Luxor-ious Settings! (Asinine Title Alert!)

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
Trip End Apr 22, 2005

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Friday, April 8, 2005

For the past few days amidst the temples of Karnack and Luxor and down in the Valley of the Kings I have stood awestruck at the indefatigable vastness of Egyptian cunning. I have also enjoyed viewing ancient pharaonic splendors.

I do not know my Ramseses from my Setis or my Thatmosises and I still don't know the correct pronunciation of Hatshepsut. The most I can tell you about Isis is to quote you the intro to the 1970s Saturday morning children's show and that she wore a cute white mini-dress. The rest of my impressive breadth of knowledge I've culled from an Agatha Christie movie, a couple of 1950's Hollywood Biblical epics and from the subtext of the cult classic Deneuve/Bowie film, "The Hunger". If it's Egyptology edification you yearn for look elsewhere. I do however know how much a shwarma sandwich and a Coke should set you back and I would never pay more than 15 cents for a cup of coffee.

On my first day in this hotbed of hieroglyphics, sarcophagi and imposing temples I marveled at the great Temple of Luxor on the banks of the Nile. The scale alone was nothing short of impressive and the intricacies and vastness of the carvings had me gaping in awe. So did the entrance fee of 35 pounds for foreigners, which is 34 more than the Egyptians pay. I pointed to a cheaper stack of tickets and told the man in the booth, "Hey, I want that ticket instead" but I think he'd already gone back to sleep. The tout intensity was hovering around a mild "Pesky Level" while the tourist irritation intensity was set to a quiet "Septuagenarian British Level" making for a rather peaceful experience.

Hours later I took a felucca ride down the Nile for sunset. This floating device I've heard so much about is actually only a rudimentary, poor man's sailboat though it suited me just fine. It was a lovely two and a half hour whispering cruise to a place called Banana Island, where I was surprised to learn, is an island where bananas grow. When I was told it'd be five pounds to enter said island I was hell bent on eating my money's worth. I crammed the sweetest, tiniest bananas in my mouth with such vigor I almost gagged and then my guide started laughing and began filling my purse. I coached him on until they threatened to rip the seams, packed more in my mouth and finally relented when I felt a twist in my stomach like a butcher knife.

The next morning at breakfast I sliced four more into my bowl of cornflakes and after my second cup of coffee ventured out to the great Temple of Karnack. Because I am cheap and do not have a job I took the local public transport and handed over the equivalent of four cents. The bus system as it were consists of vans that drive around town with the doors open and once you've hailed one, you yell out your destination. If the driver does not speed off immediately then you are to get in and pay him and wait until he sees fit to drive to your destination. I generally prefer subways and public buses while traveling as it's not only a cheaper form of transport but also gives one the opportunity to mix with the locals. Where else could I sit next to a man with a twelve inch long blood-caked knife in his lap? I nudged the man on the other side of me and nodded in the direction of the knife with a comically inquisitive look on my face. He said something to the man and chuckling he wielded his knife toward my face as we swerved to miss hitting a goat and yelled "Hahahaha! Animal! Eat! Animal!" Someone else clarified the now obvious, "he kills animals to eat". I breathed a deep sigh and felt a wee-bit of a trickle down my leg.

I arrived at the Karnack Temple just as the droves of tourists were fleeing like stampeding buffaloes in khaki shorts and sequined King Tut tee-shirts for their air-conditioned buses. I sat and waited for the menaces to depart and then paid my entrance fee, which was only several hundred percent higher than what the locals were paying. The temple was vast and impressive and it was the first time I'd seen deeply-carved polychrome hieroglyphics. In places where the sun hadn't shone for over 5,000 years the paint was still remarkably vibrant in places. I cocked my head in wonder at the sphinxes with rams' heads and when told that they were from the such-and-such dynasty I said flatly that, "I have no idea what you're talking about." Many of you reading this are astonished at my ignorance on this subject but let me tell you something right now, buddy you're probably one of those jackasses paying 80 cents for a falafel sandwich. Now, who's the dumbass? The tout intensity was again hovering around an easily swattable "Pesky Level" while the tourist irritation intensity fluctuated from placid "Hung-over and ate-too-much-potato-salad Kraut Level" to a half-clothed sluttish "Baltic Whore Level". The temperatures were stifling and though I had no earthly idea what the hell I was looking at half the time I found it remarkably enjoyable.

While waiting for a so-called bus I was being harassed to take a taxi. One yelled after me "Where are you from?" I told him I was from Estonia. "Where in Estonia?" he pestered. I responded "the capital" then he asked what the capital of Estonia was. I yelled back running to the bus, "I've got no fuckin' idea!"

