Rush and Relaxation

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This blog entry about the events of Monday, June 07, 2004 was originally posted on June 14, 2004.

DAY 233:  “So are we just waiting for the sun to come up?” I asked minibus driver Yohannes in the darkness of 4 a.m.  I, along with every tourist in Aswan that hadn’t gone already, was up by 3:30 in the morning to ride the 300 km. to the Temple of Abu Simbel.

“Sun?” he asked in confusion.

“Why are we waiting then?”  Our minivan was just one vehicle in a long line of minivans, minibuses and coach buses lined up in the morning darkness waiting for I didn’t know what until Yohannes answered:

“For the police convoy to take us.”

The Temple of Abu Simbel, the hidden temple of Ramses II discovered in 1813 by the Swiss, lies just 50 km. north of the Sudanese border in the middle of the desert.  With the continual civil wars in Sudan — and the usual tourist threats of different motives — the Egyptian authorities weren’t taking any chances with one of their main sources of income:  tourists.  I mean, how else would they get their bakhsheesh (tips)?

About fifteen minutes later, the convoy ventured on like a modern day motorized caravan through the desert, away from the secure feeling of Aswan’s street lights, and into the dark unknown.


AS DRAMATIC A BUILD UP as that was, the only real threat to an enjoyable visit to the temple was other tourists.  There must have been 500 people arriving at the Temple of Abu Simbel at the same time, and getting any shot of the mountain-hewn temple and its innards was impossible to do without a tourist entering the frame and ruining the photo.

Oh come on guy, move it, move it.  Okay, just a little more, little more, almost there, get out of the way…  Okay, perfect… Shit, another guy from the other side…  Okay, move it, move… More people… Where did you come from?  MOVE.  Wait, get out the way…  Ah fuck it.

Pretty soon it got frustrating to the point that I stopped being courteous by getting out of the way for others and just blatantly walked through their photos.

Panhi, the photographer I met the day before was there too, equally pissed at the impossibility of a good shot, particularly the “no flash in the temple” rule.  “It’s stone,” Panhi complained.  “I can understand if it was a painting or something, but it’s stone.  I have to ask an archaeologist about this.”  Archaeologist endorsement or not, any flash was immediately followed by a guard’s repetition of “No flash!  No flash!”  One vendor actually capitalized on the situation and set up a postcard stand right next to the “No Flash In The Temple” sign, calling, “Take a look, take a look.  Pictures.  There is no flash allowed inside.”  He repeated it over and over in several languages.


JAPANESE TRAVELER SATO, PANHI, hundreds of other tourists and I visited the Temple of Abu Simbel, its front with big self-glorifying statues of Ramses II outside (picture above) and its carved hieroglyphics, statues — and bats — inside. Nearby was the Temple of Hathor, built to honor the goddess of the sky and fertility.  The whole visit was rushed, only an 80-minute stay after a three-hour drive that early morning.  “This is bull shit,” Panhi said in his slight German accent.  “If they were smart, they’d let us take our time here.  They could sell some things even, but instead it’s just rush rush rush.”  Luckily for him, before we were rushed out, he found another natural rock face for his photographic series of natural rock faces around the world.

The police convoy departed Abu Simbel around 10 a.m. so that the fair amount of transport vehicles could travel back to Aswan in the safety of numbers, under police supervision. “You are lucky,” Yohannes our minivan driver said as we rode through the desert.  “There are only twenty-three buses in the convoy.  Usually there are one hundred twenty or one hundred thirty buses and needs four to five convoys.”

The rushing continued as soon as I got back to my hotel in Aswan.  Monty my agent picked me up in ten minutes and escorted me right to the dock across the street to get to my felucca, the traditional Egyptian sailboat. 


THE BEAUTY OF THE TOUR I BOOKED at Citigo Travel in Cairo was that it wasn’t one of the big “package holidays” where fifty people follow around a lone guy holding up a flag like a flock of sheep.  Instead, they just set you up on a backpacker itinerary and do all the thinking and ticket purchasing for you in advance.  Monty led me to a felucca where other independent backpackers (who had the time and resources to figure everything out by themselves) were sorting out their bags to travel on the same boat.  Joining me were Canadians Denise and Angie, Aussies Greg, Cheryl and Butch, Brit Jake and Korean J.J.  A big mattress covered the entire top of the deck for us to sit, lay, eat and sleep on for the next two days.  Mr. Jamaica, the owner of the reputable fleet of feluccas in town greeted us as his team prepared us falafels and middle eastern salads to spread on pita bread.

