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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Egypt Part 2 - Luxor, fishing on the Nile, Karnak, The Valley of the Kings & Tutankhamun's tomb

It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at Rezeiky Camp in Luxor. Berbs, Skommelers 1 & 2, Canneloni (nee Gabarone), Normski (Marjane) and Yoich had already settled into the camp pretty well and made friends with some of the other guys around the place. There was a fair old mix of people there including: three Aussie fellas on quad bikes (**kin’ Aussies get everywhere!)  setting a record and raising money (their website’s here:, an Irish couple travelling the long way down to South Africa and beyond (the cool thing is, they only got together about two weeks before they set-off and didn’t know each other before’s that for a romantic whim?). There was a young Swedish family and interesting ex-military Welsh guy who came with hot girlfriend and macho/crazy/horrific war stories to tell. 

Finally there was the Rotel: Imagine going to a supermarket and ordering a tin of sardines, except that the tin is gigantic and crammed full of aging people (predominantly German) and was on wheels...and was orange. It actually seems like a really interesting way to travel (from what I gather, they sleep in a trailer behind the bus they travel in and are organised to cabins/compartments that are just about big enough for one person). I have heard an (unsubstantiated) horror story about this sort of set-up which involved the passengers all dying in their sleep from gas inhalation. Like I say, entirely unsubstantiated and Google doesn’t seem to know anything about it either.

With the location all figured out, we put up our tents in what was left of the camp area (busiest campsite we’d seen in a while) before heading over to the bar area where the cook group budget for that day had extended to cover a buffet put on by the hotel/campsite staff...not sure if I’d just been eating too much felafel, kushari and chawarmas recently but it was good to see a nice variety of food (including plenty of greens) on display.

The following day, everybody dispersed and did their thing independently or in small groups. A handful of us did sweet F.A. but chill out in the sun for most of the day, only venturing out briefly to book ourselves on to a much-hyped Nile fishing trip. Most that did venture into town came back exhausted from yet more fighting off  panhandlers, touts, schemers and scammers.

For the fishing trip, Allison, Rob D, The Skommelers (Saffer Bros Rob and Hendrik), Berbs, Kenj, Son and I were joined by the Irish couple (Rob and Marcella - they've got a blog too: We were picked up from the camp by a mini-bus (included in the fishing trip price) and taken to the river via the liquor store for some beers. We had the choice of sail or motor boat and after a short debate on the dock, opted for the former: despite having only recently finished a three day felucca trip, Irish Rob was a former Olympic sailor (or something like that) and convinced us that the sail boat would be better.

Argh, ye auld sea-dawg of the Mornin' Dew. (The 10yr old deck-hand).
The whole trip was a bit of a calamity: we were told there’d be fishing and swimming but we out-numbered the rods available by about 4-1; there were no weights, no floats; the water was pretty uninviting for swimming; the captain was aided by his 10 year old cousin (who in fairness, knew his way around a boat) and the two of them struggled to decide upon the best place to fish or swim.

We probably caught a total of about 6 or 7 fish the whole trip, weighing about 2lbs...combined...if we were lucky. Berbs stuck to it the longest and his patience paid off, netting him four or five monsters of the deep. Kenj came a close second and Saffer Rob even broke his fish-catching cherry after an epic struggle with a behemoth that must have been at least the length of his little finger. Even Hemingway would have struggled to find the words to capture such a battle between man and nature. I didn’t bother taking many snaps of the fish, but I did take some of the beers we drank.  
Nice one, Berbs! Rex Hunt's job is in trouble (and I don't just mean because of his violent behaviour and sex scandal). Photo courtesy of Kenji Ashman.

Saffer Rob with the behemoth he caught - even using trick photography we couldn't make it look big. ("That's what she said!"). Photo courtesy of Kenji Ashman.

Not the Stellas the Brits are used to, but they did the job.
Despite the nasty-looking water, we took turns jumping off the deck and seeing how far the river’s flow would take us. Saffer Rob nearly got swept away after under-estimating the current and jumping in with beer in hand expecting to achieve a one-handed swim back up-river to the boat. The 10-year old deck-hand had to jump in and save fact, I think he just took the beer and let Rob fend for himself with two hands.

Rob D & I with the deck-hand before jumping in. Photo courtesy of Kenji Ashman.

Saffer Rob nearly gets swept away with his beer...'til a 10 yr old saved him. Photo courtesy of Kenji Ashman.

Berbs & I - hanging out in the Nile. Photo courtesy of Kenji Ashman.

