december 17th : 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.  



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