Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 81

Aswan

Sunday 1st June

They said it would be an early start to this morning and they were not kidding. Our wake-up call came through at the unearthly hour of three o’clock in the morning as promised, alas. We were comforted only slightly by the knowledge that all the tourists visiting Abu Simbel would follow the same routine as us this morning. This oasis in the middle of the desert is nearly three hundred kilometres away and all tour groups leave at the same time in the morning in a convoy, so as to minimize the risk of any one vehicle breaking down and being stranded in the middle of nowhere. The very early start also helps by avoiding the heat of the day, as the drive up there as well as the time spent looking around is done before the temperature starts to soar.

A rather uninspiring breakfast box was waiting for us at the hotel lobby this morning. None of the other four tourists staying here that also joined the convoy this morning were impressed with it either. The large and mostly empty box contained a boiled egg, two thin rolls, a questionable fruit juice carton and a triangle of processed cheese. This seems to be the norm for breakfast here in Egypt – at least as far as what is given to the tourists.

We weren’t going to be arriving at Abu Simbel in a very good mood today for a couple of reasons. The absence of sleep was a big factor but the fact that we were crammed in to the remaining fold-down seats of a rather packed, fourteen-seater minibus also made the several hours drive out through the middle of nothingness a supremely uncomfortable one. We were originally under the impression that there was just going to be a few people in our vehicle but this turned out to be a bit of a communications breakdown – somewhat the going theme for this tour so far, in fact. Everyone else except for us was at least able to lean back against his or her seats but our fold-down seats didn’t have any back support at all. As if a three-hour drive in a cramped and uncomfortable seat wasn’t bad enough, the driver also refused to switch on the air-conditioning and insisted that he would only do this on the way back. All the tour groups adhere to the stupidity, apparently, under the impression that they are somehow extending the lifespan of the vehicles and air-conditioning systems. To top everything off, he lit up several cigarettes during the way and drove like a complete maniac with only two speeds – stop and flatfoot.

Comfort or no, we eventually arrived at Abu Simbel not long after daybreak and everyone was relieved to get out of the vehicle. We were told that we had two hours before the convoy would head back again and that the ticket sales locket was over there. Charming!

We paid about E£50 to get our cameras ourselves and in ($8.30). It would have been a bit less had Sandy remembered to bring her student identification card.

Once inside the complex, we were a little bemused as the only thing we could see was a large gravel mound in front of us and a path leading around both sides of it. This was Abu Simbel? This is what we just drove through hell for to see? Somewhat dazed, we wandered slowly around the huge gravel mound and were both amazed as the true beauty and splendour of the object of our attention slowly emerged into view. There are two temples at Abu Simbel, which are each carved right out of the rock face. Huge statues (fifty feet tall) of sitting figures adorn the entrances to each of the temples. These enormous sculptures sit attached to the original rock still and are decorated on all sides with various hieroglyphs.

We stood there for a second or two, barely able to believe our eyes before noticing an entrance to each temple just below the large sculptures. If the outside of the temple was impressive, the inside was a sight to behold as there were several chambers with huge columns from the floor to the thirty foot high ceilings. The most brilliantly coloured and perfectly intact hieroglyphs that we’ve seen so far were carved into every last square meter of rock face inside, including the columns and doorways. Smaller chambers fed off from the main series of chambers and it was an amazing experience to walk around inside. The walls were nicely lit us with low-level lighting facing upwards from the floor and this brought stories told by the ancient hieroglyphs into life with the shadows cast by the lighting.

Abu Simbel is a truly stunning place but what makes it even more amazing is the fact that the entire sight was relocated here from another location as a result of the building of the High Dam. Piece by piece, rock by rock, the entire mountain was transformed and re-assembled again at this location a few decades ago. We wandered around for over an hour before this fact was pointed out to us and this must surely be a testament to the skill of the relocation contractors.

For all the splendour of the two temples, there is only so much time you can spend there before getting bored and we were ready to leave after an hour and a half or so, along with everyone else. Along with a couple of other of our travel companions, we tried to hitch a ride back with another bus but couldn’t find anyone willing to let us on. We did get our driver, however, to promise to switch on the air-conditioning and refrain from smoking, both of which he did.

Since all the passengers on our bus were awake during the drive back, I got to talking with an Australian that has recently travelled to several of the places that we are planning on visiting this year, including India, China and South East Asia. I talk to other travellers from time to time to glean as much information as I can about the places we are going to and each time my opinion and concerns about a given place changes slightly. I was very pleased to hear about how much easier it is going to be than I had originally feared based on what this guy had to say compared to others before him.

As I was showing my Australian friend our cameras and the laptop, I noticed a rather large dent on the side edge that I had not previously seen. We aren’t sure how this dent got there but it adds nicely to the scars of travel that the little tin box has accumulated over the past few months. The computer still seemed to function correctly so I wasn’t too worried about it.

We arrived back at the hotel after a brief switch over of vehicles just outside of town since some people were going to continue on with another half day of sightseeing to those places that we already visited yesterday. When we got back, I called Mustafa in Cairo to let him know how things were going and we had a chat with the local representative about the problems with the trip out there and such. He was very accommodating and did his best to try to reassure us that nothing else would go wrong for us during our tour. Time will tell.

We’ve now been chilling out here in our hotel room for the past few hours. We could’ve ventured out into Aswan again to do some souvenir shopping but we are both so very tired and the rest will do us good.

That little dent in the laptop apparently caused one of the internal fans to misalign just slightly and the resulting rattling noise has been driving me nuts. I don’t have the right tool for the little specialised screws but the irritation got to the point that I simply had to do something about it. Luckily, my trusty Leatherman utility tool came to the rescue. None of the screwdrivers fit, unfortunately, but the scissors fit just barely enough when wedged into the screw at the right angle and I eventually managed to get the back cover off to assess the problem. With enough bashing around, using the ever-resourceful utility knife as a makeshift hammer and a padlock as a chisel, I beat the casing close enough back into its original form to relieve the tension on the fan and, so far, it hasn’t made any noise since.

The laptop and the cameras have all taken quite a beating on this trip and with the exception one a couple of close calls (the broken power supply situation back in Cape Town was a bit hairy), I’ve been amazed at just how well they’ve held up. They’ve all been dropped, trodden on, scratched, bashed and generally beaten about but ultimately; they are all still fully functional.

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