Part II: UPPER EGYPT
Moustafa has already booked 3 nights at that hotel. but I hate it. The staff are really rude. I begin to realize that he has no idea how to travel in Egypt. He’s travelled around Asia but not in his own country, as an adult. There are very few tourists since the Revolution, so there’s no need to book ahead anywhere, and it’s easy to find a comfortable, authentic room for 20 dollars a night. He really wants me to stay at the Ibis since he already paid for it and it’s the only way we can see each other in private, but I just can’t do it: it’s too ugly, the air is stale, and it’s is noisy with traffic below. I find a place online that looks quiet and simple, with old plastered walls, vintage furniture, and a balcony set back from the road, so all you hear is music and the babble of voices. It’s in a more local part of the city by the old market, a winding maze of old lanes with Nubian cafes, fruits, and spices. He blows off his booking at the Iber and gets a room at my guest house.
LUXOR DAY 1
I spend the day wandering around the city of Luxor to see how I like it. I don’t.
Upper Egypt (the southern part is called Upper Egypt because the Nile flows north) is more conservative and way less cosmopolitan than Cairo.
Luxor is the main tourist center, so there’s more hassle and harangue there than anywhere I’ve been in the world, except maybe Jaipur, India. Taxi drivers, horse carriage drivers, shop keepers, and men looking for sex and a passport out of Egypt constantly approach. They are good at what they do. “Wel-come!” with a huge smile; how can you be rude and ignore them? Then the same questions. “How long you stay here?” “You know much the horse ride? You know how much?” “You walk like Egyptian!” “What you looking for? I want to help you!” And the thing is … I believe them. I believe that they really want to help me. And talk to me. The hospitality is real. But inevitably they want to take me to their shop. And then it’s impossible not to buy. Prices for foreigners are twice what the locals pay, so if a local walks along with me I can get things cheaper, and, while he’s with me, the hassle stops. But I have to talk to the guy. Big talkers, these guys. And it’s always the same. It’s not like they are interested in what you have to say.
But even with their conservative patriarchy and annoying hassle, they’re somehow still charming and sincerely friendly. (Of course, women are completely missing from this world, so I am only talking about the men. I miss women already.) I find them fascinating. Their swagger subtle, their hair styled into impossibly neat curves as if painted on their smooth skin. The ones in modern clothes really know how to rock a pair of jeans, and then, the ones in khalifiya robes look so noble. Their ring-bejeweled hands are strong and graceful.
But you can’t walk 5 seconds without being hassled. My mood crashes. I don’t like Upper Egypt. And I am coming down with a cold.
Moustafa has a nice big bed and it’s good to cuddle with him. He touches me sensuously and I feel turned on. I climb top of him and start to make love for a short while when he suddenly turns me around doggy style, does a few hard thrusts, and comes inside me without warning. I wonder if all Middle Eastern men are like this. I won’t make love to him again.
I ask if he wants to watch a documentary, The Pyramid Code, with me. He looks skeptical, asks, “About Egypt from an American perspective?” Maybe he likes to be the one who knows, the one who teaches me things, the man. Yet he doesn’t know much about alternative Egyptology. Few people in Egypt do.
I ask if he wants to watch a documentary, The Pyramid Code, with me. He looks skeptical, asks, “About Egypt from an American perspective?” I get the feeling that he feels the need to be the one who knows, the one who teaches me things, the man. Yet he doesn’t really know much about alternative Egyptology. Few people in Egypt do.
This documentary is amazing. It features Hakim el Aryan, the last indigenous wisdom keeper of Egypt, who grew up playing in the pyramids of Giza. It talks about how mainstream Egyptologist theories are based on no evidence; no mummies have ever been found in a pyramid; and evidence that the ancients had more advanced knowledge and technology than we have today. They put forth the theory that pyramids were built as energy generators, and they used sound technology to cut and move the blocks. They go into the cycles of time, the yugas. They talk about how Egyptians had a more balanced society as far as masculine/feminine balance.
Even though Moustafa was a selfish lover, and is not very open to learning anything about Egypt from a foreign woman, it feels good to sleep cuddled up with him. The next morning we go to breakfast on the rooftop separately and pretend we don’t know each other so that we don’t get in trouble with the hotel and police. Ridiculous.
But it feels good to sleep cuddled up with him. Then we go to breakfast on the rooftop separately and pretend we don’t know each other so that we don’t get in trouble with the hotel and police. Ridiculous.
LUXOR DAY 2
The next day is the most mindblowing day of my life.
