Aswan, Obelisk, and the High Dam -Part IV (Portland to Egypt)


Our journey through Egypt has taken us from Lower Egypt to  Upper Egypt in just two weeks. We began our adventures in Cairo, relaxing at the Mena House; here we rode camels across the sand dunes around the pyramids of Giza under the light of a full moon, gazing into the horizon at the Bedouin camps that dotted the nightscape. We spent a fabulous day in Memphis at the open air museum, Giza and the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx , and to Saqqara to see Djoser’s great Step Pyramid, and his many failures.

The second part of our journey, had us boarding a plane for a quick flight to Luxor (Thebes) where we walked through the temples of Karnak and Luxor like ancients Egyptians. What  possible could top this? Why a trip to Deir el Bahri, the site of the Valley of the Kings and Queens, and the extraordinary colossal mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, of course!

We then embarked on a wonderful cruise up the Nile River from Luxor to Aswan, stopping at Edfu to view the Temple of Edfu, a tour under the evening sky and lights through Kom Ombo. I must say walking through the ancient temples at night was a thrill! The ghosts swirling through the air like the wind; we traipsed over the ancient stones, nearly feeling the coldness of the ancient ones breath, and the remaining souls who continue to walk the same ground night after night, as we did.

We wandered aimlessly around the many columns listening to the oo’z and ah’s, and the occasional shriek from a young one; a testimony of old souls, or merely from the masses as they questioned their guide about the sights they saw. As I write this, a tear wells in the corner of my eyes, reminiscing of our amazing experiences here in this ancient land; once of a dream, now as a reality, I continue to admire.  Truly the trip, more than a dream come true, from a once non existing bucket list, to one fulfilled by 2 items, that has since grown to more than 10; some doable, others who knows what life will have in store. I no longer say impossible. I am an optimist. This trip proved that in part, dreams can and do come true. I am grateful for the friends that made it happen for me. And to think as I write this post, the journey is nearing an end. For my end, I refuse to allow an illness dictate my life. I have more sites to see and share. This adventure to Egypt, an excursion worthy of a number one on anyone’s bucket list.

We have seen such wonderful landscapes from the fertile riparian river flats, to the sandy dunes that roll across miles and miles of desert lands, to the sand and limestone cliffs miles high above the luscious flats along the River Nile, to strange cliffs which over look the sandy shores of dunes, the cliffs comprised of open holes, caves that once held treasures and the bodies of kings and queens; to many undiscovered and unknown tombs in places one may wonder how they ever were erected let alone place within so many wondrous artifacts, and paintings and carvings fit for a king. What a vastly strange land Egypt; with its miles of dusty, sandy dunes to the magnificent cliffs overlooking the valley floors and line the landscape overlooking the Nile River below, they too with their ancient secrets yet to be discovered. Its deserts, with its secrets; one full of an amalgamation of people who despite their religious views, have managed to co-exist for years unlike the many Arab cultures which surrounded them.

In this Egypt, our journey continues in and around Aswan. Why people thought it was a great place to build a town (below), is beyond me. The blips in the forefront – animals – cows I believe. The village, small. A rail line lays hidden behind the trees,f we saw a train. I have no idea if it makes stops here. It was odd that it was the only place in sight before we reach Aswan.

This part of our journey greatly different from the northern chaos of Cairo and Giza – a mere-18 million people different. The further south we traveled, even past Luxor, the population decreases. Less crowded, less chaotic, and yet more beautiful. We traveled up the great Nile from the beautiful Luxor with its grandiose temples surrounding the area, to what would be our final destination on our cruise – Aswan before returning to Cairo. Aswan, a city with with a mere 275K inhabitants is a far cry from millions who live in Cairo. Much like a crumb from a large cake or piece pie, if you will.

Our cruise pleasant; No, our cruise was fantastic. One I would definitely embark upon again in a heartbeat, if asked. One for which we wished continued on for several more days. I will merely see it in my dreams and later when I begin my journey in my afterlife, where I may perhaps join the ghosts and learn the secrets to this ancient land. How such a great nation vacillated so many times during the course of its history – its various leaders, each augmenting history through the creation of more elaborate temples, each larger and more grandiose than the other, and then nothing. No new temples, no great leaders, chaos. How intriguing a history comprised of secrets lost with the entrance of new players and almost as suddenly the belief systems of many evolved into what we see today.  Lloyd and I were lucky to have traveled to this wonderful gem when we did. As it is time once again for the country will move toward change. I am and always have been, a strong believer – things happen for a reason. We may have no understanding the reason, at the time; but if we are luckily, or are suppose to, we learn. For me, I was destined to visit Egypt with my wonderful husband, Lloyd. Similarly, I am suppose to write this blog.