I'd read so much about the grand Winter Palace Hotel that I decided to spurge a bit and enjoy some air-conditioning and a swishy lunch. Flagging the bus to a stop I called out "Winter Palace Hotel!" and since he didn't run over my feet I boarded the bus. I handed over my 8 cent note and then kept my hand out waiting for change. The driver burst into laughter and his face was awash in bewilderment as he uttered expressively something to the person next to him repeating my destination over and over. I must've seemed like the cheapest bitch he'd ever seen in his entire life. Here I was heading to the chicest most expensive hotel south of Cairo and I was demanding my four cents change back. Yep, Mr. Busdriver, you're damn right!

I made the terrible mistake of walking into the new tasteless addition of the Winter Palace and I can honestly say that I've seen more posh abandoned Howard Johnson's. "Isn't this the Winter Palace?" I asked with a pained look on my face to the bellhop. He said it was and I couldn't contain my revulsion, "But this place is disgusting!" He told me the original addition was next door and rolling my eyes in relief blurted, "Well, thank God! This craphole is repellent!" The old Winter Palace was indeed a lovely colonial confection of Victoriana but their restaurants were only open for breakfasts and dinners. "Can't I get a dessert at the bar, then?" I asked. The concierge shook his head and suggested the café in new addition. I must've looked like I'd just swallowed vomit, "Yuk! That place is gross! But thank you very much."

I ended up eating a plate of falafel with French fries and a Coke at some hole in the wall for less than one dollar that at least had some character. Sated I walked over to the mummification museum, which was highly entertaining and I even got to see a mummified monkey and a mummified person who was from the such-and-such dynasty and I of course had no idea what that meant. There were tools used for mummifying and various ceremonial pieces and some beautiful coffins. There was even a mummified fish but I couldn't tell the difference between that and a stale smoked herring if you want to know the truth.

With the money I'd saved on lunch I thought I'd head into the museum gift shop and maybe purchase a little souvenir. "I can see that you've been in Egypt a long time and don't trust the shop owners anymore" the man said. I told him he'd gotten that right for certain but that if it was any consolation I didn't believe them before I got here either because I'd "already been warned by around 10 other travelers and two guidebooks". He quoted me a ridiculous sum for a small gold statue telling me it was alabaster and when I told him it was plastic he acted surprised but as I insisted he smiled and relented but said, "Well, not really plastic." I continued, "Ah yes, but it is a man-made material is it not, my dear friend?" He smiled and shook his head. I whispered to him, "Then why is it so expensive since it's made from a mold and has brass leaf not gold leaf on it?"
"It is made by orphan boys" he said with a straight face.
"Really? Do they have arms? You should say that they don't have arms."
"They have arms, madam."
"Okay but they don't have eyes do they? They're blind, too aren't they?"
"I think they can see."
"They're gay though right? It's a gay orphanage, isn't it?"
"Wait. You making jokes?"
" So these are made by nubile gay male prostitutes, who have empty sockets where their eyes should be and they carve these beautiful statues with their teeth because they haven't any arms and their feet are swollen with hangnails. All this money goes to charity and to buy them glass eyes and black leather vests and tambourines. Is that right?"

He smiled, "Maybe not orphans" he began. I interrupted, "in that case I don't want one! I want the ones made by male whores, by God!" I ended up buying two statues for one/tenth of its original price and laughed so hard my stomach hurt and I had tears streaming down my cheeks. He was laughing as well and laughed even harder when I said, "Hey, where's my present? I want one of these horrible papyrus bookmarks." He asked, "You like papyrus bookmark?" I was near tears and throwing them down on his desk hollered, "No, I hate this shit I just want you to give me something for free!" He tried to give me one but I refused and told him I was only joking and that I'd only, "throw it in the trash, anyway -- where it belongs!!!"

The next day at the reception desk I was planning out my venture to the Valley of the Kings with the help of the friendly front desk clerk. He told me that it was half a pound for the ferry across the Nile if I took the local Egyptian ferry and then if I was "very strong" I could maybe get a taxi from the port to the entrance and back for 30 pounds. I accepted his throwing down of the gauntlet and decided that if it killed me I'd get the fair price and maybe better. After paying double what the locals pay for the ferry and being told, "No bargain this is foreigner price" I was energized and determined. After a bit of jovial haggling we shook on 25 pounds for the roundtrip and he said, "I gave you this price because I can't tell you live here and you nice lady." Nice? Live here? Good God this man was demented!

In the Valley of the Kings there are many pharaonic tombs and for 55 pounds you can see three of them. Cross-referencing between two guidebooks and word of mouth I made a list of five and decided that the nearest ones to the gate would be the ones I'd see. The first tomb was high in the hills up an exhausting dusty trail in heat that hovered in temperatures over 100 degrees. I reached the entry and flanking either side was an admission guard and an armed guard with his rifle in his lap. Both were fast asleep. I tip-toed past them and descended deep down into the belly of the wide and well-lit tomb. The brilliant paintings were astounding as was the carved and painted sarcophagus. I was all alone there so I sat and whistled some classical music and the call to prayer that I cannot for the life of me get out of my head. I made my way back out quietly and snuck past the sleepy-heads down the hill.

The next tomb of Ramses III was more impressive and ornate but right away I was besieged upon by two guards who wanted to give me a "little tour", which would of course mean shelling over baksheesh. I thanked them but begged off and enjoyed the hieroglyphics in complete blissful ignorance. I looked about then took out my camera, which of course was set to "museum" so that the flash wasn't on. I was snapping away and arching my back to get a good shot of the ceiling when the nastier of the two snatched my camera from my hand. I slapped his hand and demanded that he release it at once but he insisted that if I didn't give him baksheesh he'd tell the police. I explained that I hadn't seen any sign and I flashed him such a hateful look and hit his hand again so hard he handed it back. I gritted my teeth and neared his face and in a hushed tone clearly told him, "No baksheesh!" I walked out and over to the next tomb wondering if I'd be busted.

Ramses VI's tomb is a masterpiece. It has chambers and antechambers and pillars carved into the stone and the most astoundingly colorful and detailed hieroglyphics. It was a sincere shame that I knew now I couldn't photograph whatever the hell it was I was seeing. I did however know that whatever it was it was truly impressive. When I came back up into the light a policeman was looking at me while sitting holding his rifle and he said, "Camera?" I smiled pretending not to know what he was talking about and shook my head and thanked him in Arabic.

I could still see another tomb since my ticket wasn't ripped yet three times thanks to the sleeping boobs in the hills. I wasn't about to miss out so I went down and saw another amazing ancient tomb that I didn't know anything about and loved it. I exited as nonchalantly as possible and proceeded to the gate to await my taxi. I was very much relieved when no one followed.

My cabdriver was nowhere to be seen though since I hadn't paid him I knew he'd turn up sooner or later. I looked in the souvenir stalls that bordered the parking lot to bide some time. I ducked in a few just to avoid the blazing sun and bought a candy bar for the correct price of 1.5 pounds instead of the ten he'd requested. "Nope, here's the correct price" I told him and put the money on the counter, "And now I'm going to open it and eat it." I did just that. He kept trying to "give me a gift" though I refused because these people aren't giving anyone anything for free and I may not know crap about hieroglyphics but I am not an idiot. Ten minutes passed and I was getting bored and wanted to amuse myself.

The shop keeper and I were in the middle of lying to each other: he about how much things were worth and I about my "wonderful husband" when a busload of tourists came streaming out. He grabbed a caftan and I grabbed a tablecloth and we hawked. I was vicious and the police in the parking lot were erupting in peels of laughter. "COME ON WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!" I yelled. "This is perfect for a picnic for crying out loud! It's kitchy fun! Cheap price I give you cheap price! Where you from? FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T BE SO DAMN CHEAP YOU KNOW YOU WANT IT!" The German tourists seemed baffled I was trying to sell them something once they finally looked at me and saw that I was white. I tried the walking backward approach and hopped from side to side as they tried to dodge me and hollered, "BUY SOMETHING DAMNIT!!! I'M GETTING FED UP!!!" One woman looked worried that I wouldn't let her pass and I saw her eyes bulge in fear so I stepped aside, "Go on then GIT! GO ON! SEE IF I CARE!!"

I snatched the white caftan from the shop owner, "Give me that!" I now tried something else, "YOU PEOPLE STINK! Put this on after your shower -you're FILTHY, it's nice and clean white cotton -- EGYPTIAN COTTON! BEST PRICE!" I followed them to the bus and knocked on the door, "Please for Gods sake! PLEASE BUY SOMETHING! CHEAP PRICE!!!!" I was convulsing in laughter and as they sped off, their shocked faces plastered to the cold windows. I turned to my coworker and demanded a free bottle of water for my efforts and with a slap on the back I was rewarded with an icy can of Coke instead.

An Italian woman came by and I lured her in subtly with the tablecloth. Pointing to the screen-printed figures she asked, "This is Osiris?" I shrugged my shoulders, "Listen lady I don't know who the hell that is but I'm telling you right now it's 25 pounds and that's CHEAP PRICE!!!"

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