Africa

Ten Days in Timeless Egypt

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2009

Off the main courtyard are a warren of smaller rooms and open hallways filled with hieroglyphics and intricate engravings depicting the defeat of the evil god Seth—who murdered Osiris—by Horus, literally a kind of ancient novel with the theme of good winning over evil and an eons-old soap opera, if you will, that no doubt mesmerized millions of Egyptians over time. Here, too, are the massive engravings of the pharaoh defeating his enemies. It’s a recurring theme in most of the temples we visited, complete with the consistent grisly engraving of the pharaoh grasping his evil enemy by the hair and righteously smiting him into oblivion. Indeed, there was an ancient, annual ritual called the Triumph of Horus, where participants used 10 harpoons to kill a hippopotamus, which was politically correct in those days since the cranky creature killed more people than the region’s crocodiles and poisonous snakes.

We’ve got to say that the vendor gauntlet one has to run through at the end of the tour here is a daunting one. The mind-set these guys have is focused on a one-shot sales effort because they know the ships are taking off right after the temple visit and they’re aggressive, to say the least. They literally thrust their goods upon you, trailing alongside as you head for the bus, running their pitch as fast as they can, only turning away to look for fresh meat when they’ve convinced themselves there’s no sale here. It can be annoying, but in reality, most of it’s in good fun and if you can slow them down a bit, they’re genuinely friendly and good-natured.

After heading back to the ship for lunch, we took off once again on a leisurely sailing to Kom-Ombo and more vendors packing the mightiest weapon of all—wide-eyed children selling all manner of things from bracelets to bookmarks, most bearing somber or perfectly perfected pathetic smiles. The temple itself is dedicated to the gods Sobeck and Haroeris, both of which are, in general, bad guys.

Then we set sail for Aswan where we headed to the temples of Abu Simbel and one of the most incredible sights in Egypt. But first, I wanted to pause and note on the incredible growth of infrastructure Egypt has invested in to help feed its amazing tourism growth and the emphasis they put on security for tourists throughout the country. Each and every one of the domestic airport terminals we passed through on this trip had a sense of newness and efficiency to them that’s genuinely startling. And the security measures are amazingly thorough—visitors are going to go through two security portals, one for checked luggage, which also includes carry-on items and still another carry-on check before heading into the closed-off terminal waiting area.

Everywhere one goes—attractions, hotels and the river cruise ships—security portals and security personnel and tourism police are visibly there. It’s not invasive in any way and your clients will be more than happy with the way the overall sense of safety and concern for their well-being is illustrated here. Any client who voices concern about the safety of this destination should be made aware of this, because tourism safety is visible and truly top of mind here and it shows.

Upon arrival at the temple sites, we took about a 10-minute walk from the entrance to the temple grounds for a dramatic introduction by our guide. As we approached the temples themselves, he instructed us to keep our eyes on Lake Nasser itself and not to turn around until he gave the word—a simple exercise that pays off big time. As we turned, this magnificent structure totally overwhelmed us— its massive grandeur literally takes your breath away.

Four massive, 65-ft. figures of Ramses II are cut into a rock facade that’s about 115 ft. long and a little less than 100 ft. high. Alongside these figures are three smaller statues flanking his legs representing his wives and children. Built by Ramses in the 13th century B.C., the temple took nearly 20 years to build and is dedicated to the gods Re-Hor-Akhty, Amon, Ptah, and King Ramses himself as a deified king. And let’s face it, with four 65-ft. statues of himself at the entrance, it was definitely a bit of an ego trip, as well. It was also a reminder to his Nubian neighbors not to mess with the mighty Ramses.