Moustafa has hired a driver for the day to take us around the sites on the west bank of Luxor. Towns on the Nile are always built on the East bank, while the tombs are on the West, as the West is where the sun sets and is associated with death. So the monuments are on the other side of the river, which is a long drive all the way around to the bridge.
First we go to the Valley of the Kings. In the first tomb, the first thing I notice is that all the figures have their right feet forward, which, according to the Pyramid Code documentary, means they are coming from masculine consciousness. In this case, it looks like patriarchal oppression: the drawings are of slaves being whipped, unpleasant things like that. The second thing I notice is that when I try to take a picture on my phone, the screen is shaking. A lot. It's visible in the video. There is some kind of magnetic field in here. Unfortunately, this video later disappeared from my phone.
Entering into the chambers with the line of tourists, I can’t escape, and I start feeling nauseous. I’m sweating. When I make it outside I sit in the shade and do breaths of fire to release the energy. I retch into a plastic bag and that really helps. When we start to enter another tomb, my body screams at me, “Don’t do it!” I tell Moustafa I’ll wait for him outside in the shade. He doesn’t care about going into the rest of the chambers so we leave. As we drive out of the Valley of the Kings, I see how the mountains, sharp pinnacles, could trap and amplify the energy. As soon as we leave the area and the landscape opens up, I start to feel better immediately.
We drive to Hatshepsut temple and I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life. The mountains are open, round, gentle. I feel very good, right away. The hills looks hollow, like there are underground passages everywhere. The layout of the temple is perfect, harmonious, geometric; a long walkway leads up to the center stairs, carved into the side of the mountain. I learned long ago not to approach things too directly, that sacred things should be spiraled around to, so I explore the side wings and then pause to meditate before walking up the central ramp. Moustafa is loudly talking on the phone, which is irritating. This is his first time here since he was a kid but he doesn’t seem to notice the beauty as he talks on and on. I tell him to find me when he’s done, and I enter the sanctuary.
I can feel the energy immediately: it's as expansive as the Valley of Kings was oppressive. Bubbles of energy course up my body. I want to breathe the energy in as deeply as possible. The massive block walls, perfectly smooth and precise, rise impossibly high to join with the mountain. Covering the walls are beautiful images, subtly blending into the stone in pale ochre colors. From above, the desert landscape below is perfectly geometric and ordered, and beyond is the green of the Nile delta.
Tears begin to fall. I am home. This is the energy that feels real and familiar to me, the harmony and beauty and symmetry, unlike the ugly modern world. All the figures here lead with their left feet and hands, coming from feminine energy. There is no war imagery.
A man in long white robes beckons to me. He motions me to sit behind a pillar where no one can see me, so I can meditate. I whisper, “My friend .. Moustafa!” He nods and returns with Moustafa. As we meditate I feel overwhelmed with joy, like I can float. I get a strong sense of a time in the past when we were so much more than we are now. The man motions for us to leave and we hand him a little money. The deal is, you are not allowed to sit down at any of the sites … you have to keep moving, unless one of the guards finds you a hiding place, in exchange for a little baksheesh (tip/bribe)
The whole area is dotted with openings into the mountain and ancient walls. I walk up a hill to one opening, but it’s walled off. There’s a huge arch and I head for it, my breathing deep and ecstatic as I walk through the desert. I gasp as I look down to see a huge chamber, 100 feet down into the earth, covered in mysterious carvings. There’s no way down that wouldn’t result in serious injury. The entrance to the chamber is through a gate guarded with a guy with a gun. This is the first place in Egypt I've seen slack-jawed, self-important guys with tanks. The terrorist threat is a great excuse to use impressive force to keep us out of places they don’t want us to see.
Perhaps they are keeping tourists -- and researchers out of ancient sites as a coverup. Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh who built this temple, was the victim of a cover-up herself. Few people know that dynastic Egypt was a matrilineal society -- inheritance went through the female line. Kings were eligible to rule due to their mothers, which is why brothers married sisters. Hatshepsut ascended the throne because there were no male relatives eligible, and her reign was one of peace and prosperity, with beautiful architecture created. Hers was the last good moment in Egypt before the evil Empire arose. Her son, Thutmoses III, was a warmonger who invaded and enslaved Egypt's neighbors. He was used as a puppet by the Shemsu Hor, the evil overlords who set up a central banking system and priestly caste who have ruled society to this day. From then on, they tried to erase Hatshepsut from history. They scraped her face off of every statue and wall where she was pictured.
