Philae Temple, Egypt

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It’s funny; it didn’t seem to matter how many temples we visited in Egypt, they were all so different, and all so beautiful in their own ways. Philae Temple was a favourite for me, because it felt so secluded, isolated, and so peaceful.

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Located on a little island in the middle of Lake Nasser, it’s believed to have been founded around 370 BC. “Philae” translates roughly to “the end,” because it’s location defined the southern limit of Egypt at the time it was built.

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Much like Abu Simbel, also located on Lake Nasser, the original site of Philae temple was actually flooded, making it yet another wonder that was thankfully relocated and therefore saved for countless generations to come. It’s not located on an island called Agilika.

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One of the things that really stood out for me were the intricate lotus petal designs that crowned the columns throughout the complex. The lotus features prominently in a LOT of the temples we saw, and held special symbolic meaning to the Ancient Egyptians, representing creation, rebirth, the sun.

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For the most part, the hieroglyphs were still incredibly in tact, considering the age of the temple, and we did see something that I thought was truly fascinating: ancient graffiti! Below is one of the images I captured of a Coptic cross, defiantly etched over the original hieroglyphs by early Coptic Christians. They actually made their way through the temple defacing a lot of the original reliefs and art work, and it’s believed that a Christian altar was actually erected around 500 AD, in the courtyard.

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My most concrete memory of this place, though, was the view that greeted us towards the end of our wanderings. Lake Nasser, in all its sparkly glory under the midday Aswan sun. It was perfect, and always will be in my memory.

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Desert sunrise, a police convoy, and Abu Simbel, Egypt

I’m not gonna lie – I was more than a little shitty when our poor, patient guide Medo told us we’d have to be up around 4am to join the 4.30am police convoy to Abu Simbel the following morning. We’d just had a pretty long day, disembarking the Princess Sarah in Aswan and visiting the Nubian Village where everything had changed – I was physically and mentally exhausted. “But there’ll be a beautiful view of the sun rising over the desert! And I’ll bring you all breakfast!” Dude, 4am. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually a pretty solid morning person, with my body clock usually waking me up at around 7am if I haven’t set an alarm. But 4am hurt. We piled into our little van and stared bleary eyed out the window as others did the same. We saw the police, dressed to the nines and accessorised with machine guns, directing the early morning operation. We sat in our spot on the bitumen for a while, wondering what the hell was taking so long; eventually, engines started to hum to life and the convoy began the long, 300km drive from Aswan. We all found comfy spots in our little van and promptly fell asleep.

Why the need for the police convoy to get to Abu Simbel? Medo simplified it for us: “Money making.” Ahh… those two little words that make the world go round.

Anyway, credit where credit’s due – he woke us up just as we were about to drive into the sunrise and distributed breakfast lunchboxes to us all, with orange juices, chocolate croissants, and some strange but delicious packaged Egyptian sweet biscuits and breads. And he was right about the beautiful sun rise…

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

We finally rolled up, after what felt like an eternity, yawning and rubbing our eyes… It wasn’t what we were expecting. But then again, none of us were really sure what we should have been expecting. Not this. Not an absolutely stunning lake in what felt like the middle of nowhere.

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Turns out we were standing on a plateau overlooking the beautiful Lake Nasser, the largest man-made lake in the world, spanning over 5000km². It was breathtaking. We all fell silent and eventually still; I looked around and realised we’d all stopped in our tracks, disregarding the winding path before us to see the temple itself, completely taken by the view over the lake. The photos do not do it justice – the water literally sparkled and glistened under the sun. No one ever speaks about this lake when Abu Simbel is mentioned, but they really should – it’s perfect.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

We were eventually hurried up by Medo – we were one of the first groups to arrive and he wanted us to get as much time without the huge crowds as possible. Legend. We couldn’t for the life of us work out where this temple was – we were coming from up high, walking down a dusty path winding it way around to the left (as you can see two pictures up). We looked out, and couldn’t see anything. All of a sudden, the first of the group let out a huge gasp. As we came around the bend to the left the enormous structure appeared underneath the plateau we had started on top of. Words can’t justify it, and neither can photos. But here’s a try.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I’d spent a lot of time imagining what it’d be like to stand before this leviathan. I tried to conjure up what it would have been like in 1250BC, half way through its construction. I tried to envisage how I’d feel finally coming face to face with another ancient wonder, like the Pyramids of Giza, which I’ve always felt an inexplicable connection to. I still can’t find the words to describe it. It was… wow.

The main temple is the Temple of Ramesses, one of the handful of temples constructed in the reign of Ramesses II. Over the centuries, the temple was eventually abandoned and covered by the desert sands. It was rediscovered in the early 1800s, and eventually an enormous re-location project began in the mid 1960s; the temple was under threat of submersion from the rising waters of the Nile that would come from the upcoming build of the Aswan Dam. Over four years, the entire structure was cut into blocks of around 20 – 30 ton per piece, meticulously recorded, moved and put back together around 65m above it’s original location.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

One of the most phenomenal feats of the relocation was the fact that the original temple was aligned so that on 22nd of February and October each year, the sun would shine through the entry of the temple and directly onto the beautiful back wall – the relocation was so exact, that the sun shines now on the 21st of the months – pretty close to the original! We were all really shocked when Medo told us that – not just that they got the relocation to perfect, but that the original builders nailed it!

