14 March 2013

Leaving Luxor
Going to Asyut via Abydos.. or not..

Yeah! Today is a good day! We are finally leaving Luxor!!
Yes, there are many sights to see around here,and many wonderful people and we have taken our time to visit them, but we have spend too long here. Luxor is really not that nice a town.

We want to head for the Western desert. First stop Al Kargha. Anna has been really looking forward to exploring the desert and its smaller sites. Unfortunately Egypt is again making it difficult for the independent travelers. There is a perfectly good road between Luxor and Kargha, but apparently there is no public transport between the two towns. (we tried yesterday, and got nowhere..) So we are now forced to travel by train all the way back north to Asyut (6 hours) and then take a bus from there (another 4 hours). The way we travel it will be a two day thing anyway, so we decide to stop along the way to visit Abydos. Tourist info at Luxor assured us it will not be a problem to get an evening train from Al Balyana (the town next to Abydos) onto Asyut. A long day in any case.

Early start to catch the 8.45 train. By now we have given up on buying a ticket beforehand, as they have always refused to sell us some at the stations. Instead we find a place in second class and wait for the ticket inspector. He shows up immediately and charges us 52LE from Luxor to Al Balyana. Pricey as we paid only 60 to go from Sohag to Luxor before and that is further, but arguing is futile in Egypt.
The train cruises along and three hours later we arrive after covering 145 kilometers.

The stability of the Nile

The stability of the Nile

We are traveling with all our luggage today, and do not want to take it along to the site if we can help it. Luckily the station master is kind enough to store it in his room during the day as long as we are back before 18.00.
Walking out of the station we are again confronted with life in fairly small town Egypt. Cars, dust, stench, horns. It is LOUD! We still need breakfast, so brave the streets to find a feed. After a few hundred meters we are already developing headaches from the noise, so opt for a street further back for hopefully a quieter cafe. We run into a group of kids, waving and yelling out “hello”. We greet them, but they for some unknown reason start throwing rocks at us. Not this again! Why is Egypt like this? We are not doing anything wrong as far as we know. We are trying to be friendly to these children, but all we get back is insults and rocks flying past. To make thing even worse, these kids knew how to aim, and we got hit quiet a few times. Not just stones either, but tomatoes and oranges..
The bus/taxi/tuktuk station is right in front of us, so we dive into a tuktuk to escape. 10LE to the site of Abydos. Good price, but now we are in a horrible mood and still hungry as we have not been able to get some food. The tuktuk guys are nice though, and seem genuinely worried about Andrew. A rock hit him right above his eye. Not in his eye tough, and it all cleared up during the drive out.
Abydos is about 10 kilometers away from Al Balyana and if we were in a better mood, it would have been a nice drive. Once we made it out of Balyana the road gets quieter and there are more donkey carts then cars. Small houses along the way, some still made out of mud and the occasional cow tied up out the front.

Arriving at Abydos we walk over to a little cafe before the entrance. A tea to sit down in peace and relax. Then onto the main site, Abydos.

Abydos was the main cult center of the God Osiris, God of the dead. One of the most important places in ancient Egypt and the favorite place to get buried. It was used as a necropolis for more than 4500 years. Although there are no tombs to visit here, it is all about the temple of Seti I.

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The story goes : Osiris was married to Isis but had to leave her for a while to travel the lands. He left her in charge together with his brother. Upon returning, his brother had come up with a plan to kill him, as he had fallen in love with Isis. He tricked Osiris into climbing in a box and then locked him in and dumped the box in the river.

A good restoration job

A good restoration job

The box ended up in Syria and a tree grew up magically around it. The king of Syria had this magic tree felled to make a pillar for his castle, not knowing that Osiris in his box was stuck in the trunk.
Isis in the meantime was desperately searching for her husband and eventually found him and brought him back to Egypt. His brother still wanted him dead though, and this time he chopped Osiris in little pieces and threw them all over the country. Isis went out to find all the bits and temples were built at the sites of the bodyparts. Abydos was the most important one, as the head was here. Isis put her husband back together (all except his penis, as this landed in the river and got eaten by a fish).
Still she managed to get pregnant by her dead, penis-less husband with a bit of magic and gave birth to Horus. The temple features all three gods a lot.

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The temple of Seti I is the one of the most complete temples in Egypt. Built out of limestone it is truly stunning. Seti I was in power after the whole Armana/Anhkhaten period and he took Egypt back to the good old days. The temple decorations and the carving in particular were the best during his reign. And in Abydos he covered every inch of the walls in amazingly detailed carvings. It is gorgeous!

Hall of the Sparrows

Hall of the Sparrows

Unfortunately the temple is not very well lit up inside and it is sometimes hard to make it all out. We are allowed to use a torch, but no flash photography. Not sure why, as in most places there is not much left of the coloured paints.
In some bits it does still survive though and it is really vivid. Reds, yellows and blues. Lots of little birds flying around and nesting inside the temple. They have tried to block the temple off from the birds, but the gaps only stop the pigeons from entering.
The first courtyards are not in the greatest condition. They were added on by Seti’s son Ramses II, so again we get the battle scenes and the crushing of the enemies. They seem to be Ramses’s favorite topics. On entering the temple proper, you are immediately struck by the difference in styles between father and son. The temple depicts almost solely ceremonial scenes and the work is so much finer. It leaves you to wonder why Ramses did not continue in this style. I guess he was more into quantity than quality.

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Alcoves blooming with colour

Alcoves blooming with colour

We wander in different halls and rooms in awe of Seti and with growling stomachs.  In the back there are a lot of different rooms and shrines.  In stark contrast to the earlier rooms there is a lot more colour.  There has also been extensive restoration work done as well.  This gives the colours a shiny, glossy surface, we think to protect against people constantly touching the heiroglyphs.

The famous Kings List

The famous Kings List

In a last corridor we finally come across the famous kings list. It lists Ramses II and all the Pharaohs before, except off course the ones Seti did not approve off like the once from the Armana period. These lists were extremely valuable for Egyptologists in the past.
After this is a bit more of Ramses’s add ons and then outside to the Osireion. This is a controversial structure behind the main temple. Archeologists accidentally discovered it while excavation the temple of Seti. Mostly it is regarded as a Old Kingdom structure and some people credit it also to Seti. But there are different theories. The structure is unlike anything Seti build. It is made of big granite blocks and mostly undecorated. Seti definitely added some of his, but we like the theory that the Osireion is much older. The building is set much lower and if Seti had built it, he would have build a temple in a hole. The roof level is level with the base of the main temple.