I use the bathroom, the nicest I have ever seen, with marble walls and stained glass ceilings. My hands are shaking with awe at the beauty and energy of this place. Then we make the obligatory stop at the alabaster factory. Drivers get kickbacks from factories, and this guy tries to talk us out of the Valley of the Queens because it’s “not that famous”. Most tourists, of course, just want to check off the most famous sites, then get dragged to the stores.
Like other cats, I can’t stand being coerced. But whatever. I guess Moustafa got chummy with the driver and wants to do what he wants. And the thing is .. every time I’ve been coerced into a factory shop in Egypt, I’ve been glad. There is so much beautiful stuff, and it’s really interesting how they make it. The alabaster factory blows me away. First of all, outside, all around it, are tiny pieces of alabaster on the ground, like round crystals of sand. I hadn’t realized that alabaster, a form of limestone, has a quartzlike, crystalline quality. We marvel at how the sun reflects off it. Moustafa tries his hand at grinding the stone in the wooden grinder, while the guys clap and sing. Inside are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Yellow alabaster that glows in the light. Green alabaster that glows in the dark. Jade green alabaster. Statues and plaques with the most detailed, extraordinary work I have ever seen.
Of course there is the obligatory tea and shisha. I collect the things that caught my eye and bring them together. I spent too much time negotiating. I am too high and too overwhelmed by the treasures and I don’t realize that our time is running out before our time with the driver is up. We make a quick stop at the Valley of the Queens, where the pharaohs' wives were buried. Unlike the Valley of the Kings, this place is gentle and open and welcoming. The tomb rooms feel good to me: no magnetic field, no weird feeling.
The walls are covered in gorgeous lifesize human images, nothing evil or warlike, all with left feet forward, all with left hands held before them holding magical items, ankhs and magic rods. The detail on the faces is so beautiful.
Driving back to the east bank, we pass enormous statues. I yell, “Pull over!” This is the colossi of the Memnons, a free, open site: a flat field with impossibly giant stone statues against a huge sky. I walk up between the two giants and resist the urge to sink to my knees. Tears start flowing down my face as I gaze up into the impossibly tall faces above me. These were made from single pieces of quartzite from a quarry in Cairo (700 km away), 1300 tons in weight! Suddenly I’m filled with more kundalini energy than ever in my life. It surges up me, making my belly taught with energy, streaming out through my head. I start shivering with ecstasy, uncontrollably. The driver is done for the day, so I stumble back to the car. He is chatting with a beautiful man in a linen robe with perfectly sculpted hair and facial hair, and flawless skin. He looks like a demi god, his every gesture graceful and subtle. Maybe I’m just high.
We drive on through the lush reeds and green of the Nile delta and I look around at the villages. Unlike the east bank of Luxor, this feels genuine. These men in long robes seem so noble. I decide to come back and stay on the west bank, see this culture, roam around in the shadow of Hatshepsut, and sneak around at night.
The reeds and horsetails of the Nile feel familiar, as if from another life. The energy running through my body is still so intense that I can’t feel my hands. Everything is tingling. My eyes roll back into my head, spinning in my sockets. My hands start doing mudras. The field of energy between my palms is pulsing. My palms open and face forward the way the figures do on the temple walls. It’s a gesture of supplication and worship, apparently, but I wonder if it can be used both to receive the energy from the environment, or to direct energy outward to bless the world. I think of people I love and send them blessings from this energy field. I receive and give at the same time, cultivate and spin the energy. I lay my hands on my neck to heal the tension there. I know the tears falling from my eyes are holy tears, so I spread them on my eyelids, lips, and forehead. I can barely keep my eyes open to take in the miraculous beauty around me.
We get back to the city and I start to feel the energy recede. We’re back in Babylon, surrounded by concrete and lots of banks. Moustafa gets out for a while to go to the bank to get money. He's taking a long time, and I start to feel nervous. I know the energy will dissipate in this place, whereas if I go into my room, a simple place away from concrete and cars, I might be able to cultivate it and work with it before it fades.
The driver turns around to talk to me. He seems mentally challenged, but very sweet. He wipes the tears off my cheek ; I’m not sure if he is feeling uncomfortable with me crying, or if he intuitively understands that these are special tears. He grasps my hand, and I clasp his back. “Moustafa — good man,” he says, gravely. “Good, good man. No black in his heart.” I nod.
The sun is setting as we drive past Luxor temple, and the moon is rising and nearly full; I gasp at the sight of stones glowing in the moonlight. Sunset prayers echo from the mosques across the valley, mysterious and beautiful.
