04.06.2010 - 05.06.2010 40 °C
We had been dive bombed by mosquitoes the entire night – I stopped counting at 30 bites! They were so tenacious that they bit us through our sleeping sheets and then, after we’d tried to double protect ourselves with the flea ridden old blankets provided by the boat, they bit us through those too! I made a tent under my sleep sheet to cover my face and spent much of the night flicking the sleep sheet up but they’d settle again just as quickly.
But, hey, no pesky mozzies are going to get in the way of my feluca bliss-out!
After a simple breakfast Mustafa sailed to the opposite bank of the Nile, right next to the Luxor/Aswan road where we were picked up. We fell asleep pretty sharpish in the minivan. All of us, that is, except Lu who was sitting up the front and able to see that our driver kept dozing off. She would drop water bottles loudly and make abrupt comments which woke us all up, including (thankfully) the driver. When we told Wahid about it later he asked the make abrupt comments which woke us all up, including (thankfully) the driver. We told Wahid about it later so he asked the driver if he had fallen asleep – his classic response was that the bus was like a donkey and could find its own way home……. Ha!
Heading north, we stopped off at a temple and I can't for the life of me remember what it was called..... I'll have to get back to you on this one! Here are the photos - massive prize for the first person to tell me it's name....
We then travelled on to the ancient capital of Thebes, now known as Luxor, which is filled with 30% of the world’s monuments – most of them incredibly well preserved.
The west bank of the Nile houses the infamous Valley of the Kings, Queens and the tombs of the Nobles amongst a host of other pharaonic temples. The East Bank has the magnificent temples of Luxor and Karnak and is the heart of the modern city of Luxor.
Wahid had organized a guide to take us through the spectacular temple complex of Karnak in the afternoon. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and we learnt so much from her.
Karnak is vast complex of extraordinary temples, pylons and obelisks and sanctuaries. It is one of the most incredible sites in all of Egypt. A stunning representation of the power and prestige of the pharaohs and their Theban gods, one can only feel tiny when confronted by the sprawling 2 – sq – km site. Built, modified, enlarged and restored over a period of 1500 years, this was the most important place of worship during the New Kingdom, and the main structure, the Temple of Amun, is considered to be the largest religious building ever built.
A sphinx-lined path that once went to the Nile take you to the massive 1st pylon, from where you end up in the Great Court. To the left is the Temple of Seti II, dedicated to the triad of Theban Gods – Amun, Mut and Khons. In the centre of the court is the one remaining column of the Kiosk of Taharqa, a 25th dynasty Ethiopian pharaoh.
It was interesting to see the remains of a 'ramp' which was used for building the structures - the only one remaining and proof that the structures were built from the top down, with the ramp gradually being removed as construction was completed.
Beyond the 2nd Pylon is the unforgettable 6000-sq-metre Great Hypostyle Hall. Built by Amenhotep III, Seti I and Ramses II, this hall is a pylon garden of 134 gargantuan, papyrus-shaped stone pillars that can only be described as humbling. The ‘flowers’ at the top of the pylons which were closest to the sun were open and those further away to the sun were closed. It was jaw dropping.
The complex was absolutely huge with such a fascinating history - I'd definitely suggest a guide. It's a worthwhile investment.
We met up with Wahid in the evening and made our way down town. First stop was a set price gift shop that Wahid had recommended (it sure beats haggling for everything!). The owner was an artist and he made beautiful papyrus paintings – I bought a bunch of bookmarks for the kids with their names in hieroglyphics. I chose the blank bookmarks and picked them up later after he’d painted each of their names on them.
Next stop was a silver shop, owned by a friend of Wahids who he went through university with. Andrew and Lu got some cartouches (pendants with their name in hieroglyphics) and I bought my Egypt present – a beautiful little silver felucca engraved with ‘Skye Wilson, Luxor, June 2010’ on the bottom. It’s a gorgeous piece and a lovely reminder of one of my lifelong dreams.
Afterwards we visited the very touristy Souq which was hard work – lots of hassling, left and right. Wahid didn’t come with us because he constantly gets asked to bring us into someone’s shop and they’ll give him a cut. Shop keepers would quite often step right in our path, stopping us with their bodies to drape us in a scarf trying to entice us to buy. They don’t listen to us saying “la shukran” (no thank you) and continue with their banter, “Good price for you, even better price for two” but all the while they’re not looking at you, but over your head, keeping an eye out for their next potential customer. Because Andrew was walking along with Lu and me he would quite often get a comment like, “Two women, lucky man” or “Casanova”. Poor Lu would respond with a quick, “One wife thank you”. It would have been funny if we didn’t hear it so often and in such a derogatory way. It’s not worth getting frustrated or upset so you just go with the flow, smile and keep a steady pace moving on through the throng.
