[Camera & Egypt photos finally returned to me and updated (13/02/09)]
It's still my first day in Aswan. Does that make any sense? Ya see I arrived here at 14.00 and it's now 23.15 and I'm already stretching and waking up. Oh boy, this will be...has already been a loooong day. No slouching. The reason for this? Hell, I don't want to be late for the coronation party now do I!
Yes this earlier-than-I-ever-thought-possible awakening after 2 hours of shut-eye is due to a midnight departure time for the 280km journey south to Abu Simbel and the famous Sun Temple of Pharaoh Ramses II.
"Why so rediculously early?"
Abu Simbel sun worshipers.
I hear you cry from afore your computer screens. Well, the Abu Simbel trip requires an en masse convoy journey for all vistors and tour groups. You depart Aswan at the same time in one giant snaking motor cavalcade of coaches and mini-buses and you all return at the same time later on. Approx 3 hours each way. The normally 3am departure time is dictated apparently by a need to get you all to the temple to have a glance and return before the sun is too high and too hot over the desert. Our even earlier than normal departure today is as a result of sheer calendric coincidence. Today is one of only 2 days in the whole
calendar year when the alignment of the rising sun is juuuust
right so's that at dawn its beams shoot through the entrance and alight upon three of four cultic statues that reside within the Sun Temple.
The dates of note are 21st October and February which respectively mark the coronation and birthday of Ramses II. Yes, well spotted my eagle-eyed TB pals. Today is the 22nd October, but ya see as with so many other of the great temples of southern Egypt the Sun Temple had to be physically relocated in the early sixties to save it from the waters that would form the rising immensity of Lake Nasser following the construction of the High Dam of Aswan. The temple now fronting an artificially created 'mountain' now resides 210 metres back and 61 metres higher than its original position. Relocated block by number cut block of sandstone in a gigantic engineering operation costing many hundreds of millions of dollars (which the Egyptian government are still paying for) it was the best the experts could do to immitate the solar calibrations just 24 hours out of kilter.
Captruing the dawn at the Abu Simbel sun temple.
Not bad really.
To begin with I was quite excited by the sheer luck of my coincidental visit but in reality the sheer numbers of people that descend upon the temple today (presumably the crowds augmented by this 'great solar happening') are really quite suffocating once on site. This massive volume of temple pilgrims is hinted at by the size of the motor convoy that rolls outta town at midnight. An endless line of vehicles streaming across the Old Dam and out over the Sahara desert. I bet this woulda made an impressive arial photograph. A ceaseless line of white headlamp beams and red breaklights cutting through the darkness and dust beneath the stars. We all tentatively nibble through the bits of the packaged hotel breakfasts we've been given.
The temple of Ramses Mrs, Nefetari.
Those bits of it we trust not to repeat on us too bad. it's a long bumpy ride. No sleep in the face of adversity for 'The English Bastard' this time :)
Things are pretty chaotic getting from where the bus stops to the site entrance... mostly owing to the darkness and disorientation therein. A substantial queue for your EGP80 ticket; bags chucked through the lip-service security system and you're on site at last. No frickin' idea where I'm supposed to go but there's no shortage of tour groups to tailcoat on to as you walk around and downwards to turn and be faced with the star-lit iconic facade of the Sun Temple and its four great 22 metre high colossi of Ramses II.
The crowd swells and swells as we all stand, staring and entranced like some large scary cult of Ramses II awaiting "His Second Coming"or some such moment of revelation.
Carvings inside Nefetari's temple.
This great and powerful ruler (67 years in charge living until 96) would probably be quite surprised at the power over the masses that his legacy commands. A great and powerful modern day deity of the dollar. He might also be faintly amused by the poor old bloke who passes out right behind me causing quite a stir in the audience and not one flutter of assistance from the Egyptian site assistants. poor lad. he soon comes around and is ok but his dignity does not fair so well, his body having let everything
go down and rather aromatically out his trouser legs at the point of blacking out. Willette, an engaging middle-aged American lady I've been chatting with and I sympathise as much as is possible in such circumstances.
We chatter on, our views almost entirely obscured in this large rock-concert style cultural moshpit of humanity.
(Nefetari) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
A dodgy pun slipped through there as of course that's exactly what this really is all about. A gathering. A celebration. A concert about... uh, rocks. There's even some tinny 'traditional' coming from concealed speakers somewhere. Behind us the earliest glow of the impending dawn is beginning to lighten the horizon line.
At approaching 6.00am (the doors to the Temple still closed) the sun cuts above the horizon line to a great cheer from the thronging masses who turn to catch its eye. The slumbering faces of Ramses II are bathed by slow degrees in its light, the colours of the sandstone warming as the light rises and intensifies to a peachy orange glow. The crowd is too much and I realise that with only one hour remaining before I'm already supposed to be back at the bus that I'm probably never going to have time to get into and around the temple.
The Abu Simbel sun temple of Ramses II.
