13 April 2010

Moving Mountains - Aswan, Egypt [Day Three]

Day Three started way too early - at 2:30am - for a trip to the very south of Egypt. I had been told the trip to Abu Simbel was 'unmissable' - all I could think was, it better be!

The reason for the CRAZY early morning was because we had to catch a 'police convoy'. Our guide tells us this is because if you break down or something, there will be someone there to help you, but I don't buy it. Anyway, the police car in front sets the pace, and about 50 tour buses have to keep up. Our bus driver had no problem. I think we had an average speed of about 120kms, and managed to overtake a few other vehicles. Not bad for a huge bus! But, being so early, I was too tired to care, and slept for most of the 3 hour journey.

We arrived early, and were given the low-down about Abu Simbel by our guide. The area contains two ancient temples, built around 1200BC. The ancient Egyptians took a different approach to these temples. Instead of building them out of stone, they carved them out of the side of a mountain.

If that wasn't enough, the architects who designed the temple, built it in such a way that twice a year, on October 20 and February 20, the rays of the sun would shine through to the sculpture on the very back wall. Impressive!

The temples stood in the same spot for about 3,000 years, until the mid 1900's when people decided they would build a dam across the Nile. It seems they didn't plan ahead very well, as the water behind the damn rose more than expected. It actually created the largest man made lake in the world! Problem - it threatened to submerge the temples... So they had to move them... Two massive rock faces... Also, very impressive!

What is crazy, is after 3,000 years, the invention of computers and so much technological advancement, they could not place the temples at the angle which they had originally stood, so the light now shines through on to the sculpture one day later in the year.

We wandered around and marvelled at the amazing statues and carvings. We were able to go in to both temples, where we found more intricate carvings covering the walls and columns. The whole place, every wall, was covered. And each was telling a story. I am going to say it again - you have to wonder how they did it. We also found some graffiti from the 1800's - people had carved their names into the wall. Our guide explained that people didn't realise the significance of these places back then, they were neglected and nobody really cared.

The return journey was a bit slower, during which we got a real taste of the desert. Complete nothingness as far as you can see. And you could just tell it was HOT out there - the horizon was shimmering, and the small hills in the distance looked as if they were floating. We also passed a truck filled with camels - how cool is that?

We returned to our hotel to check out. I decided to head back into the market as I thought it might be wise to buy a brimmed hat. Turns out that wasn't such a smart idea. I was hassled so much more, I think mainly because I was alone. One guy just would not leave me alone - he followed me for about 100m just trying to get me to come into his store. He wasn't threatening in any way, just annoying!

Early afternoon we boarded our felucca (a traditional wooden sailing boat), which was to be our home for the next two days. The felucca has a huge flat area covered with mattresses, and there is nothing much better to do than chill out and drink beer. After two full-on days it was exactly what we needed. And because there was no engine, it was completely silent. We just relaxed, played cards, and watched the farmers and animals go by on the bank. We also spotted these little kids in funny small boats, not exactly sure what they were doing...

At dusk we pulled up at a nice spot, where our guide had organised for us to visit a Nubian house. We were able to wander around and take a look at how they lived - it was really interesting. We were able to speak to the family living there (with our guide translating). They told us a lot about how they lived and especially how they were married. Afterwards we smoked shisha and some of the girls had henna tattoos done. A pretty good night all 'round.

Afterward we returned to the felucca for dinner, before spending the night sleeping under the stars.

Next Post - 'Bathrooms and Bulls'

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