Here as well we got a share of the pharaonic experience, going to the temple of Abu Simbel after a grueling 4 hour ride in a cramped minibus through the sands of the Sahara which were starting to get warmed up by the first rays of the rising sun. There we saw a temple flanked by the colossal statues of the greatest megalomaniac in the history of Egypt, Ramses 2, which temple had to be moved piece by piece when a dam was built on the Nile in the 1960's
. We then went to the dam itself, which was a damn uninteresting sight (pardon the pun!), and another temple hitherto menaced by the dam on the island of Philae. Incidentally, this was the last refuge of the ancient Egyptian civilization, so it felt eerie to see this last gasp of a culture which had been so monolithic for 3500 years. The effect was compounded by the successive defacement of the temple sculptures first by the christians who had carved crosses over ancient religious symbols, and then by the muslims who scratched out many of the faces of the gods. Nowhere was history more poignant as in the destruction which followed the victories of these new religions here at the last bastion of one of the oldest. This might be as good a place as any to add just how many connections we noticed between the ancient Egyptian religion and christianity. But that's a long story better left for some other time.
After the hustle and bustle of Cairo, Aswan felt a world away. For one thing despite being a city of about a million, Aswan is quite relaxed. For another thing, the Egyptians in this area are Nubian: very African looking, as opposed to their cousins to the north which look more Arabic. One day, we took a felluca (sailing boat with a lateen sail) on the Nile and visited a Nubian village, which made us feel like we were in a National Geographic documentary about an African village. It was a very interesting experience and it offered Virginia and Stephanie the opportunity to get temporary henna tattoos on their hands.