After 4 hours of sleep our race around Egypt continued in Luxor with a visit to the Temple of Karnak on the east bank of the Nile. The site is huge, the largest ancient religious site in the world, after the Angkor Wat Temple of Cambodia. (which we should visit in late spring!!). You enter the site down a street lined with ram’s head Sphynxs' and we are blown away by the beauty and size of the site. After a great review from our guild, Sam, we have free time to wander in awe. See the pics:
After the visit we travel to a local Papyrus art shop. Since we visited a shop on our own we enjoyed the demo of the process and wandered without any purchases. Next stop, lunch with the group at a traditional Egyptian restaurant. The food in Egypt is very cheap, for less than $5 we have soup, a choice of meat with sides and fruit for desert. It is very good.
Now we must load up on the bus to drive to the city of Aswan. The bus is quiet on this leg of the trip and we pass the 4 hours by sleeping and reading.
Our tour group is now splitting up and we join the group going on the Nile river cruise. We race to the boat, check in, and have 5 minutes to drop our luggage and meet back with the large group for the night excursion. We load on to a boat on the Nile and ferry to a small island where we go to dinner at a traditional Nubian home. The food is homey, filling and good. The history of the Nubians was provided by Sam our guide, they arise from the south Egypt, and the conversation within our group is great and even though tired, it is a great dinner. On our boat ride back out, the Nubian hosts break out in traditional singing and dancing, soon the engine of the boat stops and we are all dancing and singing as we float down the Nile.
Our first morning on our cruise ship starts at 4:15 am with a box breakfast and a 2.5 hour bus ride to visit the site called Abu Simbel, billed as one of the most impressive sites in Egypt. It was magnificent. See photos.
This is the Ramses II Temple, not tomb, with the 4 giant sitting statues, that had been carved into a mountain. These figures were probably 3 stories high. The site also had an accompanying temple for the Pharaoh’s favorite wife. It was not unusual for a Pharaoh to have multiple wives for love, lust, and politics. Ramses II had as many as 43 wives. This site is also next to a lake caused by a dam built in the early 60’s. The original dam project would have destroyed this temple and many others. With the assistance of the global community the entire site was moved stone by stone and protected from the flood. The US was one of the important countries on this project and as a return of our efforts Egypt gave us a another small temple that is now in the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art, very cool.
We travel the 2.5 hours back to Luxor and our cruise ship. It is a race again, the ship will sail at 1:30. Sam our guide arranged a special van to meet us on the side of the road to get to the ship and we split with the large group again. We also meet our cruise guide Micky. We made the boat just in time and lunch was waiting for us.
Our cruise group is just 6 of us. The others crowded into an open deck sailing boat, called Felucca, to share together time. This was a rustic activity. We, on the other hand having slept in the desert for 2 nights the week before, chose the finer cuisine and service of the cruiser with sun deck, bar, sports TV, and afternoon tea time. The sun set over the Nile valley viewed from the top deck was very cool, as were our new friends who worked in London.
Our day was not done, before dinner we are off the ship to the next sight. We headed to Edfu to visit the largest and best preserved temple in Egypt. The temple is dedicated to the falcon god Horus and was built over a 180 year period from 237 BC to 57 BC. Then we visited another Temple dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek built during the Ptolemaic period. Back on the boat we have our first cruise dinner, very good with the best service yet.
Our next day is up early again with a horse and carriage ride to the yet another great temple and site. See our pics:
We finish our day by relaxing on the boat, it is warm, over 80 degrees and we enjoy the top deck, the tea at 4:00 pm along with great conversations with our other fellow travelers.
We awake on our last day on the boat docked back in Luxor. Our original schedule was free time, but after discussions with our guide, Michael we all agree to visit Ramses III at Medinat Habu. Michael our guide arranged a van for our merry little group of 6. This site is not on most of the tours and we had free reign of this temple site and could walk or stand anywhere. As we squeezed through some narrow passages to enter a secluded area, we met Egyptologists working on the site from U of Chicago, which sponsors a lot of research. They were talkative and well aware that the government endowments for the arts and sciences in the USA had been cut the day before.
That evening we meet up with our big group again and we toured Luxor temples on the east side of the Nile. Again the site is huge with a temple that was expanded over many years and a fantastic Sphinx road. Visiting the sites in the dark is great with the up lighting, but hard on our simple IPhone photos, but see below anyway
Our final day in Luxor is again very busy. We are up at 4:00 am and leave for a Balloon Ride. This is our first balloon trip and a great way to see the ancient site
After the flight we have a good Egyptian breakfast and we are off to the west bank of the Nile and the Valley of the Kings. This is now our 5th day of visiting the pyramids, temples and ancient sites. There are so many more that we will not see. Each site is seeming to be better than the last and each time we are totally blown away; we once again are in total awe. The Valley of the Kings totally blew us away.
Some quick history, the Egyptians stopped building pyramids, since they were beacons for robbers. They moved their burial sites to tombs carved into the hills and mountains. We were able to enter 3 of the many excavated tombs in the area described as “City of the Dead”. Once through the narrow entrances, the hallway descends to the burial chamber and storage rooms After thousands of years the walls are still painted with ancient figures and writing in bold yellow, red, and blue.
You can also visit the tomb of King Tutankhamun (Tut). We paid the extra fee to see King Tut’s tomb. He was the boy Pharaoh, having died at 19. His mummy is at this site. He was short and slender. He is famous because his rather small tomb was found intact. We were able to view King Tut’s face mask, golden chariots, the gold funeral coffins, jewelry, weapons and supplies in the Egyptian Museum. No photos allowed in the tomb or museum but the collection is amazing. Our guide asks us to imagine the wealth, and gold, and stuff that would have been saved in the gigantic Ramses II tomb, as his reign lasted until his death at 90 years of age. It was grave robbed. It is hard to imaging such wealth. After the tombs we visit one last site, have a great lunch and then back on the bus again for a 9-hour drive to Cairo.
Our last day was a tour of the important sites of Cairo. We went to the Egypt museum and viewed the Hanging Church, named because it was suspended over the walls of a passage. The Coptic Orthodox Christians maintain this site which is reportedly the the place that Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus hide after they fled Judea. We also visited the oldest Mosque in Egypt and almost wrapped up with a visit to the famous Kahn El Khalili bazaar, but stopped at an Egyptian linen store. The end, except for a farewell dinner with 7 more of our other new friends from Egypt.
Final thoughts on Egypt
We were in Egypt a total of 11 days, 9 with a tour through the tour company Travel Talk. The 9 days with the tours were by far the busiest we have had on our journey so far. We traveled by bus for over 2,000 km and had several days of less than 5 hours of sleep. Egypt has been a place we have yearned to visit and we are very grateful for this opportunity. The history and ancient sites far exceeded our expectations. It is difficult to express just how many sites there are, after a few days it just becomes commonplace to look out your window and see a singular site. But the distances are far and in retrospect it would have been easier with at least one flight. There are also the security concerns. It has only been 2 years since the last government change. It was clear to us that the tourists are still not visiting this country. One guide told us that the pre 2011 tourist industry was $20 billion per year, last year it was just half a billion dollars. We often traveled with a plain clothed policeman in our bus and while traveling in--country we had police escorts in certain provinces most of the time. We also had a policeman escort when visiting the Cairo bazaar. In our opinion, with a tour you have security and are secure, and this is one country that should not be visited without a tour. Perhaps the country as a whole is not so safe. But the people are kind, the service was excellent and the sites should be a must see for any world traveler.
See below some pics of the streets and women of Egypt