I’m so grateful that I decided not to stay at the modern Ibis hotel with its stale air and traffic noise. In this state, that would be unbearable. Finally I get back to my little sanctuary. I shower off the evil sweat from the Valley of the Kings and lay on my crisp white sheets, ecstatic, feeling the breeze through the balcony doors, hearing strains of beautiful music. When there are annoying sounds, I sing and feel the sound reverberate in my body. I continue cultivating the energy and using it to heal myself. I drift off to sleep peacefully.
The next morning I say goodbye to Moustafa, as he needs to return to Sinai for his work as a dive instructor. I tell him I'll travel for a bit and meet him up there.
LUXOR DAY 3
I have a head cold. I take it easy, staying in bed and watching youtube videos from Bright Insight, the work of Jimmy, a brilliant young guy who is putting pieces together about the lost ancient civilization. He talks about how the the dynastic Egyptians didn't build the megalithic sites; they stumbled upon them, drew some hieroglyphs on them, repaired them, and added new chambers. He points out the differences between megalithic structures and primitive ones: the size of the stones, and the tightness of the fit. With that perspective, I'm better able to determine which structures are from the Golden Age &mdash: 100 foot tall statues of hard granite taken from 100 miles away, with perfect smooth precise walls with no gaps &mdash. The walls built by Bronze Age people have crude stones with lots of gaps, and 10 foot tall statues made from soft, lightweight sandstone. Their columns are like the Greek ones, made from small pieces put together.
There is, as well, another possibility: that some structures were built recently -- in the dynastic times rather than during the lost ancient civilization -- but with the more advanced older technology, that was re-discovered or re-surfaced. Perhaps indigenous wisdom keepers or secret societies kept the knowledge alive but only busted it out when there was ruler benevolent enough to be trusted. I find a book by Xaviant Haze about how that technology appeared in some ages of Egypt. He believes the Shemsu Hor were reptilian aliens, bent on dominating the human race, that infiltrated Egypt by installing puppet rulers. They had no use for Hapshepsut, and were perhaps responsible for her mysterious disappearance. Haze believes that they were behind an extraordinary event that happened at the start of her son's rule: a huge fleet of UFO's appeared in the sky, then took Thutmose up in a craft. After he came down, he was the most warlike ruler in history, and never lost a battle. This event was witnessed by thousands of people, and is recounted in the Tulli Papyrus, and depicted on the walls of Luxor Temple. Haze goes on to describe how the next, and final, pharaoh who had access to ancient technology was Akhenaten, the "rebel king" who dared to throw off the priests of the main god Amun, who did the Shemsu Hor's bidding.
I start putting the pieces together, how culture has devolved from the golden age down to the crude present. Languages have gotten less expressive, more simple and crude, to accommodate lowered intelligence. Perhaps the pyramids were built as an energy amplifier to try to hold on to the higher states of consciousness, but, it was inevitable that we fell from grace; it’s a natural cycle after all.
I relax and do some work and chat with some Palestinian New Yorkers then realize that Karnak temple is closing in 30 minutes. I feel compelled to go, though. I figure it will be great to see the temple in twilight anyway and that I will come back a second time during daytime. The young, cheeky carriage driver urges the horse to gallop along the road. I smoke a spliff. It’s officially closed when I arrive and the tourists are streaming out but I slip inside. The moon is rising over the tallest obelisk. I gape at the perfection of it: massive towers and enormous columns reach up to the sky, framing a perfect portal far in the distance, with a walkway between. Such precision. I reach the entrance where people are all leaving and the guy says “Sorry, closed” and I tell him that I left my sweater inside. He says okay and he joins me.
We walk through the central corridor, me gaping up at the gigantic columns. “Wow”, I say. “Yes, wow!” he says, taking my hand and leading me into a side area. I feel his goodness and feel perfectly safe. We have both abandoned the pretense of the lost sweater. He puts my hands on a statue and motions for me to rub the energy from the statue onto my forehead.
It’s getting really dark when we walk out. I wander around the gigantic outer plaza for a while, with its flowering trees and birds. I’m approached by a guy who seems like a wonderful character, who offers me a motorbike ride back to town if I stop by his shop. I’m blowing my nose a lot so he asks if I want to see a doctor. Really good woman doctor, he says.
The carriage driver has been waiting for me and there’s an altercation as he tries to claim that I owe him 25 dollars instead of 25 Egyptian pounds, which is like 2 dollars. I give him some money because I feel sorry for him, but nowhere near 25 dollars, since I had specifically told him not to wait for me.
