The temple of Abu Simbel is about 100 miles south of Aswan, and in order to get there at the best time, you have to leave at around 3:00 am. I got picked up in a minibus crammed full with about 15 other bleary eyed tourists who were all snoring more or less soundly within about 20 minutes. Around 6:00 am, we finally got to the site of Abu Simel and all piled out to take a look. The temple was spectacular of course, even if it did take a few cups of Egyptian coffee before I was awake enough to appreciate it. This temple was originally located about 300 feet lower down the river bank, which would put it underwater right now. When the Aswan dam was built, the rising waters of Lake Nasser inundated hundreds of ancient sites. Only a few could be saved, and an international effort was made to completely disassemble Abu Simbel and reconstruct it brick by brick 300 feet higher than when it was. Everything was rebuilt down to the smallest detail, and today there is no evidence that the temple is anything other than in its original spot.
On the way back we broke up the drive at a couple of other sites. We visited the temple of Phileae which was also moved from an underwater grave to a more protected island where it exists today. Finally we stopped in at an ancient quarry where we got to see that even the Egyptians occasionally made mistakes. There is an obelisk that’s been completed on three sides, but is still attached to the rock on the bottom that was nearing completion when a flaw was found in the rock, so it was abandoned in place.
The next day I boarded a luxury boat for a three day trip down the Nile to the town of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. The boat was beautiful, but unfortunately I was the only English speaker on board. Everyone else was part of a group of Spanish tourists, and I think I got my last minute berth by the boat company dumping its unsold cabins at the last moment. Despite the language barrier, it was still a good time. We stopped at several temples along the way, and finally arrived in Luxor with a good bit of time to kill in the afternoon.
The next morning I had a tour to go seethe Temples of Karnak and Luxor, and then in the afternoon we saw the Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings was one of my favorite ancient sites, just because its something that I’ve read about for years. Every Discovery or PBS special in Egypt always talks about the latest discoveries here, everything from King Tut to the KV5 tomb which has the largest funerary complex ever discovered in the valley. This was one of the only places that photography was prohibited, and even baksheesh didn’t do much to change this. I don’t blame the authorities for this policy at all…the underground colors were still nearly as bright and accurate as the day they were painted, and flashes would slowly but surely destroy them.
The only frustrating thing about the tombs was the extortionate price that the government charges to see them. For about 25 dollars US, you get to see three tombs out of the 15 or so that are open. Once inside you’re hustled thru in about 10 minutes, so you’re effectively paying about a dollar a minute. The Egyptian government realizes that the tombs of long dead people is really one of the few things that people come there for, and they’re determined to wring every bit of hard currency out of the tourists that they can. Personally, I was pretty annoyed by the constant demands for money from both the government, and everyone associated with the tourist industry. It wasn’t bad enough to ruin the experience, but it was enough to ensure that a repeat visit to Egypt is pretty low on my list of priorities in my lifetime. I’ve heard that once I get over to the Sinai peninsula, things get much better. I sure hope so!