When Loyd and I left Egypt for Brussels, we learned we were some of the last of the tourists to leave the country before the remainder were ordered out. This before all hell broke loose one day later. Thoughts of danger never presented its ugly head while we were there, thankfully. Rather, people were very kind and respectful. More so than some of their guests. I find it sad, to the point of embarrassment at times, when foreigners travel. I will use Americans as an example, since I am one.

People travel to a foreign country and expect, yes expect, to be served in the same manner they are accustomed at home. Only, this is not their home, this is a third world country. A rich country full of delights of another kind, traveling to its innards, one would argue, rather they would complain over the most trivial things, and probably did the entire time. Why bother to make the journey? Amazing. The Egyptians love tourists because they are but a large cash cow one before textiles, food processing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction, metals, etc. Tourism is what drives the economy. Egyptians always kind to its tourists regardless how rude or disrespectful they become. They need us. It merely saddens me to see such berating, abominable behavior by some travelers. Like I said, it is embarrassing. Lloyd and I love to travel and we love to embrace the country, the people, the customs, culture, the works. We love it. Others merely bitch about things as if they were in America. I say to them, stay home. I don’t but sometimes I really want to. Why bother to travel if you are not willing to make your experience an adventure.

The Nile is beautiful and everything I imagined. From the people to the extraordinary artifacts, beliefs, religion, who knew the country was preparing for a revolution? One which lasted not long, but the effects and events are not over. In fact just the other day, two tourists were abducted in a place where we once stood. This in a country we had recently been. I shake my head now as I did when I had heard this news. So sad.

While we remained on our ship for accommodation while in Aswan, the cruise itself had ended. It was sad, because we had such a wonderful time and made such wonderful memories, many of which I have shared with you.

This part of our journey we toured one of the great Nubian quarries to see the site of the mammoth unfinished obelisk, to the New High Dam. The rest of our trip will be in a last post of our trip.

In historical times, Aswan was and continues to be comprised of Nubian people. This portion of Egypt is known as Upper Egypt,  significant now, as in it was ancient times for the stone quarries located here, much of the granite and stone used for the obelisks and statues came from this part of Egypt, transported down the Nile on boats to the scene of the temples.

We learned in the times of the great pharaohs, the kings men would take the Nubian’s as their slaves. Very sad. Ancient Nubia had a wealth of natural resources such as gold, ivory, copper, frankincense and ebony. Ancient Nubian land is now part of modern Egypt and Sudan. The juxtaposition of ancient Nubian lands between Egypt and Sudan, meant much of ancient Nubia’s development is connected to that of ancient Egypt. In fact, Nubian kings ruled Egypt from around 800 BCE to roughly 700 BCE.

The moment our driver took us around, we immediately noticed not only is a land more conservative than either Luxor or Cairo.The differences are apparent from the way in which people dressed. We see tall lanky people, dressed in long tunics and dresses, ladies with hajab’s and dresses. We learned that It is widely believed that the hijab is becoming more of a fashion statement than a religious one in Egypt, with many Egyptian women, influenced by social peer pressure, wearing colorful, stylish head scarves along with western style clothing. And designer fashion was everywhere. For men as much as for woman. Granted the age bracket 20s to the 50s. The older people seemed to stick with the older customs. We saw this way of dress in Cairo to Luxor, the further south, was different, the woman wear the Hijab and long flowing dresses, as well as the burka. While we did see the women wearing the burka in Giza, the further south we traveled the more frequent we saw this way of dress. Not because they were forced, but because they wanted to in most cases. They were proud to do so, these woman. As I just pointed out, many of the older woman would wear the hijab and a long flowing gown, the younger women wore the hijab with westernized clothing – designer clothes – jeans, shoes and handbags. Even the older woman with the full gowns were seen with designer hand bags and shoes. This was especially true in Cairo and Giza. Women are beautiful and where beautiful colors. It is not at all how Americans perceive the culture.

Most of the men wore the long dress like tunics with linen pants. This was mostly true of the older Egyptians. While many of their clothes were dark colors and a lot of black. Many wore western clothes. It seemed odd considering the temperatures where hotter here generally all year-long. When we were there it was the end of November. The temperatures were in the 90+ degrees F mark during the day dropping to around 70 at night. During the summers the temperatures rarely dropped below 90 F.  For me, the mornings here were chilly, (I am cold all the time). I used my scarf for all purposes, to keep me warm, and to keep the sun off.

