March 30, 2021: Kom Ombo and Edfu
After two long days in Aswan and Abu Simbel, it was time for another long day of transit. Our goal was to drive to Luxor, the capital of Ancient Egypt. A direct drive from Aswan to Luxor takes 3.5 hours. However, there are two major sights along the way that we wanted to see. This adds 3 hours to the drive time.
This part of the country is known as Upper Egypt. Upper Egypt is upstream (and south) of Lower Egypt (the area near Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Delta). Ancient Egypt was created when the king of Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt, thus uniting the two kingdoms. The crowns of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt feature heavily in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
After paying for all our tours, it was time to go. We crossed the Nile on a ferry and loaded into our car at 7:30. The car was new and clean but had a low clearance. An IESE friend warned us that the road was terrible.
As we left Aswan, the road hugged the Nile. The river creates a small but productive band of rich farmland on either side. The almost tropical landscape had sugar cane and palm production. The land near the Nile also is the only land that historically could sustain any decent population of human life. As a result, the road felt urban nearly the entire drive. A medium-sized town would pop up every couple of kilometers.
Like in the rest of Egypt, basic traffic rules were ignored and everybody honked all the time. Cars regularly drove over the center line and in the opposite direction. Partly this was to avoid potholes but also to avoid distractions such as livestock and people walking on the road. I found it amusing that the pedestrians seemed oblivious to the cars.
While the road had some avoidable potholes, the biggest issue was the speed bumps. Every town had at least 5 speedbumps. Because our car had low clearance, the driver had to take the bumps super s-l-o-w-l-y to avoid scratching the undercarriage of the car
75 minutes in, we reached our first stop: Kom Ombo. Kom Ombo is a medium-sized town that is home to a famous temple. The temple was built in the Ptolemic period between 180 BC-47 BC when Egypt was ruled by Greek pharaohs. Ancient Egypt would end just 17 years after the construction of Kom Ombo with the death of Cleopatra and the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire.
The temple of Kom Ombo is a rare double temple. Half of the temple is dedicated to Horus, the god of pharaohs while the other half is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek. Before the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the regulation of the Nile´s floods, many crocodiles lived in this area. Nowadays, crocodiles only live south of the dam along the shores of Lake Nasser. Nile crocodiles are very dangerous animals and can easily kill a human. It should therefore be no surprise that people worshipped the animals.
The temple was less impressive than both Abu Simbel and Philae, although I admired the stonework and impressive Greek-style columns. The highlight of Kom Ombo is the museum, which contains mummified crocodiles. These ancient crocodiles used to be the pets of pharaohs.
On the way out, I got verbally assaulted and harassed by a vendor who tried to sell me a rug as his son tagged along. I ended up buying the rug, but I regretted that decision immediately because he was so aggressive and even asked for a tip after we agreed on a price. I really hate rewarding this type of behavior. At the same time, Kom Ombo seems like a pretty awful place to live so I was definitely helping this guy out.
We then drove north for another 90 minutes. Along the way while everyone was asleep, the driver made a pit stop for falafel. He bought me two falafels and said it was our secret and not to wake anyone else up.
After a police checkpoint, we crossed to west side of Nile into town of Edfu. This was by far the largest city so far on the drive. Edfu had some 8-10 story buildings and had a very hectic city center.
In the middle of the city is the Temple of Horus. After a police check, we pulled into the completely empty parking lot. On our way into the temple, we were forced to walk through the “gauntlet” of shops with aggressive merchants who insisted I talk to them and remember their stall. Luckily on the way in, you can use the excuse that you will look when you are leaving. It is less difficult to get away.
The Temple of Horus at Edfu is in pristine shape. How this temple managed to stay in this prime condition in the middle of a congested town is incredible. Behind the humongous entrance façade was a temple almost identical in shape to Philae in Aswan. Some of the carvings in the temple still had paint!
On the way out the merchants predictably pestered us again. One guy “you remember me?”. Another Nubian child merchant tried to give me a beaded bracelet as a “gift” and said “just smile!”. As annoying as it is, you can’t not feel bad for these people hustling so hard for these small amounts of money.
Having these merchants pester tourists is not acceptable but at the same time these people are struggling and deserve to make a living. Unlike bigger cities like Luxor and Aswan, tourists do not stay here except to visit the temple. I’m not sure what the right solution should be- maybe the government can pay them a stable salary instead of having them own the stalls.