It’s a long motorbike ride, but pleasant, down long treelined roads with very little traffic. I feel total trust in him. By this point I have had such good experiences in Egypt that I have a great deal of trust in Egyptians. Besides, I trust my own instincts. This guy, Ali, knows everyone, and he makes sure I notice, waving at people we pass. “Everyone know me!” he exclaims. “Because I love all the peoples, so the peoples love me!” One guy slows down to ride alongside and they pass a cigarette back and forth. He’s proud to show me off to everyone. Finally we arrive at the doctor’s. I am intrigued to be in such a local place, with actual women, but I’m very self-conscious because in my haste to get to the temple before it closed, I had rushed off with a flimsy T-shirt and no bra. I rarely bother with a bra in the West as I have small breasts, but here I feel very strange about it. The doctor’s waiting room is packed with women, their heads covered with beautiful fabrics. It’s crowded so I sit outside and look in. Unbeknowst to me, my friend bribes someone to get me to the head of the line.While we wait, I watch the women and they watch me. One little boy is fascinated and comes out to play with me. If I had another layer of covering I would go inside to sit with the women, but I feel too embarrassed. I cross my arms over my breasts. One grumpy-looking woman walks out with her little child. When he looks up at me and smiles, she scowls and pushes him in front of her so he can’t see me. This is the first time in Egypt anyone has been unfriendly towards me.
The doctor is cool and speaks good English and gives me a prescription. I walk out feeling like such a privileged white asshole for cutting in line. One beautiful young woman calls out to me sweetly “Hi!” and I feel slightly better. Next door at the pharmacy, I give two young women with uncovered heads my prescription. I try to pay them for the medicine, but Ali won’t let me. One of the two women catches my eyes and gives me a half-smile. After we walk out, he says, “You understand, here, men pay everything. If people see you pay, they think bad of me. You can give me money after.” I pay him back; the whole doctor’s visit and medicine came to 5 bucks.
I say, “But don’t they understand that I’m a foreigner and we do things differently? Maybe I will inspire them. It’s time for Egypt to become modern. That way is very bad. Women need to be equal and independent.” I thought a lot about it later. What’s the highest virtue: to do things his way because it’s his country and he’s helping me out, or, to model an example of a more fair, just world?
Luxor Day 4
It’s impossible to avoid adventures and buying stuff. I hate being forced into things but the truth is there is great stuff to do and buy. I can’t step outside without getting embroiled into some situation. I go looking for an electric adapter since my other one quit working. Hasan, a guy I had met before, approaches me, and seems like another generous kind person. He asks where I’m going and I tell him what I’m looking for and that I appreciate his offer to help because it’s not the easiest thing to find. I know it will involve stops at the shops of his various cousins but I’m okay with that. We walk through the market, and he helps me get a local price for the adapter. Of course, he probably saved me about 50 cents, and now I feel obligated to go to the spice shop with him.
Spice shops are exotic, beautiful old places. The shopkeeper keeps putting spices or teas in my hand to smell or taste. There's pure saffron ... mmm. There are a few special blends that smell, and sound, amazing. Anything I say I like, he keeps track of, and when I try to ask the price he says to wait until the end. Sigh. At the end there are little bits of each lovely thing and it all adds up to like 100 dollars! I tell him I can’t possibly spend anywhere near that amount. But he tells me I am obligated to buy the blends he mixed.
I go back to Karnak to explore it during the day. It’s easy to see the difference between the oldest wing, the holy of holies, and the crude recent ones built onto it. The gorgeous ram-headed statues that line the entryway remind me that most of it was built during the Age of Aries, the Iron Age. The perfect alignment of the magnificent wings that stretch back as far as the eye can see tell me that one of the builders had access to more ancient technology. The complex is mind-bendingly huge; I hadn’t realized there was a lake back in there.
I walk to the Luxor museum. It’s a nice one with atmospheric architecture and lighting, and beautiful artifacts. Here are two photos showing the equal partnership between men and women. As we head further into patriarchy in Greek and Roman times, you will never see a woman with her arm around a man, only the opposite.
From Luxor I take a two-night cruise south to Aswan. I’m really excited. I don’t usually take cruises, but the idea of slowly floating down the Nile fills me with joy. It's only 50 dollars a night and that includes 3 meals a day and stopping at two temples along the way.
The boat is beautiful. It’s got that Art Deco-meets-ancient-Egyptian style I like so much, with gleaming tiles and lovely old furniture. The food, a massive buffet, is really good. But my room is below deck and smells strongly of mold. But
The other people on the boat are mostly British pensioners and an enormous swarm of Egyptian teenage girls, Christians from Alexandria, which is the least sexually repressed part of Egypt. These girls are rocking bikinis and clearly thrilled to be away from their parents and coming into their nubile power. At one point I have to ask their guardian to ask them to please not blast terrible American pop music.
