Inhuman Swill : Abu Simbel

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May 26, 2008

Death race 2008

[Written Sunday afternoon in the Sara Hotel, Aswan.]

We awoke at 2:45 am today. Well, I awoke earlier to deal with the unsavory consequences of our delicious meal at Makka. Sorry, Ali! I promise my heart will never stray again!

The reason for the early hour was to meet our guide Ahmet at 3:30 am, and thence to meet the Abu Simbel convoy at 4:00 am. Access to Abu Simbel is restricted to certain hours of the day, so buses and cars collect at the entry point to the route in Aswan, then are released to proceed at either 4:00 or 4:30, depending on how many vehicles have gathered.

When we heard the word "convoy," we thought of a rather stately, sedate procession. What actually transpired was a road race. For three white-knuckled hours, Ahmet piloted our van through the desert like the utter fucking lunatic he is, using whichever lane was most convenient, overtaking other drivers, tailgating another van for miles at a distance of a couple of feet at I-shit-you-not what had to be eighty miles and hour or more. I'm sure there were times we hit a hundred. Laura and I were each locked in our own private hells. All we could do was try to keep our eyes closed and pretend to be asleep.

As Ahmet explained once we arrived, he had to drive fast to beat all the other guides, because he has to give us his history spiel outside the temple site because guides aren't allowed to accompany tourists into the temples because of the cacophony that produces and he needs to give us the spiel while it's still quiet on the cafeteria plaza.

Right, whatever. He's still an utter fucking lunatic.

Abu Simbel consists of another pair of temples rescued from rising Lake Nasser. The site, now on the shores of the lake, is 280 kilometers south of Aswan (a distance we covered in two and a half hours) and only 50 miles north of the Sudan border. The temples themselves are amazing, one dedicated by Ramses II to himself, with colossal Ramses II statues outside and inside, and another dedicated by Ramses II to his favorite wife Nefertari, with colossal Ramses II statues outside. Oh, and a couple of Nefertari statues, too.

It was quite startling to think that we saw the actual mummified body on Friday of the man depicted on those statues. Very weird and wonderful.

Another harrowing race through the desert followed this blissful interlude, only this time Ahmet gave a lift to an Egyptian soldier who was fairly careless with his automatic rifle. It was only pointing toward me from the front seat for a few moments before Ahmet sort of resettled it more to his liking, but now added to the thrill of the chase was the expectation that any moment a stray bump would send a volley of lead spraying through the van. Lovely.

We made it back to the hotel, though, shaken and stirred, and now are resting until our evening train to Luxor at 5:45 pm.

abu simbel | aswan | egypt | mediterranean adventure 2008 | travel

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