Day 4-Abu Simbel & Aswan
5 o’clock am came fast! Abdul & Mustafa pick us up, Longchamps provides us with a box breakfast and we are off to the airport. The transfer was, as always, seamless and we get through the check-in with no problems…we think we have 2 hours until the plane leaves (why did we have to be here so early?) We settle in with our boxed breakfast and coffee and listen to the over head calls for departing flights. I am leisurely getting organized and sipping my coffee like we have all the time in the world when I realize-oh my gosh…I’ve been looking at the tickets for the departure flight from Aswan to to Abu Simbel! The last over head message that said “LAST CALL FOR FLIGHT &*% ….LAST CALL” was to us! Holy crap….forget the breakfast grab our stuff and RUN..I hate when this happens..unfortunately-it’s not the first time we are running through the airport like crazy people! Luckily-it wasn’t only us so we just narrowly caught our flight! That’s what happens when you start to get spoiled by someone else doing everything for you! The flight to Aswan was easy and quick, then we transferred directly to the short flight to Abu Simbel. At Abu Simbel we were met by a Memphis Tours rep & driver and ushered into a waiting car for the very short ride to the site. This was another one of those rock star moments. There was a huge bus load of tourists being directed to the tour bus by the same rep-as they filed onto the full bus, there were 20 pairs of eyes on us as we strutted to our private car…but the best part is-when we arrived at the site, we were 15 minutes ahead of them. By the time they got there and then got their history lesson outside of the fenced area-we had Abu Simbel to ourselves for nearly a half hour! The feeling of meandering through that magnificent site, with not a nary of anything around except the sound of the Lake lapping at the shore and the wind blowing through the monuments…it was other-worldly. We felt like we had been transported back in time. Abu Simbel is amazing. What a testament to love. As I was walking through Nefertari’s Temple, just awe struck by its beauty I pondered the nature of past love and the unbelievable feat of moving this entire site to its new home by the Lake, I had to pause and give thanks to god that he provided humans with what it took to allow me this visit.
No matter how difficult it is to work this side trip into your itinerary, if you can do it-do it. Flying over Lake Nassar on the way in is also amazing. The Lake is HUGE! Maybe bigger than Lake Michigan..I haven’t fact checked that but I would not be surprised if it is-it is like an ocean in the middle of the dessert-very cool indeed. The flight back to Abu Simbel, again was very easy. We had a little snafu at the airport-I did not think we had a driver this day so I tried to secure a taxi cab-what a nightmare!
The taxi driver tried to charge us a ridiculous fee, while 3 airport employees kind of circled around us and cut us off from the entrance to the airport and tried to hustle us into that cab. This was the first and only time I used my emergency cell! I called Abdul to ask him what a reasonable taxi fee was for the ride to the hotel and he said what the driver was trying to charge us was an outrage! He said, put the driver on the phone-I assume he tried to negotiate a fair price but the driver was very clearly not interested in working that day, so we unloaded all of our bags and tried to go back into the airport-the whole time this rag-tag team of men tried to tell us we were not allowed to go back into the airport and they would find us another taxi, all while holding out their hands for back shish. I was irritated. I knew that they was no way that we couldn’t go back inside the airport-I never heard of such a thing. We ignored them and just went back inside figuring we’d ask someone else to help us. Next thing I knew, my cell phone was ringing and a Memphis driver was on the way to get us. Apparently, our plane landed early and we did have a driver arranged but it was not on my printed itinerary so that was where the mix up was. The moral of this story is-be careful at the Aswan airport if you are traveling independently. It was the one time I felt like we were deliberately being set up to be scammed. The taxi driver told us it took 45 minutes to get to our hotel from the Airport –which I knew couldn’t be true. Aswan didn’t even look that big from the air! I had a bad feeling in my gut from the minute the baggage guy from the airport approached us and quickly ushered us to that taxi-trust your gut! Our Memphis rep, Mustafa told us that is a common scam they run-they take you another way out of the airport and through an old dessert road around Aswan and then back through the City and it is 45 minutes, but if you use the correct route-it’s 20 minutes!
We stayed at the Aswan Movenpick Hotel. It was wonderful. The hotel is really beautiful with a great staff and one of the nicest rooms these budget travelers have ever stayed in! I’m sure that in its hey-day it was HIGH FALUTIN! We were exhausted from this very busy morning. We got situated in our room, which was HUGE! With a gorgeous bathroom that had a shower big enough for 4 people! We changed into bathing suits and high-tailed it to the pool. The pool is a beautiful infinity pool with Palm trees surrounding it and a nice pool side bar. We ate a great cheeseburger & fries pool side and just relaxed for a couple of hours which was a very nice reprieve. That evening we took a motor boat ride up and down the Nile which was really nice. The boat captain was a school teacher by day and he was really sweet. He gave us a really long ride (over 2 hours!) then, at the end told us to pay him what we thought it was worth!
