|Back from the abyss. For a minute there I thought we might be going right into the Sudan, which, all things considered is probably not a great idea right now with the ongoing problems in that country. So we turned northward once again, this time by boarding our felucca, a traditional Nile sailing vessel. The felucca is a very simple wooden boat with a single large sail that is retractable in a very unique way. The sail is fastened to a large boom that is suspended at an angle from a point about three quarters of the way up the mast. The sail can be trimmed by manipulating the sail itself, but also by changing the angle of the boom. The force of the wind is counterbalanced by in ingenious adjustable depth keel that can be raised and lowered as needed. Amazing that these things existed over 4000 years ago.
In this part of Egypt, you can really see how the Nile is the lifeblood of the people; without it, there would be nothing but desert. Literally, there is the river, then two strips of green on either side, and then nothing but endless rock and sand in the near distance. The Nile gives life to everything in the area.
The first day of sailing was great and smooth. We had to pull over occasionally for toilet stops (which are as crude as you are thinking - there are no facilities on the boat), but we finally "docked" on a sandy beach on the west side of the river for the night. Everyone sleeps on board in sleeping bags, and simple meals are made by the crew using a little gas fired stove right on board. It's like camping on the water. But holy smokes, is it ever freezing in the morning. It's getting down to zero right now, something none of us expected. Nevertheless, our goose down sleeping bags are doing the job! Funny though, there is absolutely no condensation or dew anywhere in the morning, the air is so dry. Just cold. Perfect for the morning toilet break if you get my drift.
The second day we visited Kom Ombou temple on the east bank. This was the first temple with really huge columns still intact, representative of the middle kingdoms in Egypt's long history. The temples are spectacular for the sheer weight of stone that has been placed. Most Egyptologists believe these stones were moved by way of huge ramps and then human power with crude sleds with logs beneath them. Later, the ramps would be removed leaving the building standing tall. Quite amazing.
Later that afternoon, we were back on the water, but the wind had come up a lot and our crew was a little fearful of moving on. We gave it a try, but the sail is so large for the boat that we were over quite a few degrees, and some of the girls were getting scared from the splashes, so we decided to beach near a village instead. This turned out to be fantastic as we got to interact with all the people of the nearby homes. An impromptu soccer game broke out, and I did my best to keep up with the barefooted Egyptians, who would only pass the ball to you if you were able to demonstrate some sort of minor competency (which was not that easy with these guys!).
The next day, it was too far for us to sail to where we were going to get off, so we just sailed around Kom Ombo for the day, and then slept one more night before getting off right there the next morning to join the military convoy to Edfu and Luxor. So, in the end, our sailing trip didn't make a lot of distance, but between the relaxing time sitting on the felucca, and the fun soccer games, it was really worth it. But, for future reference, it is not all that warm in Egypt in January folks!
Joining our military escort, we made our way to Edfu temple, which was a very well preserved one with lots of paintings, etc., and finally we made it to the granddaddy of them all - Luxor. Luxor might just be the world's biggest outdoor museum, what with Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens; it goes on and on and on. There is so much here, and much is not yet discovered. Like Aswan to the south, Luxor is a cleaner, more enjoyable, and slightly less congested city compared to Cairo and Alexandria in the north. Still dry and cold though.
That afternoon we visited Karnak Temple. And I have to say, it is probably one of the most awesome sights I have ever seen. The gigantic columns seem impossible for the age, and they are all still adorned with fantastic reliefs, some with colour. You can get lost for hours in the maze of columns looking at all the mathematical angles and coordinates that were employed in the construction of this magnificent Hypostyle hall. I could have spent hours there. Also at Karnak are some excellent obelisks; some missing having been stolen by the Turks and Romans in later years.
The next day, we went to Valley of the Kings on Donkeys. That was a blast. You really have to keep your balance because there are no stirrups, and they are really pack animals so if one decides to go, so do the others. I had one that was more the size of a pony, so he had longer legs and he kept getting ahead of all the others so I had to stop him a whole lot so the others could catch up. Most of our group didn't ride back, but Kristine and I did and it was a real bonus because we took a completely different route through the desert, and small Nubian villages lying on the edge of the floodplain. We were really glad we did it again, even though our legs were really sore at the end!
The Valley of the Kings contains more than 50 tombs of Pharaohs including King Tut; some are not even known or discovered yet. Tut was really a nobody as far as Egyptian kings go, not really important. However, his tomb discovered in 19222 was one of the only ones ever found completely intact, not having been robbed centuries ago by grave robbers - hence the fame. Lots of his burial stuff is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The other tombs we visited were much more spectacular. Deep underground, and very well painted were the tombs of the various Ramses and many others. It is really a special place. And they are still digging. They will be for centuries I think.
And so, our southern journey wrapped up, and we boarded the night train back to Cairo, joining up with our new group (this is the break point in the tour for people going on to the Sinai Peninsula and Jordan like us - the others were going to the coast for a few beach days).