Cruising through ancient Egypt

The different boats plying the Nile River.

The different boats plying the Nile River.

We’d been in Egypt for four days, but I’d not yet gotten a good glimpse of the Nile. Finally that changed, as we boarded an overnight train south, up river, for our Nile River cruise. After 15 frigid, fluorescent-lit hours, we arrived in Aswan, on the map for its importance as an ancient trading post and current site of the High Dam that creates Lake Nassar*.
Philae Temple in its relocated spot in Lake Nassar.

Philae Temple in its relocated spot in Lake Nassar.

We were a little wary of the quality of the ship we’d be on since we booked through a budget tour operator, but we were delighted with (almost) everything. Our room felt much like any other mid-level cruise ship room I’ve been in, the ship was decorated very smartly, and the food was varied and tasty and plentiful. I wish the hot tub on the top deck had actually been heated, but that was really my only complaint.
chandelier
I never got a satisfactory explanation for all the haze so far up river. Fires was an educated guess.

I never got a satisfactory explanation for all the haze so far up river. Fires was an educated guess.

Most of the other guests were European, though our tour group included another young American couple and a family of four from Ohio. We got along quite well and ended up spending much of our time outside of meals and excursions with them.
Some of the color remaining in Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, including the star-lit ceiling that decorates so many of the burial tombs.

Some of the color remaining in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple, including the star-lit ceiling and the cobras keeping an eye on things that decorate so many of the burial tombs.

Our excursions in Aswan, our first taste of ancient Egypt, were a bit lackluster thanks to our less-than-stellar guide, but the more assertive members of our group complained to their tour companies, and we had a new guide the nest day. He was incredible—a former English-literature major who was now, after 12 years of being a guide, was pursuing a master’s degree in Egyptology to perhaps become a professor himself. We learned so much! And not just about ancient Egypt—as he was staying on the boat with us, we insisted he take his meals with us, too, and he gamely fielded our questions about his life today.
Edfu hieroglyphics
Nile sunrise
For Colin and I, used to hefting our backpacks around wherever we go, staying in hostels that don’t always have ensuite bathrooms, learning whatever the guidebook can tell us and little else, and sometimes skipping meals rather than paying for the mediocre, over-priced tourist fare, it was the good life on this tour.

And that’s what vacation should be, right?
Karnak Temple columns
Karnak Temple
Our tour ended in Luxor, home to the Valley of the Kings, the marvelous Karnak Temple, and of course, Luxor Temple. Spectacular paint still covers the walls of the burial chambers the pharaohs had built for themselves, depicting the spiritual crossing the body would be taking after death, some of the items that would be stored with them for the journey, and even a love song to Ra, the Sun God, as an explanation for their eschewing the pyramids in favor of the more discrete hills of the valley (grave robbers).
Nile sunset
*I am not an Egyptian, so automatically I get to have absolutely zero say on an issue like this, but this is my blog so here it is: Damming the Nile helped control life around the river. Rather than dealing with the uncertainty of yearly floods—floods that would sometimes destroy crops with high water, and floods that would sometimes not come at all—they built a dam so they could expect the same amount of water each year. I’m sure that made life easier for those living in the basin. However, the yearly floods also brought all those rich nutrients that the farmers needed to grow their crops, so now they use fertilizer. And now there’s a problem of river weeds clogging up areas because they’re growing a lot more thanks to all the fertilizer run-off. Also, the dams (there are actually two) flooded an ancient temple (and, you know, the homes of a bunch of Nubians), which they only after the fact decided to go back in and save by building a cement room around the site, draining it, taking it apart and relocating it to a hill (which would become an island) in the area. Seriously. Finally, I have a beef with dams in general because they so greatly disrupt the ecosystem around them. It’s not as though ecosystems are particularly robust and can withstand the brutal steps taken to fulfill the energy-needs of humans. There are crocodiles that can no longer swim freely down river to Kom Ombo, the temple that was constructed to worship Sobek, Lord of the Waters, the ancient Egyptian god represented with a crocodile head. It ain’t right.

Kom Ombo, the riverside temple honoring two gods (the only one of its kind), including Sobek, Lord of the Waters.

Kom Ombo, the riverside temple honoring two gods (the only one of its kind), including Sobek.

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