Day 5-Aswan & Cruise ship Embarkation
We love cruising! Very excited to be boarding the Nile Cruise today. We are picked up by Mustafa and taken to the private dock where the St. George is waiting. The St. George is beautiful. The staff was amazing. The food was really, really great-every meal. The entertainment was super fun and we had 4 of the best days of our lives while cruising the Nile on the St. George. I will never, ever forget the experience. Our Tour Guide for the entire trip from Aswan to Luxor was Yassir…we called him Young Pharaoh. If I had a million words to describe him, I would fail. Each story he told was totally engaging…it even kept my DH’s attention…that is hard to do. He did such a bang up job for us. We met the other 5 couples in our group..and for 4 days he took care of us and really worked hard for us. Any issue that came up he was there to solve it and make it go away. He was always so upbeat and happy and was extremely knowledgeable about all the sites we visited-there were no questions he could not answer. Every evening he would meet with us on the Sun deck and we would all just sit around sipping drinks, watching the sun set and talk-just like we were in our back yard with friends hanging out. It is one of the best memories of the trip. We would get lessons on all aspects of Egypt from Yassir. The first night was casual-question and answers about whatever. The second night we received a very in depth history lesson & the third (and best lesson for me) was all about modern Egypt. I learned so much about the everyday life of modern Egypt and its people. Things I had no idea of that blew my western mind! Every day Yassir was right on time and ready to lead us into a new adventure. He never hurried us, always gave us adequate “alone” time with the monuments and tried to shield us, best he could from overly ambitious touts while still trying reasonably help them out too. I miss Yassir. He made me happy just being in his orbit. On day one of the cruise we visited the High Dam, Unfinished Obelisk and Philae Temple. All of these sites were really great with Philae being my favorite. The setting with the Temple Columns reflected in the Nile is beautiful. This is another site that was totally unassembled and then re-assembled on higher ground. Amazing. You take a short boat ride over to the site-while en route, Yassir pointed out the many boats moored and told us that before the Revolution there was never a boat sitting there unused-they made multiple trips to the site daily and you usually had to wait for a boat. It was a sad testament to how hard the tourist industry has been hit here.
After visiting the sites we returned to the ship for high tea and a relaxing late afternoon pool side. Ahhh…easy access to cocktails, my husband is very happy about this. As we watch everyday life on the Nile pass us by-palm groves, farmers and water buffalo plowing fields, donkeys braying and children playing, the occasional Minaret and the Call to Prayer I am humbled. The world is so great and I am so small. I often forget this in my normal life and it always takes a trip out of my comfort zone to sit back and remember this. What an experience to watch another cultures life unfold as you sail by.
That evening we had our first leisurely group chat-it was fun getting to know each other and then a wonderful dinner and a Nubian show in the lounge. The Nubian show was interactive and really fun. After a long busy day, a lot of laughs and sunshine and a very full belly…it was time to go to bed! BTW…the bed was sooo comfortable I didn’t want to leave it!
Day 6-Sailing from Aswan to Edfu & Kom Ombo
When you leave the boat to tour Edfu Temple, you are transported through the town by horse and buggy. This was fun! As I stated before-I am not a big horse fan, but riding through the town this way, with buses and police vans, cars, mopeds, horses and donkeys sharing the road…and you are moving FAST..it is an adventure not to be missed! Edfu Temple is awe-inspiring. This temple is extremely intact, more so than any other you will visit. It still has a roof! After touring the site its back to the carriages for the ride back through town. I wish I had time to meander through this town –it looked so authentic as we passed by, not touristy at all. While sailing to Esna we enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Another leisurely late afternoon by the pool –a nice long nap and cocktails…ahhhhh heaven.
Lunch was awesome again and that evening our group gathering was a very detailed history lesson about Egypt. Dinner that night was traditional Egyptian food, which we love and we had a Galabeya party that night that was so much fun! Dancing, laughing and hanging out with great people, a perfect ending to a perfect day!
