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[Entry 11] Best until last?

10 December 201005:36AMepic-triptravel

(Not quite last, but it's the best title I could come up with. Anyway.)

Yesterday we visited Philae. Philae temple is another one of those Greek style temples. They all look the same a bit, with the big towers out the front, but have different details. Philae, for example is near water, which in Egypt is rare indeed. In the photos you see you think, 'oh, it's totally this temple by the Nile in the middle of nowhere'. No. Yes it's on the Nile, but it's on an island in a big wide lake-like section outside Aswan (a medium sized city). If Edfu was bland but fun, and Kom Ombo was interesting but not-so-fun, then Philae is probably somewhere between. It has a couple tunnels, and some interesting history (the whole temple was moved from underwater block by block when the area flooded after the construction of the first dam on the Nile), and is more of a temple complex than the others which tend to be a little monolithic. If I was going purely on logical means, I'd say Philae was my favourite, but it's not, because I liked Edfu too much, and this is a blog post not a hotel review so I'll probably stop there.

In a temple, just casually.

In the evening we did something a little different. Instead of sitting on the boat full of Germans (yeah, we somehow ended up the only English-speaking tour on the whole boat. The rest were about a hundred Germans on the same tour, and one group of half a dozen Italians) we went out to a Nubian village. Aswan has a large Nubian population, who live on an island in the middle of the Nile with their own village and pretty much a distinct culture, more African than Egyptian. They took us across on a boat (and did this whole singing and dancing routine with us on the way, which was... let's call it 'memorable'.). Then we got a tour of the village. When someone says 'village', you think it's going to be pretty primitive, but it really wasn't. The houses were made of mud bricks, but not 'tribal' or 'rustic' or anything - it just happens that mud bricks are easy to make and work with and also happen to stay cool in the summer. They had donkeys everywhere, but probably only because the island is a little sandy for cars, and donkeys are cheaper besides. It certainly wasn't rich, but it wasn't poor as such either. Just enough to be comfortable but not masses of superfluous junk.

I really need to get a better facial expression for my photos. Yuck.

They took us up to their school too, which was actually really good. Dad jokingly asked how I'd like to go to school there, and after jokingly replying that I'd only just escaped, I thought about it and decided I wouldn't actually mind it. They have 3 computers, and a library (a little sparse for my tastes, but you can't fault them for trying), and less than a dozen kids in every class. We didn't meet any of the teachers, but any school which can teach primary school age kids fluent Arabic (they grow up with Nubian, which is entirely a spoken language) and then decent English has got to be pretty good. It turns out Peregrine (our tour company) sponsors this school.

Year 4 classrooms have the same layout everywhere in the world.

Then we went for dinner at a Nubian family's house. It was really great. We sat on a mat on the ground on the roof, and they brought out hibiscus tea (yeah, I didn't know you could make tea from hibiscus either), then the mother brought out some handmade necklaces and bracelets and other trinkets (we bought some because it seemed rude not to- we were in their house after all). Then they brought out the food. Nubian bread and lentil soup, then chicken, kebabs, salad (Egyptian salad is just tomato and cucumber, diced), homemade chips (as in crisps), rice and pasta, with spiced potatoes and a vegetable curry/stew with beans and things which I forgot the name of. It tasted amazing. They also had this cute kid who kept coming in and making a mess of the beads his mum was trying to sell, and climbing all over us (and everything else). The only word he knew in English was 'bye bye', so he took every chance to use it; his parents would cart him downstairs ("byebye") and he'd come straight back up and keep running around.

The food.

The company.

The Nubian village and dinner actually turned out to be one of the best things we did on the tour, and I'd totally forgotten it was on there. It's totally the other end of the holiday spectrum to what we'd done so far, and I really enjoyed it. Really immersing yourself in a culture like that is far more satisfying than just being bussed to and from tourist sites. I gotta try it again.

Team photo!

So that brings us to this morning. Which we had trouble believing was morning, since it was 3:15. In the morning. Our flight didn't leave until 5, and then got delayed to 5:30... *grumble*. Anyway, we got down there just as the sun was coming up...

It really is very big.

'There' is Abu Simbel, the most remote temple built by Ramses II in an attempt to show his power to anyone who planned to invade Egypt. Imagine being a desert tribesman, coming up through the desert to invade that nice rich land to the north and coming across this. It'd be terrifying. Who is this man, who has the power to carve out mountains in his image. Even today, looking across Lake Nasser, it's pretty awe-inspiring.

Two enormous guys. And some statues too.

It's partly the scale and detail of the temple itself, and partly the setting (it's perfectly aligned to face the sun) and partly the isolation (it really is in the middle of nowhere), but actually the most amazing thing about the temple is the way it was moved about 200 metres to the north. Which doesn't sound like much, but think about it. It's a temple, carved into the side of a mountain. That is not a thing that you move on a whim. Then again, to think that something like this could have been lost under Lake Nasser when the dam was built. That's an achievement on par with building it.

Achievement, you say? BLEEP BLOOP.

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