They say nothing ever runs on time in Egypt....
So imagine my surprise when our overnight train to Aswan turned up on schedule at the Cairo station.
Intrepid had kindly upgraded our seats to sleepers, which made everyone happy as we were all worried about security of baggage and our ability to sleep. Having never slept on a train before I didnt know what to expect. The cabin was tiny, I'll sat that much! The journey was very jerky. The driver kept slamming the brakes, or so it felt. The food was truly disgusting - my beef and gravy had been microwaved to the lid! And boys really need to learn how to shoot straight in a moving vehicle OR SIT DOWN!!!! But at least we had sleeping carriages instead of seats - I dont think I could have done 14 hours stting up.
Not to be disappointed, our 12 hour train ride took 14 hours but we still arrived in Aswan with plenty of time to see the Aswan granite quarry, with the unfinished obelisk, and then the Nubian museum. The Cairo museum could take a cue from these guys. The displays were modern and interpretive with lots of information about history and evolution of the Nubian peoples from the stone age, to the relocation of precious ancient Egyptian temples at risk of inundation with the construction of the High Dam.
Aswan is a cute little town, smaller but equally as chaotic as Cairo. Its is much greener and makes the most of its riverside location with restaurants and boats of many kinds. The people here are as happy to see us, or our money at least.
Last night we met up for a walk along the tourist and local markets where all manner of things were called out to us: "Hey Cobber; hey sheila; aussie, aussie, aussie; everything in my shop free, no cost to look; let me help you spend your money; no hassle, no hassle - excuse me I said no hassle; I dont know what you want but I have it". For the most part it was funny, but it was just a walk along with Mohamed, it might be a different story when we're out there on our own trying to buy stuff.
Mohamed then took us ouy for tea at a magic place - Salah ed din - on a pontoon on the east bank of the Nile. The view was to die for and the food was lovely except for the chunks of jalopeno chilli in the Greek Salad that I mistook for capsicum. Chilli in a greek salad? Really?
We were up at 3am today to get the bus convoy to Abu Simbel. I managed about 6hrs of unbroken sleep - the longest since I left home. The sleep deprivation is really catching up with me now. If its not sleeping on wafer thin matresses on the floor, its staying in cheap hotels on main roads where the beeping and shouting seem to go on all night. Then there is the call to prayer around 4.30am and again around 6.00am. But I digress.
The "convoy" to Abu Simbel isnt what I pictured. Instead of an armed escort, all the busses meet at a checkpoint, sign in, then go for it. I dozed most of the 3 hour journey.
Abu Simbel is a highlight - despite being chopped up and moved 66 metres up the bank when the High Dam was being built, it is still an awing site. The facade of the Ramses 2nd Temple is 33m high with 4 seated statues of Ramses 20m high. The facade of the Nefertari temple is smaller but equally beautiful.
But the real surprise is on the inside. Every single surface of both temples are covered in heiroglyphics and carvings proclaiming Ramses a god and celebrating his achievements in battle. Not only are they carved to look 3D in the uplight, they are exquisitely painted. I cannot believe how well preserved everything is especially given the age (1250ish BC) and the relocation. Although our time there was short (about 2 hours) it was well worth the 6 hour round trip.
This afternoon we visited Philae Temple -dedicated to Isis. The temple is beautufully placed on an island so it is a real event getting to it. By that I mean the little boat with an even littler outboard chugging along barely above the water line. Again we were lucky to be only a few there so you could get an aoppreciation of it as a place to worship rather than a crowded marketplace. The really sad part was how defaced many of the reliefs were. We didnt have a guide here to give us the history but we think the Isis cult was attempted to be stamped out by the Romans so they chisled out many of the reliefs depicting Isis and her family. I did manage to photograph the relief of Isis suckling Horus (the template for the Virgin Mary and Jesus).
Thats one thing we noticed about both sites, hundreds of years of people tagging their names on the monuments. The earliest I found dating back to 1801 - over 200 years of graffiti.
Now, we are all shattered. Sleepless nights and an early rise is taking its toll on everyone. We are all sick to death of being hassled to buy something every time we turn around every place we go (Im not the only one - and not even the first to get jack of it!). They wonder why we are mad with them. I guess this is the downside of being here with low tourist numbers. Other than that the timing has been ideal.
Tomorrow we leave Aswan to soak up the Nile for two days on a Felucca. Lets hope it doesnt leak!!