Four years ago, I set out to explore Egypt with a friend. We were pretty inexperienced travellers back then, so we decided to take a 10 day tour with Gecko’s Adventures. After a difficult start in Cairo (three days of horrendous travel sickness, causing me to miss most of the days’ activities), we arrived (semi-) fresh off an overnight train in Aswan. It was 5am, 30°c already and we had a busy day ahead of us.
After a quick stop at the hotel to drop off our bags, we made our way to Philae. Philae temple sits on an island in Lake Nasser. It is dedicated to the Goddess Isis, one of the most important deities in the Egyptian pantheon and worshipped throughout the Roman empire. The temple was actually moved in the 1960s – dismantled and reassembled piece by piece – from its original site to Agilkia Island to protect it from flooding after the creation of the Aswan High Dam. Imagine the care and precision it would have taken to do that!
A motor boat took us to the island where we were met by a local guide who walked us through the history of the site, and then we were free to explore the ruins on our own. It was sweltering hot – 38°C by midday with very little shade, but that didn’t deter us.
Philae is impressive. Wandering the grounds, you feel dwarfed by the beautiful engravings of the ancient Egyptian pantheon towering above you. Inside the temple, a hypostyle hall and dimly lit chambers lead to the inner sanctuary, where a statue of the Goddess would once have been.
After what felt like far too little time, we retired to our hotel rooms to freshen up (aka, take a nap!), before meeting up again for the evening’s excursion – a Nubian dinner on a felucca. The felucca was covered with a taut fabric, turning 2/3rds of the boat into one giant mattress. Lazing around on the boat, sailing down the Nile watching the sun set was an unforgettable experience. Absolute heaven.
The boat was parked in a secluded spot of the Nile with flowing water so we could take a swim (most of the Nile is not safe to swim in due to a flesh-eating parasite (!!), but it can’t live in rapidly flowing water… apparently). A few of us broke away to race each other up the side of a large sand dune rising from the riverbank and take in the view, before we were called back to the boat for dinner. It was the first real meal I’d eaten in 3 days, and I remember thinking it was the most satisfying meal I’d ever had. Though to this day I don’t know what it was – a sort of grain soup or stew, served with crusty bread.
Hunger sated, it was sadly time to head back. If only we could have stayed on the boat that night, letting the slow movement drift us off to sleep. I can’t wait to do it all over again some day.
Have you been to Philae or sailed down the Nile in a Felucca? Do you think group tours give enough time to explore the sites?