We had a pretty average kind of meal that night at Ali Baba’s but the view over the town square and main mosque made up for it. Wahid had sheesha instead of food, of course…
5 JUNE - Luxor
Happy birthday Charl!
The following day we were up early to start exploring the extraordinary paintings and hieroglyphs in the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, an open-air museum full of wonderful reminders of the Pharaohs of Egypt. Unfortunately no photography is allowed and you have to leave your camera at the entrance so you’ll just have to check out the fountain of all knowledge, Wikipedia, instead (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_of_the_Kings).
You can visit three tombs with a ticket which costs £80 (it costs an extra £50 to visit the famous tomb of Tutankhamen – the attraction of this tomb is that the King’s sarcophagus and mummy are still inside the tomb. The chamber, however, is not nearly as elaborately decorated as some of the other tombs in the valley. I decided to save my mummy viewing until the Mummy Room in the Egyptian Museum back in Cairo.
It was a stinking hot day and Wahid had advised us which were the most impressive tombs we should see and in which order. The first tomb we visited was the furthest away and up steps and then down, down, down into the hottest of the tombs (honestly if you weren’t dead already you’d melt if you stayed in there too long). Sorry but I haven’t got my notes on me or else I’d be able to tell you the names of the tombs we entered. Then we backtracked and went up another track to visit what I think was the tomb of Tuthmosis III.
We passed a group of excavators on our way back down the valley. It was interesting to watch them fill up a bucket with dusty soil and cart it, by hand, to a truck. It looked like their technique hasn’t changed since the 1920s when Howard Carter made his impressive discovery of King Tut’s tomb. We then visited the most impressive Ramses tomb before making our way back to the van.
After that we drove along a deserted road filled with little factories/shops selling alabaster on our way to Deir al-Bahri or Funery Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (or, as Wahid calls her, Queen Hot Chicken Soup). It rises out of the desert plain in a series of terraces and merges with the sheer limestone cliffs on the eastern face of the Theban mountain. It was desecrated and vandalized by her bitter successor, Tuthmosis III, but retains much of its original magnificence, including some fascinating reliefs.
It was bloody hot (around 45 degrees celcius) and we were pretty had it but we stopped on the way back to Luxor at the Colossi of Memno. These 8m high statues are all that remain of a temple built by Amenhotep III. The Greeks believe that they were statues of Memnon, was slain by Achilles I the Trojan War. One of the statues used to ‘sing’ at sunset and was quite a tourist attraction in the early 1900s but a small amount of restoration caused him to lose his voice.
Wahid had given us the option of visiting the Intrepid Foundation's local project - ACE or Animal Care Egypt. Here we could learn about the re-education of the local people as the organisation endeavours to show how having healthy animals can lead to a better lifestyle and a better economic outcome. This is more than a quick fix for sick animals but a holistic attempt to improve the lives of the local people as well. It makes me very sad and sick to the heart to see animals being maltreated – while ACE will receive a donation from me to support their cause, I’m afraid I couldn’t bring myself to make the visit.
We had some time to relax in the afternoon before freshening up for a walk across town to visit Wahid’s family home. It was nice to wander through the train station and back streets of Luxor where there are no other tourists to be found.
His mother gave us all a glass of sweet cold hibiscus tea and we waved at his shy nephew who kept peeking at us around the door. It was an interesting set up with each of the sons being given a self contained floor above where their parents live on the bottom floor. It is expected that, after the son marries, he brings his wife ‘home’ to live with the in-laws. Wahid’s wife ‘abandoned’ him (his words) after giving him three children – I assume one of the reasons she left was because he was working as a leader and away from home so much. Thankfully she doesn’t want to get divorced (I say thankfully because if she did Wahid would have to pay her a large sum of money and he wouldn’t get to see his kids. As it is she doesn’t want to get remarried and is happy to raise the children where she lives in Alexandria and Wahid pops in when he’s passing through. From what I could gather he was very comfortable and happy with the situation). Here's Wahid with his Mum and Dad.
We went back to Ali Baba’s again for dinner (it seems there isn’t much to choose from in Luxor where you can smoke sheesha and eat dinner).
I was tired when we got back to the hotel but couldn’t resist an offer from Wahid to go to a coffee shop and meet two of his oldest friends who were really nice. One of them is a successful businessman who deals in the export of meat. His other friend is a property owner looking at starting a small travel company on the side. The aim of the game was, of course, to smoke sheesha and chat while drinking tea (or Turkish coffee) and we also had a plate of pastry sweets which were truly scrumptious. It was a ripping little spot with low, loungy sofas and low lighting. I was the only female there (and the only non-Egyptian come to think of it) but that wasn’t a problem and I enjoyed good conversation and company.
- Note to Barwon Heads Primary Class 1/2 EK - I didn't find any gold but I'll try to get some in another country for you.