Day 7-Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Hatshpsut El Deir El Bahari & the Colossi Memnon
Valley of the Kings. Colors everywhere you look! I had another moment of unreality as we descended into the first tomb at the Valley of the Kings. The feats to which the ancients aspired and achieved is mind-numbing. As I looked around the tomb I was just stuck once again by the ingenuity, imagination and hope that human beings are capable of. The Valley of the Kings did not disappoint, but man..it was HOT! Nothing I read or researched really made me believe how hot it really is there. You have to be standing in the sun sweating it out to really get it. After the site visit we move on to the Mortuary Temple of Hatshpsut El Deir Bahari where we meandered around the temple which was really magnificent. Here we ran into another situation where someone was trying to get easy money from us. We had already gotten Yassir’s spiel about the Temple and its history and then were let loose to explore it. I also had my book, of course so I had great detail about it in my hands. As we are walking around, a man approaches us and try’s to get us to follow him to an end chamber that we already saw-we politely tell him no thank you and he just keeps on following us around trying to engage us in conversation. Finally-I had had enough and say let’s go to dh-as we are walking toward the group meeting spot and away from the temple-he yells out-“How about some bashes? I have been nice to you.” Ok-I’m a southern girl and have very good manners, but I have had it. Days 6 of this now. I turn around and say-“How about some dollars as I have been nice to you too?” well…he didn’t think that was funny at all…I am pretty sure we got strongly and rudely cussed out at that point. Sighhh…oh well. On to the next thing..Collossi of Memnon. And colossal they are! This is a great photo opt but there’s not much more to say about them. We only stayed there a few minutes to take pictures.
After that it was back to the boat to enjoy our last day around the pool and our last night together as a group. Yassir gave us the best, most eye opening lecture about Modern Day Egypt, its people and customs. I loved this evening-sitting around on this beautiful boat with this amazing service and this really interesting man telling us all about a country that is so so different than mine. This night I will never ever forget. After dinner we attended the very interactive dance show at the Disco and had such a great time. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard!
Day 8-Luxor, Hot air balloon ride, Karnak Temple & Luxor Tample
The day has finally arrived when I get to take my first hot air balloon ride! I am so excited that I can even get up at 2am to do this. After meeting up with the group in the lobby we depart the ship for the short ride to the marina where we board a small water vessel and ride over to the West Bank. On the boat over the hosts offered coffee, tea & biscuits while we traversed the Nile in COMPLETE darkness! On the other side we boarded a bus which took us to the site where they were getting the balloons ready for take-off. It was really cool to watch the preparation of the balloons as they filled up with helium and then fire. We received a short demonstration on what we were to do upon landing and we were off! Wow-I have never ascended into the sky before –I felt like a bird taking flight. Flying over the Valley of the Kings and seeing all the other monuments from the above ground is an explosion of the senses. We took some of the most beautiful sunrise pictures ever and just enjoyed the moment so much. I would strongly suggest you try this if you can! I really had to tackle my fear of both heights & flying but it was so worth the anxiety! What a rush…check-one more thing off my must do before I die list! Awesome experience not to be missed. The ride lasted about an hour and then it was off to the Karnak & Luxor temples. Both were amazing and it was a lot of walking around huge crowds in the blazing heat. We were transferred to our Hotel-another upgrade to the St. George Hotel which was nice-that night we headed across the street to the Kings Head Pub which was so much fun-the whole place looks like a shrine to Bob Marley whom I adore so I just loved the place. A few nice cocktails and banter with the bar tender and a fellow traveler who we invited to our hotel for dinner and enjoyed each other’s company until he was ready to go prowl for women and we were ready to prowl our dreams! What an amazing day we had.
Tomorrow we leave Luxor and travel to the Red Sea Coast. This part of the journey has been so amazing, educational and inspiring to me. I loved every second of every day that we spent in upper & lower Egypt & I know that for the rest of my life-I will never forget the amazing sites we saw or the amazing people we were so fortunate to meet along the way.
For me, to feel like I have really lived a meaningful good life-to truly appreciate the greatness of God and all his glory-I have to travel out of my comfort zone. I have to see the world as others see it and try to understand the world as others understand it. So far, this trip to Egypt has done just that. I am not only enjoying the sites and smells and sounds of another culture but really trying to “get it”. One thing I will never, ever forget is the feeling of hearing the call to prayer and knowing that at that moment-every single person in this Country who heard it-no matter what they believe, their economic status, their politics, their earthly desires, fears, losses, hates, loves, no matter what they are doing…every one of them has their mind and eyes on God. The power of those moments will live with me forever. I get chills when I think of it-even today. The beauty of the Call to Prayer dazzled me. In Cairo I asked Amany to translate it for me as it was being broadcast….that is a memory I will cherish forever. This is why I live like a pauper the rest of the year and a half between my journeys…and this is why it is so worth it.
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Day 4-Abu Simbel & Aswan