Monthly Archives: December 2006
You’ve seen a spate of posts today … I’ve been offline since leaving Cairo on Saturday and have been writing all of these for posting when I could. Haven’t figured out how to backdate yet, so they’ll all show up as being from today. I’m back in Cairo now, sitting and looking out over the Nile and enjoying the view (and the noise). I’ll try to stay awake into the early morning hours tonight, so I can start to turn my clock around. Contrasting this with Luxor, the air is thick enough to eat. It’s like breathing ash. When I was working here last week, I thought I was suffering the effects of a lingering cold. I’m pretty sure now that I was having a mild asthmatic episode – it’s happening again too. Good thing I’m heading home soon.
Had originally planned to spend another day in Luxor, and head up in the evening. At the last minute I changed to a morning flight, figuring that I didn’t really want to head back over to the West bank again – all that was left on my list to see was the Valley of the Queens and the Tombs of the Nobles. Instead I spent the morning waiting for my delayed flight to take off, and then wedging into a teeny tiny seat on an A320 for the flight.
The cab ride from the airport was interminable. I figured that by landing in the early afternoon, I’d avoid the rush hour, but that didn’t appear to be the case. Two hours to travel about 25K. On the positive side, it’s a lot safer that hurtling between trucks on the road to the fourth ring of hell so …
I’d tried booking into the Marriott, but ended up at the Nile Hilton. After charting out the day, I felt disappointed about that. While the Hilton is convenient to the Egyptian Museum (first stop!), the Marriott is closer to everything else I’m interested in (other than Islamic Cairo).
Plan A for today was to zip over to the museum, and then head over to Zamalek for shopping and dinner. The museum was really something to see. It’d be more fun if they provided maps, but I imagine that’d eat into the market for tour guides – you can have your pick of them outside the museum. I braved it by myself and managed to see much of the Old Kingdom displays, along with the Tutankhamen galleries, ancient jewelry, Royal Mummies, and even the animal mummies (crocodiles! Baboons! Dogs! – all mummified). The strangest was seeing that they would mummify food, for the royals to consume in the hereafter. The highlight was seeing the Tutankamen galleries. People call him a minor king, but he did quite a bit in a short reign – including working to undo much of what his despot father did. He restored traditional Gods and vastly improved Egypt’s fortunes in just nine years. His tomb is small – especially as compared to the longer-reigning kings. With that in mind, seeing all of the riches that went into the tomb of this minor king, means that the big guys must have had some mind-blowing stuff in their tombs. You’ve heard about the gold funereal mask, and possibly about the three coffins (inner – solid gold, middle – glass and precious gems, outer guilded wood). But then there are the gold-plated sarcophagi, the gold beds and thrones, the jewelry, the beautiful statues, and the clothing. The gallery takes up a lot of space – I don’t know how they fit all of that stuff into the small tomb.
As it was, I got my fill at the museum in about two hours, then headed over to the Fair Trade Crafts Center, and got a smashing dinner at Abu el-Sid (this was the place in Zamalek that Sherif took us to last week). Five hours after landing in Cairo – I’m ready to get home now. Unfortunately, flights are full tonight. The only way I’d get back earlier would be to pay another $2K to take British Airways via London. Oh well.
On the positive side, I got to see some new things this evening. The first was a guy solving the traffic problem by riding his motorcycle on the sidewalk of the 26 July bridge. It took a minute to register that my life was in danger, but I stepped aside for him at the last second. The other thing was a guy (also on the 26th July bridge) selling grilled corn – walking his stand in a lane of traffic. That wouldn’t have been a problem this afternoon when no one was moving, but cars were going about 35 around him. And people got really upset when someone tried to stop to buy something from him. It was hilarious.
You see all sorts of things on the road here. People pulled over to the right lane, trying to repair their cars while traffic whizzes all around. I mean – they’re under their car working on it in the middle of traffic! In the morning, women stand on the freeway selling fresh bread. People cross the freeway, as if it were a surface street. I saw someone drive on to the freeway using the offramp. Apparently all of this is normal enough that people know to expect it. Apparently there are not many accidents until someone new gets on the road and screws everything up.
Nice morning! I went for my first run since Thanksgiving Day – from the hotel up to the temple at Karnak. If not injured, I would have liked to have done more of this : run to a place once, then return with my camera. It gives me a good sense of a place, and helps me enjoy the time more. And it felt great to get my legs moving again. I still have a bit of pain around the top of my left tibia, so this is probably it for a while again. It wasn’t fast, but I wasn’t sucking wind the whole way either.
