part 1: cairo, giza | part 2: aswan | part 3: luxor | part 4: cairo
Day 6: Thu May 7 - Kom Ombo and Edfu Temple tours. Arrive in Luxor
After a leisurely breakfast on-board we bid farewell to our felucca this morning and visit the nearby temples of Kom Ombo and Edfu before continuing on north to Luxor. In the evening we have the chance to enjoy a walking tour of the beautiful Luxor Temple. Overnight: Luxor 4/5* hotel.
after falling asleep listening to the morons discussing the differences between docking & spacedocking (& the related conversation that "foreskin is gross" (i say NUH UH)), i slept slightly better while dreaming of the ways in which they'd eventually perish. (DorkBro from liver failure, obviously; Ms American from mcdonalds-based cancer, et cetera.) breakfast on the boat was the same as the day before. we saw what sharif called street dogs - dogs that the people loved but couldn't afford to pay to keep, so they're just community-fed. they're apparently very fast for racing, too. i photographed one with a curly tail.
from the boat, we drove straight to the komombo temple & crocodile museum. we saw a lot of arabic graffiti on the way, which pence & i agreed looked much prettier than american graffiti. komombo looked a lot like philae, but with some new gods we hadn't seen. the walls were cut in bas relief, but the pillars had designs cut into them. we saw panels where ankhs - symbolizing eternal life - were being poured over people's heads by horus & the ibis god thoth, & being fed to them by the lioness-headed god sakhmet. the crocodile-headed god sobek was everywhere. the ceilings still had a lot of colorful paint on them.
the crocodile museum had mummified crocs & some really cool stuff in it. one of my favorites was a carved statue of crocodiles with their heads resting on stone pillows - they had the lazy expression of "we, your gods, required you to carve pillows that perfectly fit our chins. *nods*" we didn't stay too long before we were driving again to edfu temple.
we had to go through a market area to get to the highway, & spotted a lot of women carrying boxes & heavy bags full of groceries balanced perfectly on their heads. one woman had a cardboard box, & when she got near the bus, we saw it had rabbits in it. wtf! head-carrying magic. a man with ducklings was holding like six of them in his hands, displaying his wares. pence's favorite joke was "ten ducks, five bucks!" - but that was probably more than he was charging. we spotted a lizard, but it was too fast to photograph. there were lots of skinny cats around, just like everywhere we'd been. pence waved at most of the people we passed; one guy was drinking a juice box, & held it up as if to offer some to pence. pence's comment in a bad egyptian accent of "here, buy my used juice!" wrecked me & i couldn't stop laughing for full minutes.
there were so many buildings that looked half-built or in ruins here, too. pence said they were nice on the inside, with pretty tapestries & such, but i didn't get a look. the weirdest part was the satellite dishes everywhere. i'd think you'd want windows before satellite tv, but maybe they're used for something else, i dunno.
the bus driver honked pretty much constantly - we have learned that in egypt, honking is more of a "hello, i'm over here" type of notification, rather than the "you are about to or are currently fucking up" as we take it in the states. one cab driver called honking "car music". actually, this is a good time to talk about driving in egypt in general: the highways would be three lane, but there aren't really lanes, so everyone just kind of goes wherever they like. multiple times, especially on small roads, we turned down a street & found someone on the wrong side, & it was just no big deal - we drove around them on the left side of the road & it was fine. drivers tend to steer with one hand on their horn. stoplights are very rare. overall it wasn't nearly as bad as i saw in the philippines, but it wasn't what i'd call organized or safe.
we went on to edfu temple. edfu was definitely my favorite, as it had lots of little side rooms & semi-spooky passages to follow around. we ran through a bank of four rooms with a single square cut from each roof, which caused a beam of sunlight to filter in. we posed dramatically. (unedited photos!) on the way back, we passed a knockoff KFC & i took a photo - sharif joked that they're selling kentucky fried camels. somewhere in here we saw the only homeless person in egypt - & it was a white guy.
