December 22, 2015
3:00 AM wake up call. Meeting in the lobby at 3:30 to collect our breakfast bags and prepare for the 3-hour drive to Abu Simbel. We met the police convoy at about 3:45. Guards with cameras checked under the bus and guards with guns smiled and waved as our buses lined up. It took a while to get used to the fact that the men with machine guns were excited and happy to see us. Around 4am all of the drivers ran back to their buses and the convoy began moving.
I tried to sleep during the 3-hour drive but didn’t have much luck. It seemed well worth the loss of sleep though when we got into the desert and the stars came out. It was like nothing I have ever seen before or will ever see again. Horizon to horizon you could see all of the stars and nothing but stars. It was like driving through a planetarium or looking through a telescope. It was the most amazing sight. I tried to get pictures but none of them turned out well. I suppose some things are meant to be only memories. Though, I was pretty sleep deprived by the time we got to Abu Simbel. It’s really in the middle of nowhere, 100k from the border of Sudan, a small town on Lake Nasser surrounds it.
When we got there the sun had just come up. I was very excited to see dogs for the first time in Egypt instead of the usual street cats. We walked around the back of a man made hill. They had to build this when they moved the temples out of the water after the original location flooded following the building of the High Dam. Apparently, to move the temples they built walls in the water around them then pumped the water out. They then began slowly cutting apart the temples piece by piece and resetting them in the new man made hill above. The first temple, with four large statues out front, was built by Ramses II. He, evidently, was not a great guy. He would polish out his fathers name and write his own on many of the monuments. Thus, he assumed everyone else to be a liar and carved very deeply into all of his monuments so that they could no be polished out the way the traditional bas-relief style could.
His temple consisted of 3 rooms. The first room had 4 large statues on either side. The ceiling and walls were beautifully and clearly decorated. The following two rooms had side corridors with hieroglyphs clearly displaying battle scenes, offerings and many other things. Near the entrance of the temple was a “no photos” sign. I assumed this was to deter flash photography that might damage the walls. Since my GoPro didn’t use a flash I assumed it would be fine and I filmed inside the temple. Turns out it wasn’t fine. I wasn’t trying to hide the fact that I was filming and got several minutes worth of footage before a guard approached me and tried to take the GoPro. I argued with him momentarily before relenting and handing it over. He returned it just a few minutes later though, trying to keep the peace with tourists I assume.
Afterwards we went over to Nefertari’s temple. On the outsides were 6 large statues of people, 4 of Ramses II and 2 of his wife Nefertari (He was very self-centered). Although Ramses II had dozens of wives and like 120 kids, Nefertari was his favorite and so he built her temple, commemorating her inside with many female figures. When she died he married their oldest daughter, renaming her Nefertari II.
When we were done we met in the café outside and enjoyed a different ice cream bar, this time white chocolate. Then we got on the bus to rejoin the police convoy and head back to Aswan. Thankfully, I was so exhausted by this time, not having gotten more than 3 hours of sleep that night that I slept nearly the whole way back to the hotel. There we had one hour to shower and finish packing before we checked out of our hotel to board the felucca.
We had 2 feluccas for our group. Waleed divided them into a smoking and non-smoking group so Nate and I hopped on the non-smoking boat. Our group consisted of; both mother/daughter teams, the mother/son team, a young female couple, one of the single women and the single man. It was a pretty good group and it was nice to relax with them and talk to everyone. This had already been such a busy trip with every day jam packed full of activities the felucca trip gave us a chance to wind down and just hang out with one another. Fuzzy, who was our captain, fed us a lunch of pita, falafel, cucumber, and cheese. We settled down as our boats began to zigzag, or what I thought of as cross-country ski, up the Nile. We were moving with the current and the wind was strong so we made it rather far before the sun had set. It was beautiful and we all laughed and got to know each other for about 4 hours before we tied the three boats (smoking, non-smoking and “facilities”) together for dinner.
The temperature decreased significantly when the sun set and we all began bundling up. Dinner was delicious! Soup, stew, pita, veggies, and rice. I loved it! They also had a plate of chicken for meat eaters but I was having no trouble finding vegetarian options. I still haven’t gone hungry for even one meal since we arrived. One woman who has celiac disease was even given soup without pasta in it. They work incredibly hard to cater to all of our needs. I then had an apple for desert.
After dinner we walked across a very thin ramp to get to the beach near where we had docked. The crew had lit a bonfire and began drumming and singing traditional Nubian songs while we all danced, clapped, and did our best to sing along. They included some American classics as well like “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes.” But they replaced verses with “She’ll be smoking marijuana when she comes, she’ll be drinking a stella when she comes” and “she’ll be smoking hashy hashy when she comes.” Their rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was also great, filling with, “On the felucca the might felucca the lion sleeps tonight.” We then headed back to the boats as the fire burned out. It was pretty cold and I tried to curl up in my very small and light sleeping bag to stay warm. I also wrapped my scarf around my face.
I slept for about an hour but kept being woken by the cold or hard boat deck or the sounds outside. I stayed up for probably two hours contemplating if I should risk the cold outside to pee, eventually I did. I had to maneuver my way through the sleeping people to the other end of the boat, hunch down under the tarp and then cross from our boat to the smoking one and from their boat to the facilities boat. It was completely dark with the generator turned off. I propped open the bathroom door with a toilet paper roll so that I could at least see with the moon light and peed for what must have been 2 minutes. I was probably on the brink of a kidney infection I had been putting it off for so long waiting for the sun to rise. It was a good thing I went, I felt so much better and fell right to sleep for nearly the first time that night when I found my sleeping bag again. I was awakened several times by the prayer songs that went on seemingly all night on the other side of the Nile, the barking dogs and braying donkeys were also relentless. Though it’s hard to complain when you’re young and missing one night of sleep because you’re open deck on the freaking Nile. Finally I heard Waleed call “Family” and I knew I had survived the night.