And how early? A 3am wake-up call to be precise! It's a long old journey to Abu Simbel by coach - 174 miles south of Aswan - and the aim is to be there amongst the first batch of tourists to avoid both the heat and the crowds. Our driver seemed a bit relaxed about this though and appeared to be overtaken by every coach in our convoy but it wasn't too busy when we arrived.
The view as we walked around the artificial mountain and saw the colossal statues for the first time was astounding - as almost everything in Egypt seems to be. The fact that it had all been moved from another location to save it from the ever-rising Lake Nasser, caused by the building of the High Dam, is an amazing achievement in itself. Faced with the prospect of losing these national treasures, a consortium funded by Unesco devised a way of cutting the statues and the temple that they stood guard outside into 'small' pieces which were craned off and painstakingly reassembled on higher ground. Truly awesome.
On the bus on the way back, another 4-hour journey, we stopped off at a cafe in the middle of nowhere. In the desert heat, the prospect of a cool glass of coke is a tempting one and if you didn't feel thirsty to start with, the desert mirages might convince you otherwise. Andy pointed the mirage out first. "No, that's a lake," I said, incorrectly. Well, it looked like water to me. In this heat, and without the convenience of a cafe to hand (as we had), it was understandable why people lost in the desert saw these 'lakes'. I remembered all those cartoons showing people crawling towards these oases only for their hopes to be cruelly dashed!
The cafe had an interesting line in decoration - a rotting camel's head and a couple of stuffed birds.
The afternoon was a do-whatever-you-like affair and I was quite keen to do absolutely nothing. By the pool. It didn't quite work out like that though - after a brief but very refreshing dip in the pool behind the New Cataract Hotel I found a sun lounger with my name on it. I then went through a series of epileptic-type convulsions as I tried to shake off all the flies that decided to use me as a sun lounger. It doesn't look cool to do this by the poolside. I gave up, although John thought he had the answer to this: "Just flinch the muscle nearest to where the fly lands." That's one refined neural network you've got there, John boy! I gave up ungracefully and went back to the room, stopping off at the lobby shop on the way to pick up a book on Abu Simbel and a couple of papyrus prints.
It was back to the Corniche for a second night running in the evening to grab a bite to eat. Minus Andy. The beers and food had already caught up with him, leaving him face down on the bed groaning: "I feel alright ... as long as I don't move." He said he'd meet us later at the Panorama restaurant but didn't rise till an hour after the agreed meeting time. It's just as well, as we didn't go to Panorama in the end - they didn't serve beers which is no good for our group! We decided on a restaurant a couple of doors down which served its meals in traditional Egyptian time - after an hour's wait.
Later back at the hotel, John, Martin, Paul, Ian and me sat outside for a few games of cards. We could have chosen a better place to play though as the wind kept on whipping the cards off the table. Common sense eventually prevailed and we headed back inside where we didn't need to use beer bottles to weight everything down. Soon it was just me and Martin. His gameplay was more than a bit fuzzy (I dare say that alcohol intake had something to do with this) and I had to prompt him on every go to pick up cards from the pack. Andy reappeared and told us that he'd gone to the Panorama an hour late but we weren't there. Of course we weren't. Instead he found himself walking almost the entire length of the Corniche and into a few areas where he probably shouldn't have gone. Egyptian men holding hands were whistling at him. Scary.