Woke at 2:30am, a new early-waking record. Met an English guy called Greg in the lobby, who was going on the same trip. We hit it off instantly and sat next to each other chatting on the way to Abu Simbel. You need a police convoy to go down there, and you can’t go down privately in your own car, hence the agony of a minibus. Despite the unearthly milkman hour, I was in a talkative mood, as was Greg, fortunately. He’d come for a week, flying Easyjet, as they’ve just started operating flights to Luxor. He works as a kind of IT systems tester, and seemed to be the type who enjoys independent travel, despite the limited holidays he gets. He resembled Ricky Gervais, and sounded like him too. We swapped travel stories, and the journey went that much quicker.
The road was an incredibly boring long straight that cut through the barren desert. The same road that, a few weeks later, a minibus full of American tourists smashed into a parked truck and killed 30 people. There was nothing here, not even a tree or a plant. And then, we caught a glimpse of Lake Nasser, the largest artificial lake in the world – 510km long and 5 – 35 km wide. It contains the enormous Nile Perch, and crocodiles up to 5m long. Only 5000 people live around the lake at various places, mainly fishermen. It’s dark blue shimmering water looked strangely hypnotic and like an oasis in the dry, frugal desert.
Abu Simbel was once where Lake Nasser is now. Indeed, much of the temples in the area were taken apart and restored, but Abu Simbel is the greatest feat of them all, as Egyptian, Italian, Swedish, German and French archeological teams cut the temple up into 2000 huge blocks and reconstructed them inside an artificially-built mountain some 210m away from the water. It is this site that is the reason for the 500 bus loads of tourists that descend here each day.
It cost about 100LE to get into the complex, and Greg and I set about wandering around and taking photos. It’s a magnificent temple, carved out of a mountain originally back in 1274. Outside the huge complex, guarding it, are three colossal Rames II statues sitting and staring out across the water. Another statue is headless. The statues are more than 20m high each. A statue of the pharoah Ramses II, his mother, Queen Tuya, his wife, Nefertari, and his favourite children are nearby, accompanying him. Above the entrance is the figure of Ra-Horakhty, the falcon-headed sun god. It was truly magnificent, and inside was detailed with reliefs and hieroglyphics in chambers leading off the main hall. I’d never seen anything like it. Magnificent. I have to say, I was truly inspired by the temple, and the 3 and a half hour trip was definitely worth it.
The way back seemed longer than the way there, and we stopped off at the High Dam to take some rather uninspiring photos of this engineering feat, which created Lake Nasser. While the ‘Full Day Tour’ people went on to Philae Temple on an island reachable by boat, I went back to Aswan and, after a lunch of spicy minced meat sandwich and a chat with a local who gave me one of his chicken burgers in a tiny little hole in the wall restaurant, I hopped on a public ferry which got me across to Elephantine Island.
I began strolling through the Nubian village and stopped to take some snaps of a little boy called Mohammad, and his mum and grandmother who were sat on steps peeling vegetables. The mother in a black robe and matching hijab, with grey hair, a wrinkled, kindled face, and a gleaming gold tooth, invited me to her house for tea. I was delighted to have been invited into a real nubian house, and I walked through the dusty, narrow lanes with brick built yellow and white painted houses with anticipation. We got into the house and it was spacious, with a big kitchen and a stairway leading up to the room where Mohammad slept, and also where the old woman had a table full of wares. Downstairs, a small tortoise was making relaxed progress across the floor to greet me. The woman went to make tea and Mohammad, the cute little boy, took me upstairs where he showed me a huge stuffed crocodile in a glass box. I took a look through the wares on display, and bought a few things for 150LE, and the woman threw in three extra bracelets for me too.
We sat down upstairs talking and drinking tea. Then, Mohammed’s father, Nasser, came in, wearing a sweeping grey thobe. He was really friendly, and invited me to see his photos. He got out a little album full of pictures of him and his foreign friends. He’d had a German girlfriend before – a large woman by the looks of it. Those lothario days were over now though, and he was married with 2 kids, Mohammad and another, a daughter. He invited me to go with him to his uncle’s house to have some tea and smoke some hashish. I accepted and just went with the flow. He led me to the other village and into his uncle’s kitchen. His uncle was called Hamed, and had the same kindly smile as his nephew, who, I suddenly realised, was the spitting image of Snoop Dog. His uncle rolled 3 big spliffs, and we all had a smoke and a chat. Hamed’s mother made tea all round, and also some food, which we ate cross-legged and with our hands on the concrete floor of the kitchen. Full and satisfied, Hamed, Nasser and I retired to Hamed’s home proper, for more tea and spliffs. Genuine warmth and hospitality. This was a real village experience, no airs and graces here, just good blokes enjoying each others company. I had a really good time. Hamed’s daughter popped her head in to say hello, and Hamed was careful to hide the spliff. We went to watch the sunset, then I took the public boat back to Aswan.
I walked up and down the corniche, and eventually ended up in the park just after sunset. I caught the glimpses of deep reds from the park’s lovely vantage points. I got talking to a Philosophy teacher at the school on Elephantine Island. He really wanted to practise his English and he invited me to sit next to him, an invitation I declined, so he said he’d join me on my walk, an invitation I again declined. I just wanted to be alone. I love being alone – or at least knowing I have the choice to be alone or not. I got my wish and had a nice stroll alone around this very pleasant spot.
Got back and met Greg. We went to El Tahrer restaurant in the main pedestrian drag (but still not many tourists). Had an Egyptian pizza which was delicious and very filling. Wandered through the souk taking snaps, and ducked into a local coffee shop to watch the first half of Barcelona trouncing Real Madrid, and the second half in the lobby of the hotel. A great day.