The Rec.Travel Library
More on Africa
More on Egypt
October 12, 1988: fly to Paris
October 13, 1988: fly to Cairo, Sadat's tomb
October 14, 1988: Egyptian Museum, Khan-al-Kalili Bazaar, Citadel of Salah-ad-Din (Saladin), Muhammed Ali Mosque
October 15, 1988: Memphis, Saqqara, Step Pyramid of Zoser, camel caravan to the Pyramids, Pyramids, inside of the Pyramid of Khefre, Solar Boat of Cheops, Sphinx, Karnak Bazaar, Sound and Light Show, fireworks
October 16, 1988: Cairo Museum
October 17, 1988: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, fly to Aswan, Elephantine Island, fly to Abu Simbel, Abu Simbel temples, cultural show
October 18, 1988: board Oberoi Shehrayar. Aswan Low Dam and High Dam, Temple of Philae, Northern Quarries and the Unfinished Obelisk
October 19, 1988: felucca ride, Kitchener's Island (botanical gardens), Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, sail to Kom Ombo, Temple of Kom Ombo, sail to Edfu
October 20, 1988: Temple of Horus, sail to Esna, Temple of Khnum, locks north of Esna, sail to Luxor
October 21, 1988: Colossi of Memnon, Valley of the Queens, tomb of Queen Hatshepsut, Tomb of Khaemwese, Valley of the Kings, Ramesesseum (Medinet Habu), Tut-ankh-amen's Tomb, Tomb of Rameses III, Tomb of Amenhotep II, Temple of Karnak, Temple of Luxor, Sound and Light Show October 22, 1988: fly to Cairo, Khan-al-Kalili Bazaar
October 12, 1988: We worked until 3:30 PM, then went home, turned down the heat, turned off the water, and waited for the 4:30 limo. At 4:30 we got the usual call: "How do I get to Lakeridge Drive? It's not on my Matawan map." So I explained it was really in Old Bridge and how to get to it. This is why I always ask for an earlier pick-up time than they suggest--it gives us time for this routine. Anyway, we were on the road by 5. Traffic was good, with only a couple of what are called "rubbernecking delays," and we got to JFK by 6:15 or so. We checked in (naturally the line we picked stopped moving as soon as we got into it, so we had a chance to talk to a couple from Holland who were returning home--they think the capitalism in the United States is much better than the socialism in Holland). Then we stood around waiting for the Travcoa representative. While we were waiting a woman came up to us and asked, "Travcoa?" At first we thought she was the guide, but no, she was a fellow tour member, Pansee Chong, who was traveling with her sister Lillian. They're from British Columbia and have traveled all over the world. It turned out when we got to talking that they would be with us only in Egypt and then branching off to Yemen. So we may have a much smaller group in Kenya if others do likewise.
After standing around the ticket area, we decided to proceed to the gate. The metal detector was extremely sensitive and everyone had to empty their pockets, etc., making it quite chaotic. The guards seemed friendlier, though, and actually smiled.
At the gate area we met a few more tour members. Margaret Zolliker, a retired doctor from Atlanta, is traveling with Ann Cook from Michigan. And Tom Stama is from San Francisco and is a bit of a character. He apparently doesn't have a regular job--Margaret called him at various points an "artiste" and an entrepreneur. He's also going to Yemen, then on his own to Ethiopia, then to Rome. All in all, he's taking eight weeks. It must be nice.
A Travcoa representative did show up to greet us and tell us the name of our guide, who would meet us at the Cairo airport. Then he came back to say no, she won't be meeting us as the airport. A travel service would pick us up at the airport and take us to the hotel where she would join us in the evening--some change in flight schedule, apparently.
Our flight, which boarded on time, but left fifty minutes late (at 9:20), was not a non-stop, but stopped in Paris. What can you say about a flight? The plane was cold and the seats uncomfortable for sleeping. It's a 2-5-2 arrangement so Mark and I weren't sitting right next to anyone else. For dinner I had a vegetarian lasagna. It was okay, and looked better (to me, anyway) than the meat lasagna Mark had.