The Osirieon is more in line with the temple at the Sphinx than Seti's temple.

The Osirieon is more in line with the temple at the Sphinx than Seti’s temple.

One theory is that is was build on then normal ground level and disappeared under the earth by a multitude of Nile floodings, depositing layers of ground on top. This would make the Osireion more then 10.000 years old. (Same age as some say the Sphinx could be) Off course this is controversial in a Muslim country that believes the whole world is only about 6000 years old.

None the less, it is quite an impressive building in it’s simplicity. Unfortunately we could not go down into it, as the stairway was blocked for with barbed wire. A local man informed us that the water visible from above was at least one meter deep. For this he wanted baksheesh. We know it is common practice in Egypt, but we do not pay to be followed and then supplied with useless info. Unfortunately this meant we were now not even allowed to walk around the top of the Osireion. Anywhere we wanted to walk, this man shouted at us that it was not allowed.

"Off with their heads!"

“Off with their heads!”

We decided to get away from his yelling and head for the next bit : The temple of Ramses. This is a little walk further into the site. This temple is not in a good condition as almost everything above about a meter and a halve from the ground is gone. Still it is worth visiting. Again it is the standard Ramses II style. Impressive but not very artistic. Although this must be some of his best work as there is some very detailed bass relief carvings. The statues have not survived well, but the paintings are stunning in their co lour. These are constantly exposed to daylight and all the natural elements, but are still vivid and beautiful. The paint is actually holding up much much better than in the main temple. As this structure mostly is without a roof, this seems to be the domain of the local pigeons.

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By now it is almost 17.00 and the site is about to close. Another tea at the same tea house and a taxi back to Balyana train station. Again we agreed 10LE, but on arrival we had to get firm the the driver, as he refused to give us change out of a twenty. And he didn’t even take us all the way. That was impossible anyway, as Al Balyana’s main street had once again turned into a traffic jam with stand still traffic and constant horn blaring.

Prime beef

Prime beef

We quickly stocked up on some chocolate bars and went to get our luggage back. The station master was very helpful, but had disappointing news. There would not be a train until 22.30 to Asyut. (Except if we wanted to go by no-class train. Better know as sardine class for how squeezed together you travel. This was not an option as Anna was grabbed enough again today and is refusing to spend three hours in such close company with sleazy Egyptian men. Not sure if we mentioned the loose handed men before, but it is an issue in this country.) That meant waiting all night and at best arriving in Asyut at 1.30 in the morning, if the train was running on time. Or catch a train back to Luxor… the last place we want to go.
Well, we didn’t feel like we had much of a choice, and at arriving back in Luxor at 21.00 we found the train for Asyut only just leaving. (That means it would arrive in Balyana at about 24.00 and would have gotten us to Asyut at about 3.00) Not happy to be back in Luxor, but relieved we did not take the other option. Back to the same hotel where they were surprised, but happy to see us again.

AA

P.S. : We have decided to leave Egypt. This country is not geared for our way of travel, and we are just not having much fun. The sites are beautiful, but we are not free to travel our way to smaller towns or countryside. Well, we are actually free to do so at the moment, because of the revolution and the police is not organized or on strike, but we are just not welcome by the local population. We like to think and believe, that is is only a minority that does not want us there, but these are enough to spoil our experience. We do not want to be yelled at, groped, thrown rocks at etc, when all we are doing is trying to see something of this beautiful country. We understand that things are not running perfectly now and that some towns are not used to tourists, but we always visit small towns in other countries without any problems. People may be curious or stare a bit, but we have never come across this kind of hostility anywhere else. We are told this is because the system has now broken down and people feel free to do what they have never before been able to get away with. But we don’t understand why that has to be negative and violent. Use the freedom you have gained for something more fun.
We knew full well that this is not an easy time for Egypt and are not expecting everything to be working perfectly. We chose to come at a time when tourism is down because on one side it is quite at the famous sites and on the other hand we like to support Egypt while they are going through he process of finding their new government. But we are leaving feeling that this negativity is part of the Egyptian mentality at the moment and not so much because of the revolution.
We are sorry to leave Egypt. We have met some amazing people and it feels wrong to leave on such a bad foot. Maybe one day we can return when Egypt has become a happy and open country. Right now it doesn’t suit us.
Thanks you to all the Ahmed’s, Ali’s and other wonderful Egyptians. Thank you to the friendly expats and other tourists. Thanks for the beautiful sites.
But thank God/Allah that we can leave.

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12 March 2013

Hatshepsut Temple

You can make anything out of Alabaster, you just can sell it to us.

You can make anything out of Alabaster, you just can’t sell it to us.

Only one thing for the day.  Deir Al-Bahari.  Once again we found ourselves crossing over to the west bank.  Coffee at the Colossi and a quick bus out to the entrance to Deir Al-Bahari.  On the main road there are multiple Alabaster shops, so in an attempt to skip all the calls to check out their products, we jumped the stone fence beside the road, and walked through the desert towards the temple.  This was a good move on our part, as the normal road out there starts a lot further away, and you can cut off a good distance by doing this.

Newest resort or ancient temple?

Newest resort or ancient temple?

As we approached the walls of the mountain they start reaching up to the sky, and the temple popped out underneath, just when we arrived back at the road.  Stopping to admire the grandeur of the place, while making comments that it could be the latest 5* hotel in Luxor.

The Gauntlet.. Even the Crhistmas decorations are still for sale.

The Gauntlet.. Even the Crhistmas decorations are still for sale.

Again there is no hassle free way to get to the ticket office, and we are offered Kilo’s of Alabaster, scarves, books and everything else before we could buy our tickets.  Most people were content to ask and not worry too much if we said no.  A couple of buses full of Egyptians turned up at the same time as we did, so there were plenty of other people that may have wanted something.  Tickets acquired, we headed in.  Now in relative peace.  There were a lot of people at the complex, and the small trains carting people the 200m from the ticket office to the main courtyard was doing a brisk trade.  The complex, being much closer now, started showing its size.  Wide and squat, there are three levels, with a long shallow set of stairs leading up to the second level then onto the third.  Most people were stopping for a quick surround photo and trouping off up the stairs, but we decided to check out the ground floor first.
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Much of the temple is reconstructed, yet when we passed the first pillars on the ground level, the carvings and stories started revealing themselves.  The temple is dedicated to Hatshepsut, one of the most controversial Pharaohs.  There had always been equality between men and women in ancient Egypt, with inheritance and work not being a problem, yet female Pharaohs are rare.

