Monday, October 30, 2006

The boat sails...

Day 8

Ugh! Horribly early start - 3:15am! For a bus to Abu Simbel. The reason we are going is a rather tasty temple, built by Rameses II. Interestingly, our bus travels in a huge convoy along with about 30 others. Apparently in '97 there was a rather nasty incident somewhere near Luxor where a coach was attacked and 40 German tourists were shot. As a result, tourists are only allowed to travel between towns (yes for the whole country!) in police-escorts. Our guide for the day, Michael, was quite reluctant to talk about all of this, and was rather drawing our attention to the benefits of the escort, i.e. free breakdown recovery etc. Anyway, there are two escorted trips a day, and we were on the early one. Given the temperatures later on, this probably made sense. Abu Simbel [GPS: 22.33717N, 31.62198E] is only about 40km North of Sudan, and the most Southerly point we reach on our trip. It sits by Lake Nasser.

There are two temples. The smaller one is dedicated to, erm, Rameses' Queen.. erm... and this one I visited first. Despite the outside, the innards I found fairly disappointing - it was small, very humid, very crowded and I didn't find the hieroglyphics particularly noteworthy. Over to the larger temple, which made up for the small one. This temple has four enormous figures on the outside representing Gods and the King. Inside there is a large pillared chamber (the pillars again are statues of gods), then at the end, an inner temple designed such that one two days of the year in February and October, the light will shine right into the temple illuminating three of the four gods (the fourth is the God of Darkness and therefore shouldn't be lit). To line up this enormous temple in this way shows incredible design and learning. More amusing is that this temple, like Philae, was affected by the Nile dams and was moved, and in the moving they have apparently screwed up this system. It was quite suprising that it wasn't until after the dam was built and the area being flooded that the Egyptian Goverment decided to act and move the temple.

Templed up, we piled on to the bus for the uneventful journey home. Went past a camel market at some point - apparently most camels provide meat rather than what one traditionally assumes, i.e. bumpy rides. Into town we were bused straight to our new cruise boat, the Ra I. I paid $30 to get my own room for the three nights, which I was definitely glad of, as the rooms are rather cosy, and the bathrooms even more so! Initially my view wasn't great, as we had a boat docked immediately adjacent to us. The room had two single beds, a TV, fridge, wardrobe, and double doors opening out on to the water (with railings of course). The bathroom was sink, toilet and a tiny shower thing. On the "ground" floor there was a restaurant. Floor above us a lounge/bar, then the top floor obviously top-deck, complete with bar, pool, jacuzzi, small gym and lots of loungers. The alcohol was all relatively expensive on board, so Shady's tip was to smuggle booze on from the local "bottle shop" in town, conveniently directly across the road from our boat's moorings. This of course was against the rules, and if caught he was going to deny all knowledge!

In the afternoon we had a ride on a felucca boat, just around the island in the river at Aswan, as the sun set. Was beautiful, and very peaceful. At one point a young Egyptian boy paddled up in a home-made canoe, singing songs until some baksheesh got rid of him! We could see the tomb of Aga Khan up on the hillside - he was told to come here by his Doctors when his health was deterioritating, as the climate is so good.

Next several booze trips were made back and forth with backpacks just before we sailed at 8:30pm. I picked up 3 bottles of Egyptian red wine, 12 cans of local "Egyptian" Stella beer, and lots of water. Incidentally, Egyptian "Stella" is apparently the country's oldest registered brand - I think it dates from the late 1800s. I can only assume that it was a rip off of Belgian Stella long before copy protection laws were established, and know it's too ingrained to be changed. We sailed for a few hours before pulling into Kolkumbo? at 11:30pm. Most went to bed after the early start, but of course the hardcore crew, i.e. Jason and Tarny, Ray and myself (along with Shady and Hassan) headed out to a local cafe for shisha and coffee!

Soon after we arrived, a local "mariachi" band wandered into the bedouin tent were were lounging about in. Shady initially jumped up to stop them coming in, then either gave up or saw the fun potential. Picture the scene - five minutes on shore and we were taking it in turns to play the screechy violin like thing, bang the drums, or just dance, Egyptian style! Surreal yet lots of fun! I confused the waiter by ordering mint tea and turkish coffee. By the way, mint tea in Egypt rarely is. They will even agree specifically that it is mint tea rather than black that one wants, yet along comes a cup of black tea all the same. Anyway, a nice late retirement to bed, ready for another crack-of-dawn start the following day! Hurrah! The room air-conditioning was so powerful that when I got back to my room I found it freezing. Turned that off but was reluctant to leave the windows open because of mozzies. More about the mozzies later!

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