February 9, 2003:
Up early early early to fly to Abu Simbel. We arrived
after a quick layover in Aswan.
As I noted on the pages for Abu Simbel, few people stay overnight in the small town here -- most people fly/cruise in for a morning visit to the temples and then return to Aswan the same day. The newly opened road from Aswan (driven in convoy) may mean more tourists spend the night in town.
We stayed only one night, and there were two tour groups of Japanese tourists staying in the same hotel. There are few hotels -- and even fewer amenities for travelers -- in Abu Simbel. It is a small, quiet town that is just starting to see the benefits (and drawbacks) of the tourist trade to the temples.
Set I is a small but very nice hotel with a beach and private pool, about a mile from the temple site. We walked from the hotel to the temples twice (once to visit them in the cooler afternoon, and then again at night for the quite stupendous Sound and Light Show. It's a bit of an uphill walk, but very pleasant. We saw perhaps three cars on the main street other than the giant tour busses from the airport, and even fewer people.
Ever Vigilant and Helpful
We got lost on the first try through the town. You would think it would be impossible to get lost in a town with two roads, but we did. So, backtracking, we spotted the local police station. Figuring that someone there would be able to help, we approached with much smiling and hellos.
Between the four young men sitting in the shade, they perhaps spoke twelve words of English. We have maybe five Arabic words between us. With much pantomime and repeating of 'Ramesses?' we managed to start the conversation.
"Marhaba" - Hello, we tried. It's one of our few Arabic words.
Many smiles all around.
"American?" -- actually "Amriki?", one asked.
"Problem?" one of the police officers said quickly, rising to his feet.
"No! La'a. No problem. Lost?" we tried. No smiles of understanding.
"Yes." we stopped, trying to figure out how to communicate that we were lost. Finally, I said, "Ramesses." (which started a round of nodding and repeating) and then pointed to the left and then to the right, asking "Ramesses?".
Success! One of the younger men said, "Ah! Ramesses Tem-bel." and pointed to the right.
The first policeman, still standing with his rifle at the ready, seemed rather let down that weren't having a problem. "No problem?"
"La'a. Shukran!" Thanks! We bolted before they started out in columns looking for a 'problem' to quell!
One of the strangest things about Abu Simbel was that we saw absolutely no Egyptian women at all. No one. All the workers at the hotel were men, all the people working the bazaar stalls and tickets booths at the temple were men. Mark swears that he glimpsed a woman in one of the courtyards of the houses we passed, but I never did. At the time, we didn't really notice it -- muslim women are less likely to be noticeably in public in these smaller towns -- but afterwards, we commented on the fact that we saw no children, no women, and very few other people in town at all except the local police. Admittedly, it was evening, but it was so quiet there that we wondered if the entire town had gone somewhere else for a festival or something.
While nothing special in terms of accommodations, Seti I was comfortable, very clean, and the staff seemed very intent on making sure that we enjoyed our brief stay. The restaurant we ate at -- a general buffet in the hotel, the only place we found to get food of any sort! -- was good. A few of the guidebooks mention that hotel-food fare can be a bit bland and that there are often few choices, as most food is trucked in on the desert road.
While we were eating dinner that night, there was a bit of hoopla from one of the English tourists staying at the hotel -- no matter what the staff did for her for dinner, she was unhappy. Apparently, she wanted to have fish "just like at home" and they weren't able to produce it exactly. She complained about the service (get over it -- service is friendly but slow in most places), the food, the temperature of the drinks, and eventually retreated to a dark corner to glare at the headwaiter and eat her "not perfect" dinner and complain loudly to her tour operator person.
You know, if you want everything to be "just like home"...stay there. It was almost embarrassing. The staff tried so hard to make her happy, but it was apparently that nothing was going to work. She was just unhappy about everything and taking it out on everyone around her.
The Highlight of the Trip
There are two temples in Abu Simbel, The Sun Temple of Ramesses II and the much smaller King's Wife's Temple for his primary wife, Nefertari.
Just...WOW. Take a look at the pictures. I don't think we captured the sheer enormity of the place, but...WOW. Abu Simbel is definitely the highlight of the trip. if you can manage it, make sure to visit.
We walked back for the Sound and Light Show, expecting another grisly and painfully cheesy laser show with 1970's wakka-wakka music. We were pleasantly surprised. This is definitely the best light show (it is the newest) and was actually interesting and informative. If you see only one of the Sound and Light shows (and you should see at least one, for the experience) it should be this one. Truly magnificent. We got quite a few good pictures of the temples being lit up by the laser and light show.
The walk back to the hotel was quiet and we glimpsed only a few people at all. The crowd from the Sound and Light show were swallowed up by the big tour busses and whisked back to the hotel. We enjoyed the cool night and didn't even get lost finding the hotel. Of course, it was the only place in town with electric lights on.