Archive for March, 2020



A bunch of close friends. “Barkada”. We’ve long planned this — and planned around a 5-night Nile Cruise on a chartered Dahabiya or sailboat. Cairo and Alexandra first, prior to the cruise from Luxor to Aswan. Then 3 more nights in Aswan to include a day trip to Abu Simbel. There were concerns prior to the trip. Left on February 17, about the time when the world is whirling and reeling from Coronavirus issues. But we were all set for this trip. So, armed with masks, wipes and alcohol sprays, we went. The flights to Cairo and then to Luxor, as well as the long drives to Alexandria and Abu Simbel were uneventful. The weather was perfect, all rides comfortable, though I must confess we underestimated Egypt’s cold temps. The whole cruising time, we had breakfasts on the riverboat’s deck in our terry bathrobes. The same robes we donned for dinners! It grew warmer by the time we reached Aswan and Abu Simbel. Finally, we parked our boots and rubber shoes and wore our sandals to go shopping. All throughout the journey, we were floored by all these ancient wonders and happily absorbed all the ancient history lessons. It was our luck that we had very competent tour guides. Egyptologists. Yes, you take special courses for that. We also met some foreign Egyptologists in the hotels where we stayed — archaeologists who specialise in Ancient Egypt. Such interesting people. The ones we met must be in their 60s-70s but you can still sense that burning passion in them. The kind you can almost touch! By journey’s end, we can only feel so thankful for the wonderful cruising adventure, the excitement triggered by the history lessons, the fun and mirth all throughout the holiday and most importantly the good health and safety enjoyed by everyone. This is our story. Feel free to click on the links for more photos and details.

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/21/the-sphinx-and-moi/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/22/revisiting-cairo/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/24/alexandria/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/25/ballooning-in-luxor-egypt/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/25/gliding-through-the-nile/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/02/29/the-ancient-temples-of-luxor/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/03/06/of-egyptian-gods-man-gods/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/03/18/sailing-without-care/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/03/19/abu-simbel-finally/
https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2020/03/19/aswan-as-two/

Aswan. As Two.


The last stretch. Done with the Pyramids. The “major” temples. The Nile River Cruise. Back to the city now. Aswan. Checking out the spices and essentials oils plus some Nubian jewellery, arts and crafts. And yes, just a few more historical sites to do as day trips before really “settling” in Aswan. Like Gebel El Silsila, the sandstone quarry site sitting at that narrowest point of the River Nile. Quite an adventure here as our guide led us through mounds, climbing up some rugged path to emerge on a cliff overlooking the entire quarry site. I wasn’t prepared to climb up and told our guide I don’t feel confident after seeing it’s by the cliff edge. He said assuredly that he’d assist, offering his hand. Grabbed his hand and while I was deciding whether to go with my left or right foot first, he promptly pulled me up. Voila! By the time he pulled back his hand, I was left with no choice but to go on fours to reach the top. It was a short climb but I felt funny doing it. 😂

That’s moí leading the seniors 😂

As the ancient Egyptian builders switched from limestone to sandstone, Gebel El Silsilah met the stone requirements of the Theban temples. Like nearby Kom Ombo, this quarry site’s principal deity is Sobek, the crocodile god. More than just a quarry site, there were also rock-cut tombs and crypts discovered here. While larger boats cruising the Nile offer only a fleeting glimpse of this site, our Dahabiya (sailboat) slowdrifted and actually stopped to unload us here. Having visited the Karnak Temple earlier, one wonders how the massive stone blocks were quarried and then transported from here. My, these Egyptians!

Then there’s the unfinished obelisk in Aswan. Cracked and abandoned, this obelisk would have been the largest in Ancient Egypt if only it stood at 140 feet in height. The giant unfinished monument lying on a bed of granite is now an open air museum where scientists and Egyptologists can study how the ancient Egyptians constructed obelisks. Because it is right in Aswan, there were more than the usual tourists we found in other attractions.

Not far from our (huge) sprawling hotel complex in Isis Island is the Mausoleum of Aga Khan. Yes, Aga Khan — that celebrated imam who also happens to be dad-in-law to a Hollywood actor, Rita Hayworth. The elegant tomb looks more like a mosque along the banks of the Nile viewed from our hotel. Why was Imam Khan buried here? It is reported that he spent many winters here in Aswan until he died in 1957. His wife, who died in 2000, was also buried here. Although not open to the public, the couple’s winter Villa is located within the mausoleum gardens.