When I find a spot on the upper deck far away from this cluster of adolescent chatter, I’m able to sink into the ancient experience of floating on the Nile. It feels so familiar and yet exotic: a vast, slow-moving expanse of water and sky and green fields and donkeys. There are few buildings or people. Which is absolutely beautiful.
I meet the other solo traveller on the boat, a Korean woman, a fellow world traveller who has also deliberately avoided marriage and kids. We team up at meals and talk for hours about places we’ve travelled and about Korean culture. I’m interested in what she tells me about some of the matrilineal roots of Korea; every culture I have encountered has woman-centered roots if you go far back enough. When the military first came to Korea, all the leaders were women! She tells me about a powerful queen they had who was subsequently deliberately erased from history, just like Hatshepsut.
The next day I jolt awake at 7 AM, afraid I’ve missed the chance to see the temple at Edfu. But it’s fine, I take some breakfast and walk out of the ship. It’s required to take a horse carriage to the temple, as the tuk-tuks are run by mafia, they say. The horse and beautifully decorated leather carriage take me to the temple of Horus. Here is what a website that speaks of the mystery tradition of Egypt has to say about it:
I meditate in the center, at the holy of holies: a stone box shaped like a phone booth. Soon it’s time to take the horse carriage back to the boat before it leaves. Back on the boat, I chat with an Egyptologist. At first I assume that he’s like most experts, certain of what they know and dismissive of alternative theories, but I find he is interested to know my opinions. He listens to me talk about various topics and says he finds me knowledgeable. How refreshing for an Egyptologist. He tells me about how ancient Egyptian magic was channeled by Aleister Crowley, the British occultist.
In the afternoon we stop at Kom Ombo, a beautiful Bronze Age temple. The carvings are very fine quality; so three-dimensional and very personal, showing beautiful humans with geometric body art, gorgeous clothing, and round, muscular bellies. There is a lot here about medicine; the hieroglyphs describe ancient Egyptian medicine which was channeled by Imhotep in 2600 BC, who is credited with being the first physician. There are carvings of stethoscopes, trepanation instruments, and women giving birth standing up. Opium and hashish were used as anesthetics. They had advanced knowledge of remedies for infections and parasites that are still in use today.
At Kom Ombo there are giant seamless pillars of pink granite, which means they still had access to ancient ways of moving giant stones. The newer part of the temple is built of sandstone. There are huge offering blocks, with lists on the walls of the offerings they made. Each day had its own particular energy which required specific offerings to specific gods. I meditate in one hidden chamber that one of the guards showed me, and feel the energy shimmering around me. I start taking deep breaths to bring in more of the energy but the guy tells me to get out.
Any guesses what that figure in the photograph on the right is holding, two round things with something sticking out? Clearly an offering but what?
I am especially interested in the imagery that shows people receiving divine energy from the gods, after feeling such potent energy in Luxor. This energy, known as chi in Chinese, was known as waset in Egyptian. I believe this energy comes from sacred sites and sacred beings, and raises the consciousness, even conferring divinity or immortality. I wonder if the fountain of ankhs depicts waset. Pinch out on the photo below to see that's what the gods are pouring.
The next morning I get up at 3 AM to take the tour to Abu Simbel, the giant temple in the desert south of Aswan. At sunrise, it’s freezing, and the windswept terrain outside the window looks like something from another planet, with weird, mushroom-shaped outcroppings. We pass only one town that looks like a Martian colony. It seems like it was recently installed, with a wall and a large solar array.
I knew I would be impressed by Abu Simbel’s sheer size, and I knew not to expect to feel the energy, because it had been moved to a different spot when the area was flooded by the Aswan Dam. This really pisses me off. The sheer arrogance of moving something like that; the sheer ignorance of not understanding that the ancients chose a spot with special energy. You can’t just fucking glue something like this back together. Although it’s a bit impressive to see the pictures of them moving 10-story faces with cranes.
The size and shape of the temple are impressive. But compared to Kom Ombo, the art is crude. This was the temple of Ramses II, who unified Upper and Lower Egypt by defeating the Semites to the North and the Nubians to the South. Ramses is still considered a great hero by many modern Egyptians, who see him as the conquerer that created Egypt. But of course, modern Egyptians are conquerors and colonists themselves, whose ancestors invaded Egypt in the 7th century. I see the reign of Ramses as the first truly evil empire; next level patriarchy and colonialism from what came before.
