Down the Nile!

Nile River 023 Our best several days in Egypt came as we explored the Nile Valley and all of the ruins along its path.  We covered many astounding sites, and found ourselves constantly amazed at what this civilization had accomplished over three thousand years ago.   To put things into perspective, the Egyptian temples were largely built 2,500 to 3,500 years ago.  Other things we’ve seen on this trip include the Great Wall (5th to 16th Century B.C.), Machu Picchu (1450 A.D.), and Angkor Wat (12th Century A.D.).  So the Egyptians were really way ahead of their time.

Nile River 029 We left Cairo before daybreak, taking an early (6:30 a.m.) small plane south to the site of Abu Simbel, site of the temple of Ramses II.  This place is incredibly remote, and positively jaw-dropping.  It’s a site that was nearly destroyed as Egypt constructed the Aswan dam, but a massive (well, by Egypt standards massive — $40 million) fund-raising effort was able to entirely re-locate the ruins, and preserve them for future generations.  So you land at a remote airport (few people actually stay here) and take a short drive to see . . .  the most amazing tomb entrance Nile River 044 imaginable.  I can’t describe it adequately in words, but a few pictures help.  The face of the temple is dominated by four enormous (almost 20 meters tall) statues of the Pharaoh Ramses II.  They surround the entrance to a tomb, and its interior is also stunning.  There’s a second tomb at the site which, in its own right an amazing accomplishment, built in honor of Ramses II’s favorite queen, Queen Nefetari.

At this point, it was beginning to sink in just how advanced the Egyptian civilization was.  They had a written language, advanced engineering and math, great organization skills, and real science expertise.  It’s somewhat silly to compare some of these ruins to modern construction projects, but you sure wish the Egyptians of 3500 B.C. had been running Boston’s Big Dig project :-)

Nile River 078 We then took a quick flight to Aswan, where we saw Aswan’s High Dam, which is 1,500 feet long, and has transformed Egypt.  Prior to the construction of this dam, the Nile would flood periodically, or go through drought years.  Egypt was very challenged agriculturally, and a more stable river line has helped food production.  Also, the dam generates a significant amount of the oil-poor country’s electricity requirements.

Nile River 100 In Aswan, we took a short boat ride to the Temple of Philae on the island of Agilika.  This site was also recently relocated to avoid flooding from the dam.  Those darn dams!  This temple was dedicated to Isis, and is decorated with the image of her alter-ego, Hathor.  We also saw the granite quarries in Aswan, including the very sizable unfinished obelisk, which has a length of some 39 meters (??), but abandoned in situ due to cracking.

Nile River 233 We boarded a boat, the Sun Boat IV run by Abercrombie and Kent, and prepared to head down the Nile.  Gibson and I tried to get in some last-minute baseball catch on the sidewalk by the boarding point for the boat.  Ever alert, the Egyptian military realized that our game of toss represented a serious threat to Egypt’s nation-state, and rushed out to stop us (I wish I were kidding, but I’m not).  A bunch of soldiers with nothing to do with their time stepped in and kept Egypt safe from the threat of a thrown baseball!

Nile River 239 The boat surprised us in being both wireless-less and smoke-full.  The A&K boat on our Antarctica trip offered decent wireless access on board, but the Sun Boat didn’t seem too aware of this technological breakthrough.  But they did manage to put ashtrays everywhere on the ship, making sure you couldn’t do much of anything on deck without inhaling some of that great Egyptian tobacco smoke.  At least the boat didn’t offer wall to wall hookahs, and didn’t have ashtrays in the swimming pool.

Nile River 205 On our first full day on the boat, we made two stops at temples as we worked out way north on the river.  The first was the Kom Ombo Temple, returned to the boat for lunch, and that afternoon took in the Edfu Temple.  These temples seemed somewhat interesting at the time, but have long since blurred into a sea of ruins that prevent me from recalling anything specific about either.  We also bought for the kids some Egyptian wear for a dinner on the boat that night.  Sterling looked fabulous in her outfit, and is already contemplating using it for next October’s Halloween costume.

Nile River 260 We slept like logs on the boat each night, and spent the next day docked at Luxor, known to the ancient Egyptians as “Thebes.”  Luxor, along with Abu Simbel and the pyramids around Cairo, were the “can’t miss” locations of our Egypt stay.  The highlights of Luxor include the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Temple or Luxor, and  the Temple of Karnak.  We also went to the Temple of the Nobles (very missable), Hatshepsut Temple (moderately interesting),  the Colossi of Memnon (brief but interesting), and blew off Dendara and Abydos.  And there was even an “Egyptian Night” on the boat, where many of the passengers attempted to look like Egyptians of yore. 

Nile River 287 The Valley of the Kings is a location not too far from Luxor where some sixty-four tombs have been discovered, including the tomb of Tutankhamun.  The tomb of King Tut was discoved by Howard Carter in 1922, and it was largely (some say entirely) in tact.  To walk through this tomb, after seeing so many of its contents on display in Cairo, was really powerful.  What really made me think was the trace of history from thousands of years B.C., to less than 100 years ago when this tomb was first discovered by modern man, to today when you can walk through the tomb.  And work continues to this day on the site, as new tombs lay scattered throughout the area awaiting discovery.  Amazing!

Nile River 313 We couldn’t take pictures inside the tombs, but they shared many common characteristics.  We’d generally go down a long corridor, with pictures and hieroglyphics carved on the walls, and often the ceilings.   Some were quite elaborate and beautiful, others more crude.  Some were simply carvings, others were painted and, in some cases, vivid colors survive to this day.  Further into the tomb, the walkway would level out into an inner sanctum with higher ceilings, more drawings, and some smaller side rooms. 

Nile River 334 The Temple at Luxor was one of my favorite places in Egypt.  It was hard to take in the magnitude of the structure, and what must have been required to build it so long ago.  It was built by Amenophis III, Tutankhamon, Haremhab, and Ramses II during their respective reigns, and includes spectacular columns, statues, and inner sanctums.  Luxor is also the site of the Temple of Karnak, a huge complex that took 2,000 years to construct.  It was originally connected to the Temple at Luxor by an alleyway lined with sphinxes, which must have been quite a site.

By now, we were fully “templed” out, and spent an afternoon reading and hanging out at our hotel in Luxor, preparing to depart for our next country, Jordan.

You can check out our photos of what we saw along the Nile.

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