We found time to visit the Nubian Museum in Aswan. Nubia is now present-day Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. In the ancient times, Nubia was Egypt’s supply chain for gold. Today, “Nubia” has become popular as a girl’s name. It has Egyptian origin and actually means “gold”. How so apt! The Museum building is an architectural beauty, and the many artefacts and antiquities inside is a good prelude to understanding Nubian history, culture and civilization. Amazing how these ancient kingdoms were so way ahead of their times! Heady with Nubian thoughts — hey, it takes awhile to let all that history to sink in — we ended our day with an end-of-holiday visit to the Coptic Cathedral and some retail therapy in spices and essential oils bazaar. Don’t you agree most holidays end this way?


Back in 1996, I blew the chance to visit Abu Simbel. I was on the last stretch of my 38-day holiday and I’ve grown tired of temples and shrines. Although I found the idea romantic — dismantling not one but 2 temples, and reassembling them on a higher hill to make way for the Aswan Dam construction back in the 1960’s — I wasn’t lured to make the visit. I was truly exhausted, and suffering from temple fatigue then. Or perhaps just travel fatigue. After 30 days, I was really longing to be home and found my tired self struggling with the last leg of the trip. But not this time. I was ready for Abu Simbel. I didn’t take the buggy ride to the temples and instead walked with the others. The path offers a view of the Nile River and the temples were hidden from view from the entrance. We passed a paved path crossing a rugged terrain. Behind the mounds and soon after a bend, Abu Simbel stood in all its majesty. After having survived the last 3,000 years some meters below, Abu Simbel looks like it’s always stood where it is now. There were other temples rescued from the rising waters of the Nile, but none more dramatic than this. Short of a miracle, you might say.

It was an engineering feat. Built in 1244 BC, the 2 temples were carved out of the side of a mountain. The Pharaoh Ramses II immortalised himself with not one, not two, but 4 colossal seated statues measuring 21 meters tall. Above these 4 deified statues of Egypt’s greatest and long-reigning Pharaoh, were statues of sun-worshipping baboons. Most interestingly and impressively, the entranceways catch the sunlight twice a year in such a way that it beams straight into the temple sanctuary’s seated statues. The dates are October 22 and February 22, both of which hold special meaning to me. Of course, I won’t forget. 😊 I can just imagine the crowd here as both locals and tourists witness the phenomenon. Too bad we missed February 22 by a week. Sob. 😢

The smaller temple is not exactly small. Built for the Pharaoh’s favorite Queen Nefertari but dedicated to Goddess Hathur, the 6 statues gracing the front in between the buttresses measured 10 meters each. Of the 6, the 2 statues were of the Queen and the rest of Ramses II. Imagine what an arduous task it was to relocate these temples 64 meters higher and 180 meters west of the original site. Even more interesting is the fact that this site is actually beyond the Aswan border and technically part of Nubia, resting by the southern border to present-day Sudan. Having said that, the site selection only goes to prove the might of Ramses II. Undoubtedly, he built all these monuments to flaunt such might, Egypt’s wealth and his “affinity” with the gods. Truly, a powerful image to convey who’s in charge. Quite a character, methinks. 🙄

After the visit, I couldn’t fathom how I didn’t feel compelled to visit 24 years ago. The rock-cut temples of Abu Simbel is an engineering wonder and even by themselves, one can’t help but be impressed-amused by this king’s stab at immortality. Even the image of the Egyptian sun god Ra in front is dwarfed by the colossal likenesses of Ramses II, with his Queen sculpted like tiny dolls beside his legs and his princesses between. This glaring glimpse into Ramses II’s ambition and self-importance may have supported this building spree during his long reign. Thankfully for us, these monuments survived through hell and high waters (pun intended) for many generations to appreciate this important segment of history.

Sailing, Without Care


It sounds nearly arrogant to say “Been here; done that” but I must confess that the enthusiasm before this trip wasn’t at par with my first visit in 1996. Just the same, being with friends give it a whole new dimension and in particular, I looked forward to sailing, without care, just chilling. It didn’t matter if I were to miss some sites included in our offshore excursions. I’ve seen them before and doubt if much has changed since. But I’m curious to just sail, watching life unfold. Slowly. Unhurriedly. And with my time-tested travel buddies. Besides, this is my first trip in 5 months and I’m eager to travel again. Anywhere.