How much more can we say about pillars?

How much more can we say about pillars?

When Hubby died, her step son (Tuthmosis III) was too young to take over, so she co-ruled as regent (and some say she also co-ruled with Tutmosis II, her fathers son while he was alive) before declaring herself Pharaoh at a latter date.  As Tutmosis III got older, she kept sending him away to fight Egypt’s wars, while she stayed home.  She died in 1458 BC of unknown causes (maternal-regicide?) and he was finally allowed to take over.  Apparently he was so pissed at this that he set about destroying many of the references to her.

Even the working class had great hair!

Even the working class had great hair!

There are still a few references to her here that for whatever reason still exist, and also references to her main architect that she could have, or might not have, had a fling with…  A fascinating if somewhat complex and bizarre story.

Moo!

Moo!

On the ground floor there was not much left.  The depictions were of soldiers, archers and boats, but we could get up close and personal with them.  Not many people visit this section, and we got to spend our time in the shade trying to make out all the different images.

Making our way up to the second level, the crowds were already thinning out, trying to get away from the mid-day sun. The main differences here to, say a temple by Ramses II, is that it does not focus on warfare, but trade.  The story here is that it could be an amalgamation of different trading missions similar to Ramses’ Battle of Gadesh, but is supposed to be her excursions to Punt.  There are fantastic representations of houses on stilts in the river with little ladders going up to them.

The famous trip to Punt. An ancient blog.

The famous trip to Punt. An ancient blog.

One hungry lady!

One hungry lady!

Many animals and people.  Offerings to and from the people they encountered, and the genetic defects of some of the rulers are clearly depicted.  Due to the crowds of people that visit the place, there are barriers put up preventing you from getting too close to the carvings.  The carvings themselves are very fine, and as most of the paint has now gone, makes it hard to see specific details at this distance.  Still, they are quite beautiful as well.

A shrine dedicated to Hathor.

A shrine dedicated to Hathor.

People have tried to figure out if the land of Punt really existed and where it might be.  Most place it in Somalia/Ethiopia, but there are theories that is was Palestine (as it was called the holy land) and that would make Hatshepsut the queen of Sheba..

Finally we headed up to the top most section.  Now there were no other tourists around at all, and we had the place to ourselves.

Hope it all healed ok.

Hope it all healed ok.

Here there are a couple of the original statues of Hatshepsut recreated to flank the stairs.  This gives an indication of how the place would have originally looked, if they were all still there staring out over the Nile.  One of the statues further away still had some paint on it.  A bit of black surrounding only one eye.  This gives the impression that she had a massive black eye when they created that statue!

Statues of Horus flank the steps.

Statues of Horus flank the steps.

We were unable to see any of the details on the walls here,

as we could not go past the pillars, so we made our way to the innermost sanctum.  There are rooms carved into the bedrock, but none of them are open for viewing.  You can walk around the central courtyard, following the bit of string put up to confine the tourists to the centre.  We were also unable to make out any of the details here, and it was a bit disappointing, yet going back out, the view is impressive.

Last view. I'll take it!

Nice view. I’ll take it!

With the temple done, and glad we only planned on one thing, as it was now getting on in the afternoon, we walked back to the road and caught a bus to the Nile.  Thinking that it was about Beer O’Clock, we went to the Blue Sky to parch our thirst.  Having been taken here before by Stan & Helen, we thought we might meet someone there for a chat.  We were not disappointed, and ended up spending much too long talking to everyone there.  If there was ever a reason to move to Luxor it would be because of moments like these.  Sitting on the edge of the Nile, drinking cold beer, and good company.

AA

10 March 2013

Dendera?

A short one today.  We are off to Dendara.  To get there should be fairly simple.  Train to Qena and then maybe walk the 4km to the temple.  Maybe not.

Dendera temple

Dendera temple

Getting to the station at about 9:30 for the train, we found out we could not catch one until 12:00.  We had been planing on going to Abydos, but now we had to re-evaluate.  There was no point in hanging around, so we thought we would find the bus station.  A carriage driver asked if he could help, and we said we were just going to the bus station.  He wanted to take us, and to avoid this we went for a cup of coffee.  While we were quietly enjoying this, the carriage turned up outside to wait for us with typical Egyptian determination.  Giving in we asked how much to take us to the station.  He started at 25LE but considering you can get a half hour trip for 5, we settled for that.  Well, we didn’t particularly want to, but it did look as if the horse needed a good feed.

Lion-headed gargoyles to cope with the rain..

Lion-headed gargoyles to cope with the rain..

Loading ourselves in, he proceeded to take us around to the back of the train station.  It would have been faster to walk!  The drawback to offering a low, if reasonable price without knowing your destination is that you stand the chance of being dropped off in the wrong spot!  This was not the right bus station.  Jumping into a pick up truck used for shuffling people around the town we drove the kilometre or so to where we were supposed to be.  They then tried to charge us 10LE for the trip.  This is the first time someone has tried to charge us tourist tax for in town local transport.  Needles to say, they didn’t get away with it.  Still we were where we needed to be, and quickly found a minibus going to Qena.  It was also full with us appearing, so off we went.

Qena likes it's modern mosaics!

Qena likes it’s modern mosaics!

The drive out is about 60Km, so shouldn’t take too long especially considering the 90Km/h speed limit.  Yet every time there is a road joining ours there are at least 6 double speed bumps.  This we think is supposed to slow traffic to a crawl to allow people to join or cross the road.  These are all the time, so in reality it took us 2.5 hours to get there!  However we did get there.