Standing at the base of those statues was so surreal – enormous doesn’t even begin to describe it. I stand at a pretty average 170cm (or 5’7) and as you can see below, I am utterly and completely dwarfed…

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There is actually another spectacular temple at this complex which sadly doesn’t get quite as much attention – The Temple of Hathor and Nefertari. This beauty was built to honour Nefertati, the favourite consort of Ramesses II, and it marks the second time that a temple was dedicated to a queen. Nefertari is also depicted as the goddess Hathor, with the cow horns and solar disc on her head. This one was particularly special to me as I have that symbol tattooed on my wrist.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

After we’d been through both temples, taken our photos, stumbled around wide eyed and with our jaws to the ground, four of the five of us met up on a block overlooking the entire area. We just sat there in quiet reverence, and you could just tell that everyone really appreciated what they were experiencing. As we watched the other tourists running around with their cameras to their faces, listening intently to their guides, pouring over maps and guide books, we just sat there and watched it all. We stared at the temples and gazed at the lake, all in silent contemplation.

What the others were thinking about, even my own husband, I couldn’t tell you. What I was thinking about though was my life. How small and insignificant it is in the whole scheme of things. I’ll never be wonderful or grand, magnificent and well known. I’ll never be loved by the masses, nor will I be feared. People will probably never know my name, and there will certainly never be any temples or sculptures built in my honour. I’m just another girl leading another life. But on that day, after my big epiphany the night before, I also thought about how happy I was and how proud I was of myself for having finally overcome some of my demons and for finally starting to live the life I’d so desperately wanted and coveted for so long. Yeah, I’ve had some luck along the way (I didn’t chose where or to whom I was born, for example, but I’ve been very lucky on both of those accounts), but it’s been a lot of hard work as well, actively seeking out opportunities, making the most of it all, planning, preparing… it was really beautiful to reflect on how far I’d taken myself, and how much further I could go.

And I was happy. We all were. That’s why I really love this photo.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Somewhere between Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples in Egypt…

Around this time last year, I was getting home from the trip of a life time – I finally made it to Egypt, which was a life dream for me from a very young age (I wrote a bit more about this life-changing trip here and here, and I’m sure will have many more posts to come!). We spent 8 days there, touring the country with a small band of like-minded adventurers – another 2 Aussies and a Colombian, along with our brilliant guide, Medo. At one stage, it kind of felt like we were kind of on repeat – another temple, more hieroglyphs, more sand in our shoes… I think I was the only one still fascinated anew each time!

The photos below were taken on a little sojourn between a visit to Kom Ombo Temple, and our journey to Edfu Temple. After a long day of sight-seeing, we were thankful to be able to rest our weary feet on a horse-and-carriage ride for a while before making our way to Edfu (where the final photo was taken).

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I found it pretty incredible to be in such a different world to the one I had always known – riding through the streets and seeing these ramshackle, corrugated steel and wooden structures passing for shops (and more often than not, homes) was not something us Aussie kids were used to; we’re pretty lucky and privileged, it appeared, compared to a lot of the world. It really hit home for me during this ride. I feel like my privilege also extended to being able to actually experience this as well, when I know a lot of people would sooner sit at a fancy resort all day and turn a blind eye. Is it not a thing of beauty to be able to see a country in its entirety, and not just the shiny, pretty, brochure-worthy parts?

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

The streets were all but deserted, quiet and lonely – they were also, to a young, white female – a little intimidating and scary. You hear and read about the kind of things that can happen on these streets after dark, and again, it really hits home that I’m incredibly fortunate to live in a country where it is not only allowed, but the norm for young women to go out alone. To shop alone, to study, to hold a job and earn (and spend) their income as they please. To wear whatever they want without fear of repercussion, to choose their own husbands, to love who and what they want. I felt suddenly so relieved at the fact I had been born geographically where I had, and not where I currently was – I’d have never survived. I’d have been one of those horrible stories or tales of caution, I’m sure of it… This is not to say that it’s all doom and gloom and bad news over there. For the most part, all of the locals we met and interacted with were absolutely lovely, kind, generous and patient. But they were also all men – the only woman we were introduced to in a week was the lady at the papyrus factory.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

But it’s these experiences that shape us and make us who we are. Without experiencing that, I wouldn’t appreciate my fortunes as much. I would have continued to take for granted everything I had assumed should be an unquestionable right of mine. I’d never have given another thought to the fact that I chose my own husband, and as long as I contribute to our monthly mortgage and bills, he doesn’t care if I buy myself a new pair of shoes with my pay. That ride, as well as opening my eyes and provoking those thoughts, also made me much more culturally aware, and fascinated with the differences that all lives experience. It just fuelled my wanderlust and thirst for knowledge even more.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

So, how about those pyramids?!

