My Nubian Rights

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This blog entry about the events of Sunday, June 06, 2004 was originally posted on June 14, 2004.

DAY 232:  Nubia, the ancient civilization which bridged the Egyptians with the Africans, lies in the region between Luxor, Egypt and Khartoum, Sudan.  While most of the ancient sites of Nubia were lost to earthquakes or flooding, several still remain.  The starting point for seeing the remains of the Nubian empire is the city of Aswan, Egypt’s southern most city, populated by the dark-skinned descendants of the former civilization.

“ERIK” appeared in big black handwritten letters on a letter-sized piece of paper when my overnight train finally arrived in Aswan.  Holding the sign was a man who met me as soon as I exited the train station that morning.

Suspicions run high in Egypt after what I had been through already — and especially since I had been reading Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code where no one is who they initially appear to be — and who’s to say a con man saw my name on the real guy’s sign and wrote another “ERIK” sign to appear beforehand?

The man before me was Monty, and he didn’t take me to a private car but to a taxi.  He looked over my voucher and brought me to the three-star Orchida St. George Hotel, in a small side street not too far from the main road that hugged the east bank of the Nile.  My room with a view was very nice with a big full-sized bed, private bathroom, hot water, A/C and a television that was playing Die Hard With A Vengeance when I turned it on.

Monty went over my program for Aswan and the nearby sites — I’d visit the two highlights that afternoon — but he pitched me a half-day excursion early the next morning to the Temple of Abu Simbel, about 300 km. south of Aswan, an excursion I declined in Cairo when pitched to me.

“You can’t tell people you’ve gone to Egypt unless you’ve seen the Temple of Abu Simbel,” Monty told me, showing me pictures in a brochure.  “You’re the only one in the group not going.”

I caved under the peer pressure and slapped over the extra $25 (USD).  Later on, my guidebooks confirmed it was a site worth seeing — but also told me it should have only cost me around $10 if I booked directly with the hotel. 

I knew my suspicions of Monty weren’t unwarranted.


AFTER A SHIT, SHOWER AND A SHAVE, Monty escorted me to a private minivan where I met two other solo travelers:  Sato, an unemployed guy from outside Tokyo on an RTW-trip since January; and Panhi, an elderly but young-at-heart German ex-pat living in California who was also a freelance writer and photographer, having sold a feature recently in National Geographic Adventure magazine.  He had just started a three-month jaunt through east Africa (Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania) and was going to use that time to research another story for National Geographic.  In addition to that assignment, he would take photos to add to his professional series of photos of faces found naturally in rock formations, to be distributed in print and poster stores.

Panhi and I had similar experiences since our arrivals in Cairo.  We both had an extensive independent travel history, but he too realized that in Egypt, there is so much hassling and annoyances to a solo traveler that, even though against every instinct to do so, there really is no choice but to book a tour.

Said, our tour guide for the day was in the front seat and turned out to be a really knowledgeable guy, the kind of guide that I got envious at when I saw other people with them before.  If Said had a catch phrase to be printed on t-shirts, it’d be “You have the right to know…” because every opening to a new topic started that way.  “You are tourists in Aswan, so you have the right to know what Aswan means,” he said.  “It came from the Sono language and it means ‘market.’  It was here granite was brought to build the temples all over Egypt.”

We had the right for Said to take us to the first highlight, the Aswan High Dam, the world’s third largest dam (if you measure in the amount of water it holds back), constructed between 1960 and 1971 when it was determined that the old Aswan Dam (built by the English in 1902) wasn’t sufficient enough to control the flow of the Nile or produce enough electricity.  An engineering marvel, the High Dam holds back 169,000,000 square kilometers of the waters of Lake Nasser, the world’s largest man made lake, created over time as construction workers chipped away granite from the Nile’s banks, widening it into a larger body of water.