Our next opportunity (trying to be positive here!) is to get out to the temple.  Our guide book says it is only four km away, so we thought we would go for a walk around town, and hopefully in the right direction.  Getting a taxi when we wanted to.  Qena is a typical Egyptian city.  All four or five story buildings, shops on the ground level, and where there are foot paths they are either taken up by holes where trees should be, or market stalls.  The traffic is not too bad, yet the amount of noise it makes is astronomical.  We have thought for a while that all Egyptians are deaf, and half blind.  If there is the most remote and illogical reason to toot their own horns they will.  Cars and people!

The sky of Nut

The sky of Nut

After wandering for a while in the direction we thought the Nile was and not finding it, we were approached by Yasser.  He offered us tea, and we were willing to accept.  Thinking of the Ali’s, Ahmed’s, and many others we have met in Egypt that we have enjoyed spending time with.

Again the hypostyle hall is the most beautifull room

Again the hypostyle hall is the most beautifull room

Unfortunately there was not a suitable tea shop anywhere near here, and we ended up almost back at the station.  All the time it was “whatever you want.  No worries”  As long as it was the coffee shop he wanted!  It turned out that Yasser was home on holidays from Hurghada.  From the sound of it, the town is a favourite for Russians at the moment.  Yasser was working with them as well.  Learning Russian.  After the tea, we tried to politely excuse ourselves to head out to the temple as time was quietly ticking away.  Asking for the most direct route and wether there was a ferry or bridge, we were told no bridge and the ferry was about 1km away.  He would walk us.  After the kilometre passed, he kept asking if we wanted a taxi, but it should not be too far.  Should it?  About an hours walk!  Huh?  Soon we were in fields and Yasser was asking the farmers the direction to go.  He had no idea.

The ceilings are amazing.

The ceilings are amazing.

By now we had realised that his English was tourist English, and not up to the task of helping us get to where we were going.  This was proven when we ended up at a bridge!  Bidding him good day in polite terms did not work, and when we finally got it across that we would proceed from there alone we got the kicked puppy-dog treatment.  This is the look you get when you tell an Egyptian that has befriended you as a long lost relative that you do not want their company any more.  A lot of Egyptians are very friendly, but as soon as you reciprocate, they cling on.  Not the way the Moroccan touts sink their claws into you, but still very clingy considering you have just met them.

The pillars are stunning..

The pillars are stunning..

On the other side of the bridge over the Nile, we came to Dendera village.  Asking the police here which direction to go, we were required to stop and wait.  I think this is the first time they have ever seen a tourist appear walking along the road.  It caused quite a stir and many phone calls.  Apparently they were going to organise some transport for us.  After the standard 5 minute wait of half an hour we again asked if we could walk.  No we couldn’t, but we would be allowed to hitch-hike!  As long as they selected the car.  This was nice, and the poor guy selected by the police drove us the next couple of kilometres to the turn off.  Here it was a simple stroll to the temple complex itself.  A few more police along the way that were already expecting us and very friendly, then we were at the ticket office.

.. but a lot of the reliefs have been destroyed.

.. but a lot of the reliefs have been destroyed.

Now that we have arrived at the temple, I will not say much other than it is Ptolemaic (Greco/Roman) at the start of its construction and about half way through making it they stopped putting the name of the Roman Emperors into the cartoushes as the priests never knew how long they would hang around for, and did not want to keep changing the inscriptions.  Considering none of them ever bothered to visit Egypt, let alone this temple it would not have mattered if they had put in “the known leader of the spaghetti eaters!”  The temple is dedicated to Hathor.  Whom we have nicknamed the party cow goddess, as she is associated with wine and depicted as a cow.  The wife and wet nurse of Horus.  In her younger days she had a bit of a violent streak and almost wiped out humanity before being introduced to Wine by Thoth.  This then changed one of her aspects from the Lioness to the cat!  All very confusing, but must have made sense at some stage.  Here it is her motherly, nurturing and healing aspect that is represented rather than her party side.  Except for one time a year…

The most detailed carvings are on the outside of the temple

The most detailed carvings are on the outside of the temple

The temple itself is surrounded by mud brick walls in fairly good condition, and although the carvings has been very heavily redacted, you can get a sense of the finery, due to the masses of inscriptions that cover everything from floor to ceiling.  Inside there are many pillars with Hathor faces at the top.  Similar to Phillae, and astronomical inscriptions on the roof.  A legend states this is the birthplace of the New Years Celebrations that still happen today.  One rocking party back then!  Much of the colour remains on the roof after cleaning the soot of fires burnt here for hundreds of years.  Apparently the sand made ground level a lot higher, and the soot build up is quite extreme.  Clearly visible in the patches that have not been restored.

Online photo. All our photo's turned out completely black..

Online photo. All our photo’s turned out completely black..

The layout is similar to most other temples and they claim that the blueprints were discovered on a papyrus scroll from when the Neterw (gods) ruled Egypt.  There is one room on the roof consisting a circular zodiac with Cancer in the centre.  With the procession of the equinox mapped out this would date that period to around 8-10,000 BC.  Earlier than most reputable “Egyptologists” credit the start of Egyptian civilisation.  However the conspiracy theorists love it.  The thing I love about this is not the theories behind it, as interesting as they are, but the fact that Egypt sold it to the Louvre, and put in a plaster model.  Completely black replicating the soot!  To add lemon juice to the wound, when we were at the Louvre, it was not even on display! Needles to say that the most important thing in the temple is fake, and if you were going to fake it, make it look good.

The dry Sacred Lake

The dry Sacred Lake

The outside is as heavily decorated as the inside, and in much better condition, as a lot of it is still intact.  Inside most of the figures have been systematically chiselled out.  Quite nicely in fact.  This is credited to the Christians, as there is a ruined church nearby, however if I wanted to destroy a pagan religion I would go at it with a sledgehammer and deface as much as I could.  Text included.  This is mostly fine work that has had great care and attention paid to it.

Around one side is the sacrificial lake, mentioned by Heroditus, but now just a dry dust bowl used for date palms.  A few circular holes where wells apparently were and more ruins of other buildings adjoining the temple complex.  Quite a site to see.

Some of the best colours are underground here

Some of the best colours are underground here

Back in the temple we could get down into some of the underground chambers.  These were closed unless you paid Baksheesh, but when we were down there, some other tourists tipped the guy 10 euro to go in, so we didn’t feel guilty seeing what should be included in the ticket price.  Here everything is still in perfect detail.  Including some of the colour.  It is an unmissable part of the complex.  Due to the time it had taken to get out here, we were a bit rushed by the end, as closing time was 5pm and at 4:30 they started trying to get us out of there.  Still it was a good visit.  This was the first temple where we were allowed 1) Upstairs, 2) Underground, and 3) to take photos with flash!  Of course, my camera battery went flat half way through….

