August 10, 2009, Egypt
3:00am wakeup call.
3:30am bus pickup.
3:45am arrive at military ckeckpoint to stand on the street and wait for a half hour.
6:30 am arrive at Abu Simbel
As such began our second day in Aswan. We went see the Temples of Abu Simbal, about 40 km north of the Sudanese border. Tourist movemnent in the south of Egypt has been tightly controlled since the Islamist insurgency of the mid 90’s launched a series of attacks against foreigners. Though there has been no violence since the 1997 attack on the Temple of Matshepsut, travel is still restricted. Most tourists visit on packaged tours, but the restrictions can be a headache for the independent traveler.
No more than 4 foreigners are permitted on local transit, and all tourist buses, minibuses, and taxis are required to travel in heavily armed, police escorted convoys. Though I didn’t exactly enjoy the presence of the ubiquitous young-sexually frusterated-AK47 armed-cop, it sounds much scarier and more dangerous than it actually is.
Unfortunately there is only one daily convoy to Abu Simbel, as is the case with many destinations in the south of Egypt. More unfortunately, said convoy leaves at the ungodly hour of 3:30am, and requires visiting the site along with hundreds of other tourists on dozens of buses for a prescribed amount of time -exactly what we wanted to avoid by traveling independently. (Though there are ways around this, for example managing to be one of the four foreigners on the local bus, it requires more time than our schedule permitted, not to mention a great deal of patience.)
The Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor (collectively known as the temples of Abu Simbel) proved well worth the hassle.
The 4 enormous statues of the warrior pharaoh Ramses II stoically gazed at the Nile for 3200 years until the mid 20th century.
The building of the Aswan Dam and the creation of Lake Nasser, the world’s largest man-made lake, necessitated the relocation and restoration of the temple, overseen by UNESCO.
The preservation of the colors, reliefs, and artwork inside was astounding (photography was prohibited). On the way back to Aswan we visited the island ruin of the Temple of Isis.
Isis was the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility. She eventually came to be worshipped throughout the Greco-Roman world. The temple undoubtedly exuded an aura of femininity, unique in comparison to the many other sites we’ve visited. Though it was not as well preserved or restored as the Temples of Abu Simbel, the setting was spectacular. And the novelty of taking a small ferry to get there adds to its mystique. Visiting so many ancient sites, each one is more impressive than the last. But if I had to make a decision I think I would call the Temple of Isis my favorite.