Luxor-ious - INCLUDES VIDEO!

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Here is our Egypt video!

We hadn't really planned to do much in Egypt apart from Cairo but then Luxor jumped out at us as a possible destination, so we hop on the train down there.  The guy who books our ticket swears up and down that foreigners are only permitted to travel first class, "for security".  We fork out for the first class ticket and find ourselves rumbling down to Luxor alongside the world's longest river.  The Nile itself gets quite narrow in places, maybe only 30 metres, and has a strip of about one kilometres either side of it that is trees and farmable green land.  Once you get past that green section, fertile due to irrigated diversions from the main river, the land suddenly and dramatically becomes desert, the Arabian on the east and the Libyan on the west.
Once you get to Luxor, the first thing that strikes us, literally, is the heat.  Cairo was hot, at around 40 degrees but Luxor is another step up.  It is only a smallish town, one that sprung up around the temples, of which there are many.  In fact, the temples were originally connected with the town of Thebes.  Thebes itself is now little more than a tiny village but it was once the world's largest city, with a population of over a million, way back in the sixteenth century BC.  The Thebians grew to rule Upper Egypt (as it is known despite being southern Egypt) and then united the whole country under its rule.
Our hotel in Cairo booked us into one here as part of a deal including the train ticket.  Having grown used to budget hotels, guest houses and the occasional hotel, to find ourselves in a properl hotel with an elevator, bell boys, en suite bathroom, TV and - best of all - a rooftop swimming pool, is a somewhat unreal sensation.  We almost feel like impostors, as though we have cheated our way into this place where guests carry suitcases instead of backpacks and complain if their bed hasn't been turned down properly, where the staff wear bowties and hold their hand out for a tip after the tiniest piece of service.  The funniest thing is that, while the advertised rack rate for this place is US$65, we paid we equivalent of $8 per night.  We certainly aren't complaining as we stretch out on the padded deck chairs in the hot sun or slide into the just-right temperature of the pool for a cool down.
The flipside of staying in a posh hotel is that the staff often don't know much about what budget travellers want.  I ask the girl at reception about transportation across the Nile to Luxor's West Bank, where many of the monuments are located.
"How much is the local ferry, please?"
"Local ferry?"
"Yes, the boat that local people take across the river."
"But your tour bus will drive you across the bridge."
"We aren't with a tour group, it's just the two of us."
"Oh.  Then take a taxi, it should be no more than 100 pounds [$20].  I don't know of any boat."
"Right.  Well, thanks all the same.  And do you know where we can hire some bicycles?"
She struggles not to laugh.  "Bicycles?  I don't think you can hire bicycles in Luxor.  But I can arrange a taxi for you . . ."
The very next store to the hotel is a bicycle rental place and we pass many more on our way down to the local ferry, which costs about 1 pound (20 cents).  We hire a couple of old lady bikes and set out along the hot dusty road to the Valley of the Kings.  Tour bus after tour bus whooshes past us, packed with obese, camera-toting, inappropriately-dressed, robotic tourists who file in and out of the bus and in and out of the scheduled attractions, obediently snapping identical photos in their allocated 15 minutes and buying t-shirts and Luxor snow globes for the grandkids at whatever price the gleeful merchant demands.  None of them are smiling except in polite agreement when Gladys from Idaho remarks how the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas seems much cleaner than the Egyptian Luxor.
At times we do feel slightly jealous of their air-conditioned transport.  Today is the hottest I have experienced in my life.  The thermometer on my backpack is into the high 40s.  There is no shade.  We are pedalling old lady bikes uphill along a desolate road that shimmers from the heat.  Either side of us are rocky, treeless hills, the likes of which you can picture Osama bin Laden hiking through en route to his next friendly cave.   Even the occasional breeze is no relief, it is just a whoosh of hot air that stings your eyes.  But we are loving it.  Jane says, "I'm so glad we aren't on one of those stupid buses."
"I was just about to say that," I respond, as I was indeed just about to say that.  We smile at each other and continue up the hill. 
The Valley of the Kings is a secluded gorge that the Thebians used to bury their dead rulers.  To the naked eye there is nothing except a continuation of the barren rocky hills that lined the road there.  Then you see little doors on either side, each of which leads down a narrow corridor to the tomb of a Ramses or a Tuthmosis, ancient Kings of Thebes.  Even the most famous Pharaoh of them all, Tutenkhamon, was buried here.  The narrow corridors are decorated with hieroglyphics and, although the mummified bodies and accompanying treasures have been removed and shipped off to museums, you can imagine how these places would have looked.  For your 70 pound ($14) entry fee you get ot choose to look inside any three tombs, except King Tut's tomb, which costs an extra 80 pounds.  This is plenty, as they all look pretty much the same inside.
It is all very nice but doing anything in 48 degree head is quite draining.  Also, the entry fees are a bit steep so we give the Valley of the Queens a miss and head back.  Our bottled water is hot and hardly drinkable.  Once back in the town we each throw back a full 1.5 litre bottle of icy cold water, plus a one litre bottle of Sprite without taking a breath. 
The swimming pool at the hotel provides a luxurious way to cool off for a couple of hours before venturing out into the tout-heavy streets of Luxor.  Men jump out of every little nook with an invitation to a store of some variety, an exhortation to "just look - no charge for looking", or a promise of no-hassle browsing followed by incessant hassle until we get out of earshot.  I've been looking forward to trying the sheesha pipe that is so popular here.  Every street has at least one coffee shop where you'll see local men sucking away on a tube connected to an elaborately designed bottle that looks like an over-sized genie lamp.  The bottle contains water that has been flavoured; strawberry, banana and min seems to be the most popular.  You suck on the tube, dragging the air up and through a filter, which is where the smokiness kicks in.  It definitely tastes like whatever flavour you choose (mine is strawberry) but it is hard to know how much to suck in.  I usually take too much and end up coughing like a maniac, much to the amusement of the locals.
The next day we walk the two kilometres out to the Temple of Karnak.  Again, it's very impressive, all sorts of columns, statues and tombs, but the head is so oppressive, especially having walked half an hour to get there, that we are sapped of our energy early on.
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