Several readers have commented on the degree of detail in my posts. I realize that this is more than many people want to read. That’s fine with me. I write these travel logs mainly for myself. I have kept a travel diary of every trip I’ve taken since graduating university. I used to write them with pen and notebook, later on a laptop, and once I started blogging, I put them online. I love that some people enjoy following along, but I still write mainly for myself. It’s part of my travel experience. I'm not asking or expecting anyone to read every word, although if you want to, that's awesome.
B’lal picked us up early and we headed south towards Aswan. We thought we were stopping at three sites along the way, but the permit the drivers had requested included only two. I don’t know if that was to make it more cost-effective for them, or a mistake. Well, I do know. It’s a bit irritating, because they are never asked for the paper -- they speak to the guards at the gate, and the guards write something in a logbook, and that's it. But oh well.
The first stop was a temple at Edfu which is interesting architecturally. It was built during the end of the Egyptian civilization, while Egypt was under Greek and then Roman rule. But the builders wanted to mimic the glory of the earliest pharaohs, so they used the same architectural plans. It’s as if a 21st Century architect built a replica 12th Century cathedral, using the same materials and plans.
Because it’s newer, Edfu is more intact than most of the temples we have seen. It has an almost complete roof, plus about a dozen small chambers and hidden rooms. The hieroglyphs are lower quality, which is typical for the Ptolemaic (Greek) period, but the building itself is brilliant. The columns are not the massive style we saw at Karnak, but the more balanced style that Greek architects would have strived for. The temple even has a intact enclosure wall surrounding the entire building. We looked for something called a Nilometer, which measured Nile flooding so the people knew when to plant, but we didn’t find it.
Closer to Aswan, at Kom-Ombo (pronounced calm-ahmbo, kind of like Colombo) there is a unique temple that honours two different gods, Horus and Sobek. Sobek is represented by a crocodile (that is, a human body with a crocodile head), and in this area along the Nile, crocodiles were raised and venerated, often mummified when they died. The temple has two entrances, two shrines -- everything double. Apparently worshippers did not kill each other, but co-existed.
Speaking of gods and goddesses, someone asked about my choosing Hathor as my favourite Egyptian god. She is sometimes seen as a maternal or fertility goddess, and you all know I am not very interested in fertility! But the Egyptian spiritual system was very complex, and often in flux. They didn't have one god equals one attribute, like the later Greeks and Romans -- a god of war, a god of wisdom, a god of love, and so on. Most good writing on Hathor has her as the goddess of pleasure, sexuality, and female power. She is represented by a cow -- sometimes a full cow, and sometimes a human female with a cow head. I love the idea that a cow is used as a positive symbol of female-ness. In our world, being called a cow is not exactly a compliment. I also just really like how her figure looks, a tall, slim, curvy female shape, with a big cow head with two impressive horns.
The drive from Luxor to Aswan was also interesting! It was basically the same crazy mayhem as we saw in Cairo, but on a winding country road, one lane in each direction. Honking, passing, weaving, at top speeds, slowing down for speed bumps before towns and villages, then back in the race.
There’s a pecking order for passing. Donkey carts are the slowest, and they keep furthest to the left. Then there are the tiny three-wheeled cabs, who can only pass donkey carts. Next up are the motorcyle-truck hybrids, three-wheeled vehicles that look like a motorcycle with a small pickup truck in the back. Then there are microbuses, the only public transit here, then the taxis. The huge trucks with open beds, wildly overloaded, are very slow, but scary to pass, as they look like they’re about to tip over. You sometimes see trucks like we have in North America, with the cargo closed in, but most are open, with about four times as much cargo as should be transported, strapped in.
All these vehicles are sharing the road, in both directions, and with the exception of the donkey carts, all trying to pass one another, in both directions. Inshalla, indeed.
Donkey carts are an extremely common sight, sometimes with a team of two, and sometimes the cart has big car tires for wheels. The donkeys look fine, but there is no end to what they are asked to pull.
We always see the giant trucks, and sometimes donkey carts, loaded with sugar cane. On this drive, we passed a sugar factory, with umpteen sugar-cane trucks lined up waiting. The Egyptians were the first people to refine sugar; their sugar industry dates back to about 700 AD. The modern Egyptian sugar industry is hurting. This story has a good photo of a farmer in his galabeya among his sugar cane.
As we got near Aswan, B’lal pointed out that we were seeing Nubian people. Nubians are a distinct ethnic group in Egypt (also in Sudan), and the centre of Nubian Egypt is Aswan. The people look exactly like African-Americans in the United States.
A few days back, B’lal asked if we wanted to hire him to take us to Abu Simbel, the ancient site for which Aswan is a jumping off point. We thought he might have friends or family to crash with in Aswan, and would be happy to hire him at the current rate. The fee he named, which supposedly included lodging and food for him, was outrageous. We said, no, we’ll take care of it a different way. We didn’t act like we were negotiating; we just said no.
The next time he mentioned it, he threw in how much it costs to go with the tourist bus (but I already know that, and it’s nowhere near as expensive as he said), and the next time he threw in how much any driver in Aswan would charge. No and no.
I’ll save our first evening in Aswan for the next post, because it’s special and deserves better placement.