Battlestar Galactica, Cadbury chocolate, cans of Coke and Cheese & Spices flavoured Doritos. Welcome to Egypt.
As we disembarked from our five day Nile cruise, taking in Luxor, Aswan and everything between, we checked into the Nuba Nile Hotel for two nights before our return to Cairo. There doesn’t seem to be much to Aswan – besides the Philae Temple and the High Dam, it’s just hot, dry and dirty. It’s the last stop before the Nile becomes Lake Nasser, stretching the final 350 kilometres to the border of Sudan in the south. And as we’d seen both the temple and the high dam on the last day of our Nile tour, our time in Aswan is mostly for relaxation, and as the departure point for our visit to Abu Simbel.
At 3.30am today we left the hotel by guarded convoy for a 4 hour trip to Abu Simbel, two temples in excellent condition in the very south of Egypt. Here lies the temples for King Ramses II and his wife Queen Nefetari. In the 1960′s these temples were slowly and carefully taken apart and moved to a higher spot sixty metres away, when the Aswan High Dam and the pooling of Lake Nasser threatened to submerge the temples in their original position. When you see the temples, you can understand the reason for such effort and focus in the relocation – they are in fantastic condition. Both temples are carved into the rock face, the larger temple fronted by four 20 metre tall statues, two on either side of the entrance. Both temples go deep into the rock with more statues within, numerous rooms and deeply carved, colourfully painted hieroglyphics. But perhaps the most spectacular part of these temples is that twice a year, the morning sun strikes perfectly through the front entrance, and lights all the way through to the sacrifice table in the back room. Yet another outstanding example of imaginative and awe-inspiring construction surviving almost 4000 years.
Our return from Abu Simbel was after lunch and to escape the heat, we returned to the hotel for – you guessed it – more tv shows, chocolate and soft drinks. You might ask why were not out and about, enjoying the foreign places, the food, the traditions and the experience. And we did the same thing yesterday – stayed indoors and did nothing except sleep, eat, and watch a tv show from 2003. But truth be told, we’re both tired. The heat really is suffocating, the air is thick, the streets are frantic and disorganised. The locals call out, offering tours, food, water, or just yelling and whistling. I have no doubt they mean well – but their curiosity is sometimes exhausting.
For lots of places, it’s more than the sights, the people or the climate – it’s a feeling. And sadly I don’t get a great feeling from Egypt so far. I thought maybe it was just Aswan, but it has been a feeling of slight discomfort, exhaustion and frustration for two weeks now in Egypt. Maybe it’s the heat? But Thailand was maybe hotter, and at least Egypt is a dry heat. It’s not the food – I love falafels! The sights are magnificent, some of the oldest in the world. But there are many of them, so maybe I’m templed out. The hotels might have something to do with it – in Cairo, Luxor and now Aswan, the rooms have been old, tired and unwelcoming – the buildings decrepit and maybe even slightly haunting. Being cut off might also add to the feeling – 5 days without the internet on the cruise was fine, but it’s now dangling like a carrot in the hotel. There is a wifi signal, but we’re unconvincingly told ‘no password – broken’. But fortunately we return to Cairo on Saturday, back to Hotel Isis. There the signal is weak but works, the hotel slightly scary but the people are welcoming. And there is some suitable falafel nearby. So overall, I’m looking forward to the return to Cairo. Four days later, London! And hopefully this feeling will pass.