All the figures have their right foot forward, which according the the Pyramid Code documentary meant they were embodying masculine energy, and this is borne out by the dominating imagery: a man whipping another, a man with his hand on another’s head. The entry gates depict a line of slaves; on the left, Nubians, shown with round heads and large lips and earrings; on the right, Semites, shown with oval heads and large noses. This was the period where Egypt conquered the Nubians and drove out the invading Semites, the mysterious Semitic Hyksos who ruled Lower Egypt for a short time. The Hyksos brought chariots, and a more violent form of patriarchy, to Egypt. Now Upper and Lower Egypt were united into one kingdom, kicking off an age of oppressive empire. To this day, the Nubians are second-class citizens in Egypt, their role as the earliest ancient Egyptians deliberately forgotten. See below: enslaved Semites on the left, Nubians on the right.
We arrive back in Aswan in the early afternoon. I’m really tired and Aswan feels like a hectic big city, and my bag is heavy with alabaster treasures. I’m staying on the west bank of the Nile, across from the main city, but the bridge is very far away, so I opt for the ferry. Lugging my bag onto the ferry makes me want to cry. Two hippie girls come over and say “Hey! You have to sit on this side, it’s the law!” They segregate men and women. The girls help me move my bag to the women's side. One is from Alexandria, the other is Czech. They're sweet and fill me in on the scene, and offer for me to stay at their place in Alexandria. They help me drag my bag from the boat to my guest house.
Aswan is the most southern city in Egypt, in what was ancient Nubia before Ramses II colonized it. I like the west bank of Aswan, it’s much more peaceful than the other side, a cool ancient ruin looms over it on top of a mountain. There’s a lovely garden at my guesthouse. But the Nubian owner is a bit pushy and annoying. He tells me “You’re welcome” about 10 times. Sometimes hospitality can be a bit too much. The food on the rooftop is good, but at $30 a night it’s pricey, and has the cheapest bedsheets I’ve ever seen. I like the Nubian textile as wallpaper, see photo below.
I meet a Flemish guy there who looks like a medieval monk, and it turns out I’m not far off: he’s a scholar of medieval Islam. He tells me about the amazing old neighborhoods of Cairo, and about how he had to get special permission to access the ancient scrolls at the library but was not permitted to see the ones on magic.
The following day I take a taxi to the ruins of Philae, a Ptolemaic (Greek) era temple which was also moved when they built the dam. The more I learn about the Aswan dam, the more pissed off I am. They wanted to tame the Nile … typical patriarchy! It’s the overflowing of the Nile that created so much life and beauty, and now since the dam, the soil is not so fertile. So many ancient beautiful Nubian villages were displaced, as well as incredible ruins. Idiots.
I go at lunchtime on the advice of the Egyptologist I had met on the boat, to avoid the crowds . Sure enough, there are few people. I smoke a spliff to meditate on the energy, but then I find out that like Abu Simbel, Philae was moved for the dam. Cannabis (in this case, hashish, nothing else is available) makes me more sensitive to energies, so I try to reserve it for energetic places. Well, this is a good test: will I feel strong energetics anyway, even though this was not an original sacred place? Of course, the placebo effect applies. I sit meditating in a dark chamber and, in fact, feel nothing.
I meet a rasta Nubian man who tells me a little bit about how the Nubian people are the original Egyptians — Isis was Nubian, for one — and have been erased from history. He asks me to tell the world of how the Egyptians have colonized them and oppressed them. When their beautiful, 8000-year-old villages were destroyed by the dam, the government had promised to build them new villages, but it never happened. I want to cry.
Then I take a felukka sailing trip with a few Chinese women. We go to the botanical garden, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen: spotless, with impressive exotic trees from all over the tropical world, and views across the Nile to orange sand mountains. Then we sail to a Nubian village on Elephantine island. I’m blown away by this 7000 year old village of ancient winding streets, all the houses connected and decorated, made from cob and wood and brick. In one house we see crocodile mummies, and hold small living crocodiles. They feel smooth, heavy and wet.
I don't find out until later, after I've left Aswan, that I missed the megalithic area on Elephantine! After this point, I made sure to google megalithic structures in an area before leaving. I like to see things first with my own eyes before reading too much about them, so I can make my own guesses about which ones were built with ancient lost technology, but I definitely want to read about things afterward. As I've said, the authorities are not eager for people to ask too many questions about these things, so it's not surprising that the quarry at Elephantine isn't a famous tourist attraction. It should be just on the basis of the fact that most, if not all, of the granite all around Egypt comes from Aswan quarries.
