Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Luxor update

July 17, 2008

So tonight I’m finally going to update about last weekend, as I’m preparing to embark on this weekend’s adventure.


On the 10th, Sam and I got into Farek (our “driver” if you will during our time here in Egypt) and headed off to the airport for a late flight. We figured that Farek would be as perky as he usually is (he was), so we prepared ourselves for a long string of conversations on the way to the airport. He’s hilarious when you really get him started. He kept talking about his mother saying, “Nooo noo, when did your skin get so dark?” Obviously Farek is very tan since he’s Egyptian. Anyway, I told him about how people in the US want to be tan and he just couldn’t deal with that piece of information. He was excited, though, at the prospect of being attractive to ladies in the states. Still, he, like myself, was surprised when he found out that people of another culture want the opposite of what they already have.


We sat at the airport for 3ish hours which was fine by me. It’s always the time that you don’t go that early that you forget your ticket or get stuck in security. We ended up sitting in a snack bar across from a seemingly American looking group of 4. It ended up that we sat behind them on the plane as well. As we were preparing to get off I made a casual comment to Sam, “I’ll bet we see these people everywhere.” Was that a self-fufiling prophecy if I ever predicted one. We ended up seeing them again at our hotel and finally introduced ourselves. We all figured that was the end of it, though, but it definitely wasn’t.


We checked into our hotel around 10 (? I think?) and settled ourselves as much as we could in our little room, with a door that never fully shut and locked, with 3 tiny beds and a mini tv. It was a nice hotel, though; it had a lot of character. We wandered our way back downstairs to attempt to find some juice in the surrounding area of Aswan. We met up with the same group again on the way down, so we headed out together getting better acquainted.


After juice we hit the hay, or rather got into bed and flipped on the tv to watch soap operas in Arabic. My shower before that had been interesting. The shower itself seemed a little suspicious so I took the nozzle thing and showered as best as I could on the tile outside of the tub. Fun, let me tell ya.


Our wake up call was at 3 am to begin the trek to Abu Simbel. This particular temple was built by Ramses II and is located about 2 hours south of Aswan. I guess that the territory is technically disputed over by both Egypt and Sudan so those who want to go see it have to join a police caravan to follow into the desert. Personally, I know if I was a robber (or whoever hangs out in the desert waiting for stupid tourists) I would love it if they traveled in a big line. That way I could just stop them all at once and save myself a lot of trouble. But I digress.


So, we get up at 3 and go down to the lobby for our boxed breakfasts consisting of a boiled egg and three small loaves of bread (that sounds almost biblical). Amidst our munching I decided to ask Sam about something odd I noticed when we first woke up. “No,” she said. “I didn’t get up in the night and cover us both up with more blankets.” WE went to sleep with one thin blanket and woke up with a thick wool one tucked in between the mattresses like hotels usually do. I know that I can’t sleep walk/make beds that well, so the only thing we could figure is that someone came into our room assuming we were cold during the 2 hours we actually slept that night…? We tried not to think about it too much.


Once we were off we met the entire group of people going to Abu Simbel. Our estimates for the number of people going were way off. Thanks to that one temple I officially hate tourists. Seriously, how many people want to get up at 3, trek for hours in a stuffy van, and then traipse around a temple in 100 degree weather? I apparently underestimated the average tourists’ williningness to suffer. So much for counting on my youth as leverage for getting pictures of sites with no other people in them.


After two hours we pilled into the parking lot and piled out. After angrily paying 80 pounds to get in (thanks GW card for not looking official enough) we met up with our tour guide (insane) and started walking. Now, some Egyptian tour guides or Egyptologists as they prefer to be called are really excellent. Most of them, however, describe what you are seeing, what you will see, or what you have seen. “Here, Ramses painted a picture of a big. It is very big. This is a big statue of Ramses because he thought he was pretty great” and so on. This guy was of the latter class. When someone asked him how far away Sudan was from the site he said, “I don’t know in kilometers but it’s a 12 hour donkey ride.” Later, we determined 12 hours on a donkey ends up being about 30 minutes in a car.


