Have you ever seen a mummified crocodile?
When you are staring up-close at a 12-foot (4 meter) crocodile that is over 2,500 years old, you realize that venturing around the world is, without a doubt, the best way to learn about history. His name was Sobek, and he was once worshipped as a living incarnation of the God of the River Nile.
This morning at 9 a.m. we docked right outside the Temple of Kom Ombo (24°27′07″N 32°55′41″E), on the east bank of the river. With the enthusiasm of a child visiting an amusement park for the first time, I literally jumped off the dahabiya boat as soon as we landed, racing to be the first in line. Kom Ombo is the stuff of dreams for reptile enthusiast. Crocodiles have always held a particular fascination for me—these “living fossils” are part of the crocodylian lineage that date back to the Triassic Period more than 200 million years ago. This crocodile’s ancestors roamed this planet with dinosaurs, survived the Permian extinction, and once flourished in these very waters. Among the most feared animals in nature, you could say that it was the crocodiles, not the pharaohs, who ruled the Nile for centuries.
Fully armed with my camera phone and SKYSURFER (in case I run out of battery power), I roam Kom Ombo temple looking for traces of this crocodile god.
Everywhere the eye can see there are magnificent reliefs carved into the walls, ceilings, and columns. The reliefs depict hieroglyphs, and deities including Sobek who is often pictured as a human with a crocodile head. Just as this fierce but wisely intelligent animal commands awe and respect, in his half-animal half-human form, Sobek was viewed as a symbol of power, virility and fertility. His divine strength and courage protected the Pharaoh and his people from evil magic and helped them overcome whatever challenges came their way.
Even more interesting is how the Kom Ombo crocodile once lived. The ancient Egyptians believed that a portion of the Sobek’s divine essence entered into the body of his totemic animal. The high priests of Kom Ombo chose this sacred crocodile who became a VIP temple inhabitant. In the northwest of the temple grounds, there is still a cistern that probably served as his sacred chamber. The priests tended to Sobek’s every need: he was well fed and cared for, and he might have even helped with divination ceremonies too. After his death he was mummified and buried with a great pomp, a gift to the gods. Seeing this site, seeing this ancient crocodile in the museum next door to the temple, is an experience impossible to forget.
I could just have easily spent another week or month wandering these consecrated temple grounds, but the boat was ready to depart without me. By four in the afternoon, the relentless sun is just starting to let up as we sail along the banks of the Nile River towards Aswan (24°05′20″N 32°53′59″E) aboard our dahabiya. Gazing at the shore from the canopied wooden deck of this traditional Egyptian sailing boat, it finally sinks in: I’m in the Cradle of Civilization…
The Nile River is, of course, the world’s longest river, the lifeline of Egypt and much of the northern African continent. It is only by traveling its waters, however, that you actually experience how essential this river is to its surrounding environment. As I travel through the barren beauty of the yellow desert to the stunningly fertile valleys of green, there is no doubt that water is necessary is to sustain life. No wonder Sobek was so important. As God of the Nile, he controlled the waters and fertility of the soil.
Life is everywhere in this place, from the lush of the papyrus that grow along the banks to the white herons that roost on the reeds at night—white dots that can be seen from my cabin windows as I fall asleep. In the morning, the view is replaced by schools of small fish swimming in the water, as well as the patient fishermen, rowing out to cast their nets for their daily catch. The only thing missing from this picture-book view are the legendary crocodiles that once thrived on these shores.
Time deaccelerates as the boat floats downriver. This is the joy of slow travel in a superfast world.
Slow travel is not unproductive travel.
It is a privilege of modern life that as remote as we are, surrounded by water and miles away from the nearest city, it is still possible to stay connected to the world at large.
As I sip my coffee and pull out my tablet, it’s like I’m at my desk at home, only with a breathtaking panoramic view! Around me the water buffalos, and children playing on the shore and giggling as I wave. In front of me everything I need to get to work and simplify my connections. I pull out my Skysurfer to ensure that I have enough juice on my iPad to get through emails, upload the photos from off my phone, and voila! I’m online and communicating with friends halfway around the world. Can’t help but smile, a big all-knowing crocodile smile. This is how to travel Sobek-style!
Tiffany is a global nomad who loves to work as much as she loves to play. You will always find her with a warm cup of tea, enjoying views that only nature could design.