was overwhelming when we stepped out of the train at Aswan. We tried to make our way to Hostel Keylani, but got terribly lost in the labyrinth of alleys and walkways. We asked for directions and another Egyptian angel was willing to walk all the way with us to the hotel, and not wanting anything in return for his assistance. All sweaty and shiny, we collapsed on the bed in our air conditioned room. Aswan had to wait until morning.
Our plans for Aswan included two things – one, get to Abu Simbel to see the great temple of Ramses and two, to do a felucca trip up north to Luxor. Day one was set aside for pure relaxation, getting to know the area and gathering info on the felucca trip. We wandered around the souq with endless invitations into shops – the best line I heard was: “I pay you to look around in my shop”. It was clear that the people in Aswan were more caught up in the tourist web than in Cairo. The men were all making obscene remarks, telling Eon what a lucky man he was…just a pity that they said that to all men with a woman at their side regardless of what the woman looked like! One good thing about the souq was the little falafel sandwich eatery that sold these quick eats for a mere one Egyptian Pound (R1,50).
Road travel in Egypt is almost always in convoy. Apparently it is for the tourists’ safety due to recent unrest and terrorism. So the only way we could go to Abu Simbel was in convoy with a tour group – yes, we had to submit to those who spoil our photos when arriving in busloads at the sights We left at 3:30 am and arrived at Abu Simbel at 7:30 and even at this early hour, the sight was swarming with tourists and the temperature was already starting to flame up.
The temples of Abu Simbel are truly awesome. The bigger of the two, the Great Temple of Ramses II was rediscovered in 1817. The statues in the front of the temple (Colossi of Ramses II) stand 20 meters high as if guarding the entrance to the temple. And the inside of the temple is definitely worth guarding with its beautiful hypostyle halls and colourful wall paintings. Just next to Abu Simbel is the smaller Temple of Horus; just as impressive with the 10 meter high statues of Ramses and Nefertari.
From Abu Simbel, we escaped the heat by hopping onto the aircon bus and made our way to the very unimpressive High Dam. I just had to take a photo to commemorate the fact that we had to pay R12,00 for looking at a boring dam! Even an empty Vaal Dam is more imposing than this.
Next up was Philae Island, set in the middle of the Nile River and covered with ancient Egyptian temples and ruins. By the time we reached the island, it was unbearably hot. We dragged ourselves around the Temple of Isis, trying to take in the magic of the buildings, but we were worn down by the heat and quickly retreated to the felucca to take us back to Aswan.
We did proper research in Aswan to find a reputable felucca captain to take us on board for about three days. The plan was to go north towards Luxor – our next destination. The Tourism Office referred us to Captain Nemo and after talking to him, we were all set to depart the next day.
Click on the image below to view the gallery for Aswan and Abu Simbel: