Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pharaohs, temples and feluccas, oh my

Last weekend we went to Luxor and Aswan, which are two towns in upper Egypt (which means they are south of Cairo, because the Nile runs south to north). Luxor is about a nine hour train ride away, and Aswan is an additional three. Luxor is like Disneyland for archaeologists. It has the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, Queen Hatshepsut's Temple, The Temple of Karnak, and Luxor Temple, just to mention the highlights. We were in Luxor for two days, during which the temperature reached a high of 107 F. Luckily, we decided to book a nice air-conditioned bus instead of opting to bike through the sites. My favorite things were the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, which have amazing hieroglyphics painted or carved into every wall, and the Temple of Karnak, which is really cool when all lit up at night. Visual reference is on facebook.

We were supposed to be in Luxor for three days, but decided that we had seen enough in two days and wanted to go to Aswan. Friday night was our last night in Luxor, and we spent it lounging on top of the roof of our cute, colorful hostel, swinging in the hammock, admiring the view, and eating the gluten-free peanut butter brownies that Alison and I had made before setting out on the trip. Needless to say, Alison and I were very popular that weekend.

The next morning we got up around 6:00 and headed to the train station to catch our 7:00 train. However, since it is Egypt, our train did not arrive until 9:30, and we didn't roll into Aswan until around 12:30. I'm becoming an expert at sleeping in all sorts of unusual places/circumstances here, so it was no problem to just curl up with my bag at the train station and then sleep some more on the train. We only had a long afternoon in Aswan before heading back on the long ride to Cairo, but I'm really glad we went because that was one of my favorite afternoons in Egypt thus far. No museums, no temples, no packed agenda. We just chartered a felucca (which means boat)and spent the afternoon sailing on the Nile and visiting various islands. One of the islands we went to belonged to Lord Kitchener, who was a British Field Marshall and who had received the island in thanks for his campaigns in Sudan. The island is beautiful. It's filled with exotic plants from all over the world, and we had a wonderful time walking around and then dipping our feet in the chilly Nile. The flora and fauna were a welcome reprieve from the constant desert scenery. After Kitchener's Island, we went over to Elephantine Island, drank tea, and saw ancient glyphs carved into the island's elephant-resembling large stones. Then we sailed back, had a great dinner, and hopped on the 8:00 train for the long ride back to Cairo. With the exception of the constant hassling we received from everyone who wanted to sell things there, (it was a lot worse than Cairo), we had a really exceptional long weekend.