at the hotel steigenberger in luxor, they gave us small glasses of VERY sweet, delicious hibiscus juice ("karkade" - kar-kuh-day) - wonderful after the hour & a half drive from aswan. i used a bit of wifi while pence showered; by the time he was done, i was way more hungry than bothered by boat filth, so he went with me to the lebanese restaurant in the hotel. they had grilled pigeons on the menu & i went right for it. the waiter tried to talk me out of it, saying "is no good", & i thought he meant they were out... but he clarified saying "is very small". but so am i! i pressed & he brought me two pigeons with rice & vegetables, & it was a totally proper amount of food for one lish. i loved it - pigeon tastes like if quail meat were darker overall, & the spices they used were awesome. second new animal consumed in egypt, yay. :D
we had an hour until 6pm, so i went up to the room & spent the entire time scrubbing two days of felucca off myself while pence wandered the nearby alleys. at the bus, we drove a few minutes to the luxor temple. it was HUGE & glorious. there was a giant obelisk at the entrance that we both posed with, made from one solid slab of rock - 280 tons of it. the giant statues were also solid rock - 940 tons each - but have been repaired with plaster in many places. the aerial view of luxor temple is a man, & sharif said the god amen was created because egyptians heard the priests saying "amen" all the time & wanted to have his great power for themselves. wild. in the temple, some paint still remained - some gods were painted blue for invisibility. we saw two fertility gods that people still come from all over to touch so they'll catch pregnant - the walls around their giant penises are clean, but the cocks are all dirty with thousands of hopeful breeders' finger oils.
sharif continued to transfer smoothly from telling us awesome egypt stuff right into "& then the aliens, & their spaceships..." whenever other tour groups would intersect ours. & it was still funny. he knew everyone, & all the other tour leaders kept telling us that we got the best leader. they were so right. later i asked sharif if there's a word for goofball in arabic. he didn't know what a goofball is, but we clarified a silly person, & he goes, "oh yes: sharif!" exactly on point, sir.
after the temple, i recorded some of the loudspeaker prayers we often heard from the mosques, & then the group split for those who wanted to have dinner. i went though i was still full from lunch, & for 60LE we ate at a small egyptian buffet. there was a pasta-rice-chickpea-lentil dish with a sweet tomato sauce, dolmades, moussaka, some kind of potato dish, tiny beef meatballs & grilled chicken legs, as well as a bunch of salad dishes & desserts like rice pudding, a firm custard in the shape of a bunny, & some kind of soft sweet thing obviously made with shredded wheat. delicious.
we stopped through a grocery after that & bought some cheap water & juice for the next day, then i hit a bit more wifi before turning in as early as possible in preparation for a 4am start tomorrow.
Day 7: Fri May 8 - Luxor. East and West Bank tours
We cross over the river Nile early this morning to begin our tour of Luxor's West Bank. Home to the Valley of the Kings, the dusty tombs in this ancient burial site a
re still revealing their secrets today and so it remains one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Our tour inclues several of these Pharaonic tombs,
as well as the temples of Queen Hatchepsut and Medinat Habu, and the huge Colossi of Memnon. We return to the hotel for some free time before visiting the enormous temple complex at Karnak on the East bank of the Nile later in the afternoon. Finally we head to the train station for the overnight train to Cairo. Overnight: On board train back to Cairo (1st class carriage, reclining seats)
Extras: Early morning hot air balloon flight / Sleeper train upgrade
This runs early in the morning in Luxor, so that you catch the early morning sun while you float over the west bank of the Nile. The option price is based on using one of the first flights of the day to see the rising sun over the West Bank of the Nile, so it is a very early start. All transfers are included and you get around 1 hour in the air. You do not miss out on any other activities. If flights are cancelled for any reason (eg. very strong winds), a refund will be provided. Note: Please remember to check that your travel insurance will cover hot air balloon flights as many require you to book and pay for the flight in advance. The balloon operators we use are fully licensed and insured - you may see cheaper options advertised locally for later start times and with operators which don't have all this cover in place.
pence & i signed up for the hot air balloon ride, so our wake-up call came at 3:30am. & 3:31am. & 3:32am. we'd each been dreaming we were on the felucca again; pence thought the ringing was an egyptian salesman trying to get in, whereas i thought it was one of the people i hated ringing the doorbell. i kept telling the good people on the tour not to let them in, & that they'd go away if we ignored it. i woke fairly easily after that. i left my fleece pants on under my long skirt, as i'd been up in a balloon before (around age twelve) & it was really cold. we headed downstairs to the small group to collect our breakfast boxes & go.
we went with SlashMouth, Blue Glasses & BossyWife, & Montana Auto Sales & Princess Fakesmile on a van to a motorboat to a van to the launch site. the balloon ride itself was what i remembered from the last time - mellow fun. i took panoramas of the landscape & we commented on how life only exists here within range of the nile - you can easily see where people are all "fuck yeah nile" & the sharp delineation between that & "nah fuck it". we waved at farmers (who, delightfully, waved back) & identified temples from the air, including luxor temple's vaguely humanoid shape. i also snapped what i think was a cattle egret. it was neat watching the dozen or so guys in the ground crew pull the balloon down in a field & then deflate & clean up with a quickness, & i recorded some of that.
we took another van to meet Blue Glasses & BossyWife - they had been in a different balloon that landed in a sugarcane field, so BossyWife brought a chunk of fresh cane that we got to try. yum! we met back up with the rest of the group at the colossi of memnon, which i really liked & didn't get to spend enough time with.