At the Elephantine quarry is the enormous unfinished obelisk. Check out the size of this thing. It's covered in marks which experts claim were made with stone pounders. But there are also marks underneath, where there isn't enough space to swing a stone pounder. The pic comes from an article about the quarry which is worth taking a look at as well as Brian Foerster's video about it..
At the quarry there are also the huge stone boxes that look like sarcophagi or phone booths, made from precisely perfectly cut pieces of granite. (photo credit Pinterest Cough Oner)
A mysterious middle-aged dark-skinned man who looks like an ancient Nubian approaches me, saying I’m different from the usual tourist, that I want to “touch something”. He tells me about the Jewish origins in Nubia, and says he wants to show my tour group interesting things. The guide, an annoying lad that keeps making marriage proposals to me via google translate app, is torn because the Chinese women don’t want to go see what this guy wants to show us, as they don’t understand English well enough. I take his number. He says he will be in town around 7:30 and I say I'll meet him there. We sail off at sunset. I ask the boat guy to drop me on the west bank. When I disembark I realize there are many boat docks on the west bank, and I’m at some random place, not the same place where my guest house is. It’s almost dark and I’m in a beautiful Nubian village alone with a cat. I walk down the lane hoping I will see the ruin on the hill in the distance and recognize where I am, but I don’t, and I arrive at a gorgeous cafe on the Nile. I’m tempted to take a shisha but the restaurant boat is leaving so I figure I ought to take it over to the east side.
I disembark at KFC-on-Nile (see photo below). The Nile korniche, or walkway, is clean, wide, and lovely to walk on. I get so much less hassle than in Luxor. The main street is modern and upscale while the street behind it is cobbled and full of atmospheric cafes. I wander over to the market souk, which is charming: massive cauliflowers, spices, shisha cafes, ancient alleyways. I walk far, then text the man I met on Elephantine. He tells me he will pay for any taxi driver to take me to the Mona Lisa cafe. The carriage driver says he knows it and I say 50 pounds and he says ok but of course he doesn't know it, and even after he talks to the guy on the phone, he can’t find it. When finally we find it and the guy comes out of the cafe, the driver wants more money because he’s gone the wrong way and wasted my time. This is typical of Egyptian drivers. If they lie and say they know where you are going, then take you the wrong way, you owe them extra. I refuse to give it to him.
The Mona Lisa cafe is a depressing dive where men (of course) surreptitiously drink beer. I’m hungry but they don’t really have food. I order a beer. The older man keeps telling me he sees something in me and wants me to give him a chance and I keep trying to turn the conversation over to Nubian history and language since he had said he wanted to tell me more about his people. I came for tidbits of Nubian culture. Not much is forthcoming and it seems it was all a ruse and I wish I had more small bills with me because I’m hungry and tired and frustrated so I just want to pay for my beer and leave. All I have is a 200 pound ($10) bill, which I know I will never be able to get change for at that place, and I regret the beer and regret coming. I sacrifice the bill and leave, then I feel mad at myself. Why didn’t I just say, hey, you lied to me, you don’t have anything to teach me, and I came all the way to meet you and you can damn well buy me that damn beer that I didn’t want anyway.
I walk down the korniche back to the ferry, fending off friendly approaches, and see a modern Arabic food booth. I pay and wait entirely too long for a shwarma but it’s actually delicious, a rarity in Egypt, and I eat it hungrily as I wait for the ferry. It occurs to me I haven’t seen any local women eat. Or anyone eat in Egypt really. The men only smoke incessantly and drink tea. I see some French girls on the wrong side of the ferry and move them to the female side. I give them some tips about Aswan as the hippie girls did for me when I arrived. I pass out as soon as I get back.
The next day I plan to leave on the 3 pm train back up to Luxor. I’m pretty beat. The breakfast at the Nubian guesthouse is actually excellent with local cheese, brown beans, and the least-bad-tasting omelette I’ve had so far in Egypt. I head out to tour the tombs above. There’s a great view from up there, but not much to see inside the tombs. A kind-looking camel guy with tight dreadlocks offers me a ride to the monastery. Nubians tend to be less pushy than Egyptians. I accept. We head up through the desert but then I see how far away it is, it’s just too far to go without stirrups when I have a train to catch. We camel-gallop back down. When he inevitably asks if I'm married, as people always do, I'm torn as usual whether to say yes to avoid getting hopes up, or to tell the truth to make a point. I opt for waving my hand dismissively and saying “It’s not important.”