We need to be off the ship today by 5:15 AM. Why so early? There are two dams near Aswan. The first one, built by the British in 1902 proved to be inadequate to control the worst of the flooding. The second dam, using Russian money, was much larger and called the "high dam." This second dam created a huge lake (Lake Naser) which filled in vast acreage, including, several invaluable ancient Egyptian Temples, such as Abu Simbel which is located approximately 280 km south of the city of Aswan.
So, the ship can go no further South than Aswan. And to go Abu Simbel and back in a day requires a plane ride. Under normal conditions there's a plane every 30 minutes but due to COVID induced small crowds, flights are limited. So why so early? Because we need to be at the Aswan airport for their morning flight to Abu Simbel.
The massive facade of Abu Simbel. Each figure is 66 feet tall.
There's four things to know about Abu Simbel.
This is a massive structure. The façade consists of 4 giants statues of a sitting Rameses - each one showing a slightly older and wiser pharaoh. The original intent was to dissuade his enemies from attack. Indeed Abu Simbel is far into Nubian territory and far from Egyptian border. I have to admit that had I seen such a massive structure of a far away king built on my soil, I'd be very wary to invade. Further, inside the temple, Ramses depicts himself as a warrior god as well. Very effective in 1500 BC.
It's been relocated. When the second Aswan dam was built, Egypt didn't have sufficient money to rescue the many Temples that were submerged by the resulting lake. The US and UNESCO however provided funding afterwards. So a coffer dam was built and the original Temple was faithfully moved one piece at a time directly above where it originally was carved out of stone. They did a superb job to say the least. Here's a video that describes the effort a bit more.
Rameses is an ego manic! Rameses portrayed himself as a gigantic god, as a brutally successful warier and as the absolute ruler of the kingdom. But then he built a Temple to his wife Nefertari, which basically served as a first draft of many carvings and statues of Rameses himself! Who builds a temple to his wife with 8 statues in front, of which 6 are of himself and only 2 to his wife? An ego maniac!
Twice a year, light enters through the front opening of the Temple and illuminates three out of four gods located at the back of the temple. The unilluminated god? Theban, god of darkness, who remains in the shadows all year. The sun DOES shine on Ramses II and two sun gods. Of course!
Felucca on the Nile with the AmaDahlia in the background.
After arriving back on ship (short bus ride from the temple to Abu Simbel airport, 35 min flight back to Aswan, short bus ride back to the ship) we had lunch and some downtime. Later that afternoon we took a relaxing sailboat ride on a Felucca. Occasionally we'd be treated to some kids paddling up to our boat and singing French songs- sometimes in strikingly good harmony. It was all to get a dollar from a sympathetic tourist. We sailed up the Nile to the Catarack Hotel, where Agatha Christy wrote "A Death on the Nile". Our Egyptologist occasionally gave us some background on the sites but for the most part, it was just a fun little cruise.
Pictures don't do Abu Simbel justice....it's simply massive in scale.
Man's creativity is on full display here. First, the original sculptures of Rameses from a single piece of rock. Secondly on the ability to rescue them 3000 years after they were originally carved and reconstituted on dry land. Truly incredible on both ends