October 13, 1988: We landed in Paris and everyone had to get off the plane for about an hour. So we stood around the departure lounge talking to Tom and the Chongs. Then back on the plane for the flight to Cairo. Lunch was chicken (they forgot to load a vegetarian meal for me) and I slept most of the rest of the time.
We landed in Cairo at about 3:30 PM, finally establishing that Cairo is six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. The Travcoa representative was there and directed us through the various lines. This took only about an hour, and was not nearly as chaotic as the guidebooks say.
On the way in we flew past the Pyramids as well as some lesser pyramids including (we think) the Step Pyramid of Zoser. And of course we saw the Nile. Along the Nile on either side is a green strip of vegetation and then boom! the desert. No gradual blending from one to the other.
We got our Egypt schedule. It was changed around a lot but everything was still there. Instead of splitting our Cairo time into two short stays on either side of the cruise, it's all before the cruise. This means we see the Egyptian Museum first instead of last--a good thing. The cruise goes down the Nile instead of up. The downside of this is that we stay at the Semiramis instead of the Mena House, but we get dinner at the Mena House so we do get to see it. (The Mena House is a historic hotel; the Semiramis just a hotel, albeit a deluxe one.)
On the way we saw a lot of interesting sights. Billboards, for example. Billboards are always interesting in foreign countries-- different products, different styles. Television ads are the same in being different.
Also I started learning the digits. We may call them Arabic numerals, but here they use different ones, which this machine does not have the ability to reproduce typographically so I will explain them:
0 a raised dot 1 a vertical bar 2 a vertical bar with a horizontal bar from the top to the right (like a Greek gamma) 3 similar to 2, but the horizontal bar is "scalloped" 4 something like a Greek sigma, but all the lines are at 458o9 angles 5 0 (and boy, is this confusing!) 6 similar to the digit for 2, but mirror-image (looks like a 7) 7 a downward-pointing V 8 an upward-pointing V 9 9 (same as here)
We passed various mosques (which I think have a more pleasing style than cathedrals or churches). We drove by Sadat's tomb and passed a couple of massive statues of Rameses II (copies). We went through Heliopolis, a newer suburb of Cairo and supposedly the ritzy section. However, the concrete construction blackened by pollution doesn't look very ritzy by American standards.
We saw people in all sorts of garb--Arabian, Egyptian, and modern Western. We also saw horse-drawn carts as well as automobiles.
We got checked into the hotel (the Semiramis) and spent some time writing our logs. Our room has a view of Cairo Tower and the Nile. At 7 PM we sent down to dinner with Tom. Mark had the buffet; I had the hamam (pigeon) stuffed with rice and pine nuts. I also had lentil soup. It was good (though a pigeon has very little meat--the standard portion is two, which is enough for small eaters, but big eaters should be aware), but I was falling asleep over it. (I should say that the quantity of stuffing made up for the lack of meat.) Dinner was slow--traditional in the Middle East--and we finished and returned to the room about 9:30. Mark wrote some more; I fell asleep.
October 14, 1988: I woke up at 5:30, having set my alarm wrong. I went back to sleep until 6:45, then got up, dressed, and went to breakfast (the best order to do those things in). We had continental breakfast with orange juice and American-style coffee. Then I changed $50--normally you need a passport but mine was still being registered so they took my American Express card as identification. Each time you change money there is a thirty- piaster fee for stamps, but that's only about twelve cents, since it's 2.3 pounds to the dollar and one hundred piasters to the pound.
At 8 AM we had a talk by Dr. Gohary, an Egyptologist from England who has moved permanently to Egypt. Her education was entirely in England for two reasons. First, in Egypt everything foreign, even degrees, is considered better. Second, the lack of hard currency means that universities in Egypt have difficulty subscribing to many foreign journals.
