Sunday, June 17, 2012

Walk like an Egyptian.......

Very excited today to be arriving in Egypt for our tour of the Valley of the Kings and the temples of Karnak and Luxor.

We sailed into the port of Safaga early this morning - situated on the West coast of the Red Sea at the edge of the ‘Eastern Desert’.

Egypt is made up of three main desert areas – the Eastern Desert (between the Nile and the Red Sea); the Western Desert (West of the Nile and into the Sahara) and the Sinai Desert.

Today we will be crossing the Eastern Desert to get to the town of Luxor (which is situated on the Nile). Parenthetically, tomorrow we will be in Aqaba for our tour to Petra close to Sinai and on Sunday we will see the pyramids and sphinx in Giza in the Western Desert.

Safaga is a commercial port depending on local phosphate mines for its existence so there were few facilities where we docked. Its presence on the open Red Sea and the prevalent winds have resulted in a developing tourist industry and it was home to the world windsurfing championships a while back so it must be of some tourist interest.

We had been told that it was going to be brutally hot for our tour – 40 plus degrees C (105 degrees plus in farenheit) – and that we should wear hats and drink lots of fluids. Even as we arrived early morning we got a sense of what was to come – the scenery is unforgiving and the rock radiates the heat like a wave.

Luxor is a 3-4 hour drive from Safaga the distance being compounded by very poor road surface; innumerable and random speed bumps, military roadblocks and traffic.
The roadblocks were primitive to say the least, largely unmanned and served mainly to slow down the traffic by creating a single lane

We had to drive in convoy – 14 buses in a long line with military vehicles front and back and armed guards in random buses (a routine government requirement for our security).

The drivers seemed to relieve their boredom by driving on the wrong side of the road and overtaking each other at speed randomly (so much for our safety!)

Much of the route was through a tough desert landscape relieved by occasional ‘rest stops’ but we took no advantage of these and folks had to content themselves with use of the on board ‘chemical toilet’ which was well utilized by the better hydrated.

As we came closer to the Nile the land visible from the road became more and more fertile until we were in a beautiful verdant area with all manner of crops and trees – the Nile valley has throughout history been the major agricultural area of Egypt kept fertile by its water and the silt brought down by annual floods.

Luxor (known by the Greeks as Thebes) is a town that is probably typical of this part of the world.

Flashy golf course in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

A busy international airport with a smart looking entrance and then dusty ill kept looking runways and facilities just beyond the walls.

Homes, mostly simple huts with untidy looking finish and construction, each with a satellite dish on the roof ( don’t need much of a roof BTW – no rain to worry about)

Larger houses, seldom finished. As long as the house is ‘under construction’ the owner doesn’t pay property taxes. So you see lots of houses with rebar stickin upward from the roof waiting for the next floor to begin…..

Shops and stalls sell all the daily needs and kids were swimming and fishing in the (polluted with garbage) canals and selling fish they caught at roadside.

We crossed the Nile River from East to West – it looks as beautiful as its reputation promised.
Looking towards Cape Town…….

Looking towards Cairo……….

Finally we arrived at the Valley of the Kings. This area represented a burial ground for an era of Kings, Queens, nobles and commoners that was a waystation to their next life.

The pyramids further North were built for the Old Kingdom; Luxor represents a later stage in their thinking about eternity.

They still believed that the Pyramid structure represented eternal life so the mountain abobe the Valley of the Kings was carved in such a shape

They believed they should be interred here semi intact, as mummies, (brain and abdominal organs aside) with those possessions and symbols they would need in their afterlife. Their life of accomplishment and prayers were recorded in hieroglyphics and pictures on the walls and ceiling. Their belief was that if they were found to have been worthy – their heart weighing less than a feather – their afterlife was secure

We visited three tombs as part of our visit – each was an amazing experience. To be in a place over 3500 years old and see the drawings, paintings and symbols so freshly preserved and hear the explanations of their symbolism and meaning was incredibly humbling. We did not visit the most famous of the tombs – that of King Tut but politics and civil unrest permitting we will visit all the 4500 items recovered from the tomb at the Museum in Cairo on Sunday.

Most unpleasantly, while at all the sites in Luxor, vistors are constantly pestered, even harassed, by vendors who will absolutely not take “NO!!” for an answer. They pull and tug and touch you and try to put things in your hand or on your body – freak me out. I wore a floppy hat and sunglasses and made zero eye contact which seemed to ward them off (mostly)

No photos were allowed at the Valley of the Kings so our record is internal (and from the post cards and CD one of us bought as a reminder)

Next we went for lunch to a lovely hotel on the banks of the Nile. We were about 1000 from the ship but they dealt wih us efficiently and served a lovely meal – especially the fresh, delicious salads, hummus, tehina and baba ganoush.

After lunch we explored the temples on the East side of the Nile – the Temples of Karnak and of Luxor. By now it was brutally hot and some of the older / less hydrated folks were feeling faint and calling it a day. I have seldom been a water drinker but today consumed about three liters of water and multiple Cokes – those vendors I supported ($1 per can or bottle)

The scale of these temples was enormous as you can see from the model of Karnak; and they followed a similar pattern.

The entrance was majestic and lined by sphinxes – in this case rams headed sphinxes - each of which was linked to an image of Rameses (for those of us of the Mad Magazine era – he looked like Alfred E Neumann)

The gates, called pylons, then lead to open spaces and halls. One hall, the hypostyle hall covers 50000 sq ft and included 134 huge carved columns.

Dedicated, as these temples were, to the gods -  a very complex array of deities – the Pharaohs spent an enormous amount of resources on sculpture and carvings.

Huge statues carved in their own image (when alive hands at their sides, one foot in front of the other; when dead hands across the chest, feet together).

Massive obelisks – carved out of a single piece of rock up river and transported here for installation.

Some made it and are still here

Some were broken on arrival or installation

And some were stolen or given away ie the obelisk on the Place de Concorde in Paris was a gift to Napoleon in exchange for a brass clock (that never worked anyway)

The temples of Karnak and Luxor were built from about 1500 BC. Over the subsequent centuries time, weather and religions have taken their toll.
The concept of these temples was of a flow upward towards a dark area at the end – the ‘Holy of Holies’ clearly something that was held in common with Judaism as it developed out of the fight from Egypt.

Greeks and Romans conquered Egypt in turn and Alexander the Great has his image and blessing in the hieroglyphs on the wall of Luxors ‘Holy of Holies’

Christianity too had its time and a church was built in the ruins – here a fresco of the Last Supper

Finally in 600 AD Islam arrived and in 1400 AD this Mosque was built on the (by then) buried ruins of the temple of Luxor which was subsequently excavated below it

Most interesting along the way were the non tourists for whom this is ‘home’

Nothing disturbed these dogs

The local men were as interested in us as we were in them.

Our fearless guard – 110 degrees, yet cool and carrying. It was good to feel safe (?)

Return trip to the ship; after sunset over the Nile; thankfully in the dark so we could not see the insane risks taken by our driver. Army vehicles long gone. Convoy system long forgotten. Arrived safe back ‘home’ and we were on our way again

For those who might recall – yes it was here, at the Valley of the Kings, that there was a massacre of about 70 tourists by extremists in the late 1990s.

1 comment:

  1. That is crazy.... The whole day looks like a warm adventure!