After the overnight train from Cairo, which was very comfortable in 2 person private compartments, we arrived late into Aswan. Arrival afternoon we were met our guide who took us on a boat down the Nile and provided us with a home cooked traditional Nubian lunch, one of many wonderful home cooked meals we’d have on this trip. While eating lunch we cruised past Elephantine Island and saw hieroglyphs carved into the rocks. Later in the afternoon we took a camel ride to view the monastery of St. Simeon.
The morning, or perhaps I should say, the night of my birthday we got up at 3am to join the police convoy (a means to protect tourist vehicles from terrorist ambushes in the desert) for the 3hour drive to Abu Simbel. Aside from the Pyramids, Abu Simbel is perhaps one of the most famous and recognizable symbols of Egypt. Abu Simbel consists of 4 giant carved figures of Ramses II, a temple behind this imposing entrance and the temple of Nefertari, itself with 6 giant carved figures. This was one of my favorite sites of the trip :). Abu Simbel is actually only 40km north of Sudan and was intended to scare the Nubian Africans into submission when it was built in the 13th Century BC. It was cut into large blocks and then moved piece-by-piece to higher ground during the building of the Aswan High Dam which otherwise would have submerged this amazing temple underwater.
Three hours drive there, 3hours at the temples, and then 3hours drive back toward Aswan already seemed like a full day, but then we stopped at Philae Temple, located on a island in the middle of Nile River. This temple, like Abu Simbel, was moved to higher ground during the construction of the Dam. This temple is remarkable not only for its original carvings but also for the Roman and later Napoleonic-era and even later British graffiti on it.
Late in the afternoon, and amazed that I was still awake, I went to the Nubian Museum in Aswan. The museum is incredibly well-done with everything explained and labeled in English; its devoted to preserving the history and culture of the Nubian people since many of their dwellings were lost under water during the building of the Dam.
The following day we set sail on a felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailing vessel, moving downriver toward Luxor. However, the prevailing wind blows south, back toward Aswan, so in a full day of sailing we only made it about 1/3 of the way to Luxor because of needing to zigzag down the river. While hard work for the crew, it was a relaxing day of watching the Nile banks glide by for the rest of us.