I guess they don’t see many runners here. People stared and some smiling. There were a couple of boys I ran past on the way back who asked "why are you hurrying?". A good question indeed.
Anyway the whole thing reminded me why I like running to sightsee. You can’t carry anything much, you don’t want to buy anything, and people leave you alone when you’re really sweaty and gross.
I spent about an hour or so at the temple, then ran back to the hotel. I felt great other than the aforementioned small pain in my leg. Good thing it was all level.
I showered, then took a walk through the Souq (marketplace). I probably snapped about a hundred pictures – all candid street shots. I love doing this, but wish I were better at it. It’s a lot more fun than taking pictures of statues, walls, and etchings.
After walking the length of the Souq, I walked up to the Oasis Café, eager for one of their Turkish coffees. I also sampled one of their fresh scones … outstanding! Their dinner menu was underwhelming, but it was very pleasant slurping the turkish, munching the scone, and reading the New Yorker.
Afterwards, I headed back up to the temple at Karnak, getting a lift from a taxi driver who appeared to be about 13 years old!
I spent a long time walking around the temple, snapping many pictures. I did cause a ruckus when I started to snap a picture of some schoolkids. The teacher got a bit mad – ostensibly at the kids, but if it were me, I would have been mad at me too.
I hoofed it back to the Luxor Temple afterwards – the only location I revisited here. It’s just a block from my room and is really something to see. I snapped more pictures, but my heart wasn’t in it much … I was already looking forward to dinner.
After dropped stuff off at the room, I walked back up to the Souq to do some shopping and eat dinner. I hadn’t shopped for presents yet, and thought it’d be nice to get the girls some Egyptian shirts, most likely made with sweatshop labor. Again – the whole rigamarole around finding the right thing (with all of the merchants shouting out to you as you walk by), then haggling over price, just bums me out. On the one hand, you don’t want to overpay. On the other hand, you’re arguing about $2. Owing to the completely random nature of the shops, you get to tell them what you like and don’t like over and over again. In the end, I bought two dresses for about $17.50 – probably half again as much as I should have paid if I’d been a pro.
Dinner was at the Lotus Restaurant above the Souq, another recommendation from LP. It was pretty marginal. I had a couple of gin and tonics at the hotel bar on the way back in. I amused two young women from London by missing a step as I descended the bar stool, somewhat resembling a piano falling out of a window.
After relaxing for while, I went down to meet Viresh for drinks and dinner. We had some great vodka martinis at the Sheraton, and then ate a delicious Lebanese dinner at the Meridian. There were Egyptian folk dancers performing during dinner, which was alternatingly loud and fun. Viresh is headed out to the coast tomorrow – first to Hurgada via convoy, then a ferry to Sharm el Sheikh . He’s planning on heading to St Katherine’s Monastery to climb Mt Sinai as well – I’m a bit jealous.
One thing I’ve enjoyed about traveling with Viresh is that he likes to get out away from the tourist bubble. I’ve taken a couple of walks through the city of Luxor with him now, places which probably see fewer than a dozen tourists a week – which is saying a lot for this town. It’s something being the only white European face around – gives you something to think about. That said, people have been very nice – and when I’m not being hassling to buy something, I’ve been pretty comfortable around town.
Wow – lots of walking today, some of it up steep hills (really enjoyed that mountain trail walk over the Valley of the Kings.
This morning was the first time I was awakened when it was time for morning prayer. My tired eyes jarred open when they began around 6am. The whole experience around a more-or-less state sanctioned religion is pretty interesting when you’re not used to it, particularly when you know as little about that religion as I do. Included on my list of regrets for this trip is that I did not study more on Islam, so I’d at least be able to hold a conversation on the subject. Ignorance makes me feel like a lazy american.
Plan for today was to cross over the river and see the sights on the west bank, including the Valley of the Kings . Viresh is heading out to the coast tomorrow, so this is really all the time he has here in Luxor. I’ve been tempted to try to rebook my flight back to the states a day earlier – really feeling homesick for Kris and the girls. Part of it is that I’m also tiring of the constant hustling involved in going to see things. It’s a bit more complicated as I’d also want to fly back to Cairo one day earlier, in order to get some time at the Egyptian Museum and Khan al-Khalili. And rebooking the flight means going to the airport, ready to leave. I’ve already paid for my room here for another two nights as well. I don’t really need to decide anything quite yet. We’ll see how tonight and tomorrow go, and then decide.