But some of the artwork is pretty crude

But some of the artwork is pretty crude

Back out on the road, we found a taxi/pick up (I really don’t know what to call them.  Oversized tuktuk or tray back taxi) to take us back to Qena.  In town they dropped us off, and we started walking to towards where we thought the train station was.  After a while, thinking we were hopelessly lost, we asked a man for directions, and unfortunately for us, he did not speak any English.  We did think that we got the message through, and crossed the road to try and get a taxi.  Another gentleman called out to us.  We were going to ignore him, with the whole Yasser experience still fresh in our minds, but went over to see what he wanted.  He wanted to help us!

The darkest, holiest room for the priests and the pharaoh only.

The darkest, holiest room for the priests and the pharaoh only.

On saying we were trying to get back to Luxor, with sunset fast approaching, he got our unspecified point.  Saying he would help an to follow him, we again crossed the road.  Thinking that he would flag down a car or bus and make sure we would get to the station, we were surprised when we ended up at his car!  This man wanted to give us a lift.  Who were we to deny Egyptian hospitality?  Back down the path we had walked to get there, and past where we had been dropped by the tray back taxi, and on in the opposite direction.  He took us all the way to the bus station.  Whoever you are, 1000 Blessings be upon you!  We have met at least one good and true person in every city we have been in, and you were it for Qena (The Bible story of Lot not being able to find a good person?  He didn’t try hard enough!).  This was perfect, and as we were leaving the city, we got to see the blood red sun setting behind the fields.  This leads to the next point.  We have never really driven at night in Egypt.  It seems as if most people’s normal lights do not work.  The colourful LED’s flash on and off with no problems, lines of them flickering from side to side on a car.  But the typical low beam on every car is broken.  There are only two settings.  Off, or High.  Most of the time the driver flicks between the two.  It made an interesting trip for us, being unused to it as we are.  On the trip we discussed how amusing it is for us to have culture shock in Egypt.  Jordan?  No worries.  Morocco?  Makanoushki!  Egypt?  WTF?!  We thought it would be the opposite, still.  She’ll be right.  (We are still doing the blog, so we survived the two lane road turned into five in the dark.)

AA

09 March 2013

Ay
Valley of Kings
Walk to Deir El Medina
Ex-Pats part II

OK, we will try to keep this quick.  It is the valley of the Kings.  There is so much written about this that there is not much point in recreating it here.  Plus I will get in trouble for getting it wrong!

On going past the first gauntlet of Carriages and Feluccas to get to the ferry, we made it to the other side.  Here we managed to organise a cab to take us out to the tomb of Ay then drop us at the Valley of the Kings.  Negotiating 25LE for the trip.  We were happy with this, and off we set.  Unfortunately we had to buy tickets to the tomb of Ay at the valley.  Here there is a large gauntlet of shops and salesmen before you can get to the ticket office, and then you have to return through them to get back to the taxi.

Considering there is a gate next to the office, you can avoid the torture of having to say no 100 times to each of the hundred people trying to sell you something.  If only it wasn’t locked…  Still making it through in one piece, we set on up the western valley to Ay’s tomb.

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How the Valley of the Kings used to be – Quiet.

Although only a small drive, it is quite picturesque.  High canyon walls, quiet and deserted.  Arriving at the tomb, our driver wanted us to pay.  Having had experiences in Egypt and elsewhere, we knew not to do this, as more than likely he would disappear while we were underground.  Saying we would pay him back at the valley, he started to kick up a stink about it.  Then saying that we had only told him we were going to Ay, and not back to the temple.  Pulling him up on this, we said he could stick to the agreement, or leave now without any money.  This annoyed him even more (even though I kept my temper!) and he started calling Mohammed and Allah to reign fire and pestilence down upon us and all sorts of other curses.  If he was this unhappy about it, why agree to bring us in the first place?

Is Ay Inside?

Is Ay Inside?

Still we got it resolved, and walked up to the tomb.  We had to wait outside for a little while, as there was a tour group in there, but this was no problem for us, as we could enjoy the landscape of sand slides, stone and towering cliffs.  The silence was something to be savoured as well.

So, the tomb of Ay.  He reigned after Tutankhamun, and could have been the father of Nefertiti, or just a Vizier, either way he got himself into power.  After abandoning his tomb in Armana he took over Tut’s tomb.  Apparently it was the same craftsmen that built both tombs, so we wouldn’t need to bother with Tut’s, Even though it is a royal tomb, there is a lot of depictions that have more in common with the Noble’s tombs rather than the other Pharoahs  IE Hunting and fishing reliefs.  It is a good tomb to visit, and if you have the time and energy in the hot sun, the walk would be more than worth it.
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Coming back out, we were half surprised to see the taxi still there waiting for us, and we made the quick drive back to the entrance of the *Ominous rumbling* VALLEY Of The KINGS!  *More rumbling*  Again we made our way past the souvenir sellers to get our tickets.  We had a line up of tombs that we wanted to visit.  None of them were open to the public.  None of or alternatives were open either.  It was Ramses, or Ramses.  With about 9 tombs open, and 7 of them one Ramses or another.  Still, there is a need to rotate the tombs, as there are no modern measures in place to preserve them that we could see.  Also the main one we wanted to see was Seti I, and it is closed for structural reasons.

Extract from one of the books of the duat.  Fascinating reading.  If you know how.

Extract from one of the books of the duat. Fascinating reading. If you know how.

One big change is that you now have to pay extra for King Tut’s tomb.  15 years ago (I know, that is a long time) it was included in your three tombs.  Almost understandable considering the traffic it gets.  Then Ramses VI is also extra.  But no point in bitching about this.  At least we get to see some of them.  Our only problem now was which 3?  The Archaeological book we have hardly mentions the ones that are open now, and we basically have pot luck.  So we head, unprepared as usual into the valley.