The temple itself was amazing. When the government built the High Dam to prevent the Nile from its yearly flood the temple was going to be engulfed in the lake that would result. Rather than let this happen, UNESCO took the project under its wing and disassembled the temple piece by piece and moved it to higher ground. That in itself is reason enough to go see it; the four statues are huge. It seems almost impossible that they cut each piece into movable blocks and then reassembled it higher up, piece by piece. Another interesting aspect about the temple is that the sun shines into its hallways only twice a year—on Ramses’ birthday and on the day he was crowned Pharaoh. When they moved the temple, however, the days only moved forward by one day. Now that takes some serious planning.


We saw our new friends at the temple as well as we met some nice people visiting from Texas. It’s pretty cool how many people you meet when you’re in a different country. Everyone is anxious to talk to another American.


On the trip back we stopped at High Dam and looked out over the nice view there. Obviously, it was a dam and that implies banality, but it was interesting to stand on top of probably the most influential structure in Egyptians’ lives. That dam made it possible to move closer to the Nile, from what I understand and it made life a lot less complicated in that floods were no longer an issue.


We arrived back in Aswan around 1pm and then headed (with our driver/guide guy) to the felucca where we would spend the afternoon and our second night in the south. We arrived at 2, but not at the boat we were expecting. When we were told “felucca” we initially assumed that it was a small boat but one with rooms and beds and bathrooms. None of the above were included. This was literally a little sail boat with a foam mat on the ground for comfort when sleeping. We climbed on, with 13 other people, and began our journey a little nervously. It seemed like it took forever to move along at all but later in the trip we realized that the guys driving the boat were killing time because there was a certain point that we had to end and going past it was not an option.


We floated for a really, really long time. I mean, there’s not much to do when there’s only one floor on a tiny boat and your surrounded, not uncomfortably though, by a lot of other people. So we talked. Oh, and I forgot to mention, our four plane buddies ended up on the same felucca as well. We got to know them pretty well from the adventure.


A side note on the other people present on the felucca--there was a guy who could play Harry Potter at the end of the 7th movie; he was the spitting image of Daniel Radcliffe and even had the accent to match. And there was a Zach George impersonator to a tee. He was completely like Zach in pretty much every way. It was a little creepy.


About 2 hours into the adventure the drivers bring out a vinyl table cloth, fold it in half, and lay it down in between the circle we’ve created by sitting along the perimeter of the boat. Then they set down about 8 differet styrafoam trays filled with vegetables, cheese, and fuul (Egyptian beans) and bread. So that was our lunch. One of the other people said, “Well, we’re having a communal lunch on the communal bed. Isn’t this nice.” And that really was an accurate statement. After we finished eating most people plopped directly backwards and took a nap. It was pretty comical, overall.


Around 7 we docked for the night and headed up onto the beach where we stopped. We were kind of just standing around plotting our next move when all of a sudden a guy shows up on a donkey and brings about 4 of his friends wielding necklaces etc. They asked us if we wanted to come see their village, so, like idiots, we followed them past their shanties for the donkeys and other animals and their gardens into their village. About a million little kids were already waiting and were shouting, “Hello, pen? Hello, pen?” which I presumed that they had met someone named Ben and now thought that every group of people who showed up contained at elast one Ben. I was wrong, theyr really were asking for pens, like the writing utensil. Harry Potter bought some for them but almost caused a riot in that he only had about 10 pens and there were a good 25 kids surround him for them.


This was a Nubian village that we visited, so it was a very interesting experience. Well, we assumed it was Nubian. The people were very friendly and I can honestly say it was great way to see the rural aspect of Egypt.


Then, we headed back to the boat to eat the dinner the men had prepared for us—a rice and tomato dish. There wasn’t much else to do after that, so most people just layed down on the rock hard pillows they had passed out in the first few minutes of the trip. No blankets surfaced, however, so we all just assumed that they didn’t exist. Let me tell you it was a cold night. The only thing covering us was a tarp-like piece of cloth that stretched from each side of the boat over our heads; the rest of the boat was open air. Wearing only a thin t-shirt and a skirt I devised a sleeping method that encouraged the most warmth retention—on my knees, hunched forward, with both of my arms huddled underneath me. This was not comfortable. However, we fell asleep listening to the sound of the Nile cruising by and a group of people singing, dancing, and playing drums around a fire across the river (no joke). The singing, the view, and the fact that I could see the stars from where I fell asleep made the trip completely worthwhile.


