Abu Simbel Sun Festival — Oct. 22
So, we left Cairo a few days ago and headed down to Aswan on the Abela sleeper train overnight… arriving in Aswan about 9:30 AM on Oct. 21. The train was very comfortable and a fun adventure. Barbara enjoyed it too. We had bunk beds and dinner and breakfast served in our compartment. We had a sink and mirror and it was actually a lot of fun. When we awoke in Aswan, we were met at the station by our tour contact/agent Ahmed #2 (I call my friend Ahmed G-E “#1”) and his driver Ahmed #3 and driven to Aswan airport where we caught our flight directly on to Abu Simbel. By the way, 65% of the men here are called Ahmed we were told. Go figure. Anyway, we were a bit surprised that our flight to Abu Simbel was not full and we were able to switch seats to be on the LEFT side of the plane as we arrive in Abu Simbel, flying in low over Lake Nasser in clear and glorious view of Ramses’ and Nefertari’s temples!!! Awesome. Upon arriving at the airport, we met a rather hurried agent, Moustafa, who whisked us off to the Nefertari Hotel (reportedly a 4 star hotel, but more like a 2 or 3 star by U.S. standards). Now, I’m not sure if I should go into the nitty gritty details of how things turned horribly wrong for the rest of the afternoon, but what the hell… it might just make for fun reading.
Let’s just say that even if you have a reservation and a hotel voucher in your hand and the room has already been paid for with credit card, there is no guarantee that you will get a room in Abu Simbel… especially during the crowded Sun Festival (Oct. 22). And sure enough, while our agent Moustafa argued with the Nefertari Hotel’s manager as best he could, we could see from a short distance that all was not well. Apparently the hotel had “overbooked” due to the high demand placed on rooms for the Sun Festival. And despite our patience for over 2.5 hours, nothing was being done to rectify the situation. Sadly, Moustafa took off and left us (perhaps to try to find a room for us elsewhere or perhaps because he knew it was a lost cause and had better things to do), and we were left sitting in the hotel lobby… left to our own devices. While Barbara went into the hotel restaurant to grab some water, I called Aladin Tours in Luxor to check in with them and see if there was anything they could do from their end. Ahmad (a variation of Ahmed, so I guess we can call him #4) and Aladin himself spoke with me and tried to reassure me that the reservation was made, but since the Nefertari would not do anything about the absence of our names on their master list, we were still s*** out of luck. On to Plan B.
I got up, walked over to the hotel check-in counter, and BURST INTO TEARS. Yes, that’s right… on cue… in front of all the staff and manager and pretty much everyone in the lobby… and then an Egyptian TV crew that happened to be there to shoot the Sun Festival. Perfect timing. And while the TV crew did not film me sobbing at the counter, I know they saw what was going on because they turned to Barbara who had just re-entered the room and asked to interview her… and she gave a nice little spiel about why we were there and how things had gone terribly wrong and how we were not sure if we would have a roof over our heads for the night at the NEFERTARI HOTEL!!! Good PR spot, I think, don’t you? Right.
So, then the staff hand me some cleenex and the manager tells me to come over and sit down with him and he will talk with me… FINALLY!!!! AFTER nearly 3 hours he is willing to try to work something out. He introduces himself as… that’s right… Ahmed (#5) and says that he wants to help me/us, but that they only have one cancellation due to all their overbookings (which by the way, I find hard to believe — I mean, really, I didn’t see them turning other people away — just us). He says he can let us have this one spare room…. BUT (and there is always a “but”), we must pay for it on the spot: US$130. I phone Aladin Tours and get the OK from them… so they know they’ll need to reimburse us for this later and I get the OK from Aladin (owner) himself, and he talks to Ahmed #5 to verify everything… yada, yada, yada. Now, manager Ahmed #5 turns to me and says, “And there is one other thing — you must not mention this to ANYONE else!” Well, I guess I’ve blown that promise now, eh? And you know what, I don’t care… because I don’t think that what he did was legit and I think that it’s a total scam. When we got to Luxor today, Aladin told me that the price we had to pay him was much higher than the price they had negotiated and pre-paid when Aladin Tours made our reservation for us. So, that’s why we had to pay cash and we had to only pay it to manager Ahmed #5 and we had to keep it a secret. Yah, right. Well, to all who plan to stay at the Nefertari Hotel in Abu Simbel — PLEASE THINK TWICE and BEWARE.
But that’s not all, folks! So, we finally got our room and a somewhat late start on our afternoon tour of Abu Simbel, but the rest of the afternoon was productive. We stuck around for the Sound and Light Show and then returned to the hotel to get some shuteye before waking super early to get back in line for the Sun Festival at the temples. Back at our hotel room, we started up the AC because it was still about 38 C (something like 98 F I think) at 8 PM and guess what!? The AC broke down. Of course it did. So, we called the desk and they sent some guys out to pour some kind of fluid in it, and it worked again… for a little while, and then it really conked out. So, the guys had to come back and believe it or not, they took the ENTIRE UNIT out of the wall, hauled it away, and brought us a new one! And yes, it worked. We went to sleep… until 2:15 AM… when I got up and went back down to the temples to get in line with about 30 or 40 Germans and Japanese (the hard core Sun Festival seekers, I guess), at the gate. At 3 AM, they let us back in and we all made a bee-line to Ramses temple. I was 35th in line and took a seat on the ground near the temple entrance amidst the German group. So, I was sitting there until about 4 AM just thinking about what was about to happen as the sun would rise at 5:50-ish AM or so, and how it would look and how I could watch the sunlight illuminate the 3 statues of Ramses, Amun, and Ra-Herakte (but not the fourth statue of Ptah, god of shadows), and it suddenly dawned on me that I am in the wrong place. I won’t be able to photograph ANY of this inside — they don’t allow it! In fact, I would be better off staking out a prime spot right in front of the temple so that I can photograph and film the sun rising and the light changing the colors of the temple walls/statues outside, while at the same time being able to watch the statues of the inner sanctuary being illuminated on the two TV screens they have set up outside. So, I get up and I start to leave and everyone is asking me, “What are you doing?! Why are you giving up your spot?! You must be crazy!” But I knew what I was doing and I left and found a prime spot right out in front — in the center of the courtyard leading up to the temple. There was even a little stone bench for me to sit on and so there I sat until after 5 AM when the hoards of travelers came through….
Stay tuned. Battery running low. More to come later on the SUNRISE!!! Ooh.