The early breakfasts aboard the cruise ship were always excellent. I especially appreciated the made to order omelets, they made those early morning wake up alarms bearable. On this day we were scheduled to fly into Abu Simbel a small town in the southern part of Egypt approximately 175 miles from Aswan. The town and the archaeological site are rumored to be named after the young boy who guided the early explorers, Jean-Louis Burckhart and Giovanni Belzoni, to the original site. This is the place where they moved the Temples built to commemorate Ramses II, for his victory at the battle of Kadesh, and his wife Nefertari. If they had remained in their original spot, the waters of Lake Nassar would have covered them after the completion of the Aswan Dam. The flight into the small airport and short bus ride were uneventful although, the views of Lake Nassar from the plane were stunning.
The bus dropped us off at the obligatory tourist souvenir shopping area for any quick purchases we might like to make. The area was nicely made and a beautifully landscaped park surrounded it. After browsing the stalls, out guide gathered us up for the short walk down to the entrance of the temple area. My first impression of was one of shock and awe. I was shocked at the immense size of the two rock hewn temples; the incredible beauty of the site awed me. They moved the complex in 1968, a truly Pharaonic achievement. At the time I thought moving the temple complexes of the Isles of Philae was an incredible feat. This dwarfed that by several multipliers. The workers cut the entire complex into sections, strengthened them, and reconstructed the temples on the rocky outcrop.
Ramses II started building the temples in 1264 and according to our guide; they completed it twenty years later. The four huge statues of Ramses II face the rising sun. He wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt and statues of the Queen Mother, Nefertari, and his many sons and daughters are depicted on a much smaller scale standing at his feet. Carvings in the thrones extent to the north and south indicate the conquered nations that paid tribute to the great Pharaoh. Others depict scenes from the battle of Kadesh where he defeated the Hittites. They show the men from the conquered army marching, chained at the neck, their genitals and hands cut off to help assess their numbers. It must have created a feeling of fear and awe as subjects traveled past the imposing edifice.
The second temple is one of only two actually dedicated to a Queen of Egypt, the other was to Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten. Abu Simbel is the only one where the Queen is depicted in the same monumental size as the Pharaoh. A display of the love and affection the man felt for his first wife and Queen of Egypt. This temple, although magnificent in itself, is a simplified version of the Temple to Ramses II.
I found it impossible to photograph these two temples in a way that would do them the justice that they deserved. They easily overshadowed the other places we had visited. After the tour we were left to wander through the site on our own for a bit, we then returned to the plane and flew back to Aswan to return to our cruise ship. Later that evening, the ship departed Aswan to return us upriver to Luxor. I enjoyed watching a great sunset from the deck as we departed.
We spent this entire day cruising back to Luxor. My friends and I spent a good deal of time lounging on the upper sun deck, taking cooling dips in the wading pool, and enjoying the occasional adult beverage. One of the most enjoyable things about this cruise involved watching Egyptians at work and play in the small towns and farms along the edge of the Nile. Watching these idyllic scenes float by can give you a false sense of the life these people lead. They work hard to provide themselves with a good life and try to provide their children with an education. Their living quarters are less than humble and mostly consist of mud brick buildings with dirt floors. Bath time is in the river along with the livestock.
We arrived in Luxor that evening and immediately disembarked for a trip to a papyrus factory. Here artisans created beautiful paintings on papyrus. Mona, Kelly and I had to purchase one of these incredible works of art. They were a bit expensive, especially at the end of the trip, but well worth the expense as a memory of the amazing experience. Afterwards it was back to the boat to enjoy the sunset and to get a good night’s sleep before flying back to Cairo the next day.
We woke with another day, another airport to deal with. Fortunately, for us, our guide was very adept at getting us through security and onto the plane in record-breaking time. We had most of the morning to pack up and leave our luggage for the porters to load onto the bus. Because of that and the length of the flight, dealing with the airport in Cairo again, and the bus back to the hotel; it was night before we arrived at the hotel. The process of checking in went smoothly and this time I had a room with a beautiful view of the Nile, especially at night. After that, I decided on a good night’s sleep. We had a full schedule for the next day.