After a brief photo stop outside the Friendship Relations Monument, celebrating the ties between Egypt and the Soviets — inside was off-limits by order of the surrounding military for fear of Israeli terrorists — we ventured off to our second highlight, the Temple of Philae, a highlight that might no have existed as a visitor site when the first highlight (the High Dam) was constructed.

Construction of the High Dam was a controversial one; building it would flood and submerge many ancient historical temples and monuments of the former Nubian empire.  In a $36 million effort, UNESCO and a coalition of individual country governments helped salvage what they could from the Nile.  The agreement was that a country could bring home half of what they helped save — i.e. America saved the Temple of Dendera and put it in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art — while some temples like the Temple of Philae were moved not too far away, out of harm’s way.  The UNESCO team meticulously cut and moved the temple, piece by piece and constructed it on nearby Agilkia Island, a short ferry boat ride away from riverbank. 


RA, THE EGYPTIAN SUN-GOD shone his rays down to earth, so much that Panhi was guessing 107°F — it was more like 122°F.  “Look, the water [of the lake] is steaming,” he pointed out.  “You can boil eggs pretty soon.”  The boat didn’t stop us from seeing the transported temple, nor did it stop the On The Go tour group of 1981ers that came in right after us.

Said led our smaller group of three and continued his catch phrase, informing us of facts about the Temple of Philae (picture above) that “we had the right to know” about.  Built in Greco-Roman style circa 280 B.C., Greek emperor Bartolome I to elevate his social status in the eyes of the Egyptians and Nubians, the Temple of Philae was a shrine to Isis, the “goddess in the truest sense:  the mother of nature, protector of humans, goddess of purity and sexuality” (according to my Let’s Go book.)  It was at the island of Philae that, according to legend, Isis found the heart of her brother and husband (ew!) Osiris, after he had been chopped up into fourteen pieces and spread across Egypt by his evil brother Seth who, pissed off at daddy Geb for dividing Egypt into Upper and Lower kingdoms, wanted to get some sort of revenge.  Talk about a need for anger management classes, huh?  With brother/husbands, evil brothers and unresponsive fathers, the whole thing probably would be good material for The Jerry Springer Show.

The cult of Isis continued for centuries even when, in 284 A.D. Christianity was forced upon Egypt — the Christians desecrated the images of Isis & Co. on the temple’s walls and even removed her face on some carvings because it was too similar to the Virgin Mary.  We saw these desecrations — and many of the hieroglyphics that survived — as Said led us around the temple, from the hypostyle hall where priests made offerings, to the guardian lion statues, to the empty pedestal where a statue of Isis was stolen (and not seen since), and the empty spot where an obelisk was stood — it was stolen by an Italian and given to the U.K. and now stands in London as Cleopatra’s Needle.  All of these things, according to Said, we had the right to see.

After gazing upon the nearby Temple of Hathor and the Kiosk of Trajan (built with fourteen columns to represent the fourteen pieces of Osiris), we made our way across the river and back into town, but not before stopping briefly for a photo opportunity for Panhi; there was another natural rock face nearby that he shot for his portfolio.

Sato wasn’t feeling well, so it was just Panhi and I who chilled out at a sidewalk cafe with some ice cold beverages after Said and the driver dropped us off back in town.  We swapped tales of travel and travel writing until the heat got too much for us and we went our separate ways to our respective hotels.


“ASWAN IS LAID BACK.  No one really bothers you,” said the Floridian woman I met at dinner during the Sound and Light show three nights previous in Giza.  her comment was fairly correct I was discovering.  For most of my spare time of the day, I wandered Aswan, from its small side street bazaars to its scenic promenade along the Nile.  Of course the day wasn’t completely hassle free — Nubia is now a part of Egypt after all — and there were a couple of touts pitching me felucca boat rides, all of which I declined with a wave of my hand, like I was doing a Jedi mind trick.  One other guy I saw on the street had a different tactic; he wore a shirt that said, “I’m not a tourist.  I live here.” in Arabic and English.

