Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel, Egypt –

We had to wake up at 3:45 this morning to make the 4:00 departure time down to the temple. We drove what seemed like forever through the desert, and I can honestly say there is absolutely nothing between Aswan and the temple. When you think of the remotest, most desolate wasteland, desert-type environment with nothing for miles around, that’s what this drive was like. Made it to Abu Simbel by 7:30 a.m. (to miss the oppressive heat of the day) and began our walk around the monument. This thing is massive, plus it was carved into the side of a mountain about 210 meters away from where it sits today. They built a dam and flooded the valley below the plateau we were standing on so they had to cut the thing out of the side of the cliff where it originally stood and move it to higher ground so it wouldn’t be damaged. The thing is the size of a small office building and was built in honor of Ramses II. There are four statues across the front of the temple, each representing one stage of Ramses’ life: the very young pharaoh on the left to the very old pharaoh on the right. Had a walk through the main monument and the smaller one dedicated to his wife then climbed back in the minivan for the return trip. The drive back was hell – Rich, Sarah and I got the shitty wooden plank seat that moved, and it took forever because I think the driver was low on petrol so he was driving 30 mph through the desert all the way home. It was getting hotter and hotter as we cruised through the desert, making the minivan that much more uncomfortable.

Once we’d returned to Aswan we all took naps and vegged out for a while. Later that evening I was walking down the hall of our hotel when I met this Egyptian man who asked me if my native language was English. He explained he was a teacher of English Literature and that he was in the process of trying to get a job in London. Someone had sent him copies of London’s Guardian newspaper with ads for teachers and he didn’t quite understand the layout of the ads, as who he should send his c.v. to. I looked over the paper with him explaining the ads and which address he should write to, a very easy task for me, but apparently very difficult for him. The man was really very thankful, then said he was a native of Aswan and asked if there was anything he could do for me. I told him we were interested in hiring a felucca to sail to the city of Idfu, two days’ journey up the Nile, and asked him where we could find a good captain (rather than having to deal with the sheister dudes out on the street). He said for us to go to the cafeteria at the Continental Hotel down on the waterfront – that’s where the good sailors hang out.

That evening after dinner Rich, Sarah, and I went over to this Continental Hotel, which turned out to be this really run-down locals place with minimal lighting and a few folk out front who looked like they were roughian sailors. We were a little bit unsure about going in, but we’d gotten our information from a pretty honest local. We went inside and made our way through the men huddled around their hookahs smoking their sheesha tobacco until this Egyptian who spoke quite good English came up to us. When we were in Cairo we’d heard about a man named Captain Mohammed who has a gold or silver tooth, so we asked the man that had approached us if he knew of Capt. M. The man led us into an adjoining room, away from the throngs of sheesha smoking sailors and sat us down at a table with him. We said we wanted a good captain to sail us up the river to Idfu, and his response was that Capt. Mohammed was gone but he knew of another good sailor. At that another, younger Egyptian, maybe 24 or 25, came and sat at our table as the man at the table told us this young guy was the captain of a different boat. We asked questions about the trip, price, food, sleeping conditions, if he’d ever sailed the Nile before, and finally asked to see the boat. The captain we’d been introduced to said he’d take us to go and inspect the boat. He was a young man, and quiet which was nice, for we’d heard horror stories about people hiring captains who absolutely would not be quiet for the two days’ trip up the river. He took us to his boat and told us he’d cook, buy the food and sail us to Idfu for two days and two nights. The other travellers we’d met in the train station earlier that day found us on the river quay and accompanied us to inspect the boat – we had invited them to go up the river with us, making it cheaper for everyone. Had a look at the boat then after chatting to Edward (British), Simon and (Aussies), the guys we’d be sailing with, we decided to leave early, the next morning.

Sarah and I talked to the captain some more and finally found out the guy’s name – Adel. We gave him half the money to go food shopping, then the whole lot of us went to the Nile police to register and tell them we were embarking on a trip and to register. That way if the boat sinks at least the Egyptians know who died. Once all this was done Rich took the other three guys back to the hotel while Sarah and I stayed behind with Adel. You see, he had mentioned earlier he might be able to organize some smoking materials for the journey, so he invited the two of us to tea to sort it out. He took us to a locals tea house where we had our over sweetened black tea and a few rounds of sheesha with him. Over tea Sarah and I talked to Adel and learned he was 25 years old and has an 18 year old wife in a village near Idfu (our final destination) and that he only sees her two days a week. We were both pretty surprised at that, but we knew that we were learning first hand about the local Egyptian culture. We gave him some money and he told us not to worry, so we left to go pack for our departure the next morning at 8:00 a.m.

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