Outside it proudly states to leave your camera’s on the bus, but as our taxi was a patch of dust before the door closed, that was not possible.  At least they didn’t check at the metal detectors.  We went beep, and no-one looked up.  Still, it does mean that we have had to pilfer more photos from the internet for this blog.  And as it is written a long time after the visit, I am sure Stan is going to comment that we have the wrong photos!  (Please feel free to supply better ones, if anyone has any!)

DaVinci, Eat your heart out!

DaVinci, Eat your heart out!

The first tomb we visited was Ramses IX:  A large deep tomb, pillars and burial chamber.  There are stunning decorations with depictions and inscriptions from all the different funerary texts, and as this was mentioned in our book, we had great delight in trying to follow them.  This is not a simple task, even with diagrams!  Considering the tomb entrance has been open since antiquity, the colours and details are still well preserved, and to me, an indicator that a photo is not going to do any damage.  Even with flash.  The best argument we have heard against camera’s is that it slows up traffic with people posing for photos, and blocking others from enjoying the area.  To an extent I can understand this, but as we had the tomb to ourselves, what was the problem?  VK48postIXHowever we abided by the ludicrous rules and left our cameras in the bag.  We were not even allowed to take photos of the Valley.  Sorry, rambling a bit there, but we are very disappointed that we could not take any.  I think the real reason is that the Egyptian Authorities have worked out that tourists are not coming as much as they used to, and mistakenly put this down to other people taking photos and showing them around.  I show you my photos, so you don’t need to come to Egypt.  It is more likely to be the reverse, and I think they have missed the point.  It is the way tourists are treated, and the expense of the experience that is more likely to be driving them to other places.  Give me Petra, Angkor, Machu Pichu or Chiken Itza any day.  Sorry, ranting again!

Ra, Re and his other 97 names...

Ra, Re and his other 97 names…

Our next tomb was Ramses III (and I promise no ranting!)  This was a bit different, as it had decorated side chambers.  Apparently this corresponds with his funerary temple (Medinat Habu), with images of daily life.  The tomb itself is crooked, as it would have intersected another tomb.  While we were standing there, trying to let a tour group go past, but they were more interested in what we were looking at!  We call this the bug complex, as the first time we noticed it was years ago at Ayres Rock, when we were watching a wasp dig a hole.  All the people going past had to stop to see what we were looking at.  It flew away, but we tried an experiment later.  Going ooohhh and ahhh, pointing to an innocuous patch of sand when someone walked past. When they stopped, we left.  Coming back five minutes later there was a large group all trying to see what was in the sand.  While we were gaping at the ceiling and admiring the hermaphrodites, another group came past, but were so intent on reaching the end that they trouped passed us.  We made our way another few meters and they were already on their way back out.  I had to bite my tongue not to joke about hermaphroditic gods and fleet footed tourists.

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Finally we went to the tomb of Septah:  It was only discovered in 1905, and unfortunately the tomb itself was never completed.  We only picked it because it was not Ramses!  Again, we found out afterwards there were better ones open, but hay, it is also impressive.  I think most of them are, if you take the time to admire the work put into them.

A quiet place to sleep, just don't be scared of the dark...

A quiet place to sleep, just don’t be scared of the dark…

This is a very rough hewn tunnel and not as decorated as the others, but it also shows the amount of work that must go into creating a complex this, well, this complex.  We were asked to pay Baksheesh for this tomb, and when we refused, the guardian started sighing and moaning.  Taking as long as we usually did.  Trying to find a god with a frog.  Or was it a frog with a god?  It does take time.  He gave up waiting, and went back to the entrance.  A minute later the lights were cut on us.  It could have been a power outage, as there have been many of these in our time in Egypt, but was probably the guardian, trying to make us move on, so he could go back to his shack with tea and sheesha.  Today though, we had our torch, and although it was already quite handy in picking out the details in the dimly lit tombs (can’t use a flash, but torches are ok.  Sorry, Sorry) now we could use it if we needed to find our way back up and out.  It was not necessary however, as the lights were put back on a minute or so later.

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Our three tombs done, we decided to do the walk over the hill to Hatshepsuts temple.  There was no way we would get there before it closed, as it was already almost 5.  This was the right thing to do, as the view is stunning.  The steep scramble up the rocky slope revealed the path we should have taken, and as there are signs out saying you cannot do the walk any more, we were surprised to be able to make it to the top.

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Looking back on thousands of years

Looking back on thousands of years

From here, we could pull out the camera and take some overviews of the valley, opened up beneath us.  It is quite spectacular, and as we walked over the crest of the hill, the Nile valley presented itself as well.  Discounting the haze that is ubiquitous to Egypt, the view is stunning.  There is the desert, then a line of houses, and green fields all the way to a thin blue line of the river.  Luxor spread out before us, and the East Bank ranges behind, although somewhat dim.  Moving around, we were right above the temple, and looking down, you can just see the front of it, but mostly the car park.

Tweet, Tweet, Twiddly-eet

Tweet, Tweet, Twiddly-eet

There are other temples dotting the landscape, and signs of excavations.

As there was no point in going directly down, we decided to follow the range back towards the colossi.  This is a fun walk although the path is right next to a steep drop.  The walls of the cliff are breaking apart in places, and if you approach the edge, there is a good view straight down.  Birds taking advantage of the crags for their nests were the only sounds up here.  Bliss.

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In this way, we followed the path around the hillside and came down behind Deir Al-Medina, the work mens village.  Before we got there, we passed a building populated by police.  Thinking we could be in a spot of bother, as it was starting to get dark, we were happy to realise they were pleased to see us up here, enjoying the landscape.

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Near there, we stopped for some photos of sunset behind the Queens Valley, realising this is the closest we will get to it.  Then made our way down.  At some stage people had put the effort into steps on this side, but as they have not been swept, the desert is already starting to reclaim them.

Pyramid Power for the working class

Pyramid Power for the working class

On a small hillock, we got a good view of the work mens village.  It is a walled off town with tiny rooms and houses, although there is not much left other than walls a few feet high.  Or so it looked from up here.  Flanked by a small Ptolomaic temple.  Talking to a person working with the French archaeologists, they have uncovered more than 70 houses and tombs nearby with work still ongoing.  The people living here were the ones that worked on the Pharonic tombs and they created their own tombs nearby,apparently some of these are also very interesting and detailed.  At the base, we found a small tomb, and without going in (as the site was closed) we could see a pyramid sitting on top of it.  There was also another one further up the hill.

