Monday, November 17, 2008


This isn't really in Aswan, but the only way for tourists to get to it is a little flight from Aswan's airport. This is the temple at Abu Simbel, a monument to Ramses, who was something of an egomaniac. Those are four of him in front, and most of the temple's reliefs are devoted to him slaughtering and enslaving all comers, Nubians especially. The mountain is artificial and hollow...the whole temple would have been underwater if it hadn't been moved. That guy in the black shirt between the rightmost two Ramseses is a tour guide, and his T-shirt says "Abdul" on the front and "Follow Abdul Please" on the back.

The temple of Hathor at Abu Simbel. It's supposed to be dedicated to Hathor and Ramses's wife, but, surprise, it's all about Ramses slaughtering and enslaving.

This is a large chunk of Aswan as seen from the roof of my hotel, the Nubian Oasis. Elephantine Island is in the middle of the Nile, a lush place with a Nubian village that's fun to walk through: the village is small enough to have no need for vehicles, so the streets are wide enough for a couple of Egyptians to pass down, which translates into about one and a half of us titanic North Americans. The houses also have a more celebratory form of decoration, but once again I missed taking decent pictures. Aswan was warm, relaxed and the people were kind. I spent way too much time there, from the perspective of someone who wanted to see lotsa sights; aside from Philae and Abu Simbel, there's nothing eye-popping around. Just a good place to relax. I ate an orange up on the roof and in a little while the peel crunched under my foot: no humidity at all. That little peak on the hill is a mausoleum, which is a nice starting point for a walk across the dunes to the decaying monastery of St Simeon. Dig under the rocks there and you can steal a certain camel driver's drug stash, which I think is adequate recompense for his being rather forward with me. The rule appears to be that all foreigners are whores.

After a few days in my hotel room in Aswan, Ramadan struck, which meant no meals, liquids, medicine, or smokes during the day for the devout, but an orgy of gorging before dawn and after dusk. That made dusk a nice time for a nap, because the streets would empty out while everyone ran home and stuffed themselves. Soon enough though, they'd come back out. The guys extending the hovels into this dumping ground outside my window were no fools: they only worked at night, so they could eat, drink, and smoke while doing it. Bastards, hammering away at all hours, taking valuable nesting space away from the flea-bitten felines and garbage-eating chickens...hey, I guess those chickens are free-range, huh?

Most of the sand in Egypt is actually a deathly gray, but it's heavier than the yellow sand which blows around and hides it. This is the monastery of St. Simeon, and the walk to it is a good one for Indiana Jones fantasies. Not many tourists seem to walk in the desert...can't think why. It's silent and desolate in a really inspiring way. Deserts in Arizona seem like fertile pastures in comparison.

Philae's another temple that would have been lost under the waters of Lake Nasser, the lake formed by the High Dam at Aswan, had it not been moved from one island to another with the help of huge infusions of foreign cash. So you get to it via little motorboats. It's a spectacle. Not to be missed.

Philae. Roman addition in the background.

More Philae.

Heck, I think it's more Philae, this time with people for scale, although I recall trying my damndest to eliminate them. [Editor's note - Although "elimination" brings colourful images to mind, rest assured that our naive traveler was simply wishing people were not in the picture he was taking because he hates people with a passion.]

This is probably a temple at Kalabsha, another island temple rescued from hydroelectric might. My memory's fuzzy on this one, but when I look at it I hear a security guard bragging about just having acquired his second wife and fantasizing about a further two. Yup, gotta be Kalabsha. Then the guy wanted baksheesh (palm-greasing money) for having subjected me to his company. Through all the temples, tombs, and whatnot, guys were hanging around trying to point something out to you so they'd have an excuse to ask you for baksheesh. Sadness, pity, could feel all these plus a triumphant cruelty when you thought of slick ways to brush them off or put columns between them and yourself. A lot of the time they have little to offer but things like "Ramses. Snake. Sun." Thanks professor.

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