SudanSudanWe left our hotel in Aswan at 3am the next morning to meet a military convoy which would take us into Abu Simbel. The two options for getting to the city are either a 30 hour ferry ride, which has been described as the ferry ride from hell, or joining a military convoy to drive along a newly built military highway. When we arrived at the meetup point we met a general that had helped arrange our trip, and he had a man come over and make us tea on the side of the road. We were far from the only other non-military vehicle there, with commercial vehicles and some buses all around us. When we set off at 4am, we quickly fell behind the rest of the group as our truck doesn’t go very fast. A single military truck followed us all the way to Abu Simbel as the rest of the convoy moved on.
We arrived in the town after a four hour drive and headed to the hotel we had arranged to stay at. When we showed up we were greeted by an empty room with a color wheel of lights on, making the room look like some type of odd disco. The entrance had the obligatory metal detector, as all hotels in Egypt seemed to, and it wasn’t plugged in, which seemed as common as not. We searched around but couldn’t find a person anywhere. I ventured past the bathrooms, which were coated in a thick layer of dust, and onto the kitchen, which was a mess of garbage, dust, and overturned tables and chairs. On the way back to the disco reception I noticed a courtyard that looked like it may have had a bomb go off in it some years prior, and hadn’t been touched since. After we finally found someone, they informed us that our rooms weren’t ready, despite our month in advance notice.
We had been using an Egyptian “fixer” to sort out different issues and arrange our arrival to sites, so he quickly told us to grab our packs and follow him right up the road to another hotel. We hauled our gear up a small hill about a half kilometer long, and got to a hotel called the Nubian Village. On arrival it looked a bit nicer than our last accommodation, and appeared to have air conditioning which was nice since it was heating up to 47 degrees Celsius that day. When Sissy and I opened the door to our room we stood in a bit of shock for a few minutes.
Keep in mind that we’ve both stayed in rough rooms, killed cockroaches near our beds, dealt with the smell of sewage emanating from bathrooms, and not minded too much. This room was in the worst condition of any either of us had seen. We looked at the flimsy old beds, wood from the frame fallen to the floor, and noticed every last surface, from the beds to the pillows, walls to ceiling, was covered in some type of shit. Initially we thought it may be mice, however upon further inspection we noticed we weren’t alone in the room. There were large eyes staring at us from the ceiling and the corners of the room. Geckos, and not the cute green ones from Hawaii, but the creepy large pinkish ones with the nasty eyes you see in pet stores, were everywhere.
Our bathroom had geckos, our beds had geckos, and the ceilings had geckos. We walked to another room that two girls from our group were staying in and they were in the process of finding a dead gecko in their sheets as we walked in. Our room didn’t have running water, nor did multiple others we found out. After complaining to our group leader and the single hotel employee, our water was turned on, and he promised to scrub the room as we visited Abu Simbel Temples. We went back to the room and got our stuff out to head to the temple, when Sissy noticed three groups of spider eggs in the corners of the ceiling. We had bought a can of Raid the day before in order to kill the bugs in our tent before we got in, so I decided I’d take care of our spider problem. A nice member of our group let me borrow her lighter, which I lit inside the room, positioned the can of Raid just behind it, and used my makeshift flamethrower to burn the nests off the ceiling.
Having been in better moods and not fully understanding the justification of the $25 per night we were being charged for the rooms, we happily headed off on a bus to the temples. We were told the only way to get to the temples was by bus that had to be hired, however a five minute drive not far off the town’s main road showed us that this may not have been accurate. Immediately after we got out of the bus we were swarmed by merchants trying to sell us cheaply made hats with “Egypt” embroidered on them, small statues, and pieces of papyrus. We were the only non-locals at the site, and it appeared that the place had seen better days. We asked what the price was for a soda, expecting the standard 5-10 pounds ($0.60 – $1.20 USD), however we were told 25 pounds was the price. Warm water gets tough to drink when you go through 3+ liters per day and sweat at least as much back out, but we couldn’t justify $4 for a can of 7Up, so we headed into the temple sodaless.