At night I used my new student card for half off admission to the Nubian Museum — the cashier tried to short change me E£10 just like the cashier at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (count your change!) — which was a far more thought out, developed and modern exhibition than the galleries in Cairo.  The main exhibition led me through the history of Nubia chronologically, from its roots of 3500 B.C. to the rise of Islam in 1323 A.D.  Amongst the highlights for me were the statues of the Nubian warriors and the centerpiece of the museum, an eight-meter-tall statue of Ramses II, taken from the Temple of Garf Hussein.

Walking passed the big Cathedral of the Coptic Church, I strolled down the Nile’s promenade and ended up at the recommended Aswan Moon, one of the many floating restaurants and hotels anchored permanently off the east bank of the Nile.  Ordering blindly (a favorite pastime of mine), I got the Escup Baneh hoping it’d be some exotic Egyptian dish, but it turned out to be nothing but veal scallopine and fries.  I suppose I had the right to know beforehand what it was I was ordering, but Said had been long gone by that time.






Next entry: Rush and Relaxation

Previous entry: A Student in Babylon




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Comments for “My Nubian Rights”

  • I think this tour is well worth it so far.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/13  at  08:33 PM


  • I think you have the right to kick lonely planet in the butt! Actually, they should hire you to update some of that stuff.

    I haven’t seen any posts from you MOM she’s hilarious! And I’m very glad there were no Poo pictures after your SS&B (shit, shave and bathe).

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/13  at  11:09 PM


  • FUNCHILDE:  The butt?  As Eric Cartman says on South Park… “[Lonely Planet,] I’m gonna kick you in the nuts!”

    You’re lucky my spy camera isn’t working right; otherwise there might have been SS&B pictures!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  12:20 AM


  • That’s so nifty how the city is along the banks and then it looks like there is nothing but sand after that…

    Glad you were able to relax a wee bit…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  12:49 AM


  • Oops - forgot my amazement at the moving of the entire temple!! WOW!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  01:11 AM


  • Hey Erik!

    I’ve been away for a while, but am just back catching up now.  Still doing an excellent job!!

    Just wanted to say - Thanks again for helping sooth my own travel bug while I’m stuck back here in NY!  Great posts and awesome pics!!  Keep up the great work, have a good time and stay safe!


    -Harry

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  01:14 AM


  • Heiroglyphics - they just look so much cooler in context!  Everything seems so old and awesome and architecturally different.  I’m envious!

    Posted by Liz  on  06/14  at  03:48 AM


  • SS&B?  You can’t chancg the intial acronym of SSS (or S to the 3rd)....

    FUNCHILDE - shit, shower, and bathe?  who really takes baths nowadays huh?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  06:45 AM


  • wow, the architecture is beautiful. they really made sure everything was perfectly aligned and cut to the right dimensions. and without the use of modern tools. now that is incredible.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  05:45 PM


  • Did you know…
    ...the last piece of Osiris that Isis found was his penis? (Goonies reference: “that’s my mom’s most favorite piece!”)
    ...that there were two oblisks known as Cleopatra’s Needles: one in London, the other behind the Met in Central Park NYC. There was an article recently in Archeology Magazine on the subject.
    ...that the city of Rome has more upright & whole oblisks than any other city (13), inlcuding any city in Egypt. Spoils for the Empire…and the Pope.

    You can probably guess… I’M UNBELIEVABLY JEALOUS!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  04:35 AM


  • CHRISTY:  Wow, SOMEONE paid attention in history class…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  02:31 PM


  • thanks industrial suppliers. i’ve always been looking for industrial catalogs for neon signs since forever. I am glad you spammed this blog…..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/21  at  04:42 PM


  • LP: .. i’ve also been looking for some pvc pipes & oil pumps to replemish my hardware store,  thanks INDUSTRIAL SUPPLIERS !

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/21  at  07:29 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Rush and Relaxation

Previous entry:
A Student in Babylon




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

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WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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