Thursday, February 11, 2010

Abu Simbel and Nubia

By Claire
The taxi driver that Mohamed had arranged for us yesterday arrived at just after 8 am to take us to the airport for our flight to Abu Simbel in the Nubian region of Egypt, close to the Sudanese border. We're as far south as we can go in Egypt.

Flying over Lake Nasser

On the way, we saw a typical sight, too many people crammed into a bus so that some have to cling for dear life on the back. This is incredibly common. I’ve seen young children riding on the back bumpers of big trucks just hanging on.

It was uneventful at the airport except for the arrogant and tiresome British and American tourists, one guy demanding a cappuccino with “Those little chocolate bits.” It reminded me of my afternoon yesterday, sitting in the lobby of our hotel catching up on our blog. I have a whole new respect for the desk clerks in reception. How about the guy who stopped in hoping for a room (none were available) but then demanded bathroom! restroom! in a loud voice. I finally interrupted and suggested saying WC or toilet then pointed to where it was. To be fair, I probably noticed it because it was in English--this kind of behavior probably goes on in all languages. My sympathies to those who have to deal with tourists.

But, on to the good things. We arrived after a 45 minute flight (highly recommended over the 7 hour round trip bus ride), found a taxi and discovered paradise! We are staying at the Eskaleh Lodge, a Nubian home built by Mr. Fikry Kachif, a Nubian musician who lived in Abu Simbel before the dam was built, worked for years as a guide on a cruise boat but got tired of traveling and decided to set up shop beside the lake. What he created is part Nubian cultural center, part hotel in a traditional mud-brick house. There are only 5 rooms and we are paying €60, including breakfast. I contacted him by phone about 6 months ago. If you're interested, his cell phone number is 012-368-0521; it's the only way to reach him as the web site is not up yet. We are so glad we found this place.

We were warmly greeted by a very nice man, Kareem, who told us to relax, took our bags and insisted that we sit down while he went to get us each a hibiscus drink. We chatted, gave him our passports, relaxed and then were taken to our wonderful room with separate dressing area and bathroom leading to our wonderful balcony overlooking his organic gardens. There are camels next door.

Our neighbor



Our room

Our balcony

We got settled then decided to relax somewhere with our Kindles. Kareem suggested that we wait to see the Temple at Abu Simbel until 3 or 4 pm when everyone is gone then see the sound and light show then come back for dinner. We readily agreed and added lunch to the itinerary. In the meantime, we found out that Kareem is Fikry's nephew.

We started the relaxing segment of the day with fresh mint tea out on the terrace with a lovely view of Lake Nasser, a cool breeze and plenty of blue sky and sunshine with just the perfect amount of shade in our spot that he had set up for us. Soft Nubian music was playing from inside, drifting out to us. We loved it.

After awhile, lunch began to arrive, starting with Tahina (his word) and warmed pita bread. Next came some appetizers: grilled eggplant and pepper and shredded carrot.

Our main course arrived, fresh Perch from Lake Nasser along with wonderful vegetables and rice. This may be the best meal we’ve had in Egypt. All of it is freshly cooked by Nubian women, the vegetables from Fikry’s garden.

After awhile, I decided to check email and see if there was a message from our next stop in our travels. I asked about using the computer and was told that this is my home now and I was to feel at home.

This place is truly wonderful. I only wish we were staying longer.

We walked about 20 minutes to the Temples at Abu Simbel and felt that the number of people was definitely manageable. We were both excited about our first sight of the Great Temple of Ramses II. I know I started walking faster as we rounded the bend for our first glimpse.

Great Temple of Ramses II

Graffiti on one of Ramses's legs--a lot of this went on during the 19th century.

Temple of Hathor

Temple of Hathor--one small section

We stayed for the Sound and Light Show after dark and really enjoyed it. It was quite balmy out which added to the evening. However, the number of people taking photos in the dark with their flashes going off was really annoying. I finally had to ask the guy next to me to stop--I was almost blinded by his flash from his huge camera. The woman next to him spent most of her time staring at the photos she took (in the dark) and pushing buttons on her camera to change the settings. Her camera was a constant light source. What is wrong with people? Why can't they just sit and enjoy the spectacle?

We walked back to Eskaleh and had our dinner on the terrace. We started with a wonderful soup and appetizer.

Dinner was grilled zucchini, rice and some kind of chicken stew. All very delicious.

Our guide, Mohamed, from Aswan, told us about the Nubian people. Historically the First Cataract marked the border between Egypt and Nubia which stretched from Aswan to Khartoum. The Egyptian side of the Nile Valley was fertile and cultivated while Nubia was rocky and supported limited agriculture. Building the Aswan and High Dams changed all that; much of Nubia disappeared under the waters of Lake Nasser. Settlements date back 10,000 years in northern Nubia. Egypt started to dominate Nubia with the unification of the land north of Aswan around 3100 B.C. This is the start of the Old Kingdom of Egypt when its history begins.