Our last day in Egypt, we were off to see the stone quarries in Aswan and the home of the largest unfinished obelisk in history.

Lloyd and his Rock‘ This is like one of the balls called a diorite ball which, is used as carving tool for the granite and the giant Obelisks. The carving occurred directly on the surface of the granite while the granite was in place on the ground, then by cutting four sides. Once the sides were cut off, the stone piece was separated from the ground. A series of perforations were made using diorite balls. We learned that while diorite was used for obelisks carved into granite, obelisks made from sandstone or limestone, were carved with wooden spikes. The perforations were then filled with wood pieces saturated with water. As the pieces expanded with the humidity breaking the separations between the perforations, then effectively separated the carved stone obelisk or other stone like statue from its bed in the rock.

It may not be clear as such, but this is the unfinished granite obelisk, is nearly 137 feet long. Historians are uncertain who was the Pharaoh when it was being constructed or why it never was finished. It is larger than any obelisk ever erected in history.

This photo is of the ‘quarry‘. Saying the quarry is huge is an understatement. The colored dots you see in this image are few, but are people. The people in this photo offers a great scale to illustrate the enormity of the quarry.  The people are gnats. It was some climb and the heat not our friend, as we trudged our sorry butts up to the top of the quarry. It was a hike.  I really got a kick out of the guard rails. Look closely, really close, you might see ‘one’. It is a pole with rope strung along portions of the trail. Which wasn’t a trail. It was a hike up boulders, with no real trail. Nope. Definitely not ADA compliant. The primary ropes located at the lower section of the pit. Great location! We saw a couple of people who clearly  never should have attempted the hike. I swore I was going to have to perform CPR on more than one. And I am telling you it would not have been fun. I would rather poke my eye out with a fork, or cardiovert myself without the benefit of anesthesia, than give CPR to those two. Yikes! That came out in my outside voice faster than I could practically type. Great design and concept, leave the feeble ropes known as Egyptian guard rails in the lower part of the quarry. Great planning. The upper section maybe one, they served more for decoration, than safety measure. from the top of the quarry one can see the quarry holds the unfinished obelisk.

After leaving the granite quarries we were off to see the Aswan Dams the older Lower Dam and the New Dam as it is referred. These are some of the structures seen on the hillside near the Aswan. In truth this type of structure with all the highrise hotels around, there were homes and structures resembling these all over Egypt. They were non-discriminant when it came to building codes and zoning practices.

The following image is cement fixture in the shape of a lotus flower, given to the Egyptian government from the UNESCO and Soviet Union as a gift for allowing the constructing the dam. The High Dam was highly controversial,  and became a key objective of the Egyptian Government after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952; the dam allowed the ability to control the flood waters of the Nile, provide water for irrigation, and generate hydroelectric power, three key components pivotal to the industrialization of Egypt. The New High Dam was erected between 1960 and 1970. The dam has had a significant impact on improving the economy and culture of Egypt, and the natural ecosystem of the reservoir it created.

From this vantage point in the middle of High Dam towards the ‘cement monument of Arab-Soviet Friendship (Lotus Flower)’ by architects Piotr Pavlov, Juri Omeltchenko and sculptor Nikolay Vechkanov. It was essentially a give to Egypt from the Soviet Union. 

The above photo ‘Nile River North‘ taken from the High Dam is the Nile facing north toward Aswan look to at the top of the dam structure on a road, roughly in the middle of the dam. From where I stand it doesn’t look like much, but the distance from end to end across is about 12,570 feet wide and 364 feet high, the water depth of Lake Nasser, the reservoir created by the dam is roughly 590 feet in depth. How is that for a dam.

This image above and below are from the secure part of the dam. The above photo is on the eastern bank of the dam, facing west. The image below was facing the electrical part of the dam. Our guide knew someone and we were allowed in. The electricity produced from this facility serves a great part of Egypt and other nearby countries.

Basically, the Nile would flooded and held in a large reservoir which is now Lake Nasser. The lake was created as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam across the waters of the Nile between 1958 and 1971. The Lake is the largest man-made lake in the world.  And with that image we will be stopping as there is more to come! I will wrap up our Egypt tour to the Temple of Philae and Cairo in our final part five.

Thanks for reading!

Cheers!

L&L

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