Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Greetings from Aswan, about 4 hours south of Luxor by train. We just completed our cruise down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan (four days, five nights on a tour boat, with stops off at several major temples along the way, Luxor, Karnak, Philae, and Edfu. Of course, being on the water meant being without internet for 5 days! That was a sacrifice!

Our cabin literally had one window wall dedicated to viewing the Nile, which was quite picturesque with many faluccas (one- and two-sail boats used on the Nile for thousands of years). It wasn't as picturesque when we were moored at night about 5 inches away from another tour boat; however, we had some wonderful meals (those buffets you dream about, only here you have to imagine standing in line with several hundred German, French and Japanese tourists for the desert of your dreams).

It seems as we sailed down the Nile, that we moved from the older parts of Egypt, the Old Kingdom, to the more recent, the Middle and New Kingdom, ending here at Aswan for a rest of several days. The temples we've visited have been increasingly to reinforce the might of the Pharaoh and to remind the people of his military might. Also at Luxor, we saw the famous obelisk of Queen Hatsepshut who did the unpardonable offense of passing herself off as Pharaoh. She successfully ruled Egypt for 20 years, but her images were defaced off any temples to remove her from history. Even an obelisk (about 30 feet high) was hidden behind a wall of stone surrounding it for many generations so her name and works would be lost. Quite interesting to read all this history and realize that what we considered to be a very stable time was actually much intrigue and violence behind the scenes with lots of nice bloody wars in between to protect Pharaoh's empire.

I wish you could walk through these temples as we have, to watch the changing colors on the beautiful stone columns. My favorite goddess so far is Hathor, the Cow Goddess, typically shown as a woman with cow ears. Yesterday, we were in Abu Simbel at the famous colossal temple to Ramses II to find a slightly smaller temple to Hathor with the entrance lined with Hathor columns (lots of cow girls)!

I have a new respect for Egyptian drivers. To go to Abu Simbel, we joined a police approved convoy (the only way to get there). Despite there being no "troubles" for seven years, the first step in the convoy was having our vehicle checked by a bomb detector. That's about as close as I want to get. Then about 20 vehicles (minivans and tour busses -- we were in a minivan) headed out at a bout 65 miles an hour, practically bumper to bumper. After a two hour ride (imagine no springs in our minivan), we arrived at Abu Simbel to spend the next two hours walking around the temples.

The entire front of the Temple to Ramses II was about 60 feet high with 4 major statues all of himself, surrounded by little statues (4-5 feet) of wives and mothers. The entry featured Ramses smiting his enemies mightily, with the inner sanctum dedicated to offerings to the key gods and goddesses (remember Hourus and Hathor). This entire temple was at one time threatened by the waters of Aswan Dam, so the Egyptian government with the help of UNESCO moved it, piece by hundred-ton piece. A formidable undertaking. And they put it all back together again. Because this is a little out of the way, the sculptures and bas reliefs have not been defaced as much, and some of the original colors remain. Imagine walking through the offering rooms and then to the inner sanctum. Four statues are inside the most inner room, and twice a year, the sun comes right through the entire temple to illuminate 3 of these statues -- the dates are Feb 22 and Oct 22, the dates of Ramses II birthday and his ascension. And even with the big move, these still hold true.

So I did get sick a littleyesterday, but spent most of the day quietly, lulled to sleep by the mixed call to prayer from our local mosque, Egyptian music (kind of Indian bollywood music), the sound of conversations in Arabic, and the tooting of car horns as pedestrians make their way in and out of traffic. Because Aswan (and Luxor too) are smaller towns, there's considerably less congestion. I think we both feel a little more at home here.

We are pretty close to the Sudan here and have seen the "sea of sand" (the desert on the way to Abu Simbel). Today we spent several hours at the Nubian Museum, noting the influence of Africa on Egypt (and vice versa). Most interesting are these neat Nubian houses, so colorfully painted, and here is where all those beaded bracelets began (the ones that Rachel used to knot during middle school). Thoughts of home are constant, but each day is a new adventure. Tomorrow we hit the train again to return to Luxor for another 3 days (this time our hotel will have a Nile view). Other than missing home, family, friends, and the library, all is well.

No comments: