Luxor-ious Settings! (Asinine Title Alert!)
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
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
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
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
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 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
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?"
" 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
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
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 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!!!"