It was a long drive through the desert. I felt tired, but couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep. The full moon was to our right, looking so big and bright and casting deep shadows over the sandy nothingness outside. Then the slightest glimmer began to appear over the horizon on our left. We drove on. The sun’s rays appeared in long streaks that reached tentatively into the
dark blue at first. Some streaks were stronger than others, so there wasactually an irregular and jagged crown developing over one part of the horizon, while another part remained a part of the nocturnal domain, but not for long. Just as the solar spikes were pushing upward, there were some blue streaks appearing to be pushing back against the solar encroachment. The battle between light and darkness continued to play out over the horizon as the van drove on, straight as an arrow down the black thin asphalt in the desert sand. I watched it, mesmerized, and drifted off to sleep.
I must say the trip was worth the trouble. The monumentality of Egyptian temples were built and maintained as the literal sanctuaries of gods, and only royalty and a very few priests of the state were allowed to be inside them.
Unlike the Greek and Roman temples and stadia, these monstrous structures were extremely private domains that were designed to exclude the vast majority of the population, for the esoteric knowledge of the spirit world was reserved for royalty in order to maintain the cosmological order of the Egyptian civilization. But the logic of rulership dictates that political power must have a public face, which manifested itself in the monumental statues and columns on the outside facades. Even though jostling with hundreds of tourists struggling to shoot photos utterly defeats the original conception of these spaces, I was glad to have made the effort to see them, especially the Temple of Isis on Philae Island. This island sanctuary of stolid temples best illustrated both the isolation of an exclusive cosmological domain and the raw power of monumentality to impress us mere mortals.
When I was waken up by my alarm at 3am in order to make the 4am tourist convoy to Abu Simbel, I laid in the darkness of my room and seriously contemplated skipping the trip. Getting up at such an ungodly hour can easily induce cardiac arrest in some elderly travelers, and I felt like I was one of them in that moment. For security reasons, all tourist buses and vans going up to Abu Simbel had to join a huge convoy through the desert highway to reach the famous temple three hours away. Aside from inflicting collective sleep deprivation on thousands of well-meaning tourists, this idiotic policy also manages to raise the risk of a massive pile-up on the way because of the hundreds of bleary-eyed bus drivers tailgating each other at full speed in the dark. But everyone had no choice but follow the program. And at 4am sharp, I found myself sitting in a van full of glum and silent travelers desperately trying catch up on their sleep, following the direction of the traffic police to keep up with the rest of the giant convoy