Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Aswan, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Egypt - Egipto

March 19, 2008

Two friends and I took the night train from Cairo to Aswan. 14 hours of travel. Yeah, that’s how I roll. I did not have a ticket because I was told I could buy one once on board. I boarded the train and it was practically empty, but I got worried in Giza when a bunch of people got on the train and I had to move out of the comfy seat I had. In the end I got the very last seat in the "foreigners" car (first class with AC). This sort of thing happens often to me. I guess my optimism hasn’t failed me yet and I hope it never does!

After 14 hours on the train we arrived in Aswan. Aswan is a quaint little town by the Nile in southern Egypt, only 3 hours north of Sudan. That afternoon we went to Philae Island to visit a temple built with Roman and Greek influence. The classical Egyptian hieroglyphics don’t cease to amaze me. We also visited the dam that forms Lake Nasser, one of the biggest man-made lakes in the world. When we returned to town we had a couple of beers as we watched the sunset overlooking the Nile. We ended the day sailing on a felucca with a cool Nubian dude. This part of Egypt is also called Nubia. That night we ended up on the other side of the Nile with the most beautiful full moon you can imagine. The wind blowing as we sailed in the Nile. It was definitely worth the 14 hours in the train.

My friends got on a cruise the next day.  Before that we went on one more felucca ride to visit a Nubian village where they bought “galabeyas”, the traditional robes worn by Egyptian men. I stayed in Aswan because I had made plans to travel to Abu Simbel, a spectacular site where Ramses’ II ego is carved out of a mountain in the form of 20 mt (60 ft) tall statues.  I had to wake up at 3 in the morning to take the mini-bus. The site can only be visited from 6 to 9 am, as the heat after that time is unbearable. After 3 hours I arrived. Abu Simbel is such a majestic example of ancient Egyptians’ mastery of the sciences and arts. Not only are the two temples at Abu Simbel among the most magnificent monuments in the world but their removal and reconstruction was an historic event in itself.

When the temples (280 km/170 miles from Aswan) were threatened by submersion in Lake Nasser, due to the construction of the High Dam, the Egyptian Government secured the support of UNESCO and launched a world wide appeal. During the salvage operation which began in 1964and continued until 1968, the two temples were dismantled and raised over 60 meters up the sandstone cliff where they had been built more than 3,000 years before. Here they were reassembled, in the exact same relationship to each other and the sun, and covered with an artificial mountain. Most of the joins in the stone have now been filled by antiquity experts, but inside the temples it is still possible to see where the blocks were cut. You can also go inside the man made dome and see an exhibition of photographs showing the different stages of the massive removal project. Impressive.

I left Aswan the next day after trying to buy a train ticket three times. For some reason they would not sell it to me. I had to go talk to the chief of the tourist police and literally beg him to approve me going in the 2nd class wagon. Apparently the 1st class foreigner’s wagon was sold out. I explained I needed to get back to Cairo to teach and he finally wrote me a sticky note for the train ticket teller. I got a ticket after waiting over an hour in the local’s ticket window. Everyone kept cutting the line and at some point I had to tell a supervisor and he took me up front I told the teller to sell me the ticket. Yeah, that’s how I roll. My train left at 8 pm that night. I spent my last day walking around the bazaar, went swimming and read by the pool of the Isis hotel. I was so glad I did, because the temperature was about 45 C (110 F). No wonder tours to Abu Simbel go so early in the day.

One of the most memorable moments of the trip is having seeing a mirage in the desert. After exploring the amazing Abu Simbel site. In the minivan looking out the window on the way back to Aswan, when I suddenly saw what looked like a lake in the middle of the desert. I smiled and thought: Yes, that’s how I roll.

