Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 46: Abu Simbel

Another 5:00am wake-up call started off the day.  After a quick breakfast we boarded the bus for a ride over to the Aswan airport.  Our total group is about 100 people (3 buses) but due to the limits on plane tickets we had to split in half for today (an early and and a late group).  We were lucky to be in the early group as I can't imagine walking around in the afternoon heat.  The flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel was only 40 minutes and is a very routine route.  If you don't fly the only other way to get to Abu Simbel is a 4 hour bus ride through a pretty harsh desert with convoy of 30 other buses (not fun).  The flight itself offered some really interesting views of Egypt.  We were at a fairly low altitude so you could clearly see the expansive desert and enormity of Lake Nasser.  It's really quite a sight to see the hundreds of miles of miles of uninhabited desert.  The small airport in Abu Simbel is geared completely toward tourists and upon arrival we hopped on a shuttle to the actual temple.

The temples dedicated to Ramses II and his (favorite) wife Nefertari are considered to be one of the most famed sights in Egypt.  I now understand why.  The enormous exterior sculptures and intricately beautiful interior carvings are simply awesome.  The condition of everything is surprising very good.  It's a lot of fun to hear about many of the stories behind the images inside the temples from our guide and then actually see and understand them.  One of the coolest things about the tempe is its construction to allow sunlight into specific faces in back chamber only on two certain days a year.  This was determined by the ancient Egyptians through the application of astronomy to the construction.  Like the Temple of Philae yesterday, the temples at Abu Simbel were actually moved and reconstructed to avoid damage of the rising Lake Nasser.  The reconstruction was completed in only four years and you cannot tell at all (we spent a good amount of time looking for where the "blocks" meet and didn't come up with much).  We only had a couple of hours to explore the temples and enjoy the surrounding views before our return flight to Aswan.  On paper, dealing with flights and whatnot just for a short visit to a temple doesn't seem that logical, but it was absolutely worth it and probably one of my Egypt highlights.  The return flight saw a bit of turbulence and on arrival to Aswan we returned to our island hotel for lunch and a bit of afternoon rest.

In the evening we met up again for an optional excursion to spend the evening in an actual Nubian home.  We departed by motor boat from the hotel and the half hour ride was worth making the trip itself.  We passed through some really beautiful areas of the Nile and saw a good deal of local wildlife and culture.  It's so cool to glance up at a sandy mountain and see a lone camel resting near a tree.  The further we got, we saw more Nubian people and many kids paddled in their makeshift boats right up to ours.  Many Nubians will open their home to tourists during the day to make some extra money.  Although it's a bit touristy, there was still a very authentic feel to the experience.  In the words of Global Studies' Dr. Bowler, we were essentially "injected" into their culture for a bit.  We explored the very interesting house (hard to describe, you'll need to see pics), got the opportunity to hold crocodiles (my mom was all for it but my dad had a few reservations), and interact with the locals a bit (mostly avoidance from overpriced souvenirs).  Overall it was a really great experience.  After taking a boat back to the hotel we got some dinner before officially calling an end to a busy day.  This trip has just flown by; I can't believe that after our flight and visit to Cairo tomorrow I'll already have to be back on the ship.

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