Back in 1996, it was hot and humid with temps hitting high 40’s in May. This time, it’s cool during the day at 15-22C and even cooler as the sun sets and the wind blows. February is a good month to visit Egypt. And having this riverboat all to ourselves clinches the fun element of this trip. Our group of 16 would go up the deck to read, chat, drink and eat — donned in bathrobes — and just while away the time in between the 2 activities slated for each day. Each activity is a lesson in ancient history, just enough to stimulate our mental faculties. And a bit of physical exertion, just to check if those sweat glands are still functioning. Ahem.

Life by the riverbank varies by the season. When I first visited, summer meant watching children play, swim and bathe in the Nile. It was also teeming with wildlife especially cattle while some fisherfolks are busy sinking their hooks. This winter, there is hardly any activity along the Nile except for those feluccas doing business ferrying passengers crossing the river, or going to riverside restaurants. It gets even busier come sundown when tourists go for sunset rides on sailboats. Curiously, there are also the more enterprising boatmen selling wares to cruisers like us. Right there along the Nile. They’d say “hello, hello” at the top of their lungs while we’re at the deck. As we look down, they display their wares and manage to toss up their goods for our scrutiny. The haggling begins and some minutes later, hard currencies are dropped. Swell.

Cruising clears one’s mind of many cobwebs. Just watching the scenery change ever so slowly puts one’s spirit at rest. It’s like a movie set in slow motion. In the beginning, I’d claim a corner up in the deck and say my prayers. Attempts at meditation. But the ever solicitous staff and your travel companions can easily engage you any moment. So I had my quiet moments inside my cabin instead, staring out the wide window by the bed watching Nile life unfold and while enjoying the melodious ripple of the water as the sailboat slowly sliced forward. How precious. On this trip, I slept a good 3 hours earlier than my usual past midnight knock off. I haven’t done that in a very long time. Aaaaahhhh, the sweet life!


Back in 1996, I was floored by how majestic, massive and impressive those temples in Karnak and Luxor were. But no less awesome are the smaller (only in comparison with the 2) temples dedicated to Horus, Sobek and Isis. Our riverboat docked long enough for us to disembark and engage in our solitary morning and afternoon activities while preserving that chill mode reserved for Nile Boat cruisers 🥰.

Temple of Horus. Edfu.

Our boat reached Edfu where we took horse-drawn carriages that brought us to the Temple of Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris. The temple roof is intact, thus rendering this temple dedicated to the falcon god as one of best-preserved monuments in Egypt. Built from 237 to 57 BC, it took 180 years to construct under various Ptolemaic rulers. It was buried in 40 feet of desert sand and river silt for centuries until 1860 when work began to free the temple of the sands that helped preserve it. The “writings on the wall” certainly aided in our understanding the history of Ancient Egypt including details on the temple’s construction and rituals practiced then. It may not be as grand and large as Karnak and Luxor Temples, but it is nearly “complete” in its preserved state especially with the hydroglyphic inscriptions on the columns and walls, the monumental gates, the inner and outer Hypostyle Halls, a library, a laboratory (like how to formulate those essential oils and perfumes used during rituals), a forecourt and courtyard, chapels, a treasury, a sanctuary, more vestibules and a Nilometer. Impressive piece of ancient Egyptian architecture!

Kom Ombo Temple

The Temple in Kom Ombo is dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek. Likewise built during the Ptolemaic dynasty, this was really a double temple in Aswan. Aside from Sobek, the northern part of the temple is dedicated to the falcon god Horus. Unlike the Temple of Horus in Edfu, this one is not as preserved as some parts were damaged by Nile floodwaters and earthquakes. Thankfully, a few of the crocodile mummies were rescued and now on display at the Crocodile Museum. Interestingly, this temple area is exactly how I remembered it when I first visited 24 years ago except for the Crocodile Museum. The latter may be a recent discovery and addition.

Temple of Isis Philae
Trajan’s Kiosk

We took another boat to reach this temple dedicated to Isis. Originally set in Philae Island, it now actually stands on the island of Agilkia. Why? Philae Island was constantly flooded leaving the temples submerged up to a third of the buildings. UNESCO began the project to relocate it to higher ground in 1960. All that work cleaning, dismantling and thereafter reinstalling some 40,000 units of the temples from Philae to Agilkia Island just some 500 meters away. What a feat! Surely, Isis is the goddess of magic and life. (Trivia: Osiris and Isis are the parents of Horus, the falcon god. The two are also brother and sister. Hmmmm. The gods must be above the law on incest.)