Date: 3 June 2022
Location: the Nile, bobbing somewhere between Aswan and Luxor.
There is obviously no right or wrong way to do Egypt but if there is a ‘right’ way, then it’s almost certainly to go from north to south.
Of course, the very idea of ‘doing’ a country is rather vile, at best naive. Of course you cannot think after one visit or even two or three that you’ve seen all a country has to offer, felt all it has to show. How affronted I would be if someone visited Australia for two weeks — snorkelled off Airlie Beach, watched the sun set from Byron Bay lighthouse, climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge, learned what a goon bag is — then said they had ‘done’ Australia!
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make — via a path as hopelessly winding as the Nile I’m floating down — is that, if there was a best way to see Egypt I suspect it’s the opposite way to what we’re doing. That is, you should probably go to go from ‘lower’ Egypt in the north, to ‘upper’ Egypt in the south. I say this because, having been awed by the majesty of remote Abu Simbel and then by the serenity of the island Philae Temple, this morning’s viewing of the temple at Edfu fell somewhat short. Perhaps it would have wowed me last week? Almost certainly. Today, though, as complete and huge as it is, all I see is the pulsing crowds (it’s 6.30am!), the dust kicked up from the filthy streets and the ugly abandoned apartment building that looms behind the complex. Unlike other sites we’ve seen, this temple sits in the middle of a town, behind rows of shops and a ‘taxi rank’ of horses and carriages. When I object to taking a horse (it’s hot and I feel bad for them), our guide patiently tells me that it’s simply the done thing and reminds me that the drivers rely on tourists for their income. And to feed the horses. I relent, of course. (And, to be fair, the horses all seem well cared for and supplied with a steady stream of grassy snacks between trips.)
Perhaps I shall humbly change my mind about the supremacy of the south once I’ve seen the jewels of Luxor or the infamous pyramids. Time will tell. And I will report back.
So. Edfu. The largest of the remaining temples. Lots of Horus and Osiris and Isis scenes. Plenty of Greek kings. Our Egyptologist escort explains that the Greek kings of Egypt, nervous about ruling so far from home and over a population devoted to a foreign pantheon, ‘redecorated’ ancient sites to introduce images of themselves interacting with the gods. Here we see a Ptolemy cheering on Horus as he battles Sek. Here we see another Ptolemy chilling out with Hathor. Here — creepily — we see him breastfeeding from Isis.
We’re done at Edfu in an hour and gratefully retreat back to our boat as the sun starts to really burn.
Our boat, the Steigenberger Regency, is essentially a slightly dated floating hotel. It feels supremely surreal to breakfast at an international buffet as the Nile flows by. It’s also a supremely convenient way to travel. All of your things stowed away in a nice little cabin, as the hotel itself takes you from place to place without you needing to lift a finger, let alone repack or check you haven’t forgotten your charger. I finally understand the appeal of cruises.
There’s even a shallow little pool on the sun deck (the cleanliness of which I choose not to question). It feels more than a little bizarre to be floating past shoreside villages of modestly-clothed men and women, the call to prayer echoing across the morning heat, whilst I bask in a bikini on the roof of this floating hotel. However, now that I’m full from an Egyptian breakfast of eggs, cheese, fetiyer bread and beans, it is there that I shall retreat. With plenty of 40+ sunscreen.