Getting into the site cost 100 pound each, plus 13 for a guide for the group of us. The guide explained how the temples had been about 200 meters lower than they currently are, and in the 60s when the Nile was dammed, the waters rose and would have flooded the site. A team of several nationalities cut the massive site into pieces, cut a huge piece out of the hill higher up where the water wouldn’t reach, and reassembled the two temples, piece by piece. Once the dam was built it created Lake Nasser (or Lake Aswan in you’re Sudanese), which was the largest manmade lake in the world at the time, and is second largest now. Our guide told us what to look for inside as guides aren’t allowed into the temples. We rounded the corner and gazed upon the massive main temple, which was the most impressive Egyptian site we had seen so far.
When we entered the temple we were met by two workers who are mainly there to enforce the no photography rule. There wasn’t another tourist anywhere to be found, which meant we got to explore the huge temple by ourselves. A row of large statues greeted us inside the doorway, and different chambers showed tons of different carvings. The inside, while not as impressive as Karnak or Edfu, was very amazing and definitely worth seeing. After walking around and seeing everything inside, we headed out and walked 50 meters to our left, which brought us to the second, and smaller temple which King Ramses IV, the greatest pharaoh, constructed. The second temple was about the third of the size of the larger one, and was still very impressive.
On the way back into town we stopped off at a small local store, where we found large cold waters for three pounds and sodas for two. While we only spent about an hour at the temples, we were a bit exhausted from the 3am departure and the overwhelming heat, so we headed back to our gecko room to rest for a bit. The hotel employee had cleaned up a bit, so we stripped the still poop covered blankets and sheets from the bed, put out our sleeping bags, and slept on top for a while.
On our way back into the town later that afternoon we encountered probably the worst harassment of our time in Egypt so far. We appeared to be the only foreigners in the town, so we expected to be stared at, however the local men seemed to have little to no filter between their brains and mouths when it came to women. A couple of the girls passed us on our way out and warned us about their experiences with locals shouting obscenities about their bodies and what they’d like to do, so we prepared ourselves and started walking. We made it to one of the only restaurants we could find and had a nice lunch which consisted of a half of a chicken between the two of us, rice, bread, and sodas, which all totaled up was about $12.
Later we found the only place in town that sells beer, a nice hotel that looks like a house from the outside (no signs or anything), while we were trying to find our friends. A local women saw us wandering a street that we had no business being on, and motioned for us to follow her. She led us into what looked to be her home, and as she took us to the backyard we were greeted by our friends. They were four beers in and loved the place as it had good food and drinks, wifi, and was relatively cool. We stayed for a bit as I worried about getting into Sudan the next day, and after a while headed off to the gecko hotel for some troubled sleep.
The geckos threatened to join us in the bed multiple times, but to our knowledge they refrained. The next morning we headed off to a ferry that would take us across Lake Nasser and to the border of Sudan. American/Sudanese relations are troubled to say the least, and it’s notoriously hard for Americans to get into the country, even with a valid visa, which is also hard to get. I had my visa and we were on the border, the next part was hoping to get in!
Highlights of Egypt
- The temples. Edfu, Karnak, and Abu Simbel are not to be missed. We’ve been told that if you want to get to Abu Simbel by boat it’s possible on a felucca.
- The pyramids of Giza. They weren’t as impressive as the temples, but seeing the only remaining wonder of the ancient world is still very cool. The camel rides there were the best we encountered in the many, many places we found throughout the country.
- SCUBA diving in the Red Sea. We have yet to find better diving. At 30 euro per person for two dives and lunch, you can’t skip it!
- The Egyptian National Museum in Cairo. It may be hot and lacking in descriptions, but the items are amazing and well preserved. Go into the mummy room, gaze upon the rulers of the ancient world.
- Avoid eye contact with most locals in the tourist towns. Hurghada was fine, but Cairo, Luxor, Karnak, Aswan, and Abu Simbel taught us to stare at the ground as we walked, less a local make eye contact and begin to “help” you, with the demand of money at the end.
- Agree on prices before doing anything. Shop around. You’ll find a can of soda ranging from 3 pound to 25 pound within 200 meters of each other.
- Download Arabic to your Google Translate app. People don’t speak English in most areas, including cab drivers.
- Keep your navigation app open while in taxis. Most of the drivers don’t really know where specific hotels and restaurants are, and tend to guess at it, which can often be wrong. Take screenshots of maps before heading out or download MapMe, which will allow you to search locations without internet.