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Abu Simbel

EGYPT | Wednesday, 23 June 2010 | Views [632]

The alarm went off at 3am, scaring the wits out of me, and we soon staggered downstairs to catch our bus to Abu Simbel. The bus-driver then spent bout an hour driving in circles picking people up – I think we passed our hotel twice! We finally headed to the checkpoint to join the convoy at the police checkpoint. Ostensibly it’s to protect people in case of breakdowns as there is nothing but desert without mobile reception, but we read that originally it was also to protect tourists from terrorist attacks. Though, as Lonely Planet put it, all a convoy does is let potential terrorists know exactly where a big group of tourists are! We reckoned it was to control the number of people heading out to the site and keep tabs on where everyone is.

After 3 hours of a cramped but thankfully air-conditioned drive during which most people slept, we arrived at Abu Simbel: the temple dedicated to Ramses II, who also built a second temple for his wife and was the first pharaoh to do so. Apparently he had 4 wives and over 150-200 children! (The number varied depending on our guide.)

It was only 8am when we arrived and already the temperature was sky-rocketing, which is why the convoys leave so ridiculously early. We got our tickets and walked down to the temples past the dam. The statues are incredible – 4 massive statues of Ramses II outside the first temple, which contains numerous reliefs depicting Ramses II as a god & showing him crushing the heads of his enemies. There is also an alcove containing 4 gods that are lit up by the rising sun twice a year, leaving one “god of darkness” in the dark. Pretty amazing engineering. What made the temple even more amazing was the fact that the entire thing had been moved 210m back and 60m up from its original position when the Aswan Dam threatened to submerge it. It took almost 10 years to cut the temple & statues into over 1000 sections and move each section piece by piece to the new protected site. Unbelievable. And it’s been reconstructed so well that you can barely see the cut lines, which had a maximum limit of 6mm and in most cases did not exceed 4mm. Wow.

After wandering through the temples we made our way back to the bus depot via the tourist markets that can be found around every tourist site. These salesmen had obviously learned that tourists didn’t like to be hassled so their opening line was “come look, no hassles!” Knowing I needed a present for my sister’s birthday and her love of all things Egyptian, I made the mistake of looking at a statue stall. The salesman then started telling me about all the statues and piling them into my hands, but refusing to give me any prices. Eventually I had to threaten to leave before he gave me a price on ONE statue, which was of course ridiculously inflated. I managed to bargain him down to over half of what he wanted, and the fact that he was still pretty happy with the sale meant that I’d probably still managed to overpay, but I was running out of time and it was a good price considering the quality of the statue.

After a long drive back with cramped necks and aching legs we arrived back at the hotel in time for a wee nap, before following Sam to his friend Jiji’s house to watch the soccer: USA vs Algeria (for the Americans) and Aussie vs Slovakia (for the Aussies). Jiji picked us up in his motorboat and took us back across to his home on Elephantine Island. His house is a lot more modern than the ones that we had visited so far. He treated us to some mango juice, grapes and watermelon, which Jo had warned us not to eat as it is often grown in areas fertilized by the Nile and takes up a lot of water with high sewerage content as well as sometimes being injected with water to stay juicy. I didn’t want to be rude though, so ate a couple of pieces with the theory that I would build up my “immunity” slowly. We didn’t tell Shaun until after the fact. He was not impressed. But 24 hours later I was fine so I decided to be more daring with my fruit intake.

After the match we were starving, so Jiji dropped us off at a waterfront restaurant, where we felt like VIPs arriving on a boat and stepping off right onto the restaurant platform. We then headed over the river on a free ferry to Movenpick, not the ice-cream shop that I was hoping for but a 5-star hotel where we paid EGP20 to sit in an outside bar on pillows surrounding low tables and watch the second football match. By this time I was fighting off sleep while most of the girls crashed out and Shaun kept himself awake smoking a sheesha. Great day.

Tags: abu simbel, convoy, football, temple

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