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Kom Ombo and Aswan

January 6, 2008

Tom – We docked at Kom Ombo during the night and were up early to start our guided tour (Anmor) of the Kom Ombo Temple at 7:30am.  It was a magnificent site to see out of our cabin window that morning.  We wondered how we would be able to see anything in the short time allotted but found that we were only a short walk away.  Kom Ombo means the crocodile god.  It seems that the Nile River was infested with these beasts and they were known to eat the animals, people, and children that lived along the shore.  They thought that if they worshipped a god dedicated to the crocodile it would be nicer to them; but how do you worship an evil thing??  So they divided the worship between two gods, the good god Horace (the falcon) and the bad god Kom the crocodile.  The first site we saw was a small room with three mummified crocodiles; good size but nothing to compare to the ones in the Cairo Museum.

Temples were important for various reasons: worship, gathering place, school, and for healing.  This temple was the first to show the medical wall depicting the instruments used, such as hooks (the brain was taken from the head through the nose by a hook when mummifying, ugh), spoons, knife, saw, medicine bag to hold the herbs, and a balance scale to weigh the herbs.  To the side of the instruments were the birthing stools with women sitting on them ready to deliver.  On another wall you actually saw a delivery with the child head down from the waist with arms outstretched over head coming from the mother.  There were several other reliefs that showed mothers nursing their babies and one that showed a two year old child nursing as well. There was also a baptismal font and an arrangement resembling a confessional with the priest in the middle and two alcoves on either side.

Since the temple was so close to the river, it also had a “Nileometer” which was a huge/deep well that measured the height of the Nile flood and therefore predicted the value of the next harvest.  The depth of the Nile was determined by the number of stone blocks covered by the water.  Another interesting wall represented the calendar.  Their year had three seasons (flood, sowing, and harvest), each season had four months, each month had three weeks, each week had ten days adding to a total of 360 days.  There were five additional festival days for the primary gods (365) and each year had ¼ day added so that the fourth year they had a day to celebrate their village god.  Pretty good for 4,000 years ago!

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This is a picture of an older river tour boat as we left Kom Ombo

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I did a tour of our boat, the Crown Empress, this morning.  It is the largest of 282 cruise boats on the Nile River.  It is 110 meters long, 50 meters wide, has a draft of 1.5 meters and has four stories of rooms.  As mentioned previously, the entire top of the boat is the deck.  They call it the “train.”  It can accommodate 270 passengers; however, we have about 150 on this cruise.  The eating area is on the bottom level and you are actually sitting below water level – it is an interesting perspective as you look out the large windows.  The boat has three 500 hp engines and an immaculate kitchen with several preparation rooms.  One was for breads and pastries, one for meat, and one for vegetables and salads.  In the preparation room all produce is disinfected and only bottled water is used in washing and preparation of food and sauces.  The captain in the control room has all the latest technology at hand but we were told he doesn’t use it; he just sails by knowledge and instincts.  We were told that the captain or pilot positions are family affairs and passed down from father to son.

As the boat cruised upriver toward Aswan, we went up on deck to enjoy the scenery, a cup of coffee, and learn how to play cribbage.  Kristi brought up her game, told us the rules, and then Helen and I played our first game – Helen won by a couple of points.  As we ate lunch the boat docked in Aswan and we prepared for our tour starting at 11:30am.  In preparing to take the tour, I examined my materials from the travel company and discovered that they were not consistent.  We were supposed to get a four night cruise and when they rescheduled our return flight from Aswan, when we arrived in Cairo, they gave us only 3 nights on the boat – that meant that we had to be back at the boat by 4pm in order to catch our flight back to Cairo and that we would miss the Nubian night dinner and entertainment!

We were not happy but needed to get over it so we could enjoy the afternoon.  Anmor was again our guide but this time Curt and Kristi accompanied us because they had refused to go with their original guide who had “blown them off” in Edfu.  Because there were now five of us we had a Travco van and driver.  Our first stop was the Western Quarry that had been used to acquire the stone for many of the monuments and pyramids we had already seen.  The technique for extracting the large blocks of granite and their movement to the river for transport was fascinating; everything was done by hand using basic physics and gravity.  Holes were chiseled and then wooden wedges were placed in them and soaked with water.  As the wedges expanded they would crack the granite along predetermined lines.  The blocks would then be rolled down to the Nile on logs when the river was in flood stage and transported by boat downstream.  They also cut large obelisks (hundreds of tons!) from this quarry and we could see one that was three-quarters finished that was found to have a flaw and therefore never completed.

Next we drove to and across the low Aswan Dam built by the British (1898-1902) and then up to the high Aswan Dam built by the Soviets (1960-1971) for a view of Lake Naser and the Nile River Valley.  Many Egyptian monuments and historical sites were flooded with the formation of the dams.  We visited one of these, Philae and its temples which were saved by UNESCO.  They built a waterproof wall entirely around the island, pumped out the water, and then cut and removed the structures block by block and rebuilt the structures as close to their original configuration as possible on a nearby island that is twenty meters higher in elevation.  The project cost 40 million dollars!

We got to the island by taking a Nubian launch to its south side.  I took some great pictures during the ride.  Most of the structures were related to the Temple of Isis and dated from about 380 BC to about 305 AD (almost 700 years!).  The early Christians then defaced most of the reliefs and inscriptions even forming a church inside the temple.  Then the Muslims defaced the Christian facilities!

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Driving back to Aswan, we stopped near our boat to take a Felucca (sailboat) to the Aswan Botanical Gardens on an island in the Nile River.  Feluccas are large wooden catboats with a large cotton sail.  The captain stands on the stern and controls the large tiller with his feet as he uses a pulley system to control the sail.  There is also at least one crewman (we had two) who can help with trimming the sail and raising and lowering the centerboard.  Our crew of three were all young Nubians.  Nubians are quite black and we were told that they have a tightly knit community not allowing intermarriages.  They have often revolted against the Egyptian authority.

The Botanical Garden was completed by Lord Kitchener in 1928 when he was consul general of Egypt and commander of the Egyptian army.  He imported plants from the Far East, India, and parts of Africa.  It is a beautiful place juxtaposed to the backdrop of the western edge of the Sahara desert on the west side of the Nile.  Helen bought a small hand made wooden camel from one of the young Nubians as we sailed back to our boat.

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Long story short, we caught the 8pm Egypt Air flight to Cairo and were transported (hour and a half) to our original hotel on the west side.  As we drove through the city we saw a Coptic cathedral completely covered with lights for Orthodox Christmas Eve.  Had we known we would have been here, we would have planned to go to mass.  Stopped to buy some KFC for dinner on the way, and hit the sack about midnight.

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