"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Friday, September 13, 2013

Egypt: Further Up the Nile

I have never been what you would call a "morning person".  That moment in adulthood when you realize you just said "I just can't sleep in past 9:00 anymore" has never happened to me.  (I also never grew out of loving fart jokes and midnight snacks of jalapeno poppers, so maybe there's just no hope across the board.)

But the thing is about being in Egypt in late June is -- it gets truly punishingly hot... quickly.

I took this screenshot my first morning in Aswan as I was waiting for the boat rep.  I don't care how tough you are, this kind of heat is no joke.  The good news is that our tour guides understood that this was something we tourists weren't exactly used to.  But that, of course, meant that we were down the gangplank and on the minibus at 6:00 AM.  There are few things I will cheerfully get up at 5:30 AM for.  A train or plane ride makes the list.  So does going off for a day of mind-blowing incredible sightseeing in freaking Egypt.  Yay!

The first thing we did was visit the Aswan granite quarry (the place that furnished much of the stone used to build everyone's favorite monuments and temples), and take a look at the Unfinished Obelisk.  Unfinished, because it cracked while they were still carving it.  Really bad day for some poor guy 3,500 years ago.

I want to take a sec right off the bat to say good things about our tour guide, Ismail.  This guy could not have been friendlier or more patient, and he had a staggering degree of knowledge in all areas of Ancient Egyptian history and mythology.  He could read hieroglyphics.  Read hieroglyphics.  He cheerfully fielded every one of my enthusiastic questions, and often stayed behind to chat further once everyone else had wandered off.  He made four wonderfully exhausting days so much better than they would have been without him.  Cheers to you, my friend.  You were awesome.

After the quarry, we swung by Aswan Dam to get some pictures of Lake Nasser.  No crocodiles poked their noses out to pose for us that day, oh well.

Then, it was time for seat-bouncing anticipatory glee, because we were on our way to Agilkia Island and the temple complex of Philae.  The complex was moved from its original spot on Philae Island because the recently-created Lake Nasser was flooding it.  Let's just think for a moment about the undertaking that would be involved to move not one but several Ancient Egyptian Temples.

We piled onboard a completely safe-looking motorboat and headed over, accompanied of course by the small throng of vendors who had joined us for the ride.  And then we saw THIS:

Temple of Isis
I was positively flipping out inside.  My first Ancient Egyptian Temple!!  Ermahgerd.  I was here and this was happening and OMG it was suddenly just about the best day ever!

Walking around that temple complex was just... amazing.  Over the course of the next week, I would see so many famous monuments and sights that would make me embarrassingly actually tear up, places like Karnak and Luxor and Giza.  But the Temple of Isis was my first, and you never forget your first love.  I have never been so happy to be anywhere.

Bit of sad historic trivia -- many of the reliefs here and in other temples all over Egypt were damaged and/or defaced by early Christians who had repurposed the temples for churches.  The whole false god and iconoclast thing.  Thumbs-down to you, early Christian dudes with chisels.

After what has to be the most exciting morning I'd had in a long time, we trucked on back to the boat for lunch an a grateful collapse on my giant-size bed.  The boat was finally pulling off that afternoon and taking us upriver towards Luxor.  I headed up to the roof to the the amazing southern Egyptian desert roll by, and also avail myself of the pool which seriously would have been worth the price of the cruise all on its own.

In the late afternoon, we docked and went to go take a look at Kom Ombo.  The Temple of Kom Ombo is interesting because it's kind of an object lesson in clever marketing ideas.  To hear Ismail tell it, originally the temple was dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god, and was built here precicely because this stretch of the Nile had quite a lot of crocodiles.  (There are no crocs in the Nile anymore, they've all been lovingly rehoused in Lake Nasser.)  But because there were a lot of corcodiles, a lot of people started getting attacked and eaten, and -- surprise surprise -- no one wanted to come to the temple anymore and the priests weren't making any money.  SO, they decided to re-dedicate the temple to a god that they pretty much made up, but who just so happened to have the same name as one of the most popular Egyptian gods, Horus.  They called their new god Horus the Elder.  So now, with both Sobek and Horus the Elder to attract devotees (and the offerings they brought), eventually Kom Ombo got popular again.  Way to go, Ancient Egyptian PR Team!

Ismail being amazing.

Kom Ombo also had a small museum full of crocodile mummies that had been excavated from the site.  There was even a little mummified croc fetus.

That night on the boat, they had traditional Egyptian food for dinner and the staff all wore Egyptian dress.  Instead of ringing a bell for dinner, they let us know it was time to eat by singing a folk song in the lobby.

Calling everyone to dinner.  With flair.
After dinner, there was a party in the lounge with fun silly games and dancing.  I'd become pretty good traveling buddies with two extremely cool women from Boston, and we closed out the night dancing to YMCA with the staff before they tried to teach us an Egyptian folk dance.  I just... love the hell out of my life.

Another early(ish) night though, because the days just kept ramping up with sights even cooler than the day before.  The next day -- the Temple of Horus, Karnak, and Luxor.

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