Egypt Tour

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Abu Simbel, Elephantine and Kitchener's Islands

It's 8:45 a.m. on March 24th, we've been up since 5 a.m. and are in the Luxor airport heading towards Aswan and our Abu Simbel transfer. I hate mornings! The stop at Luxor was unexpected and resulted in a wait. Between the three flights down to Abu Simbel and one back to Aswan, there's going to be a lot of air time today. Fortunately, we fly low enough to make it interesting (5,000 feet). We get a good view of the Nile and a lot of desert. It isn't a total waste of time.

The bus ride to Abu Simbel was brief. It is located in the heart of Nubia and was rescued from the construction of Lake Nasser that would have flooded it. We unloaded at the edge of the lake, looking at what appeared to be a small hill and were told to walk along the path to the right. We rounded a corner and the site was truly impressive. There are two pairs of colossal statues of the seated Ramses II that are 65 feet tall cut into a 120-foot tall fascia. Between his legs and at either side there are smaller statues representing members of the royal family. Between the pairs, there is a niche with Ra-Horakhte (with a falcon head) – above, a convex molding with 22 baboons and hieroglyphs; below, cartouches and statues of Horus and other gods and protectors. In the center of these giants, we entered the pronaos, a vast rectangular hall through a nave painted with the great vulture of the goddess Nekhbet (very striking). The hall is lined with eight 33 foot pillars of Osiris (with Ramses II face) punctuated by frescoes that still retain good color. The sheer size of this hall was awesome with reliefs everywhere telling his story. It enters into the hypostyle hall that has four, square pillars painted with images of the pharaoh and various gods. I really liked the line up of the multiple gods colored with much gold, red and black. Hanan, our guide, considered this to be the "highlight" of Abu Simbel. Finally, more than 200 feet into the hillside, we came to the sanctuary. Although it was the most important room to the pharaoh, it was rather drab visually with its four statues of Ramses II, Ptah, Amon Ra, and Harmakhis. I guess you’d have to see it at a solstice – it’s the two times each year that sun floods the entire length of the temple and illuminates these statutes (except for Ptah, god of darkness).

Also on the site was the smaller but more illustrated and less warlike Temple of Hathor that the pharaoh had dedicated to Nofretari, his queen, wife and best loved. Especially beautiful were the images of Nofretari with Isis, Hathor, and the Nubian goddess Mut. All were made of fine white stone and had a great harmony in its simple interior.

A short, bumpy, flight returned us to Aswan and to the Queen Nabila II (our home for the next few days). We checked in, had a quick but adequate lunch, then headed out for a felucca ride. We sailed around the Nubian island dividing the Nile and came alongside Kitchener’s Island. We had led a small mutiny since this was not a "usual" stop – but we encouraged the group in our boat to see it and they unanimously voted to go ashore. It was wonderful and thoroughly enjoyed by all. Egrets were nesting, there was a large collection of ficus, various date palms, and rampant bougainvillea. A gardener gave us a little side tour of his special area, breaking off leaves from ginger, citron, sandalwood, saffron, etc. for a true olfactory delight.

We sailed along the Nile passing the Aga Khan's mausoleum, a large number of cliff tombs (still being explored), Elephantine Island (so called because of large boulders that look like elephants bathing), and rounded the turn to see the Old Cataract Hotel sitting up on the cliff. This famous place has shown up in just about every movie about Egypt. As we headed back to the Nabila, we listened to some cute little children in small (not necessarily seaworthy) boats who were singing "Alouette". They assumed we were French since Americans do not usually tour at this time of year.

Our dinner was served buffet style (not my preference). It was mostly cold and overcooked, but we sat with Denise and Mike, pleasant people who had just returned from a safari, live in San Diego, and met on the Internet. A French woman turned 50 so the staff came in beating drums and singing. They started a conga line and had a grand time. We took a short promenade on deck in the cool quiet of the evening before calling it a day.

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