Monday, March 26, 2012

Abu Simbel, Egypt 3/1 - 3/2


After bribing a Cairo airport security officer with 20 Egyptian pounds (3.31 USD) to let us take our Cairene lamp on the plane, we were on our way to Abu Simbel.

See a closer view of our interactive map
Upon arrival at the Eskaleh Ecolodge in Abu Simbel, we were greeted with locally grown fresh hibiscus juice and an opportunity to relax while completing the checking in process. Eskaleh's theme is inspired by the history of the Nubian people who lived in the area since ancient times. In the 1950s, the Egyptian government built the Aswan Dam at the cost of displacing many of the local Nubians from their lands. In 2005, a Belgian named Fikri built Eskaleh to preserve every element of the Nubian culture from the lodge's architecture to their sustainable farming practices.

Drinking fresh juice from locally grown lemons and hibiscus
Eskaleh Ecolodge built in the Nubian architectural style
Our room
Replica of an ancient donkey powered water wheel for irrigation
Sustainable biodiverse farming
Abu Simbel is relatively calm and hassle-free, compared to other tourist destinations in Egypt. We took the afternoon to stroll through the village and had schoolchildren greeting us with joyous "hellos" and "welcomes". Drivers would do the same while honking their horns as they passed. Most tourists visit Abu Simbel on a tight schedule via cruise or tour bus to see the monuments without taking the time to explore the actual village. We were happy to spend some time amongst the friendly locals while also supporting their economy.

Village bazaar
We hired a private boat through our hotel to take us around lake Nasser. We didn't know it ahead of time but we got the see the temples as they were originally intended to be seen. In the 1300s BC, Pharaoh Ramses II built the two massive temples by the Nile river to impress and intimidate travelers entering Egypt. Here's Laure being intimidated:

View of temples from the Nile river
Boat captain bidding us farewell
At night, we watched the Sound and Light show. It's an hour long show projecting a video on the monuments explaining some of its history. It's a bit cheesy but fun to see huge projections on these enormous temples.

Great Temple of Ramses II at night
As a prevention from losing the temples to flooding from the construction of the Aswan Dam, UNESCO relocated them to higher grounds where they stand today roughly preserving their previous appearance and orientation. We woke up early at 5am to walk and see the monuments at sunrise. This is the optimal time as the sunlight shines all the way into the innermost sacred sanctuary lighting up the scupltures of Ramses II and pharaonic gods.

Ramses II needed four ridiculously huge statues of himself to intimidate travelers
Sunlight shines into the sacred sanctuary in the early morning
Although Ramses II had many wives and children, he built the smaller temple in honor of his favorite Queen Nefertari. He even made Nefertari's statues as tall as his own, which is extremely rare during pharaonic times. Maybe he was trying to make up for having sex with so many other women.

Temple of Hathor and Nefertari
Some of the carvings and paintings inside the temples have been beautifully preserved after over 3000 years. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside, which means you'll need to go there to see them yourself. The guards were nice enough to allow us to take this photo of the interior while Laure stood in the doorway; technically she was outside.
A peak inside the smaller temple
We were starving by the time we left the temples. When we got back to our hotel, they arranged a beautiful breakfast on the roof top terrace for the two of us. The hospitality we received in Abu Simbel and the relaxing atmosphere made it a perfect stop to unwind.
Rooftop breakfast