Dr. Gohary talked about the geography of Egypt, in particular the Nile Valley and how it is the only really habitable part of Egypt, the other 96% being desert. Since the building of the Aswan High Dam the water level has been more predictable and Egypt has been spared the droughts and floods occurring in the Sudan, but the dam has also raised the water table, salinating the soil and causing the decay of many Upper Egypt monuments. It also blocks the flow of floodwater full of silt to enrich the soil and hence chemical fertilizers must now be used.
She also gave some of the history (available elsewhere so I won't bore you here) and current social climate. The population growth is a major problem--one million are added every nine months and half the population is under fifteen. Any government mandate on family size would only provide resentment that the fundamentalist movement could capitalize on, so they are working on education instead, both in general and aimed toward family planning. The former works because the more educated see advantages in smaller families. The family is very important in Egypt--women traditionally have at least one child as soon as possible after marriage (to prove they can) and are after that called "The Mother of [first-born's name]." The lecturer, for example, is called "Uma Kareem" ("The Mother of Kareem").
At 9:30 we went by bus to the Egyptian Museum. It's close by but walking across busy streets in Cairo is taking your life in your hands. The courtyard of the Museum--after getting past all the vendors--has a lotus and papyrus pool as well as various statues and obelisks. The front lobby inside the Museum has three statues of Rameses II and one of Amon-ho-tep. It's fairly easy to find statues of Rameses II--he went around replacing the heads on other statues with his own. He also built many temples during his reign (1250 BC or so) and is sort of the "Architect Pharaoh."
We then saw various sarcophagi, during which time Hoda (our Cairo guide) told us how bodies were mummified, a process which took seventy days (the mummification, not the telling). The internal organs were removed and saved in canopic jars; the body was packed with linen bags of salt and natron. After forty days, these were removed and fresh bags put in which also contained cinnamon, myrrh, various aromatic spices, and occasionally onions (but no garlic, Hoda said). Then the body was sewn up, the stitches sealed with beeswax, then the entire body sealed in resin and pitch and finally wrapped in linen. The coffins were of various materials depending on the fortunes of the deceased.
The last sarcophagus/coffin we saw had images of Isis, Osiris, Horus, and Nephthys and provided Hoda with the opportunity to tell what is perhaps the basic myth of ancient Egypt. Osiris was a king whose brother Set was jealous of him. First Set tricked Osiris into a coffin which he sealed up and threw into the Nile. It eventually washed ashore and a tree grew above it. Isis (Osiris' wife) found the tree but couldn't extract the coffin from it, so sat by the tree weeping. Then Set cut down the tree (no mention of where Isis was when this was going on), chopped up Osiris' body into fourteen parts, and scattered it (them) over the earth. Isis, with the help of her sister Nephthys, found thirteen of the fourteen parts. She asked Anubis, god of mummification, to rejoin the parts, which he did. Then Isis and Nephthys prayed over the body and it was restored to life. After this death and rebirth, Isis miraculously bore Osiris a son (Mark points out that this was all the more miraculous considering the one part they didn't find). This son, Horus, eventually grew up and avenged his father by killing Set (shades of Hamlet in all this). In the battle, however, Horus lost an eye, which became the udjat, or eye of wisdom. Nephthys is often portrayed as a woman with a vase on her head; Isis as a woman with a throne on hers. Isis is also often shown with Horus in much the same way that Mary is shown with Jesus. In fact, many (most?) scholars claim that the early acceptance of Christianity in Egypt (by the Third Century) was due to its emphasis on Mary, which made it very similar to the Isis-worship which was so prevalent. Its monotheism had already been tried by Akhenaten (Amon-ho-tep IV) who ruled around 1350 BC. He replaced the pantheon of gods with one-- Aton, the sun. When he died he was succeeded by Tut-ankh-amen, who changed his name *from* Tut-ankh-aten. This didn't appease the Amon priests enough, though, and they apparently murdered him.