Joining many others, Willette included, I duck back out of the crowd fearful of a stampede as the doors open. This does occur... but thankfully not to anyones injury. I join many people on the clifftop viewpoint and watch the sun as it elevates higher and higher above the waters of the vast expanse of Lake Nasser. I also enter the much less populated smaller temple to Ramses II's favourite wife Nefetari where many interesting wall carvings/ hieroglyphs can be seen without crowds around you. Outside on a large stone platform on the ground some traditional Nubian dancers and dances are being undertaken with sporadic and unrhythmical audience participation. A little celebratory air is added to the coronation proceedings.
In the end I really can't be bothered to requeue and rush my way around the interior of the Sun Temple so actually never get around to this.
A regrettable decision maybe but not one I feel very keenly if I am honest. It is one dictated by necessity and our bus driver's vehement cries earlier that we "MUST be back by 7 oclock!!!".
The fact is, back for 7, we don't actually roll out with the rest of the convoy until 8.15 meaning I should have had pleeeenty
of time to see it all. Yep, this country can be very, very
Back in Aswan. A hot afternoon. I return along the corniche and finally agree to take a lazy 2 hour felucca ride around the Nile islands with Captain Mohammed-Ali and his boy assistant Hasheem for about EGP100 (EGP80 for the ride and a EGP20 tip- both way high I think?). This is a beautiful way to wile away a few hours and I try not to be too disappointed that the Captain, only 1 metre out from the jetty, refuses to re-moor the boat to let on board two pretty Japanese girls who want to come along too.
Some...ummm?...not so traditional dancing at dawn, Abu Simbel.
I try my hardest to politely get him to return to shore but to no avail. I am blown a kiss by the receding ladies from shore for my vain efforts. Darn it!
On our way around and abouts I take in the gentle sights and sounds, the Captain undertaking his afternoon prayers on the boats prow. At one point we get royally clobbered by a very large cargo barge heading up the Nile that all 3 of us had failed to spot coming up behind us. All sails out and turned windward on the felucca, and the barge having cut its engines, the 3 of us arms out to try and fend of this floating metal tonnage we all manage to limit the impact to a non-capsizing JOLT. "Phew!".
Back on dry land and staggering, relaxed and sun-drunkenly further along the Corniche I'm propositioned again by countless felucca, taxi and horse drivers.
One boy catches up with me and then mumbling starts to offer me something that sounds like... like?... like a lama?!
What on earth? Of all the things I've been offered here so far. A lama? I can't quite make him out but decipher through his further repetitions that he's actually saying "l'amour".
. I see. I've been offered boats, booze, horses, fags and hash constantly over the last 24 hours (and combinations of all of the above are probably available for the right price although you may wish to avoid the Horse, Whiskey and Hash headlines in the scandal rags the following day!;) and now the Big One. L'amour. I'm being sold 'love'. I swiftly offer my usual array of flustering and polite declines but he continues to cling to my shoulder whilst furtively pointing at his crotch and saying "I get you good banan.
Setting off in the felucca.
Huh? What's banan Egyptian for? Poonan? Poonani? I think "well, what's a good banan when it's at home?". "Look my fren, you come my house. You wait. I get you... have good banan."
Rather inexcplicably in hindsight I construe all of this as some kind of heterosexual
pimping activity and can't help but keep thinking "Hang on a sec, ain't it me who'd be expected to provide a 'good banana' for the lady in such a situation?" but either way - and bananas aside - I'm having nothing more to do with this fruity conversation and shuffle off to the safe, soul retreat of the Ferial Gardens once more. Here I am distracted from the sunset (it's very hard to maintain your own private space for long in Egypt!) by a talkative local physics teacher who's quite shocked and disbelieving when I humorously explain my brush with the local 'banana' trade.
The sun gone down I walk back into town and stroll for the second time through the long stretch of touristy market bazaar stalls that run the inner length of Aswan. Whilst extremely geared to the visiting dollar, these shops and stalls are colourful and light and often quite pretty in their own mass-reproduced kinda way and I actually like walking through them very much. Its not a problem with all the calls and responses and implorations of the stall holders. i'm developing a high tolerance to such situations whilst here. "Hey Mr! Where you from, Australia?" Oh boy :D I have found that one of the most amusing ways to utilise these infinite local interactions is to use them to practice (inflict) my few phrases of broken arabic on them.
"Eeeengland, oh nice people! Yorkshire. Manchester. London".
A novel way to get about on the Nile :)
"Marhaba!". "How now brown cow!".
"Masa'il-kheer". "Come have a shoofty at my shop. Cheap as chips. Cheaper than Asda!".
"Izzayak? Ismak ey?" and so on and so forth... I decide once to try haggling for the sake of it. Some crappy mass-produced cotton shirt with two Egyptian cartouches poorly embroidered on the pocket (that I'm still yet to wear a month later). he starts at EGP250 (!!!) and I basically tell him straight the most I would ever pay is EGP100 (still waaaaaaaaaay
too much). 5 minutes of aggressive number bartering and me walking away later and the shirt is indeed mine for EGP100 although the shop owner is NOT a happy man.
Don't kid yourself though my TB pals. Rule number one of Egyptian bartering : you may think you've won, but this is never the case. Don't kid yourselves. :)
"Hey Mr! No money, no honey, no funny!" Is he trying to sell me bananas again! ;D