Day 59 - Luxor be a Lady Tonight

Trip Start Aug 07, 2007
Trip End Nov 07, 2007

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Friday, October 5, 2007

Hair: Cartoon Bear
Beard: Wouldn't look out of place in a painting with a miserable woman and a pitchfork
Distance Travelled: 12,400km
Distance Driven: 7999km
Frame of Mind: Less Xenophobic

Day 59 - Free to do what I want, any old time

Oh it felt good!  Driving out of that customs compound I felt like a labrador freshly released from the dark, cramped kennels in which he had been kept whilst the owners he has faithfully loved for his whole life swanned off to Ibiza for a fortnight.  But would I bound up to those owners, bowl them over and shower them with affectionate saliva? 

I think this is the equivalent of me forgiving Egypt and having a thoroughly good time for the rest of my stay.  The signs are promising....

The drive from Aswan to Luxor is lovely in many parts.  The road hugs the eastern bank of the Nile, perhaps a little too close in parts, and the fresh breeze and rows of palm trees make it a thoroughly enjoyable ride - even with the mercury well into the high 30s. 

Luxor is just the sort of place I want (need?) now.  It has a Pizza Hut, McDonalds and several English Pubs (that are actually English, down to the misspelling of 'mashed potatoe' on the bar food menu).  I need to be pampered.  I want menus with prices on them.

The hotel was a breath of fresh air too.  Clean room, immaculate sheets, fresh towels, a big bar of soap and TOILET PAPER (coming north from Sudan this is a big novelty), free breakfast, free internet, free wahing machine and all for the princely sum of 3USD.  So, ok, I got shafted but at least it is worth it!  Sadly I still have to contend with touts and restaurant owners and randoms on the street.

Day 60 - Karnak Knowledge
Got up late (bliss) and had a v nice breakfast made for me on the rooftop terrace of the hotel.  It included a yoghurt so I was a happy bunny from the off.  Had a minor skirmish with the chap in the student ID office but that didn't spoil my enjoyable morning of wandering the Luxor streets.

At lunchtime I took in the Mummification Museum.  Sadly I wasn't allowed to take any photos but there's some really cool stuff in there: all the tools to scrape and pick and whisk organs out, lots of coffins, funeral jugs and the trinkets they put alongside them, and lots of mummies.  

These Egyptians were a bit obsessed with this whole process.  They mummify EVERYTHING!  I knew about people and cats but they took it way further.  They mummified kings and queens and scribes and artisans and bricklayers and cats and ibis and sheep and ducks and legs of lamb and the really scary one was the whole baboon.  Reminded me of when your mum gets a bread maker and all you eat for the next month is a million different sorts of bread and just when they are getting edible Alexander the Great comes round and the whole thing stops.

The museum was excellent but was missing one teensy thing: an explanation of how they mummified things!  Seems obvious.  Maybe they assume that everyone has read up on it beforehand?  So I, being the community minded person I am, had a quiet word with the curator who nodded knowingly and gave me a very well informed and interesting half hour lecture on the ins and outs of making mummies.  Gruesome stuff(ing).  I was ravenous.  Seafood spaghetti at the neighbouring restaurant please.

It was fierce hot by then but I braved it and wandered up to the Karnak temple, defying the horse drawn carriage drivers, and had a wander round there.  Huge site.  Very impressive.  Lots of columns, lots of sphinxes, lots of rock.  One item worthy of mention is the scarab statue.   It is said if you walk round it then your wish will be granted.  The number of times your walk corresponds to your wish: 3 times round for happiness, 7 for marriage, 8 for divorce, 10 for pregnancy, 15 wildcard, 21 key to the door, 30 diziness.  Won't tell you how many times I walked round...but I do have a bit of abdominal pain this evening. 

The temple is a bit out of town and my poor feet were getting a bit sore so I hopped on the back of a donkey cart (cheapskates' calesh) for the short ride into town. I had agreed to pay baksheesh (a tip) only to the boy at the reins, which means a few pence, rather than a taxi-like fare of a few pounds.  He was quite happy with this, as he was going into town anyway.  All was going swimmingly until we passed his father who was furious with him that I was not paying 20 dollars for the ride.  He eventually made the kid stop, we attempted re-negotiation but realised that we couldn't reach a consenus on what a fair price for a donkey cart was so I had to get off.  The kid'll probably get a hiding later.  STUPID BOY!  Don't you know anything?  You're supposed to fleece foreigners so much that they hate you and will never return! 

That was when my wallet was stolen.  As it had absolutely no money whatsoever inside it was subsequently 'found' by a helpful (lightfingered) kid who obviously wanted a little tip (presumably after he realised there was no money).  As did the dozen other people who claimed to be instrumental in operation wallet-retrieval.  Fine.  At least I didn't have to cancel my card and get another fake ID.  I think this is some sort of karma, as I did claim the reason I needed a replacement student ID was cos my wallet was stolen in Nairobi.  Shame.

