Phew. I thought about maybe throwing out some cliche Grateful Dead line (“What a long, strange trip it’s been,” etc, etc)…the reality is that Egypt, thus far, has been a crazy clusterfuck of history, grandeur, poverty, gender issues, art, nature, and a lot of intense sun.
For one, Egypt is not designed for the independent traveler: because tourism makes up 70-85% of the economy, the government, agencies, hotels, everyone have really made it difficult to avoid taking these AC-superbus tours to the country’s historical sites. On one hand, it really makes it more difficult to really experience these amazing sites without the ugliness, noise, distraction that is characteristic of a lot of tourism here. But, on the other hand, because the government kind of ‘lumps’ people together, if you are crafty, you can have some pretty amazing adventures and spiritual experiences…
For example, the government makes it as difficult as possible for tourists to take the public bus to Abu Simbel (there’s also a lot of concern for safety, but that seems to come secondary): they won’t tell you where the bus station is, when it leaves, there’s a lax rule that only 4 tourists are allowed per vehicle, if you stay in Abu Simbel (VERY few tourists do, they just go to the site and come straight back to Aswan) you get followed around by tourist police hassling you about this and that (we soon learned this)…also, the hotels, wanting you to book big expensive buses, will tell you all of these lies about there not being a bus, etc.
Anyway, my travel buddy and I decided that we wanted to be at Abu Simbel when there would be no one around, which is between 1-2, when all of the tour buses leave and before the Nile cruise folks come ashore…so, with a little magic and a lot of Arabic, we figured out how to get to the station, how much the ticket cost, etc…and arrived in Abu Simbel to stay the night, immediately heading to the tombs when we got there.
We were the ONLY two people in the temple, on the property, in fact: it was absolutely remarkable. To experience the seated Colloses, staring out over the sparkling blue Lake Nasser, then enter this sacred space in absolute quiet…it was strange to know that we weren’t supposed to be here (this tomb was supposed to be sealed for eternity), but yet at the same time we were experiencing the place properly: which is, of course, in silence.
Today, I woke up at 5 am to hop on my shitty rental bike and pedal to Karnak from Luxor city. Biking through the streets as the sun was rising, relishing the coolness that I knew would quickly fade, I got to the temple just as it was opening at 6 am…but because I did that, I was able to explore for 3 hours in quiet morning cool, with only the occasional fellow onlooker. Not to mention, the complex itself was absolutely breathtaking, both in detailed beauty and sheer size.
There’s so much I’ve seen so far: the ornate mosques of Islamic Cairo, the Pyramids, Nubian ruins and the Tomb of the Nobles at Aswan, Abu Simbel, Karnak and Luxor Temple…of course, full speed ahead to the Valley of the Kings. We’ll see about avoiding megabuses there: probably not possible.
Arabic has definitely opened up some really incredible encounters with people: I’m continually surprised at how well Egyptians (even in rural areas) can understand my Modern Standard. My proudest moment was when someone thought I was Lebonese. :)