Soon after, our captain Mohammed and first mate Moustafa manned the sail and took us downstream, northbound in a slow but steady pattern that zig-zagged between the east and west bank in order to catch the winds, instead of straight down like one of the big motorized cruise ships.

“It probably takes four hours [to Edfu], but [with the zig-zagging], that’s why it’ll take us two days,” Angie said.

As if the zigging and zagging didn’t slow down our journey enough, our felucca sprung a leak and we had to switch boats two hours after departure.  Without docking, we transferred all bags, mattresses, food and people in the middle of the river onto our new boat, named the Steinlager.


WE ZIGGED AND WE ZAGGED.  East bank, west bank and back again, all in a relaxed manner.  The three Aussies talked about a favorite Aussie subject, beer — well, that’s universal subject — while the rest of us were in small talk, reading, writing or just relaxing during the smooth sailing down the Nile without the noisy use of a motor.  There were several other feluccas zigging and zagging at the will of the winds as well, and Butch decided to play games with them whenever our zigs coincided with their zags.

“I spy, with my little eye, something that starts with B!” Butch yelled over to another felucca.

“Boat?!”

“No!”

“Bridge?!”

“Got it!”

This went on and on for a little bit until the boat we were playing with just sort of got bored and gave up. 

Captain Mohammed and Moustafa continued sailing the Steinlager left and right down the river and at one point in the day, we docked for a little bit to wait out high winds.  Nearby, a bunch of Nubian boys gawked at us, like we were animals in a zoo.  Their attention was only drawn away when one haughty teenaged guy who thought he was their leader made a dramatic entrance, took off his galabiyya and jumped off a crane into the water like it was the biggest spectacle ever — he only received laughter afterwards from his peers.  He received laughter from us soon after, when he started swimming; he had this ridiculous-looking swimming style where he’d reach with one arm as far as he could reach and slap the surface of the water like spiking a volleyball.


WE CONTINUED DOWNSTREAM as the sun set down.  We docked at the bank for the night alongside another felucca with a mosquito net put up that made its passengers only appear to us as silhouettes.  Mohammed and Moustafa made us pasta and we dined with it over the beers we stored in a cooler.  There wasn’t much to do afterwards when it got dark, so we all pretty much turned in; most of us were tired from having had to wake up early that morning to go to Abu Simbel.  After a rushed morning, a slow and relaxed afternoon and evening was just what we needed.  Plus, we could take photos without people scolding us or people getting in the way.






Next entry: The Special Felucca

Previous entry: My Nubian Rights




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Comments for “Rush and Relaxation”

  • is it true! can i write the first comment? is this game still “fun”! sure do like scrolling down to the bottom first!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/13  at  08:35 PM


  • Me second! I need to play catch up on some of the past stories but I’m still following. Take care

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/13  at  10:07 PM


  • Me third. Can’t believe the guy with the white bucket hat interrupted the photo-op. I hope you made into his photo with the one finger salute.

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


  • Love the pics. Keep em’ coming!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/13  at  11:20 PM


  • ROBIN:  Hey, glad you’re back on… how was your trip?  I’m diving the Red Sea right now… I’m FINALLY switching over to PADI—and getting my AOW Certification in the process!

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


  • Oooh, the Red Sea - I’m SERIOUSLY jealous. I mean, I was jealous when you went diving up on the North of Zanzibar, but I’ve heard WONDERFUL things about the Red Sea. I expect tales!

    The Temple of Hathor is quite unbelievable - amazing. So huge!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  01:07 AM


  • Abu Simbel pic of the statues is great with the tourists in it - it gives it a nice sense of scale.  Definitely looks like the best temple of them yet!

    Posted by Liz  on  06/14  at  03:57 AM


  • Sato looks like a Sato.  Definitely not a Genji….do you feel me anyone?

    hahah

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  07:00 AM


  • I’m drooling over here in Jersey looking at your wonderful pictures! Sooooo jealous! You’re journey is sorta like the one in The Mummy Returns. You’re not stuck wearing the bracelet of the Scorpion King are you?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  04:48 AM


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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:
The Special Felucca

Previous entry:
My Nubian Rights




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