Looking down can be tricky

Looking down can be tricky

Day done, we made our way back to our favourite tea house on this side, for a quick cuppa, and a cool down, then hitched a lift back to the west bank.  By now it was almost 7pm, and we thought we would check out the Fayrouze to see if the Ex-Pat community were gathering for a game of trivial pursuit.  They were, but as we were early, we joined the eating table for dinner, then managed to miss the game altogether.  This was more than made up for by the conversation.  All in all it was a good fun night, and we made our way home exhausted but happy.

AA

07 March 2013

Aswan to Luxor

Today we are leaving Aswan, to head back to Luxor. First though we meet up with Ahmed again. This was handy, as we would use him to buy our tickets at the station.  This will be a first.  Hiding outside the station with our luggage, we sent him in.  It was a good idea, but not to be.  The 12.00 train is apparently full and the next one is not till 15.00 so we decide to take the bus instead.

Ahmed wanted to see us off and buy us breakfast. A nice offer, so we happily accepted. One cup of coffee turned in to two and one sandwich turned into two, and time flew. It has been great meeting such good people and taking the time to get to know them a bit and their views on life and Egypt.  Eventually by 12.00 we made it to the bus station. A mini bus was easy to find and we were waved off by our friend.  We felt a bit bad about taking so long, as he is helping prepare for his cousins wedding, and he has dedicated so much time to us in town, even though we enjoyed every second.
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The trip was fine. We crossed over to the west bank right outside of Aswan and took the west desert road. Not bad, and fast, but the views were pretty boring. We love desert landscapes, but this must be the most featureless desert ever! Flat ground in golden sand with bits of black and grey rocks. We got very excited when there were a few car tyres along the way!!  Basically all the features are man made.  Mostly consisting of little hillocks of sand, pushed up, we think, to mark off different peoples plots of land.  Occasionally they have tried to grow a line of palms or similar, but these are all dead.

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Ahmed gave us a call to make sure we left okay and if we could call him on arrival so he would not worry.. “Off course Daddy! Don’t worry.” He is younger then us, but very sweet.
In Esna, a town on the west bank, where it is lush and green again, we had a little stop and all the passengers left the bus. We were expecting the driver to pick up some new ones, but that did not happen. For the next bit he turned up  the music and was clapping and signing along while constantly smoking.  He was a happy man.  However for the next 50km or so, we were the only people in the mini bus, and a bit worried that Ahmed had chartered it for us all the way from Esna to Luxor.  When we finally picked up another passenger we were very relieved!

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The views got more interesting, going through some small villages and along the canals. On our left we now had great views of the east range as we made our way to Luxor. There were glimpses of the Nile, and fields aplenty.  It is amazing the difference from the desert to here.  Especially as it is a very clear clean line between the two.

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Back at Luxor we got dropped before the official bus station as our driver knew we wanted to get to down town and the station is further out. After ignoring all the calls for taxi’s a local guy talked us into going by his freight bike. (motor bike with a tray attached to the back) We planned on walking as the train station isn’t far, but for 2 LE we might as well. Unfortunately on arrival he wanted a lot more then this. The 5 LE we gave him, expecting chance, was not enough.. Well, 2 pounds is 2 pounds, so Anna popped into a nearby shop to spend some of it and have the exact money to pay. He was not happy and even brought Allah into his arguments as to why we should pay him more. Pretty sure Allah does not approve of him lying to us either..  Still, with this we knew we were back in Luxor.

Local life along the irrigation canals

Local life along the irrigation canals

We have loved our time in Aswan and Abu Simbel (well, mostly) and are determined to keep our new positive attitude for the next bit of Egypt, so let this incident slide off.
Not sure if we wanted to go back to the hotel we stayed before, we checked out a new one. Not too bad and cheaper, but on coming out to discuss our options, we ran into the owner of the first hotel. He did not give us much of a choice, but to follow him again to his place. This was good though and he even dropped his price to match the cheap hotel!
After check in, we had another power outage. This time quite a big one, as from the roof we could only see a few mosques lit up on the other side of town. We took our torch for a walk in the dark and half way through the lights came back on. A quick dinner and an early night.

AA

06 March 2013

Up before the sun
Freezing with the Japanese
Ramses II
Nefertari
The return

Up before the sun!

Up before the sun!

Up freakishly early today.  We wanted to see the sunrise at Abu Simbel.  It is supposed to be the thing to see.  Sleeping lightly, we awoke with the early birds.  However their internal clocks are a bit messed up by all the lights in the hotel, and we were a good couple of hours early!  Still, we have time to make the most of it.  A gentle stroll towards the temple, and it was time for morning prayers.  Here it is a subdued thing.  Almost as if the Imams are saying across a quiet loudspeaker that it is time to get up, but if you don’t want to, we understand.  There were some people moving around already, and a few coffee shops were open.  Probably to supply the workers at the temple a much needed shot of caffeine before work.  As we approached the last section to the temple complex, a lot of tourist buses came past.  This was a bit surprising, as there did not seem to be that many tourists in town yesterday.  On arrival, the gauntlet of tourist shops on the way in were all still closed, so that was a blessing.

Looking forward to the famous sight.

Looking forward to the famous sight.

Getting our tickets we wondered why the price marked on there is 80LE, but cost us 95.  Apparently a guide is compulsory, but at 5.30am there were none to be seen.  We were told we could get one at 8!  This is pointless, as most of the guides we have had or overheard only point out the blindingly obvious.  This is the temple of so and so, this is a chariot, look at the crocodile here.  Completely ignoring most of the history of the temple, and if you ask what a room was for, it is always storage.  Apparently the holiest of holies was used for storing those bits and pieces that couldn’t fit anywhere else…  A gross exaggeration, but it feels as if the guides have no idea, and not very interested anyway.

Ramses.. who else?

Ramses.. who else?