It wasn’t the sort of “Deadliest Catch” trip we had been hoping for, but we made light of it and had a good time watching the sun go down on the Nile with beers in our hands and the Valley of the Kings in the distance on our right. We continued the drinking in the beer garden of a local boozer/sheesha den before turning in. A handful just walked back whilst the rest of us rode back to the campsite in style: in the back of a ‘barouche’ or ‘caleche’ (one of the horse-drawn carriages that line the streets of Luxor).

Sunset over the West Bank of the Nile.

Riding through Luxor in style.
Rob D clinging to the side of the barouche as we hurtle (at 5mph) through the Luxor streets.
The Berbs doing the same on the other side of the barouche.
Saffer Rob, chilling with the driver...who kept calling Rob "Mandela!"
Allison & Son in the back of the barouche.

The same crew from the fishing trip headed out again two days later – with Allison stepping out, but Big Ron stepping in to replace her. Today’s destination was ‘The Valley of the Kings’ but we figured that having done a lot of walking, a lot of boating and even a bit of horse-drawn carriaging, it was time for a different form of transport. We all hired some push bikes and pedalled away to the famed final resting place of Tutankhamun, Ramesses and all of their various predeccessors, forefathers, offspring and relatives.

Getting ready to hit the road after some tough negotiating. I think we ended up paying 100 Egyptian Pounds for 8 bikes for the day.
Hendrik all geared up (actually, there were no gears and we were lucky if there were brakes).
The Egyptian sun was of course beating down heavily on our heads that day (God-damn you, Ra! – that’s the Egyptian sun god for those of you that don’t know) and we didn’t really know how far we had to cycle. We didn’t really know where we were going either. Nevertheless, get there we did via a short ferry-crossing from the East Bank of the Nile to the West, a stop-off at a local souvenir shop for some free, tepid tea and a cycle that seemed like it was all uphill. Despite the climb that went on for a couple of hours in the heat, we really enjoyed the ride there and even stopped off for a quick picture pose at the "Colossi of Memnon"

The bikes on the boat from the East Bank of the Nile to the West Bank.
Berbs pimping it in his biker gloves (hand-knitted by Marjane's "nonna") & Hendrik looking totally radical in shades left behind by Laraldo.
JIZZ JAZZ hands!
This was our "Hell's Angels" pose at the "Colossi of Memnon". (L to R: Skommel Episode 1, Ronaldo, Skommel Episode 2, AK47, Berbs, Rob D, Kenjito.)

Frustratingly, as the tombs in The Valley of the Kings have been seeing too much life recently, photography in The Valley is prohibited (as with the Abu Simbel, I think it used to be only flash photography that was banned but too many sneaky photographers have lead to the authorities taking more drastic measures). So I don’t have any photos from inside there, but I can recommend the visit:  for most of us, it was one of those sights you just have to see – we’d been hearing about it all of our lives.

The downside was of course, as with everything in Egypt, the money involved: There was  a fee (4 Egyptian Pounds / 0.7 USD at time of writing) for the optional (i.e. don’t bother) ‘petit-train’ taking you up the hill to the first tomb, there was a basic entry fee (80 Egyptian Pounds / 13.8 USD) that only covered you for 3 out of the 62 tombs), 50 Egyptian Pounds (8.6 USD) to see the tomb of Ramesses VI and there was an additional fee (100 Egyptian Pounds / 17.2 USD) to see Tutankhamun’s embalmed body in a glass case in his original tomb.  None of which are massive fees on their own, but we’d been travelling for nearly 9 months by this point and every penny counted...and by this point we were bordering on ancient monument overkill (as I mentioned when talking about the Kom-Ombo site in my previous entry).

It’s a big site and you could wander around the place all day if you felt so inclined or more to the point, if your wallet allowed you to. Apart from the costs, the other disappointment was that a lot of the temples were closed for restoration so we didn’t get to see most of our first choices (I’d been looking forward to clambering down into one of the deepest and supposedly best-preserved tombs – Seti I  - but it was closed).

For the three tombs included in our entry fee, we opted for those of “Amenophis II / Amenhotep” (which was a small, steep step climb up a rock-face and clamber of several storeys down into sweltering heat deep in the ground); “TawosretSetnakhte” (the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings); and “Ramesses III” (another of the larger tombs, but this one was started on by Ramesses III father – Setnakhte – who gave up when he bumped into the tomb of Amenmesses. Ramesses III took over, shifting the tunnelling to the right to avoid desecrating the other tomb).  A few of us even paid the extra fee to pop in and see Ram 6 and Tut.