Which provides a lead-in to the next part, the Tut-ankh-amen rooms. These are filled with objects from, not surprisingly, Tut- ankh-amen's Tomb. Although robbers seem to have reached the antechamber shortly after the burial, they were discovered and the tomb resealed. I will not try to describe or even list everything that was found. Suffice it to say it was everything the pharaoh might need in the afterlife. For example, there were a set of 365 ushabtis (or shawabtis), one for each day of the year, as well as overseers. An ushabti is a statue of a servant--these were to serve the pharaoh in the afterlife. There were also a famous statue of Anubis, boomerangs, the golden throne with the king and queen on the back (along with the cobra of Lower Egypt and the eagle/vulture of Upper Egypt), a folding camp bed, couches decorated with Taweret (the hippopotamus goddess and goddess of pregnant women, proving the ancient Egyptians had a sense of humor), and the "Osiris bed," a tray in the shape of a man in which soil and seeds were placed. The whole was placed in the tomb where the germinating seeds would represent life after death. The central room of the exhibit contains the inner coffin, jewelry, and other personal items. Some of the jewelry was gorgeous, with remarkably detailed work in gold, stones, and faience. Finally we saw his chariots and the four nested shrines--the size of a small room--found in the tomb.
It was now getting late, since the Museum closes for prayers from 11:30 to 1:30 on Fridays, so we rushed through the rest of what we were to see: the diorite statue of Khefre, the wooden statue of Sheikh el-Beled (a realistic-looking, somewhat chubby fellow), the amazingly well-preserved statue of Rahotep and his wife Nefret (still retaining all their color after over 4000 years), the cleverly designed group of the dwarf Seneb and his family in which he is shown seated cross-legged to minimize his shortness. In general, the statues of men were painted darker to represent their color after working in the sun; those of women were lighter.
We left the Museum wishing we had several more hours there and went back to the bus. Since we would have been early for lunch, Jane Vermuellen (our tour manager) suggested we go to the Khan-al- Kalili Bazaar before lunch rather than later. This was perhaps a mistake--we had only fifteen minutes, time enough to walk through a few alleys but not to stop to shop or even really to see anything. We also managed to lose a couple of people who were eventually found, but the whole thing took longer than expected by a large factor. While waiting for people and the bus, we did get to see people going about their everyday business.
Finally we collected all the people and got back on the bus. The bazaar (or souk) was on the whole cleaner and smelled better than the souk in Jerusalem (though the latter may have improved over the last eight years). In fact, it smelled better than many parts of New York.
We went to the Arabesque Restaurant for lunch, passing many groups of men praying in the streets (it being Friday, the noon prayers were longer than normal). Traffic, normally bad, was made worse because the prayer groups made the streets narrower and closed some off entirely. This was fine with me, since it gave me more chance to look around.
For lunch I had the grilled lamb (a small steak and a sausage) with tomato soup; Mark had veal and lentil soup. For dessert we had om ali, a sort of bread pudding, and Turkish coffee. You know all that silt the Nile brings down? It's used to make Turkish coffee. Actually after the grounds settle it's not bad, though extremely strong--good for staying awake.
Lunch, like all meals here, was a long affair and it wasn't until about 2 PM that we finished and got back on the bus. Then it was east to the Citadel of Salah-ad-Din (Saladin), built in 1176. This is atop a high hill and gives you a view of the entire city and the Pyramids of Giza. It was a bit hazy (from pollution, since Cairo has the highest pollution index in the world, according to one book--though I thought Mexico City claimed that "honor") and the view was not as dramatic as it might have been, but it would certainly suffice. Even from this distance (thirty miles? I'm not sure but it's across town and a way beyond that) the Pyramids tower over the city.