the next stop was the valley of the kings. it was a bit of a drive until we reached some huge sand & rock formations that made us unable to see much in front of us due to the twists & turns in the road. sharif took the mic again & went through his usual adorable spiel - "ladies & gentlemen, get really excited - this is what you've been waiting your whole lives for..." & then continued on with "around this curve, in ten seconds, we will see THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS! in TEN! NINE! EIGHT!" he counted down to one, then quarters, then things turned hilarious as he continued on with "huh well maybe it's around the NEXT corner! ladies & gentlemen, THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS! hmm... i thought it was around here somewhere... well there's something to see out here, surely..." & as we're all cracking up, we finally come around the final bend to the actual valley of the kings. ah, our egyptian goofball. ^_^
the valley of the kings is where a ton of pharaohs are buried, & the whole place was discovered by accident when some dude slipped on the stone & discovered a too-smooth step under his feet. only certain tombs are open at any given time, so we got to see the tombs of rameses 9, merenptah, & rameses 3. no cameras were allowed through the gates (& i opted not to buy the hawkers' postcards or dvds though they had good prices). each tomb had a ramped entrance down into the rock, & a lot of the paints had survived - made the same way as was described to us when we saw the duck painting in the museum. everything was carved & ornate & awesome. we also learned about "the curse of the pharaohs" that killed 24 people upon first opening the tombs... but it was something about the gases inside the tombs that caused this.
the day had already started to warm up - sharif estimated it was 35C, or 95F, & it was very uncomfortable trudging to tombs in the sun. totally worth it, though. we hung out for his talks in the shady areas, & i learned that the average height of the pharaohs was 5'2" - my exact height. hey, maybe i don't have a napolean complex - i have a pharaoh complex! ^_^ between merenptah & rameses 3, i got to have a little talk about dreads with a woman in a hijab who i think was running another tour group. she asked some questions about care & starting, & i joked that i could do hers now if she wanted. she laughed & said she wears the scarf, so it wouldn't matter.
i used the bathroom at the information stands, & here we shall talk about egyptian toilets. they were all two-button models like in ireland & china, but the seats were nearly square. public toilets generally had a dude hanging around outside; you gave him 1LE & he gave you a length of toilet paper. as in china, i carried tissues everywhere just in case, but i had to rely on them much less here thanks to guys who wanted our seven cents.
we moved along to the temple of queen hatchepsut, which always sounds like queen hot chicken soup. she was actually pretty kick-ass: she didn't have a husband & ruled egypt alone, so statues of her show her with a beard (denoting a king's wisdom) since she was both queen & king to the people. way to not genderize, ancient egyptians! it took a lot of steps to get to the top of her temple, but it had cool statues out front & a LOT of really well-preserved paint. the day was easily past 100F by then, so i hid under my sun hat & tried to seek shade where possible. the WAY overpriced cafe in the area got me for 50LE on a frozen mango pop & a bottle of juice, as my breakfast had well worn off & it was barely 11am.
walking back to the bus, we passed another little area of sales stands, & i bought a cold 1.5L bottle of water for 5LE - the typical cheap price we could usually find. SlashMouth told the salesman that the water was too hot, & she wanted one with ICE. he ran into the back & actually brought one that was half ice, & told her it'd be 10LE. she gladly paid it & i was once again amused by the lengths these folks would go to please the buyer & make a pound.
we went to habu temple next. it was nice & i'm glad we stopped by, but it was no edfu & we didn't stay long. we passed a little market that confused me - apparently "stress" means something different in some language! back on the bus, the group decided, against Princess Fakesmile's loud complaints (& by the way, she called sharif "shari" the whole time), to continue on & finish the karnak temple instead of going back to the hotel for free time. this wasn't quite a wise move regarding the day's temperature, which was still rising, & it was pretty rough to walk around the most enormous temple complex with the sun full above & little shade, but we wanted to see everything & the free time option may not have allowed that.
karnak used to connect directly to luxor temple via a 3km path of statues, but it was much, much bigger than luxor. my favorite bit was seeing "mud scaffold" - since karnak is SO extremely dry, there's a place where there are still 2380 year old mud bricks built up against an unfinished wall, & that tells us how the ancient egyptians were able to work so high. crazy. there was a cool statue of rameses 2 with his "most beloved daughter" carved at his calves, & another few giant obelisks like the one we'd seen in luxor, but even bigger - as before, one solid piece of stone, each weighing in at 320 tons. sharif explained how they were cut in aswan: cut down into the stone, then cut holes across underneath at meter intervals, & insert wood, which you then soak, & it swells, & in just four hours the entire obelisk would crack free due to the wood swelling.
