Giza and Lake Nasser, Egypt, February 2020

The three pyramids of Giza

Watching the palm trees in their dreamy dance along the banks of the Nile, I wave at a small boat carrying two Egyptians and a cargo of reeds. The sky is periwinkle, the Nile is aegean blue. The panoramic window in my cabin shows a gentle, ancient story as we pass by donkeys pulling carts, cows grazing on tiny islands and the dusty Sahara rising up as a backdrop.
As you may or may not know, my parents generously give us the gift of travel and this year we ended our personal Latin American trip when we flew from Rio to Cairo to meet up with the family. Now we began “Egypt and The Eternal Nile” tour with MIT Alumni Travel and Odysseys Unlimited.

The entrance to the Great Pyramid is behind the man in white. You can see how large the blocks are that make up the pyramid.

The Giza Plateau with it’s three famous pyramids was our first stop. We had the amazing opportunity to climb inside The Great Pyramid of Cheops which looms overhead at over 450 feet tall. This ascent was steep, tight, dark and humid. It’s one way in and out with a few stairs but mostly a wooden ramp with metal rungs. You must bend at the waist, ducking your head as you squat-climb upwards towards the tomb room where you can finally uncurl and stand up. The openings are tight and barely fit two people as you must pass people coming down. I admit to feeling a bit claustrophobic at one point as my crouched posture breathed in the musty hot air that we all were sharing and I had a brief thought of how quickly coronavirus could spread in such conditions.

At the top of the climb and a final duck into the large chamber my fears evaporated as I stared in awe at the black sarcophagus. The room was about 20 feet wide by 40 feet long. A sheet of paper wouldn’t fit between the seams of the colossal stones that made up the walls, ceiling and floor. I slid my hand inside the smooth open sarcophagus and tried to feel the 4,500 years that had passed since its maker’s hands had polished it.

View from the back of a camel.

The next adventure was riding a camel to the third pyramid of Mekrenas. Probably the most exciting part of any camel ride is getting on and getting off. Camels are tall and they kneel down with their front legs first followed by the back legs. The rider climbs aboard the wooden saddle and grabs the horn with both hands as the camel lurches up, back legs first. If you’re not holding on you could pitch off over its head!

The Great Sphinx of Giza.
Abu Simbel. Check out the size of the ear next to Ian’s right!

Next up was an early flight to Aswan followed by 3 1/2 hours across the Sahara on a bus to board our first ship. We would stay on the Omar el Khayam for 3 days as we cruised Lake Nasser and saw numerous temples. The amazing temple of Abu Simbel which was built for Ramses II portrays him as a God and provides evidence when the sun rises on his statue (along with 3 other gods) twice a year on Feb 22 and Oct 22. The temple was built so that the sun rays pass along the corridor and land on the 3 Holy of Holies (Ra, Ramses II and Amun). The 4th god in this room, Ptah, is the god of fertility and darkness, who works at night, so he remains in shadow.

Ramses II is second from the right.
Abu Simbel on the far left. Ramses II had a temple built for Queen Nefertari on the right.

We enjoyed many forays to visit temples along the shore of Lake Nasser including the Valley of the Lions, which is 3,150 years old.

Disembarking from the ship to explore temples along the shore.
Close up of one of the sphinx in Valley of the Lions.
Valley of the Lions

After three days of cruising Lake Nasser we disembarked in Aswan where the Aswan High Dam is located that created Lake Nasser by damming up the Nile. One of the fascinating consequences of this dam was the international collaboration that happened to preserve the temples and tombs that would have been submerged by the rising water levels.

Our captain enjoyed racing the other feluccas as we sailed.

After visiting more temples we embarked on the next ship of our journey that would take us up the Nile. To begin this part of our journey we enjoyed an adventurous sail on a traditional Egyptian Felucca. The adventurous part was in the beginning when our boat was trapped against the shore and played bumper boats with all the other boats including the aft end of our ship. The captains didn’t seem to care who crashed into what, and we all agreed that the techniques for getting the boats moved were the same techniques used for driving cars in Cairo.

That evening our ship The Amwaj passed through the Esna lock. Our ship waited about 15 minutes in the lock as the water drained out of the lock and we were bombarded by hawkers both on the concrete lock and in tiny boats. They threw up items like scarfs and galabeyas in plastic bags for us to buy. Sometimes the bags even landed in the pool on the ship! Once a price was agreed upon they sent another plastic bag up and we placed the payment inside and threw it back. It was quite hilarious with all the shouting and bag tossing.

The hawkers eagerly await the ships as they head into the lock.
Hawkers in tiny boats brave the tight space in Esna Lock.

Good night and good bye Lake Nasser! Up next: Luxor, Valley of the Kings and King Tut!

Sunset over Lake Nasser

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