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ESPANYOL

19 de marzo, 2008

Dos amigos y yo, tomamos el tren nocturno de Cairo a Aswan. 14 horas de viaje. Si, asi viajo yo. Yo no tenia boleto porque me dijeron que podia comprarlo una vez a bordo, pero me empece a preocupar cuando en Giza un monton de gente se subio y me tuve que mover de mi comodo asiento. Al final me toco el ultimo asiento en el vagon de los "extranjeros." Primera clase con aire acondicionado. Despues de 14 horas en el tren llegamos a Aswan. Aswan es una pintoresca ciudad a la orilla del Nilo en el sur de Egipto, a 3 horas al norte de sudan. Esa tarde visitamos la isla Philae donde vimos un templo construido con la ayuda de los Romanos y con influencia Griega con los clasicos jeroglificos egipcios que no dejan de impresionarme. Tambien visitamos la presa que forma el lago Nasser, uno de los mas grandes lagos hechos en el mundo. Al regresar a la ciudad nos tomamos un par de cervezas y mientras veiamos el atardecer a la orilla del Nilo. Terminamos el dia con un paseo en barco de vela (feluca) con un cool chico Nubiano. A esta area de Egipto tambien se le conoce como Nubia. Una hermosa luna llena, el viento, el Nilo... definitivamente valieron la pena las 14 horas en el tren.

Mis amigos abordaron un crucero el siguiente dia. Antes de irse paseamos en velero de nuevo para visitar un pueblo Nubiano donde ellos compraron galabeyas, que son la tunica tradicional que visten los hombres egipcios.  Yo me quede en Aswan porque tenia planeado viajar a Abu Simbel. Un sitio spectacular donde el ego de Ramses II se transform en enormes estatuas de 20 metros esculpidas en una montania. Me desperte a las 3 de la maniana para tomar un minibus porque los tours solo los hacen de 6 a 9 am debido al calor que llega despues de esa hora. Despues de 3 horas llegue a mi destino. Abu simbel es un majestuoso ejemplo de la maestria en las ciencias y lasartes de los antiguos Egipcios. No solo los monumentos son de los mas majestuosos en el mundo, pero su relocacion y reconstruccion fue un evento historico en si mismo.



Cuando los templos (280 km al sur de aswan) estuvieron amenazados de ser sumergidos por las aguas del lago Nasser debido a la contruccion de la presa, el gobierno Egipcio aseguro el apoyo de la UNESCO y lanzo una compania mundial para salvarlos. Durante la operacion que duro de 1964 hasta 1968, los dos templos fueron desmantelados y elevados 60 metros desde el risco arenoso en los que fueron construidos mas de 3,000 anios antes. Ahi fueron re-emsamblados en la exacta relacion el uno al otro y al sol, y cubiertos por una montania artificual. La mayoria de las uniones en la roca han sido rellenadas por expertos en antiguedades, pero adentro del templo aun es posible distinguir donde los trozos de roca fueron cortados. Ademas se puede obvervar una exhibicion fotografica que muestra las diferentes etapas del masivo proyecto de recolocacion. Impresionante.

Sali de aswan el dia siguiente despues de tratar tres veces de comprar un boleto. Finalmente logre comprar mi boleto despues de  hablar con el jefe de la policia de turismo. No me querian vender boleto en segunda clase porque aparentemente el de primera clase estaba vendido. Le explique que yo debia regresar a Cairo a dar clases. Al final me dio una nota en un post-it para que lo entregara en la ventanilla. Despues de esperar mas de una hora en la ventanilla hable con un supervisor porque todo el mundo se colaba y yo no avanzaba. El supervisor me llevo al frente y compre mi boleto. El tren salio a las 8 pm esa noche. Pase mi ultimo dia paseando por los bazares y nadando en la piscina del hotel Isis. Que suerte que lo hice porque la temperature ese dia llego a los 45grados (113 Farenheit). Si, habia calor.

Uno de los momentos mas memorables del viaje es haber visto un espejismo en el desierto. Despues de visitor el impresionante sitio que es Abu Simbul, miraba por la ventana en el camino de regreso a Aswab. De repente vi lo que parecia un lago en medio del desierto. Sonrie y pense: Si, ese es mi estilo.

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