Tomb Raider - Featuring Jac and Mavis as an Oriental Lara Croft mother/daughter combo, and Chalky as their semi-competent sidekick
02.01.2010 - 06.01.2010 27 °C
Arriving in Aswan, tired, dirty, and with kinks in places we didn’t know you could get kinks (overnight trains in Egypt are a necessary evil unfortunately) we finally embark on our few days of tombs, temples and touristy travel.
Aswan is the source of all the granite quarried in ancient Egypt for temple building, statue carving, and obelisk obeslisking. It is the gateway to Abu Simbel, and the start of all Nile cruises. Being in the South, it is also HOT, even in the middle of ‘winter’. We amuse ourselves by constantly quoting Eddie Izzard as an Egyptian news anchor: “And here’s Jean with the weather: ‘The forecast is, sunny, forever.’ ‘Thanks Jean…”.
We started our trip by taking a cruise on the Nile towards a Nubean (indigenous Egyptian Africans) village where we had traditional local fare followed by some dancing with our hosts:
Our group climbing a huge dune, extremely hard to do!
Mavis and Chalky on our felluca
Chalky and his desert wheels
Camel riding silhouette
Jac and Chalky dancing with a cute Nubean kid
Aswan is also ‘famous’ for being the site of two dams built to control the annual flooding of the Nile. The first, built by the British, is the imaginatively named Aswan Low Dam. It didn’t work all that well, as the Brits seemed to have forgotten that the annual Nile floods brought huge amounts of silt with them, and, coincidently perhaps, it silted up. The Egyptians subsequently constructed the Aswan High Dam (wow - imagine the brain-storming that went into that name!), but this came with its own set of problems - namely the flooding of a vast area containing some of Egypt’s most precious ancient monuments.
The Temple of Ramses II (yep him of the 90-odd kids) was one of the soon-to-be victims of the rising waters of Lake Nasser (formed by the High Dam) back in the 60s, and an incredible multi-national effort, headed by UNESCO was undertaken to move the enormous temple to higher, safe ground (they literally cut the entire complex into pieces and reassembled it further up the valley). With four gigantic statues of the Pharaoh glaring down at the water, it must have given pause to any travellers sailing down the Nile in ancient times. However, old Ramses wasn’t thinking of the tourist trade back then, and the temple is an inconsiderate 3 hours drive from Aswan, in convoy (there are bandits in them thar hills). A 3am start is what it takes to see the Temple of Ramses (see? - inconsiderate), but soooo worth the drive. This is to be the first of what seems like dozens of temples we are to see in the next 3 days.
We also indulge in the usual touristy things to do in Aswan… Camel riding in the desert, boat cruise on the Nile, sheeshah water-pipe) in a dodgy back-alley coffee shop (thanks Eric and Mariah for our introduction to Egyptian sheesah. Mavis takes to haggling in the souqs and market shops like a pro, having had some practice in Morocco… Take pity on the poor souls in Aswan who are still explaining to their wives how they happened to get stitched up on the sale of so many scarves!
We leave Aswan in Nile-style - on a felucca for an overnight journey North, downriver (we find it hard reconciling ‘North’ and ‘down’ - such is coming from the Southern Hemisphere). Ahhh… the silence on the river is heavenly after the hustle and bustle of the Aswan souqs, the sun is warm, the beer cold (BYO of course).
Our Nile Fellucca
Mavis on the Fellucca
Sunset on the Nile Fellucca
We overnight on board, with a fire and more beers on the shore in the evening. The indigenous Nubian crew entertain us with drums and singing, and Chalky entertains in kind with a haka (the multinational tour group also lap it up - one of the benefits of growing up in Rotorua eh?).
Dancing to Nubean music by the fire
Chalky answers the Nubeans with the Haka
Temples, temples, temples… Edfu sees us wandering a Ptolemaic (Greco-Roman era) temple. Luxor however, is the mother of all temple cities, with the sprawling Karnak temple on the East bank, and the funerary temples on the West bank, with of course, the necropolis of all necropolises (sp?) - the Valley of the Kings.
Collossi of Memnon
Valley of the Kings - unfortunately no cameras allowed inside the decorative tomb
Karnak is an open air museum, and a timeline of the Pharaonic era of Egypt, with the temple having been added to by virtually every pharaoh over a period of thousands of years (makes NZ seem VERY young). We are lucky to be on site at closing time, and get some very rare snaps of the temple virtually tourist free.
The following day sees us climbing, scrambling, descending and ascending into tombs cut into the very rock of the Valley of the Kings. Spectacular and beautiful, it probably captures the essence of what we think of as Ancient Egypt as much as the Pyramids do.
Our few days of temples and tombs ends on a high… The real highlight is something quite unexpected, and remarkably simple compared to the splendour and grandeur of the royal and religious sites. The Valley of the Workers is the site of the small community of workers that laboured for generations to construct and decorate the royal tombs in the Valleys of the Kings - a place where they lived and died, and buried their own. Two small tombs in the Valley of the Workers are so beautifully decorated (by the men who built them for themselves) that they make the Kings’ tombs look almost ordinary by comparison. A real treat to see them.
There are only so many hieroglyphs, columns, obelisks, statues and sphinxes one can see before one becomes a bit jaded however. Man, cat, cat with a dog face, dog with a cat face etc (to paraphrase our buddy Eddie again)… So we bid a farewell to the Nile Valley, and head deep, deep, deep into the deserts of Western Egypt!