Making our way around the fake concrete hill that the temple now resides in, we got our first glimpse of the massive statues Abu Simbel is famous for.  These are big!!  Very big.  One would go as far as saying beyond colossal.  They are that big.  Even in the pre dawn light they are impressive.  Standing there, staring out over Lake Nasser waiting for the sunrise.  Ignoring the throngs of people milling around its base.  All these people were Japanese, and apparently flew in for the sound & Light show last night, dawn this morning and then flying back before lunch.  All rugged up in thick coats.  We envied them, as it was cold.  Finding a place out of the wind was impossible, but at the moment it was not too bad.  So with teeth chattering and knees knocking, we waited for the sun to rise in an hour and a half’s time.  The pre-dawn light turned into a glow, and the dark statues became more visible.  Finally there was a slither of light appearing over the horizon.  All the Japanese people started applauding as if some ancient Egyptian priest had come back from the dead to create this monumental event.  Quietly putting the scarab back in his box before anyone could see it.  It was a nice sunrise though.  S75postcoloursNow the colours of the rock were starting to change, deep red through to orange and then back to its base colour.  As there is no mountain between it and the sun, there is no distinct line of light traversing the statues from top to bottom (as with the treasury of Petra) but as you can see the changes are vivid.

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Mission accomplished, we headed over to Nefertari’s temple, to let the others into the main temple, as we would be able to enjoy it later.

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Nefertari’s temple also has large statues outside, but as it was built by Ramses, most of them are him.  However he consented to having two statues of her flanking the doorways.  Stepping inside was fantastic.

Inside Nefertari's temple

Inside Nefertari’s temple

I could go on about how well preserved it is, or how seamlessly moved, the press of thousands of years on your shoulders, or even the brilliant carvings, but no, what was fantastic was the warmth!  Every part of me was frozen solid by now, and the regulated temperature of an underground chamber helped thaw my blood.  After a few minutes we were able to appreciate the above.  The temple is good, intact and in its own way impressive in its simplicity.  Hathor pillars and carvings depicting Ramses’s accomplishments.  On one wall there is the great megalomaniac himself slaughtering his enemies, with her standing behind watching approvingly (our “guide” later said it was her telling him to stop, showing caring compassion to her enemies).  After taking our time here we headed out and into the main temple.
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The Japanese had left, and the tour buses not yet arrived, so we had it mostly to ourselves.  The people here are picky about the no photos rule.  In Nefertari’s temple they just watched us.

Inside more statues of the big man

Inside more statues of the big man

Here we had to put the camera away entirely.  However it did not stop them from smoking or using flash lights.  So we pulled out our own flash light to look at the fine details.  This was then duly inspected to make sure it did not contain a hidden camera by one of the chain smoking guards.  Not in a polite way either.  This was needless and demeaning behaviour, and the guy was not friendly at all.  Almost as if we were criminals and he just had to catch us.  It was not a pleasant feeling. Later there were Egyptians here, and he had no problem with them taking photo’s with their phones!

The second room is a bit more subdued

The second room is a bit more subdued

Still we got to wander around the large complex for a while by ourselves (and the guy constantly popping his head around corners in the hopes of catching us taking sneaky photos).  The entrance chamber pillars are flanked with more statues to his mightiness, and again the battle of Garesh with him slaughtering his hapless captives.  The statues at the end of the temple have been badly defaced, apparently because they were covered with gold, and it was the easiest way to get it off.  Personally I do not believe this, but it s a good story.

No longer golden

No longer golden, if they ever were..

Then we started exploring the side storage chambers.  These are all still intact, but the work is cruder than most places we have seen.  It is good to see it due to the scenes depicted and the lack of destruction, but not for the quality of work.  A fair bit could have been done by a talented four year old.  However if you want to become a master craftsman, you have to start somewhere.  Ramses is also known for his quantity of buildings, rather than his quality.
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By now the tourist buses from Aswan had arrived, so we went back out to soak up the atmosphere, and watch the tourists run hectically from place to place so they can see it all before piling back on the bus to return after an hour.

The wives of Ramses get some small statues

The wives of Ramses get some small statues

Glad we did not do that ourselves.  The other thing that is worth mentioning is the torch.  TAKE ONE!  The lighting in the complex is all lit from the bottom, and while it provides a nice atmospheric lighting, it does nothing to show up the details.  The carvings are intricate if rough in places, and the painting that remains can be stunning in sections.  How the dresses looked, the necklaces and anklets, even the headdresses.  You cannot see any of this without a torch.

The satues are all impressive, but the carving and painting not so much

The satues are all impressive, but the carving and painting not so much

We had had enough by now.  We were going to stick around until the convoy left, but did not see the point in waiting.  Heading back out, we looked for a guide, but could not find one until we exited the complex.  We had paid for one whether we wanted to or not, so we were going to use him.  Finding one, we were taken into the small room off the ticket office where they have all the details and images of moving the temple two hundred metres whilst battling with the rising waters of lake Nasser.

The back : The temple is now built into a fake hill.

The back : The temple is now built into a fake hill.

Here the only real information we got from the guide was that there was an earthquake in around 27BC that caused one of the statues to collapse.  The statues at the back being covered with gold (as mentioned above) and Nefertari being compassionate while her husband executed his enemies.  Big deal.  He went on at length about moving the temple, but the things in the room were more explicit and better represented.  One issue we had here, was how it was all through Egyptian expertise and how good they were.  Looking at the foremen in the photos, it may have been the Egyptians doing the grunt work, but it was Europeans telling them how to do it.  Seeing modern constructions in Egypt, I am glad this was the case.  It never once mentioned UNESCO (I Know, I Know.  UNESCO – we love to hate them, but they do do good work.) or the Hundreds of Millions of dollars given by America and Europe to pay for this.  Egypt itself would have been happy to see it submerged for the next thousand years.  Admittedly, it is before they realised how much money they could make from tourism.
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We wandered back to the bus station, lamenting that Abu Simbel town is such a nice place that we could easily have stayed in for a week, if there was more affordable accommodation and waited for a mini bus.  The French connection showed up, happy with the time they had spent there as well.  They were not present for sunrise, but they did get to see it deserted after the convoy left.  It was easier to get the bus back than out, but took a lot longer to fill.  Still, we were right.  The trip back was the same monotonous route, so we tried to get some sleep.  This was probably a bad idea, as we were sore and stiff on arriving at the halfway mark, let alone when we got all the way back to Aswan!  Still, we accomplished what we had wanted, and Abu Simbel town is great, the temples are worth doing if you have the time, especially if you do not have to do it on a day trip, and we had met very good people there.

AA