We ate a good breakfast, and went down to the waterfront to catch the ferry, which pulled out just as we got there. No problem – we hired a motorboat across, and our enterprising cruise director also offered to be our driver for the day on the west bank. We probably blew it by not haggling on price (LE 250). On the other hand, paying less than $50 to have someone take us to all the places I’d listed from the guidebook wasn’t a bad deal for us, so off we went.
We climbed into the cab on the west bank, and started off towards the Colossi of Memnon. Have to say that I’m still not digging the local belief that seatbelts are for sissies. It’s part conditioning, and part fear on my part, but at least the prospects of grisly death at high speed are diminished when the cab keeps stalling out and we’re unable to travel more than 35 mph. That was never the case when we traveled between Cairo and the fourth ring of hell (the suburbs). The longer drive gave them time to gather some speed, and play chicken between the trucks.
Anyway – back on the west bank … first on the list today was the -er – colossal Colossi. Viresh liked the pigeons roosting below one of the statues’ chins. All that remains on the site are the two enormous statues – apparently because the huge temple originally located there was built in a floodplain. After spending a few minutes there, we made for the Valley of the Kings.
As we drove, I became convinced that we did the right thing hiring a driver for the day rather than trying to walk it all ourselves. It’s walkable, but would have been time consuming. I think it’s about 4 miles from the Nile out to the Valley, so that would have been an hour spent walking rather than seeing the tombs.
Our driver dropped us off at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings. The ticket includes entrance to three of the tombs – something obviously noted on the ticket which still somehow escaped us. So naturally we went into the first tomb in – Ramses VII. No disrespect intended for the late Ramses VII, but compared to some of his neighbors, his tomb was underwhelming. This is excusable, as he apparently died suddenly, throwing his tomb building plans into chaos, and forcing his architect to expand one of the corridors to improvise a burial chamber. Although more muted than other tombs (particularly Ramses I), it’s still worthwhile. We took it the tombs for Ramses I, Tutankhamen, and Merneptah, on the apt recommendation of the Lonely Planet Guide.
I got busted taking some pictures in the last tomb (no flash) … tense moment as the guard tried to take my camera away. I held on tight and then clumsily tried to slip him some money. Even after almost two weeks here, I still don’t have the hang of baksheesh. He shushed me, and sent me away. Weird. You can bet that I didn’t dare snap another picture though.
After visiting the tombs, we walked up the mountain trail that you can take all the way over the hill to Deir al-Bahri. The view was definitely worthwhile and it felt good to slog uphill a bit too. Naturally we acquired a ‘guide’ partway up the hill too. There’s really nothing wrong with that, but a) I didn’t mind getting a bit lost, and b) I didn’t want someone to keep telling me where to look. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.
Our driver kept us waiting about 15 minutes when we got back down. We were on time, but he was apparently "putting petrol into his taxi". Also he was doubling up, and fitting in another fare. No problem with that, but it’s bad form to keep us waiting.
We spent about 40 minutes seeing Deir al-Bahri – definitely worthwhile. There are all sorts of nooks and crannies to this temple, and the location is stunning. Next we headed for the Temple of Merneptah – much to the chagrin of our esteemed driver. Itchy to drop us and get another set of paying customers before too much of the day was gone, he protested that he’d agreed to take us to three places only (and we were definitely heading for Medinat Habu after this). I’d been pretty quiet in the car to this point, letting Viresh do most of the talking. But when he hit us for more money, I asserted that we’d agreed to six hours (which we weren’t going to use), and that he’d had the temerity to keep us waiting – so park the car please. Thanks.
As it turned out, the driver was probably correct in his estimation that Merneptah wasn’t worth it. On the plus side, we got to enjoy a gritty turkish coffee together after a nice turn about the grounds of Medinat Habu. All of this walking, and appreciating great works of architecture at the expense of slave labor had really wiped us out!
Arriving back at the hotel, I took some time to confirm that the online hotel literature indeed lied when they said they had wireless internet available. I copied the several hundred pictures from the past two days, jotted some notes down, and then made arrangements for two nights in Cairo prior to my departure back to the states. I tried calling the Marriott, as the location was great and I thought I could get a peek for the international recruiting folks who plan to book here for the next offsite. After paying several dollars to sit on hold for some minutes, I gave up and booked a Nile view room at the Nile Hilton (just next door to the Egyptian Museum!). Random observation made while waiting on hold – it’s very very odd listening to Christmas carols, knowing that you’re in a country which is only about 5% Christian. Sherif tells me that many families mark the occasion, even if they do not hold with the religious aspects of the holiday.