The sun was going down so I headed towards Luxor temple, a smaller version of Karnak but with slightly different pillars, sphinxes and rock.  At sunset and night time it is very fetching.  My main game was to try and figure out if the French guides were making up the same stuff as the German ones or were more like the Russians.  My favourite story I heard today is the one about the one-armed, one-legged conscientious objector:

There was once a man with one leg and one arm who stayed at home in Egypt when all the other men went off to fight a war with...pick a random foe...Hitites?  Nubians?  No, lets go with the really hated ones...the Syrians!...when they returned they found that all the women in Egypt were pregnant with this chap's children.  So they had two choices, either get really mad, kill all the children and give the man a jolly good chinese burn, or they could make him a god, let's say the god of fertility for arguments sake.  They chose the second option.  His name is Amuntop or something.

Here's the hieroglyphs that spawned that piece of 'history':

Day 61 - Lazy Luxor
A quiet one today.  Another saunter round town, over to the Luxor Museum.  There's an interesting video to start you off, narrated by Omar Sharif (who else?), who despite how much time in the West?  How many films, TV programmes, self help books and computer games? still misses out his indefinite articles in English.  Awww, awful cute.

The museum is great.  Very spacious, cool, and well laid out.  All marble and fashion.  Oh, and the exhibits are superb.  Amazingly well preserved (so much so that I was very dubious about many of them), varied, and just the right number.  Would perhaps like a little more explanation about whowhatwhenwherewhy but this seems to be a feature of all Egyptian exhibits - perhaps to perpetuate the guide trade?  There are also two extremely gruesome, perfectly intact, uncovered mummies that are just superb.  Good stuff Egyptian tourism board.

In the afternoon I searched with increasing urgency for a place that would show the England vs Australia RWC QF.  Eventually found Murphy's Irish Pub.  They did not serve Guinness!  England did serve up the Aussies though.  Nice, if slightly unexpected.  So only NZ and SA to go? [stop press...not even NZ, just the soap dodgers instead] Day 62 - The West Bank (of Luxor)
This is where The Valley of The Kings, The Valley of The Queens, The Tomb of The Nobles...I'll stop there because there is SO MUCH stuff here.  They started excavating about 200 years ago and haven't stopped yet.  The size of the sites is astounding and the riches they have uncovered stupendous.  And there's more to come....

I had an extremely pleasant drive round to the other side of the Nile to see some of the main attractions.  First stop The Valley of The Kings.   This is where Tutankhamun and his treasures were famously discovered in the 20s.  In fact there are 62 separate tombs, ranging in size, grandeur and state of repair.  If you can ignore the thousands of other people and cloying atomsphere inside they are eerie and quite sad, in a way.  These guys (and girls, over the way) were god-kings.  They truly thought themselves immortal and spent their entire lives preparing for their deaths, when they would take their last voyage along the Nile to be judged by Osiris and enter into immortality.  But then they just spend hundreds of years having their graves pillaged by successive bands of tomb raiders.  And now all they have left is some nice wooden floorboards (wouldn't want an immortal to slip and hurt his back now would we), lot of tourist breath eroding what is left of their paintings, and a couple of sleeping guards.  Ozymandias indeed. 

For the ticket price you are permitted to enter three tombs only.  I wanted to see four so attempted a bribe and for the first time in Egypt it worked.  Nice.  More than that, the guard also gave me another ticket with one spare tomb on it!  Even better.  But when I went to use the ticket to go into another tomb the guard said it wasn't actually valid.  So the last laugh was on me.  I'm just not sure why.  By this time I was pretty much tombed-out (once you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all - some are deeper, some longer, some steeper, some more bendy, some have side rooms, some have clearer hieroglyphs but in the end they are all big empty holes in the side of a mountain) so I went for a wander over the mountain to see what I could see.

And what I could see was the other side of the mountain and an impressive vista of tombs, temples and the mighty Nile stretching off into the distance.  It gave a very good sense of the power of these pharonic empires.  The miniature Roman ruins dotted around Britain pale in insignificance.  Even Pompeii is a bit of a dwarf.  I was going to go down to this girl pharoah's temple (can't remember, or even begin to spell, her name) but I just had a little sit, a drink of water, swatted a few souvenir sellers and decided to go back home.  I was nicely in awe and another hot hour round more tombs and temples would take the lustre off.  I also wanted a coke.

So I drove round to a couple of sites, which was nice and cool with the breeze, but didn't go in.  Then I headed back to the East Bank for a Sunday roast at the King's Head.  It was pretty awful.  I think they must have spent a fortune importing the blandest frozen ingredients they could find.  I nearly cried when I saw the yorkshires.  And no horseradish.  Silly me to get my hopes up - I had been looking forward to it since arriving inn Luxor! 

Going head off to Hurgada tomorrow morning bright and early.  But first we have the Scotland game....
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