I woke up a lot with most of my body asleep, but 6 am came very quickly and we got up, ate bread and jam, and headed out onto the road where our “taxi” was waiting. The other four Americans, with whom we were then well acquainted, came with us (no surprise). We all bunched into the covered bed of of a pickup truck with built-in benches and we were off, careening through the Egyptian countryside. This is will be one of my favorite memories of Egypt, of this I’m sure. We drove for about half an hour, watching out the back of the truck as people on bikes, motorcycles, donkeys, and pretty much everything else went about their daily business. We saw people working their fields, and women washing clothes. And we saw kids running all over the place, waving when they saw us fly by. It was such a good memory; one that I’d expected and hoped to have experienced. Despite the difficulties of the lifestyle, I think I’d take rural Egypt over Cairo any day.


We stopped at Komumbo temple in the middle of nowhere. It was definitely one of my favorites of all of the sites we’ve visited thus far. It was early, so few people were around, although, I don’t think that particular temple saw as much traffic as many of the other ones. It think it was too rural. Anyway, it was a temple built to honor the crocodile, so scenes involving him were everywhere. Much of the original (or at elast I assume original) paint was still present and a good portion of the temple itself was still intact. Big pillars and high reaching walls were all still there, and we were free to walk around inside them as we wanted.


After we were all Komumbo-ed out we went outside the gates to sit and wait for our next mode of transportation. During our wait 2 boys showed up with the typical array of scarves and jewelry and as usual were budding us to buy some. After some intense haggling (I had nothing left to do) I ended up with a mix of about 40 bracelets, beaded necklaces, and amulet necklaces for very cheap. I figure they’ll make excellent gifts!


Eventually a van showed up and the 6 of us now intermixed with 4 others, started toward Edfu temple, about 2 hours away. This temple was a lot bigger but somehow less impressive. It was still striking, however, due to the fact that so much was still surviving after thousands of years.

From there we started toward Luxor, which ended up being the longest feeling ride of the whole trip. We arrived, exhausted, and Sam and I were told we had an hour before we were going to set back out into the awful heat to visit Carnac and Luxor temples. We grabbed some food and hopped into another van headed toward the sites. The temples were very cool and also very predictable at that point. More than once I heard myself say, "My face is melting off."

AFter the temples we had a nice dinner with our new friends and headed back to the hotel where we were able to switch on the television to and English speaking channel. Humdeleela (praise to God).

The next morning we set off again around 8 to beat the heat in the Valley of the Kings. That plan didn't go so well in that our driver slammed into the back of a car backing out of a parking space. This was my first experience with the recklessness of drivers going very badly. No one was hurt though, but the experience made for a good story to tell later. We made a pretty good mess of the back end of the other car, though. The driver called another van with another driver and pretty soon after the collision we were back on our way.

At the Valley of the Kings we hit 3 temples as were dictated on our tickets (one small, one medium, and one large tomb; humorous, yes). We were directed to the tombs of Ramses 1, 3, and 4 by our guide. All were very interesting and surprising just how much of the decoration remained despite the thousands of visitors daily bringing in humidity with their breaths and dirt from the outside.

From the Valley, we drove a few kilometers to Hapsetshut's temple, which was very impressive from the outside. However, the temple itself was not as ornate as many of the others  because it had been defaced by many different entities, one of which was a later pharaoh.

We then drove past the supposed site of Joeseph's stock piles of grain. I would have loved to stop there, but some of the party was beginning to wilt and didn't want to stop. So, I watched as a major piece of biblical passed by me without me even really seeing it. Oh well. We ended with some huge, and randomly placed, statues of what I believe were Ramses II (everything in Egypt is Ramses II). The story behind them is slightly interesting, however. When the Romans took over the area they found these huge statues and believed them to be their god Momen. (at least this is what we were told). Anyway, the statues had huge cracks in them so that when the wind blew, it would be routed through those cracks and create a wailing sound. The Romans interpreted this as Momen crying for his mother. I thought that was rather interesting. Leave it to the Romans to think that everything they find is automatically theirs.

That night, back in Luxor, we went to the mummy museum to end the antiquity adventures. This was a small but concise museum that I actually enjoyed more than the Egyptian museum here in Cairo. It was very organized unlike the museum here. That night we caught a flight back to Cairo--a very late flight full of only men. So that was yet another adventure. Farek was waiting for us when we got to the terminal, however, so we were so glad to see him. I swear, the man doesn't sleep and is always in the same cheery mood every time I see him. Gotta love Farek. He's such a good guy.

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