A police convoy, minus the protection

Day 41
Aswan, Egypt

Without working phones in the room, our wake-up door-knock came this morning just before 3 a.m. Running off about 4 hours of rest, we assembled half-asleep in the hotel lobby to board our bus to Abu Simbel. Since a string of terrorist attacks about a decade ago, the Egyptian government has required that all visitors to this village — home to the Great Temple of Ramses II — travel in a police-escorted convoy that departs each morning at 4 a.m.

We arrived at the assembly point about 15 minutes later and joined an ever-growing line of tour buses. The police gave our van a quick look and wrote down our license plate number. This is the last we would see of them. In reality, these mandated convoys serve little purpose — without any protection, they are nothing more than moving targets that leave every day at the same time and follow an identical predetermined route. It could even be argued that the convoys are actually more dangerous, as bus drivers demonstrate their machismo and push their vehicles as fast as they can go.

Around 4:30 a.m., we boarded our van and were instantly part of a 30-bus race through the streets of Aswan. Our driver has to be given credit for his somewhat defensive tactic, especially when navigating the sand-dune covered roads beyond the city center. The same can’t be said for others, including the large motor coaches that roared past us at over 100 m.p.h. My spot in the “suicide seat” offered a good vantage point after the sun came up, watching the Sahara whiz by.

Three hours and several military checkpoints later, we finished in about 7th place at Abu Simbel (at one point, we were in first — if this were Amazing Race, I’d be devastated), bought tickets and hustled to the Temple. We somehow managed to get down there before all the big tour groups, and for just a couple of minutes, had the whole place to ourselves.

The Great Temple of Ramses II was built into the mountainside on the west bank of the Nile River between the years of 1274 – 1244 B.C. This had to have been a tremendous feat of engineering at the time, each statue is about 20 meters high and carved from a single block. We walked deep into the darkness and found the sacred sanctuary. On two days of the year, February 22 and October 22, when Ramses was born and assumed the throne, the sun shines in such a way that the inner-most chamber is flooded with light. It is pitch black on every other day.

Next door, Ramses built the Temple of Hathor, a comparatively smaller sanctuary for his wife. The intricacy and size of its design are equally as impressive.

At 9:30 a.m., with the sun starting to rise and the mercury quickly following, we got back on the bus for our trip back. It’s hard to say if the return ride was just as harrowing — most of us were immediately sound asleep. We had the rest of the day to walk around the Aswan markets and rest at the hotel; with temperatures here well around 100 degrees fahrenheit though, the latter was much more appealing.

Tonight, our last in this city, we have a nice group dinner planned. Tomorrow, we take our felucca for a day’s sailing trip up the Nile to our next stop, Luxor.


  1. Seeing your pictures of Aswan reminds me so much of Petra. You must see the famous Red City someday…No picture does it justice.

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