14 May 2013- Dakhla Oasis, Egypt
“Hello, Hello, where are you from? Hello, I am an excellent guide, Hello…HELLO.” Egypt, so different from Sudan! We are in our final African country and we can’t decide if it feels African at all. It’s most definitely an Arab country and maybe just Africa geographically. It’s also a place that heavily relies on tourism and has had a mass tourism market for a very long time, mass isn’t the way to describe it now. Since the revolution there are no people coming here. We have read how busy it is seeing the sights of Egypt, to expect to see the temples with a crush of other people, well so far its been us and the temples, aside from one this morning where there were a few groups. After the peaceful curiosity of Sudanese people we are getting used to Egypt- lots of people selling you lots of things and no fixed prices so to buy almost any product or service requires haggling.
We enjoyed our few days in Aswan, having a shower and a few nice simple meals on the roof terrace of the guesthouse. With a view over the small Nubian village just outside Aswan and the River Nile and watching all the life going on- people coming and going from the mosque, children playing, groups of women chatting. It’s very very hot but having a room in the guesthouse for two days was truly like another world. It was good to get back into landy though, and it was great to ‘hit the road’ after four nights away (a night when she was on the barge, our night on the ferry and two nights in Aswan). We were able to tear ourselves away from our shower and clean sheets and look around Aswan as well. Olly read up on what he wanted to see and I followed along. We went to see a quarry (married to a geologist!) 🙂 which was really interesting. In ancient times Aswan was the place for the best granite used in temples and obelisks around the country and this quarry has an incomplete obelisk abandoned half way through excavation. An enormous thing at 40 something metres tall, the stone workers discovered a crack in it which rendered it useless so there it sits, partially carved out of the ground. It’s remarkable to see the size of it as well as the way it would have been made- basically using stone tools, such hard hard work.
From Aswan we started on our way to Luxor and stopped along the way to see The Temple of Horus at Edfu, incredible! We were both blown away walking up to this simply enormous structure. It stands at 36 metres in height and is covered inside and out on literally almost every surface with ornate carvings. The sheer scale and size of the place is mind-boggling. Walking up to it was almost intimidating as it’s so massive. We spent a few hours wandering around (with no other tourists anywhere) looking at the hieroglyphics carved into almost every space and the scenes of various offerings to the gods.
In Luxor we stayed at a small camp on the West Bank and zoomed across the Nile on a boat a few times a day whenever we wanted to go in to the city. Luxor is a city with amazing trove of ancient sights to see and the guides and people wanting to sell you things or services is pretty full on. Especially the guys wanting to offer you a horse ride, they are relentless! At times it was like some sort of weird fun fair with people popping out about every few steps or so- “Hello hello” With only a tiny fraction of the tourists they normally have people are pretty desperate for work, which is sad and must be difficult. It can get a bit frustrating after a while though when you just want to walk somewhere or have a conversation. Besides that Olly is very allergic to horses so between the pollution in the city (which we have not had for a long time) and people coming up to us on horses every minute he was very very wheezy by the night’s end and desperate to get back to camp.
We enjoyed some delicious food while in Luxor and walked around Luxor Temple at night, which we really enjoyed. Seeing it lit up at night was very atmospheric. Again the two things that made the most impact on us was the scale of everything- enormous statues, huge sphinx and towering columns, as well as the thought of what it would have taken to make these places thousands of years ago. Truly incredible, they show the depth of commitment and belief ancient Egyptians had in their pharaohs and the absolute power they must have had to get these structures built. There are literally thousands of tombs and temples around Luxor. Of course not all are open to the public and you can only imagine what there is to still discover. To see it all you would need to be very interested in ancient Egyptian culture, need a lot of time or run around all day every day. We don’t like to try to see it all and weren’t about to start now so we chose a few things to have a look at and wandered around some of the temples and tombs, intrigued by the hieroglyphics and the stories and thoughts of an ancient culture and trying to put our own interpretations into what we were seeing. I’m amazed how well preserved much of it is, of course some is more rubble than not but given they have sat for thousands of years through weather, war, humans, pollution, politics and changes of religion its amazing anything is left!
Rather than follow the River Nile north as we have been doing for a long time, all through Sudan and southern Egypt, we went into the Western Desert, one of the main things we wanted to see in Egypt. We spent a night in the first oasis, not what many would imagine as an oasis, the classic palm trees fringing a well or pool, but a medium-sized city with a love of concrete. It is however the oasis that sustains a city in the middle of mile after mile of sand in all directions. After driving for hours we dropped down into the oasis, obvious with trees, grass and flowers and of course people. An oasis is an area in the desert where the ground water is much closer to the surface so it allows irrigation and supports life.
We arrived here to the second oasis early this afternoon, it’s a smaller town and we have scored a place with a pool! This morning we stopped to look at some ancient Roman graves and after we paid the entry fee we were joined by two men, one obviously the guard to the site and the other man dressed in a shirt and jeans with a pistol on his hip, he explained he is tourist police and would accompany us around the site. He then told us we were from Australia and that we had come from Luxor and even where we had slept the night before, as specific as the name of the hotel whose garden we stayed in! We looked at each other and then at him and asked him how he knew that- easy … when foreign tourists come through each roadblock phones the next and they “follow you” all through the desert that way. He knew when we had left Luxor! The tourist police assured us we were safe in Egypt as they need tourism and proceeded with a lengthy explanation as to why Egypt needs the army back in charge and how much Egyptians hate the new president. He also assured us although he is a Muslim man he likes Christians and would give a Christian man his blood if he needed it. He seemed determined for us to understand regardless of what we see on the news most Muslim people like Christians although he also informed us all Arabs hate Americans. So we walked around looking at the historical site having a political conversation and also told him most Christians also don’t hate Muslims. We laughed as the rest of the day as the road blocks knew who we were and where we were coming from. When they asked us the usual, where are you going we were tempted to say ” You tell us!”
We have spent the afternoon in the pool and have just been out for a walk, it’s so low-key here, completely different to Luxor and nice to see this rural side of Egypt. All farmers and not a single person to follow us or want to guide us or sell us anything just a simple Salaam as they trot past on their donkey.
Thoughts have started to creep into our consciousness, we will be out of Africa within a few weeks. Its something that had not been on our radar at all but in the last few days it has started to seem so much closer! I was writing an email the other day and it occurred to me then- we are leaving Africa soon. A few days later the realisation that once we leave Africa we are zooming through Europe (in five weeks) which means this will all be coming to an end so soon. Will we fight to keep it and struggle to let go over the next weeks or will our minds go ahead of us? Maybe it will be different for both of us as Olly has really started to imagine catching up with people, I suppose I have less of a mental imagine of that than he does.