it was feeling like 110F by that point, & i experienced a new degree of hot: opening my water bottle released a puff of hot evaporated mist. blech. sharif kept feeding us really awful packets of "dehydration salts" throughout the trip - electrolytes that tasted like ball sweat. but hey, we all stayed alive, so at least there was that. towards the end of the temple, everyone was getting super laggy & basically in "aim camera, snap picture, i'll try to care later" mode, & it was a relief that we'd finished all our sightseeing & could go back to the hotel to die. short of that, pence surprised me with a strawberry ice cream, & i supposed we could soldier on.
we had several hours until our late check-out at 5pm, & we could leave our luggage at reception until meeting the group at 8pm for our 10pm leave time for the bus. it was amusing to be in room 452, as the hotel sign said our room was in both directions from the elevator. (the bottom sign was correct.) i couldn't stand any more outdoors, & submitted to room service since they had a third animal i hadn't tried - grilled red sea shrimp for 130LE. they tasted just like any other shrimp, really, but they were still delicious with tiny egyptian lemons squeezed over them. the dish came with mixed vegetables & a giant basket of bread, as well as a tasty tomato onion sauce that i particularly liked on pita.
pence had a nap while i read, & then we took a half hour or so to explore the area right around the hotel. there was a pharmacy just next door that advertised viagra, xanax, & a bunch of other drugs with no prescription. the young guy behind the counter loved americans, & said he wanted to move to louisiana. okay. he pushed a discount card at us, but we opted not to become drug mules.
out in the street, we were again harassed by salesmen, but i'd picked something up from sharif - when my "le shukran" was ignored the first couple times, i said "le le le le le", arabic for "no no no no no", & really fun to say. the guy i was speaking to abruptly stopped hassling me & went, "oh, you speak arabic really well!" which i found very funny.
we walked down a side street, passed the grocery store we'd driven to the other night, & i finally spotted an unmanned horse cart. i walked up & let the horse sniff my hand, then petted him on the nose. he looked at me with the weirdest expression i've ever seen from a horse - it was very clearly confusion at being lovingly patted. it was amusing & sad at the same time; though this horse was fairly healthy, we'd passed so many painfully emaciated, ribsy horses with jutting hipbones... we knew they didn't all have decent lives.
i hit the wifi after this for a couple hours before check-out (free in the lobby, or in the room it'd be 55LE an hour or 95LE for a day, way too much), running into DorkBro & Ms American long enough to overhear what seemed like an already drunken conversation about "should we get a whole bottle of wine? you want to get a bottle of wine? maybe we should get some wine" followed closely by them ...bragging?... to someone else that they went to mcdonalds & ate ice cream sundaes. okay. i later bonded with SquareBeard & Mousy over our mutual hatred of the felucca trip, & how my shitty boat people kept his good boat people awake at night to the point that they had to complain to sharif. we were all having a great time in spite of the losers, though, & i came to really like the both of them.
at 8pm, we met up for dinner with the group taking the sleeper train back to cairo, which fortunately excluded all the people we hated from the felucca! so dinner was already awesome for that reason alone... & then sharif took us to probably the best meal we'd had so far. i had another mango juice which was super pulpy & wonderful, & the bread tasted like it had been risen twenty minutes ago & baked just before being brought out. we had egyptian lentil soup - it was puréed & buttery & amazing - & then a salad, then served brown rice with a vegetable & beef tagine. i pushed to make sure pence got his vegetarian meal, but he still had to remind them that he's "nabati". the basbousa we had for dessert, with golden raisins, was AWESOME & something i intend on making my chefy friends repeat at home. (i also found out later that missing one phoneme of this dessert & calling it "babusa" means "naked" in arabic, which amused the living fuck out of sharif & spurred a conversation about simple mistranslations - how new zealand people pronounce "six" as "sex", so "i want a reservation for six" takes on a new meaning; sharif told us of someone being asked their age & responding "my wife is dirty , & i am dirty too !"; & my contribution: how the director of my department is from ghana & always mispronounces "focus" as "fuck us".) the meal was just 60LE, plus 35LE more for our juices.
stuffed full of really good food, we took a van to the train station where we sat for an hour until our sleeper train came in at 11pm. pence noted, "you know what goes well with sunburn? mosquito bites," & i couldn't stop giggling. we finally boarded the train. the first true drama of the trip happened then - we heard sharif seriously raging in arabic at someone. like, all-out yelling & hitting the wall several times. pence looked out in the hallway & we figured out that one couple hadn't been given a room, & sharif was really giving the business to the conductor. eventually they got a room with the rest of us & all was well. barely conscious, we declined train food & went immediately to bed.
music: yo la tengo, "living in the country"