Friday, 30 May 2008

Inland to the Nile ... May 2008

Avenue of the Spinxes in Luxor
10-28 May 2008

We spent the next a few days cleaning up and relaxing while organising our Nile Cruise and minibreak!! We were recommended the “Nile Admiral” ship and Cairo based GAT Tours and booked everything via internet and received excellent and prompt service. We were able to pay the 4 night cruise (USD76pp pn including all meals, tours, admissions, guides) at a local bank in Hurghada in either USD or EGP which suited us well and they also arranged our transfer to Luxor with the tourist convey to connect with the cruise. This was USD45pp which was much more than we paid for our other transfers we organised independently enroute but worked well for us at the time.

Statues of Menom on Luxors West Bank
 We were picked up by private minibus at 5.30am from our dock in Hurghada Marina along with Annie and Liam off Gone with the Wind to start our Egyptian holiday. By 12.30pm we were checked into our comfortable cabins onboard and enjoying the first of many excellent meals onboard whilst overlooking the famous Nile River. A busy afternoons sightseeing included the Karnak and Luxor Temples, both outstanding sites and our first taste of the immense history Egypt holds. The following morning it was an early start to beat the intense heat of the day. After watching the Hot Air Balloons rise over the West Bank we visited the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepust and the Colossi of Memnon. They were all excellent, although very hot and busy. It was back onboard to let the lines go and we headed south down the Nile as we enjoyed the afternoon at leisure lazing in the shade by the pool, watching life on the Nile pass us by. Late afternoon entertainment was provided when we slowed to transit the Esna lock. The local stallholders take to their boats and throw items of clothing, shawls, rugs, really anything they can onto the ship in the hope that the tourists will like them. If you do then you start the bartering process yelling backwards and forwards until the price is agreed then you throw down the money in a plastic bag and hope it lands in their boat!!!! All very entertaining and many purchases were made.

Day 3 dawned hot and sunny yet again and there were more sights to see. A morning tour to the excellent Temple of Horus in Edfu followed by a short shopping excursion then it was back onboard for another restful afternoon as we headed further south. Our late afternoon stop was at Kom-Ombo Temple, positioned beautifully on a bend in the Nile overlooking the setting sun. Running the gauntlet through the stalls to get back onboard before sailing time was not an easy task. That evening onboard was fancy dress Egyptian style and many of the previous day’s purchases were worn in high spirits. Another early start on day 4 was not welcome after a late night but there was more to see.

Temple of Edfu
 We had arrived at Aswan and visited the great modern Nile engineering feat, the High Dam. This was followed by a short local boat trip out to Philae Island. Here they have resited a temple that would have been lost underwater when the dam was built. This has been undertaken in many places in this area with the help of UNESCO and has truly saved many historical treasures that would have been covered for all time. Next up it was time for our felucca ride around Elephantine Island, unfortunately the wind didn’t come out to play so we didn’t get much of a sail in. Then that was the end of the pre-planned activities so we relaxed and enjoyed another leisurely afternoon on the ship with our unobstructed Nile view, and even caught up on some much needed sleep.

Next morning the 4 of us taxied to the local bus station and boarded the early Upper Egypt Bus Company bus to Abu Simbel. Big mistake, but we must all learn the hard way and it was an experience. All looked ok to start with but before we had even left Aswan we were diverted to the bus company depot and all changed onto a bus that would not have passed a safety inspection in most countries for at least 10 years. It had just been hosed out, so seats (which weren’t actually attached to the frames), floor, basically everything was wet so the only dry seats we could get were at the back, above the motor. Oh well, it was only 4 hours, it would be fine. But it got hotter, and hotter, and hotter, to the point where we couldn’t put our feet on the floor. This was combining nicely with the outside air temperature which was over 40 degrees and of course this bus didn’t have air-conditioning. Surprisingly we actually arrived safely and almost on time, way more by good luck than the drivers skills. We were escorted by a local military man to our overnight accommodation just 4 minutes walk away, the Eskaleh, ph 0020 (97) 340 1288, 40Euro double room. It sits lakeside in a quiet street and is a traditional Nubian mudbrick house. Our cute room had air-con, fan, ensuite and free wifi, (or free use of their computer) the owners and staff were absolute delights and the food very good, the only downside was no swimming pool which might have been good.

Flat out on the Nile after another busy
 morning spent sightseeing
Time for relaxing during the heat of the day then at 4.30pm we headed to the Temples of Ramses the Great and his wife, about 20 minutes walk away. This is the best time of the day to visit as over 95% of the visitors to Abu Simbel do it as a very long day trip from Aswan and have been and gone long before lunch. We had the luxury of exploring with only a handful of others and stayed until the caretaker locked up at 7pm. Then we purchased our tickets for the Sound and Light Show and went back in and enjoyed hearing the history of Ramses and the visual effects of the lighting on the temples exterior. Alone these temples are truly magnificent, but what makes them even more special was that they were also moved when the dam was built to a new site about 70 metres higher than their original location. This was a huge undertaking and has been done superbly, with even the broken pieces lying as they would have fallen. Some parts were repaired, some cleaning was also done, and then they tunnelled it all into the hillside overlooking the Nile. I am sure even Ramses would have approved.

This was a big side trip almost back down to the Sudanese boarder, but a definite highlight of our Nile Valley minibreak. Next morning we did the wise thing and asked the hotel to organise a private car for us and we joined the 10am tourist convoy to Aswan. Our driver then organised another car to take us on the 2pm convoy to Luxor where we stayed the night at the St Joseph Hotel, on the Corniche. The room was comfortable with air con, ensuite with bathtub, lake views, balcony, rooftop swimming pool, free WIFI, and breakfast included for USD30. The staff were helpful and booked a private minivan for the 4 of us to join the following afternoon’s convoy back to Balvenie and Gone with the Wind in Hurghada. Our final mornings sightseeing included a ride on a horse and carriage with the obligatory stop at the papyrus market, and a leisurely look through the Luxor Museum which has been set out very well, with some excellent pieces recently discovered in Luxor Temple, a couple of mummies, some pieces from Tutankhamun’s Tomb and a host of other interesting artefacts, all displayed well and explained (in English). The transfer worked well and we arrived home to the marina before dark, having very much enjoyed our 8 day excursion. A new adventure awaited us, the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal.

See our web album for more photos
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