By now, the morning’s routine was in my blood; up early, a quick shower, dress, get my cameras together, a good breakfast, and head to the bus. First stop today would be Egypt’s most famous monuments, the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. Arriving at the compound, our first stop was the Great Pyramid of Giza also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or Cheops. It is the largest and oldest of the three pyramids that occupy the Giza Plateau. It is truly an impressive pile of stones. In ancient times it was covered with a layer of white polished limestone. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to stand before such a great accomplishment. Construction of the pyramid began somewhere between 2580 and 2570 BC and was completed in 2560 BC. For 3,800 years it stood as the tallest manmade structure on the earth. Robbers entered and looted the tomb many times before modern archaeologists began their investigations.
For the more daring, (this includes my friend Mona) you can pay a little extra and crawl into the main burial chamber. I personally suffer from a tiny bit of claustrophobia and had no desire what so ever to make that trip to the inner bowels of the tomb. Instead, I wandered amongst the three smaller pyramids surrounding the great tomb built for Khufu’s wives. Climbing over some of the ruins I ran into a young man and his son with their camel. They were very friendly and quite persuasive when it came to talking me into getting my photograph taken with the camel and his son.
Our second stop took us to the Sphinx of Giza. Despite great debate and controversy, it is generally agreed that this monolith statue, the largest in the world, is a representation of the Pharaoh Khafra, who reigned from 2558 – 2532 BC. Wind, water, erosion, and man have done their damage to this glorious tribute to a ruler long gone. Despite its grand reputation, both my fellow travelers and I had assumed (a terrible word) that the Sphinx was larger and more imposing than what stood before us. Don’t get me wrong, I still stood in wonder at something that I never imagined that I would see in person.
The theories, both valid and wildly speculative, that surround the Sphinx are far too numerous to mention here. Of course, as my friend Kelly says, “you know, aliens did all this.”
From the Giza Plateau, we headed out into the desert to an elevated spot to view all the pyramids from a distance. We all piled off the bus as our guide told us that there were men offering camel rides back to the pyramids. Of the sixty plus people in our two tour groups, Mona, Kelly and I were the only ones to take up the offer. I mean seriously, would that not be one of the highlights of a trip to Egypt. We couldn’t believe that no one else was interested. The ride itself was a blast. We laughed, mostly Kelly and I, as we jostled on camel’s backs to take photos of each other. Eventually, Mona told us to control ourselves; we were spoiling the ambience of the moment. We arrived at our drop off point, the camel drivers took a few photos of us and then the bus arrived to take us to Memphis and an open-air museum.
The ride through Memphis and the fields surrounding it, gave us another glimpse into daily life in Egypt. The museum itself contained statuary from several periods in the long line of Egyptian history. The most imposing piece was a statue called “the Colossus of Ramses II.” This man must have had a colossal ego considering the amount of statues, monuments and temples he had built. The statue, which now lies on its back, used to stand upright before the Sanctuary of Ptah. There is a second statue matching this one that stand in Ramses Square in Cairo. Some of the other fantastic pieces located on the grounds of the museum are, embalming tables for the Apis Bulls, monumental stelae, and the alabaster sphinx. After touring the museum it was back on the bus again for the ride to Saqqara.
We departed the bus after a short ride and stood before the Step Pyramid and the vast funeral complex of the Pharaoh Djoser. This was the first monument to be built entirely of stone and dates from around 2500 BC. It was designed and built by Imhotep, the Vizier of the Pharaoh. Imhoptep’s status and legacy have survived the ravages of time, as he was elevated to near demigod status. An architect, doctor of medicine, and literary scholar, the Greeks associated him with Asclepius.
The pyramid itself is impressive and is the first successful attempt at the design that would eventually grace the Giza Plateau. Older rulers were buried in a square structure called a mastaba. Imhotep came up with the concept of placing smaller mastabas one atop each other. I wandered through the complex on my own after a short lecture on the history of the site by our guide. Excavation of the site began in 1927 by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities and was continued by Jean-Philippe Lauer who also instigated large-scale restoration programs at the site.
That visit concluded out tour and we were returned to the hotel mid-afternoon. We spent the time packing for our flight home the next day and relaxing by the hotel pool before enjoying a great dinner in one of the hotels fine restaurants.
I would encourage anyone who is capable to take this amazing vacation. The archaeological wonders of Egypt are unsurpassed and the beauty of the land and its people are not to be missed. I hope you enjoyed my personal thoughts on this incredible trip.