>The day following the last run-around was remarkably quiet and relaxed and I spent it doing as little as humanly possible…
Finding a quiet little nook on the top deck of the boat, reading through a book on hieroglyphics, finishing up the one of Florence Nightingales letters from Egypt and watching this absolutely spectacular countryside go by was an experience I shall never ever forget! As I’ve mentioned before, the view as you watch the amazing lush shoreline of the Nile, almost like a tropical forest and then just a shade above as you gaze into the distance you can see the haunting curves of the magnificent dunes of the desert sands.
I remember thinking about the desert and all that went with it when one thought about it. Of course there’s the horror stories and tales of dying alone and thirsty in the endless wastes of such places that people tend to think of, but its never been that way for me. I grew up on history and its no secret that Egypt held a special place in my mind, and the other thing I had growing up was books, my all time favourite of which is the book called ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert – a brilliant study on human society and cultures and religion and just about everything that it means to be human… it was his books that made me want to write in the first place. It has been compared to (and in my view surpasses) the Lord of the Rings.
I remember these things and there’s the idea of the desert as the place that was put there as a test. In one passage in Dune, a character says, “God created Dune to test the faithful.” Referring here to the titular planet in the story that is in fact a desert planet. There the idea that the harsh conditions of the desert with its limited resource availability is a testing ground – we can become either despotic and anarchic and the powerful enslave and control everything (actually doesn’t sound that different from the world today…) or we could actually work together to make the best possible use of every resource including people and create a perfectly functioning society where all are equal and live symbiotically.
At some point during the day we had the interesting experience of having to deal with the totally insane boatmen that apparently sold things to tourists on the Nile. Now you have to hear this: it’s a two story boat and these guys pull up to the sides and have their odds and ends like traditional clothing and such in plastic bags, they shout until they get someone’s attention and then they proceed to heave these bags up to the top deck of the boat (or to your window if you pop out from one!) – and if you like anything, you put money in the plastic bag, tie it up and toss it back down. I was a little shocked but admittedly somewhat amused too when two of the tiny two man boats got too close to each other and these fellows actually got into this intense fight – one guy even picked up his big wooden oar and started swinging it like a battle axe! It’s amazing the things people do.
So eventually after the boats left I returned to my contemplations, now with a cold beer in hand. A myriad of thoughts and ideas flowed round and round my mind as the day coursed along like the river on which we were travelling. Eventually the day wore on into night and before my bedazzled vision opened up a clear sky like people only dream of in big cities and developed places. Its moments like this one when I found myself gazing out into the great beyond that my beliefs are reaffirmed – most people are so busy running around now and we are obsessed with technology and progress and such that we forget the things that really matter in life. Families, loves, friends, they all suffer and we’ve all felt the strain and toll of the world we live in and question what’s missing. Well, I honestly believe that the answer is this: There are big things in life as we know it like careers and social standing or image and there are small things. The thing to learn to truly appreciate life is to realise that it’s the small things that we don’t appreciate and often do unconsciously that are really the big things worth doing, dying for and cherishing. Someone once said to remember to stop and smell the roses – well, I feel that’s beautiful advice.
NOW! I felt that there might not be much of interest to all in the post for this previous day that you’ve read so far and there are no pictures so I decided to combine it and the following day, which was the last on my sightseeing run (sadly).
The next day was our last on the boat and potentially the most hectic so far. We checked off from the boat, saying all the goodbyes and thank you’s and then it was a matter of grabbing my bags and making like Speedy Gonzales! The last stop of the cruise was at Aswan and my next spot of interest was considerably of the track, you see more than the Aswan dam (not ancient Egyptian!) or the other things in the area, I had decided that come what may I would visit the temples at Abu Simbel!
And so it was that I found myself running like a headless chicken. Ok it wasn’t that frantic or lost, but after the previous day I felt like one. Getting off at the airport there was a plane to catch that would carry me to Abu Simbel and I sank into my cramped little seat with relief, albeit a little uncomfortable.
Since there’s not much to tell about that plane ride, Ill move onto the back story – Abu Simbel was a set of two temples built by the Pharaoh Ramasses the 2nd, also know as Ramasses the Great. He was one of the most powerful rulers of ancient Egypt, and is today one of the most well known to those that know Egyptian history. Like all pharaohs and kings of ancient times, the pharaoh had many wives but he was unique in that he had one wife who was some say – the love of his life. She was Nefertari. And an example of his love and regard for her can be found in the temples of Abu Simbel (which Ill explain when we get to it). Also, her tomb at the Valley of the Queens is supposed to be the largest and most spectacular of them all.
Ramesses was the son of Seti I, one of the most fearsome and respected of the Pharaohs, a man who brought Egypt back to grandeur and power after a lull in leadership quality. After Seti passed, his son took the throne in his early twenty’s and went on to have what is believed to be the longest reign in ancient Egyptian history – 66 years and 2 months! It has been officially recorded that he had about twenty each of sons and daughters, but many believe that his progeny numbered in the hundreds (phew!). He was an icon even amongst his ancestors and future kin – He built temples, cities and such through the length and breadth of Egypt all the way into Nubia (lands south of the Nile where the people had dark skin and were not “Egyptian” but were conquered, he even built himself a new capital called Pi-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu, meaning “Domain of Ramesses II, Great in Victory” that was built over the remains of another even more ancient city; he was a military tactician of note and apart from his victories and conquest is known very well for having signed the first peace treaty in world history with a Hittite king.
