Back at the Hilton, we had time to reflect on how much we had enjoyed the cruise. It had seemed too short, and yet it had genuinely been relaxing and enjoyable; so perhaps after all it was just enough.
The next day, we had arranged to make the trip to see the Colossi of Memnon, opposite Luxor. This giant pair of statues is all that remains of the once-grand temple of Amenhotep III, and they are both representations of him, dating from around 1400 BC. They are quite damaged, and the features are worn away. Despite this, they are very impressive, towering sixty feet above the ground, the only things visible for any distance around them. The large bases have carvings in the stone, and one of the statues is known to have been rebuilt during Roman times, after being damaged by constant floods. It seemed to me that they must have been something very special at the time they were erected, as they still had tremendous power as I gazed at them that morning. That afternoon, we returned to the centre of Luxor for a better look around. It was as dusty and dirty as we remembered though, so we didn’t hang around very long. Besides, we had our trip to Abu Simbel to anticipate.
A taxi collected us the following morning, for the trip to the airport. We had paid extra to fly to Abu Simbel, to avoid the long drive in the heat, and to allow more time at the site. There was little or no procedure at the airport, as it was an internal flight. We just walked across the tarmac to the aircraft, and were met by a pleasant young man, who introduced himself as our guide for the day. There were no flight attendants, no safety briefings, and the pilot and co-pilot sat in a cockpit with no door. The plane was a relatively modern jet, and besides us, there were only a handful of other passengers. After take-off, we flew surprising low, and soon came in to land. The guide informed us that we were not there yet, just collecting more tourists from other airfields around the area. This happened twice more, before the half-full aircraft gained height, and headed for Abu Simbel, to the south-west. On the way, we flew over the Aswan Dam, and Lake Nasser. This was purely for touristic enjoyment, and the guide told us when these spectacles would appear, and on which side of the aircraft we should look, to get the best view. As we approached our destination, we moved around to get the first view of the monument, and even from that height, it was duly impressive. A coach awaited our arrival at the airport, and took us the short distance to the site. We were then informed that we would have two hours to explore, before the flight back.
The present site of the statues of Ramesses II is a huge artificial mound, containing a cave-like exhibition within. The statues were moved here to avoid being lost to the floods, after the creation of the dam. Between 1964 and 1968, the blocks were all cut, and individually numbered. They were then moved over 200 metres away from the water, and elevated to almost 70 metres. This is acknowledged as one of the greatest modern feats of engineering. It is hard to comprehend the scale of these huge structures. The four statues of Ramesses II at the entrance are so large, that just one of the toes is as big as my head. As well as this, there is the Small Temple (not that small…) with six narrower sculptures around the door. Inside, the wonder continues, with carved columns, and the UNESCO-funded exhibition, showing how the massive feat of engineering to save the site was carried out. Two hours was not really enough to appreciate everything on offer, but it was very busy, with more tourists than we had seen anywhere else previously. I took lots of photos, but made the mistake of over-compensating with the polarising filter, due to the strong sunlight. I was still using film then, and when I got the results back eventually, I was devastated to see that I had almost turned the skies black. Nonetheless, it was a completely overwhelming experience, and well-worth the additional expense of the flights, which added around £120 to the overall cost of the holiday. We flew back to Luxor, and returned to the Hilton, with only one more day left. That evening, we dined well, eating all the most expensive items on the menu, before retiring to the gardens outside, to relax in the cool of the night air.
The following morning over breakfast,we considered the options for our last day. We decided to get a horse-taxi into Luxor, and to visit the temple on our own, taking more time, unencumbered by a tour party. The feeling of having to return to England in December, cold and wet, industrial action overshadowing my job, and Christmas a few days away, was hard to shake off. We haggled over a few trinkets, bought the last souvenirs, and enjoyed our wander around the impressive monuments for the final time. We returned to the hotel to start packing, leaving out only what we would need for the evening, and the trip home. We did not get away unscathed though. My wife had a bad stomach upset during the night, which resisted all medications, and continued into the following morning. Hanging around at the airport didn’t help, as the public conveniences left a lot to be desired, and toilet paper had to be purchased from an attendant. Once on the flight home, my wife was further embarrassed by being allotted her own personal toilet, in case she had anything contagious! Even on our return to England, this condition persisted long enough for her to have to see her doctor. I had to go back to picket duty on a strike, with an unseasonal tan.
But I would go again, do it all again, because it was truly memorable. In less than two weeks, we had stepped back over three thousand years in history, and experienced somewhere totally different to anywhere that either of us had ever been. Despite the political changes in the region, and the fact that the cruises are now more popular than ever, I would urge anyone to visit this fascinating country.