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It seems only right that I start this venture with the main event that was the catalyst for the change in course of my life…

I was a dork of a kid, truly. While the other kids were out shooting hoops and jumping rope at lunch time, I was sitting on the side lines, either nose-deep in a book, or scribbling furiously in a note book. Even as a little 5 year old, grade prep. In fact, the only way mum could get me over my separation anxiety and back to school in prep was with a cool, spiral, sticky-note pad and some equally cool pencils. I took them with me, like a security blanket, and wrote and drew while the other kids were playing.

In, I think it may have been grade 3 or 4, I learnt for the first time about Ancient Egypt.  We learnt a basic little of the history and mythology, that they had gods and goddesses who governed all facets of life. It was a truly modern civilization that outdated anything else I’d ever heard of (which, at around 8 years old, was basically just the “Jesus era” we learnt about in Sunday school). We saw some pictures in books and on a projector, and something clicked inside of me. I was going to go there. Buggered if I knew how or when, but as sure as I knew the sky was blue, I knew I’d be going.

Over the next few years, I read more than a primary school aged child had any right to on Ancient Egypt. I distinctly remember one afternoon, mum, dad and my sisters going out with family friends, and I politely declining the outing to the park, as I’d just checked out a new book on Egypt from the library, and, devoid of any copiers, scanners, or other such devices (hey, it was the 90s!), I wanted to stay at home and copy information, diagrams, maps and pictures onto lined paper that I kept in a folder, along with the other information I was slowly collecting. I was 11 years old at the time.

Flash forward 14 years; I was 25 years old, had been married 6 months, and we’d been living in our new house all of 16 months. We went on a camping trip at Easter time in 2011, just the two of us, just two nights, just somewhere fairly local. We’d been a bit on edge for a few months, neither of us really knowing why. Over the camping trip, a completely life-changing conversation occurred. Lying on our blow up mattress in our tent one night, talking non-stop, we discovered that neither of us were happy; we didn’t want to be living in a big, beautiful 4 bedroom home on a third of an acre. We wanted a smaller house, closer to the city, that we could leave to travel at will. We both thought the other were happy in our big, beautiful, new home. Neither of us were. Our lives changed from that point.

We spent the next few hours talking about where we wanted to travel to, and the next day coming up with a budget and savings plan to get us on our way. We tossed up between a big USA trip and an Egypt/Euro trip; because I’m a stubborn little Italian and my husband is a saint, I won out, and we started saving in April 2011 for what was dubbed “EuroTrip 2013.”

We saved an absolute truckload of money over the next two years, put our house on the market to downsize, and I started work as a travel agent, and on March 15th 2013, we departed Melbourne for a four week trip around Egypt, Italy, Barcelona, London and Paris. My husband and I had been together for 8 and a half years at this point, and he knew what this trip meant to me – it had been my life dream for almost 20 years, and I’d saved and sacrificed, planned and studied my ass off to get us here.

No doubt I’ll write a lot more about my time in Cairo and Egypt in general in later posts, but this one has to be about the pyramids. They are Egypt. They are the first image conjured in the minds of the masses when they hear the word “Egypt.” And I was going to see them.

Driving through Cairo, we passed piles of garbage, stacked in gutters along the sides of the roads. The government and politics were shaky at the time of our visit, and our guide, Medo, told us that the government had shut down the garbage collection service at that point. Still driving through what seemed to be suburbs, he asked us what our first impressions were of the pyramids. “What are you on about?! We haven’t seen them yet!” He pointed out the window of our cosy little minibus. Our five jaws dropped in unison. There they were, towering over the now pathetic, small bridges and buildings we were passing. Holy crap… there they were.

Approaching the pyramids was surreal. Husband kept asking if I was ok because I was so quiet. Yup, I was ok. I was in shock, but I was ok. Was I seriously doing this? Me, who has been mediocre, average, extraordinarily and definitely NOT special my whole life, was I seriously here achieving my life goal? Yeah, I’m ok honey…

After viewing and photographing them from the viewing plateau, we made our way down through the maze of tour buses and sock-and-sandle clad tourists, to come up close with these … I’m not actually sure what word would sum them up to be honest! The individual blocks they were built from were bigger than me but an extraordinarily long way… they were truly something to behold.

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We were both speechless, as we stood before these monstrous monuments of a time long past. Long past, but still so vivid and clear. Made even clearer upon entering one of them… the small, precisely cut tunnels, the exact, right-angled corners of the rooms and inner sanctums, the elegant simplicity of the alter we saw.. Conspiracy jokes aside, maybe they did have some help from the aliens! How these magnificent structures were built by hand is truly incomprehensible.

Nothing could take away from this incredible experience for me – not the stinky camels, the pushy salesmen, the children looking for your money, not a damn thing.

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We climbed up a few blocks into one of the beauties, just sat there quietly, taking it all in… it was one of those incredibly rare moments in my life, maybe one of the first true moments, that I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be, and that in that moment, everything was perfect.

There I was, on the other side of the world, at the age of 27, having truly achieved the dream that started at 8 years old… Against all the odds, I’d done it. And in that moment, endless possibilities opened up…