Oh yeah, before I move on, though I should mention that though it is strongly denied by historians (for obvious reasons), Ramesses the 2nd is the Pharaoh who was told, “Let my people go!” There’s a lot of disagreement for many reasons… read it thyself if you’re so intrigued.
Moving along. Apologies but once I get started I cant stop myself soon enough! So the plane landed in Abu Simbel and there was only a gap of a few hours before the flight out from here back to Cairo so haste was the name of the game. Checking into the next leg of the journey and after checking the luggage in as well it was a dash outside where I found… nothingness… It was a teeny, tiny airport with almost nothing outside but open desert! I was a little dumbfounded to say the least since it seemed that the only people that came here were tourists in those infernal tour buses. After a quick run around (this time exactly like a headless chicken) outside the airport, there were a few local ‘cabs’ found. Basically it was dudes with cars charging fare for transport and I’m not gonna argue semantics!
A quick negotiation later – off to the temples!! Reaching there I was giddy with anticipation. You see these temples were built by Ramesses as monuments to himself and his principal wife Nefertari, to commemorate the battle of Kadesh which is one of his most famous battles, and also partly to intimidate the Nubians to the south.
Both temples were carve straight into the rock face of the mountainside of the location, a feat in itself impressive, but a wonder to behold nonetheless! The first or Greater Temple is one that I think deserves such a title. It is magnificent even now and is in fact one of the most beautiful in all of Egypt. As you approach the temples from around the artificial dome/hill (Ill get to that shortly!) you can see the outer façade and it’s a marvel from the very first. The massive 20 odd meter statues of Ramesses outside the temple and all the absolutely spellbinding work inside just took my breath away! Again, sorry, they don’t allow photos inside and this time they had a lot of guys walking around inside amongst us tourists and I even saw them grab a guy trying to snap some shots and it seemed like too much trouble… Kidding! I have for you, these lovely pictures here of the temple.
There’s the picture of the main entrance to the temple that the dude outside grudgingly agreed to let me take since ‘technically’ I wasn’t ‘inside’! 😉 So I got this picture (<-on the left) of the main entrance – the lighting was hard to get given the difference in luminescence outside in open desert and inside in the shadows but I think it came out pretty decent eh? Then there’s this one, (on the right->)which took a lot of waiting and patience to get. Of course I have nothing but respect for all these places and understand why they refrain from allowing tourists to take photos, but I wasn’t like your average tourist and I was willing to spend almost an hour in there adjusting and readjusting my camera until I could take a picture using the minimalist lighting provided inside and not use any infrared or flashes or such that could damage the pigments in any way! The last picture inside I have for you here is actually of the three deities (Amun Ra, Ra Harakhti, and Ptah) to whom this temple was dedicated as well as a deified Ramesses.
Next up there’s the smaller of the two temples. Its actually smaller but still almost as impressive in size and grandeur. This temple was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and to Nefertari. Now this was unusual in more ways than one since it was unusual to start with to deify a human, temples were dedicated to Gods alone, but Ramesses had become such a legend in his own time. And his love for his wife was such that he had her deified as well, and as you can see on the statues outside the temple here, her statues were made of equal height to that of the pharaoh, a practice unheard of and one that you’ll find in any representation of Ramesses and Nefertari. I spent as much time as was humanly possible inside these two wonders, squeezing every second I could before making a dash to pick up something to drink and nibble on (no lunch thus far and its been a long while since breakfast back when I got off the boat) before running back to where my cabby has returned at the agreed time. I was really kicked about that!
So a speedy cab ride back to the airport later, I was waiting around for my flight to take off. I’ve just realise I should mention something very important to know about Abu Simbel that I said I would earlier – meaning what I meant by the artificial hill. You see the temples were actually much further down originally and had been virtually on the banks of the river. However, in our more modern times some (during the 60’s) it was decided to build a dam nearby and this had a problem result: the reservoir for this dam was planned out to be HUGE and it was threatening to wipe out these temples! So an international campaign to save them and several other nearby artefacts and structure was undertaken and in 1964 to this end. Over a period of almost four years the temples were systematically dismantled moved 65 meters higher and 200 meters away from the oncoming river/reservoir. This entire effort is considered one of the greatest feats of archaeological engineering in all history, and if you read about it and study it up, you’ll see what I mean by that. And by study, I don’t mean read the skimpy little pieces on wikipedia!
So! An hour or so later the plane landed back in Cairo and after a quick meal, a chilled beer and some smokes later I decided to call it an early night and crashed out for the night. I was full of history and incredulity and now had three days of total relaxation to look forward to.
I’m not gonna post on the last couple of days of my trip, since I don’t think its anything of interest – I’ll just leave you with this one shot I took from a boat off that I took to go see some marine life. All this was in a place called Sharm-al-Sheikh which is very much like a mega beach resort and I distinctly got the impression that the aim is to make this a huge resort location like Vegas, only without the gambling. Beautiful waters and beaches, lots of shopping and a shit-load of restaurants among many, many other things make this a fun kinda location. So if that’s your thing, feel free to check it out. As always, if there’s any questions you have about anythingt, lemme know and Ill get back to you best as I can.
Its been grand, thank you all for following this little trip as long as you have. Cheers…
>The day following the last run-around was remarkably quiet and relaxed and I spent it doing as little as humanly possible…