In Nubian culture, husbands go to live in the home of their wife's family. Curiously, they have no written language. Nubian music is easily accessible to Western audiences familiar with African music. It is rhythmic, warm and exotic, mixing simple melodies and soulful vocals. We really like it. The place we are staying was designed as a typical Nubian home with domed ceilings for coolness in the summer heat. It was 90° today and very balmy tonight; I can't imagine being here in the summer!

Many people have asked how it is possible that Chuck and I can remain so happy, whether or not we really are, and how we are managing this constant state of togetherness. Well, all I can say is, I wouldn’t want to travel with anyone else. In spite of normal frustrations during travel, we are always able to realize this incredible gift that we have been given: time and the ability to travel to places we’ve always wanted to see. We seem to work well together in small spaces and even with a few disagreements here and there, we really enjoy being together. Chuck is a great companion and I am realizing more and more what a special person he is. He is kind and caring and has great integrity. We've had a chance to really observe human nature and it has made me appreciate him even more--sometimes it's just about doing the right thing. I know I'm being vague here but I'm talking about honesty--we've seen a number of tourists try to get away with things like riding buses or trams for free because tickets are rarely checked and they can get away with it. We are in complete agreement about NOT doing this kind of thing. It took me a long time to find the right person--how lucky that I finally did! It was fun for me to learn just today that Chuck remembers writing to get information about the building of the High Dam and the moving of the fantastic monuments at Abu Simbel that were saved from the creation of Lake Nasser which would surely have destroyed them. I felt the same way about seeing Pompeii, remembering learning about it in 5th grade and being fascinated. Egypt is a dream come true, sometimes difficult to completely take in all at once. There are so many things to see and the mix of cultures is continually interesting to us. So, rest assured, we are doing great and continue to look forward to the next adventure on our trip. But, for fairness, here's Chuck's side of the story.

I am fortunate beyond measure to have found a life partner and traveling companion who is able to appreciate my strengths and to tolerate my weaknesses; I am not sure on which side my sense of humor falls. The stresses and strains we experience are the sort that any travelers have in sharing a journey. What I have noticed that I need to be aware of is a tendency to be even less patient than normal, especially when we are lost or I am tired. I try to notice this as it arises and let it go; sometimes I am successful; sometimes I am not. I am easily distracted and often fail to notice what is plain to those around me--this may be more than a simple gender difference. When Claire is frustrated because I have not grasped--or even heard--what she is trying to communicate, I feel helpless and annoyed--I'm doin' the best I can after all. But, she is not terribly patient, either; realizing this, I am more sympathetic to her and the situation. However, the bottom line is that we--or, should I speak only for myself?--never go to bed with anger in our hearts; and, each morning, life begins anew, full of wonder and opportunity. What a life!

This is the sort of adventure I had fantasized in my mind since childhood. I used to love reading old National Geographics--my grandfather had issues dating back to 1917 out in our garage. As a young man I heard about the Abu Simbel preservation project and sent for a pamphlet. I determined to go--one day. Today was the day!

There is no feeling more comforting and consoling than knowing you are right next to the one you love.


Pat in Santa Cruz said...

Oh your posts came in just as I was leaving for a couple of days. I am all caught up now. WOW. "Ancient" graffitti LOL. Loved the "jungle cruise" photo. Your new place in Egypt (I believe you showed this to me when we were last together) is Amazing (such a contrast to your "happy" land dive :-) So glad you two are so great together. You have found each other at the right time to share and live dreams...and all the hard stuff that goes along with that. Sorry about the MummyTummy have really been fortunate though. Thank you thank you for this Egyptian vacation!

Paul King said...

Hi again,
I have to confess I've let myself fall behind on reading the posts, which I really love. (about 17 posts behind. I don't even know where the RV is!).
But I just read this latest and I will shortly read the rest because I realize I have missed two wonderful people for too long.
The location is amazing and magical of course but it seems it takes a back seat to the destination of both your hearts.
A place of personal insight and mutual understanding and reverent love. What a place to land!
Solid and enduring as the pyramids, sumptuous as the lovely food.

What journey on so many levels.

Thanks for your moving, heartfelt writing.

Diane said...

I'm happy you are back to your blog--I missed it while you were cruising up the Nile! I was in a state of wonder while reading about Nubia--how in the world did you know to go to all of these places? Did Chuck read about Nubia in an old National Geographic?

It is phenomenal that you are having this experience. But when the journey is complete, the bond between the two of you that has intensified on this world adventure will be unbreakable. Your writings have become a page turning travel log and a wonderful love story as well. This has been a very special gift to your "avid readers."

Chuck and Claire said...

Thanks for all the great comments! We really enjoy reading them. As for knowing about Nubia, Diane, I started learning about a lot of things while researching our trip. I spent 3 months planning our one month in Egypt and one thing led to another and I discovered that Abu Simbel was a place not to be missed. I also read about the Nubian people and then we learned more in the book "Down The Nile," by Rosemary Mahoney. It's been a gradual learning process with many connections coming together as we travel.

Parag said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.