Monday, October 23, 2006

Middle East Travelogue #12
Dear Family & Friends,
Today we are feeling better and I am determined to
catch up on the travel tales. Thanks everybody who
responded to our last few travelogues. It is always
great to hear from you and get news from home and hear
what is happening in your lives too.
We were still in Aswan when I quit writing
yesterday. This is the place where the optional trip
to Abu Simbel takes place; this is the one I mentioned
in a previous travelogue. Ramses II, one of the
longest reigning Pharohs in Egypt (67 years) built a
huge temple to himself, with 4 immense statues of
himself seated outside. I think these are about 100
feet tall. Also nearby there is a similar temple
dedicated to his favorite wife. Nefertari, but there
are only 2 statutes of her, and three more of himself
there! What an ego!! These 2 temples, and all these
statues were moved about 100 meters over and 65 meters
higher on the banks of Lake Nasser so that they would
be above the rising waters of the reservoir. The most
amazing part is that this was done over a 4 year
period, which tells you right off that it was done by
foreigners. Because the way the Egyptians all sit
around doing nothing, I don't think they could move a
one bedroom apartment across the street in 4 years
without help. Anyway, in order to create the same
kind of cliff arrangement in the new spot, there was a
huge dome built above the Ramses temple which was a
major engineering feat and the second largest dome in
the world. Can't see it though - it is covered with
rock and dirt to simulate a cliff. To get to this
site, we had to get up in the middle of the night and
catch another convoy. Luckily, it was a trip done in
a nice big comfortable bus. Driving through the
desert reminded us of crossing the Atacama Desert in
northern Chile where there has never been any rain
recorded and there is absolutely no vegetation. Same
I forgot to mention earlier that one of the first
places we went was to the Temple of Isis in Philae.
This is another temple that was moved but it has been
placed on an island between the old and new dams, so
it is near Aswan but you still have to get there in a
The last thing we did in Aswan was go to the night
bazaar to try to buy some nice blouses for our
upcoming cruise back to the USA. The market has nice
displays and great looking merchandise but it was
difficult to take advantage of it because of the
hawkers. The salemen are so aggressive and persistent
that within a short time, they drive you away. We
managed to hang in there long enough to buy 2 tops and
a scarf and then gave up. There are malls here in
Aexandria so maybe we will try those instead. Ir
isn't just in Aswan that this harrassment of
Westerners occurs, it is everywhere. In fact, just
walking down the street, taxis honk at us and also
pull over hoping we will hire them. The sad part
about this is that when real people who are not trying
to sell us anything approach us, we are so wary that
we are usually rude. Many people on the streets
welcome us and try to speak English to us. It is
From Aswan we sailed back to Luxor. In both
locations we became aware that there was lots of
garbage being dumped right into the Nile, as it was
floating right by us. We watched guys from the
Movenpick boat throw stuff right into the river and
this is one of the most expensive Swiss hotel chains!

In Luxor, we took a ferry across to the west bank
of the Nile, because this is where all the tombs are.
Then we were mounted on donkeys and we rode about 4
miles to the Valley of the Kings. What a bouncy
experience, but fun, especially on the ride back a few
hours later when we rode through some small villages.
In the Valley of the Kings, we visited 3 tombs which
were covered with very colorful frescoes and very
different than any of the temples we had seen. Then
we hiked up the cliff to the top and across the ridge
and down to the remains of a village where the tomb
builder workers had lived. From the top of the cliffs
we had a great view over the Nile Valley and we could
clearly see where the desert was and where they had
been irrigating. But the air was very polluted here
too, even though there aren't millions of cars like in
Cairo, so it must be from crop burning and cooking
The last day in Luxor we went on another convoy
and visited the temples in Abydos and Dendarra. By
this time we were definitely getting templed out but
amazingly, there is always something different to see
in each one. The best part was driving through the
villages on the way and watching the people. There
were many sugar cane fields, people working outside,
many mud huts where poor people live, and of course
lots of donkeys, sheep, goats and some camels. They
load these up with sugar cane stalks so they look like
huge stacks walking along the road. Women walk along
the road carrying everything on their heads including
huge heads of cabbages. In every town there are
police check points and there are little boxes built
on poles where they sit with a machine gun and watch
the traffic go by. We have heard that they receive
very poor pay; probably between $80-100 per month, and
if there is a problem they should respond to, they
don't bother. In Hurghada an offensive German tourist
was being beat up by 2 Egyptians with a tourist
policeman across the street watching.
From Luxor, we had another convoy to Hurghada
which is right on the Red Sea coast. On the outskirts
of town there were hundreds, perhaps even thousands of
unfinished buildings. This area is being massively
overbuilt and it is causing degradation of the off
shore coral reefs. Our group took a boat out for
snorkeling on a very windy day, which made it
difficult. The corals and fish were not nearly as
good as they had been in Dahab, over on the Sinai
Peninsula. We ate dinner one night at Papas II which
is owned by Richard, an English guy. He gave us a lot
of information about the area. We also met a
delightful Dutch couple who has an apartment there for
diving and they spent hours with us talking about
Egypt, politics and the problems of the Red Sea.
As i mentioned in one of my last travelogues, we
had another middle-of-the-night convoy to Cairo. Here
we had our group farewell dinner and then people took
off for new adventures or home. Overall it was a good
tour which could have been greatly enhanced by a
better tour leader.
Today is the last day of Ramadan. This probably
means huge celebrations tonight. At least tomorrow
there will be restaurants open during the day and we
can get a feel for what Egypt is like during the 11
months of the year when there is no Ramadan, and
people aren't fasting all day.
Friday we fly from Cairo to Venice, where we will
join Lee & Susie Blattner in a hotel there. Sunday we
all board the cruise ship for our 18 day trip back to
Galveston. After a month here in Egypt, it will be
good to return to a western nation!
Sending big hugs to those of you who have traveled
this far with us!
Love, Mary & Elaine

1 comment:

CaliforniaGrammy said...

More great adventures - amazing all the things you've done this last month, eh? Hope you were able to find something nice to wear on the cruise home . . . the "disposables" are probably ready to leave behind! Look forward to giving you big hugs and smiles on your return.