They were all extremely impressive, although Tutankhamun’s tomb was somewhat under-stated and seemed disproportionate to his lasting impression on Egyptian history (it’s said that his is the smallest tomb in The Valley). He was only 19 when he died, but his tiny mummified body suggested he was much younger. (I've just - 20th Jan 2011 - read that we may well have been very lucky indeed to get to see this as Tutankhamun's tomb may close.) Most of the artefacts that Tut had been buried with (including his iconic gilded face mask) are on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo...which we were due to be visiting in a week or so!

Again I cursed myself for not knowing more about hieroglyphs and Egyptian history as I felt I was doing the ancient Egyptian dynasties a dis-service by being in awe, but not really understanding why. Without some background knowledge, I couldn’t help but feel I was only excited about the place because I was supposed to be and because they do so in films and in documentaries. We could have got a guide if we were willing to pay, but along the way on this trip we’ve found guides to either have poor English or impenetrable accents.

We bumped into Kay, Allison, Spence, Jen, Jules and Ish who gave us varying accounts of the Valley of the Queens and the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. I’m sure I’ll get shot by the culture vultures for saying this, but given the under-whelmed reviews (“more of the same”, “much of a muchness”) we decided we’d had our fill of death and the after-life...and of cycling.

We strolled back to our bikes (“pushangs” as we call them in Guernsville, Tennessee) via the camera depot and free-wheeled most of the way back to one of the wee ferries waiting for us on the Nile’s west bank. We stopped off at the same sheesha place we’d been to a few days previously before dropping off the bikes and mosying over to The King’s Head pub which for a long time, I thought people were referring to as King Zed’s.  Not exactly a cultural experience, but It was a good pub, with draught beer (oh, how we missed you), an array of international flags and sports memorabilia to bring in the punters, and a local landlord with impeccable English. The perfect place to watch Scotland (unexpectedly) beat the Saffers in rugby. I don’t care much for rugby, but as my Saffer co-passengers who, by their very nature do care (a lot) about rugby I felt the need to rub in my Scottish heritage just a wee bit. 

Homeless in a rare shot of him reading at the King's Head this point, the Saffers had given up hope in the rugby.

100's of tourists at the Karnak sound & light show.
On our penultimate night in Luxor (21st November), Kay, Son and I took a 15 minute stroll over to watch the sound and light show at Karnak. I had to take my hat off to the Egyptians for this one as both the ruins AND the show put on were spectacular (as long as you can see past – literally and metaphorically - the 500 other tourists. That was for the English version of the show, Ronaldo tells us there were maybe only 50 or so at the Dutch one).  Yet again though, I felt all too ignorant on the topic but was so captivated by the place that I vowed to go back early the next morning (prior to our truck departing) and see it in the light.

Avenue of ram's head sphinxes in "The Great Court of the Temple of Amon" at Karnak, Luxor.

"The First Pylon" at the end of the avenue of ram-head sphinxes. Temple of Amon.

The Great Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Amon.

One of the "obelisks" in the Temple of Amon.

The next morning, I was indeed captivated again, this time by the comfort of my pillow and sleeping bag, so much so that I forfeited my planned return journey to Karnak Temple. The truck left Rezeiky Camp on time but had to make a quick u-turn after making it only 5 minutes down the road...Jen had left her camera behind in the room that her and Jules had upgraded to. Back at Rezeiky, Jen’s made a quick dash to the room they stayed in and returned with a smile of relief on her face and a strange-looking camera in her hand. Apparently these GHD cameras have flashes that are so powerful they straighten your hair.

We stopped off in town (right outside The Temple of Luxor) for some last-minute supply pick-ups which gave me an opportunity to go for a solo mission wandering about and getting some snaps of the famed temple (named after a hotel in Las Vegas). Just on the eastern wall of the site sat a gigantic perspex cube - there had been a big squash tournament with 8 top international players and it had taken place right outside the temple. A few of our guys had gone along to see the final the previous night. Apparently squash is extremely popular in Egypt - four of the current top ten male players in the world are Egyptian. Afterwards, I made time to buy an Egyptian Arabic phrasebook before we hit the road for Egypt’s Western Desert (which is confusingly, the eastern part of the Libyan Desert)...but that’s another story.

Parked up in front of Luxor Temple.
Homeless (and if you look closely, you can just see Marjane giving the thumbs up in the cab).


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