The main feature of the Citadel is the Muhammed Ali Mosque. No, not Cassius Clay, but Muhammed Ali Pasha, who ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1849 and is credited with founding modern Egypt. He started his modernization by inviting the opposing Mamelukes to a banquet in the Citadel and then slaughtering them on the way out. (Shades of Scone here--does it seem like history and literature repeat themselves a lot?) The mosque was built during the end of his rule and is also called the Alabaster Mosque. Before going in we had slippers put over our shoes or removed our shoes. I chose the latter, as the slippers line was very long. In the courtyard was a clock given by France in exchange for a Rameses II obelisk which had been given to them. There was also a washing area consisting of a dome with taps around it, presumably fed from a well, since I doubt that the original builders could or would have piped water up this high from the river.
The mosque itself was square. Like all mosques it had no seats--just carpeting throughout. Prayers are said standing or kneeling so seating is unnecessary. Hoda explained the basic tenets of Islam: prayer, the creed, the fast, the pilgrimage, and alms- giving. Prayer is five times daily: at sunrise, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, and sunset. The creed is, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet." The fast is the sunrise to sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan. The pilgrimage is to Mecca and Medina and Jerusalem, though the latter has been dropped by most Muslims lately. Those who can afford it can make up to seven pilgrimages (why not more, I wonder?). Everyone must also give alms to the poor.
The decoration in the mosque was mostly Turkish, with little or no Egyptian influences. There was some floral decoration, but of course no animal or human representation.
After the mosque we returned to the hotel and frantically wrote in our logs until 6 PM when we went downstairs for our briefing. We heard all the details about our tour in Egypt, which would certainly bore you all, so I won't bother to recount them here. After the briefing we had a cocktail party in which we had a chance to meet everyone (more or less) and then dinner. Unfortunately, dinner was in a French restaurant in the hotel rather than one serving local cuisine and the food was less than thrilling. (Maybe the other people liked it.) Then back to the room to write until midnight, then to sleep.
October 15, 1988: Up at 6:30, breakfast at 7:30 in the Felucca Buffet. There was a combination of American and Middle Eastern cuisine so I concentrated on the latter and had felafel, hummous, yogurt, tomatoes, cucumbers, fool (a bean dish), watermelon, fresh figs, fresh dates, and so on. After breakfast we boarded the bus for Memphis. No, not Memphis, Tennessee!
Memphis (Egypt) was the first capital of the united Upper and Lower Egypts (around 2700 BC). It's fifteen miles south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile--one of the very few cities on that side. It was built on the east side, then the Nile was rerouted around it to create a city protected by water on one side and desert on the other. Time and subsequent invasions, however, have resulted in all the buildings of the complex here being dismantled and their materials used to build on other sites. The main attraction remaining at Memphis is a giant fallen statue of Rameses II (the guy got around!) and a limestone sphinx transported from Saqqara. There are also some other partial pieces of statuary, but like the two major pieces they date back to only about 1300 BC. The sides on which the statues lay are eroded, but the upper sides remained well-preserved. The setting for the pieces other than the statue is a small garden; the statue is in a building which has a balcony that lets you view it from above. (I tipped the doorkeeper a pen-- everyone seems to want pens.) The garden also has many vendors. We bought ten postcards for a pound (about forty-four cents).
Our next stop was Saqqara. Between the two (and before, on the way to Memphis) we passed through several small villages where much hadn't changed in thousands of years. People still dired dung on their roofs to use for fuel. Women still washed clothes in the river (in this case, it was actually in a wide irrigation ditch). Men still sit together and drink coffee. (Oh, I found out you're supposed to let the silt in the Turkish coffee settle first.) You see more long robes in the villages (percentage-wise). The farms we passed were using donkeys, oxen (water buffalo), horses, and even camels. We also saw a waterwheel. Rice seems to be a popular crop. Now that the High Dam has been built and irrigation is possible year-round, farmers get (usually) three crops a year. (Of course, as I said earlier they no longer get the silt that came with the floods, so they now need to use chemical fertilizers.) Where before, food crops dominated, now cotton is the major crop, and as a result Egypt must import things like wheat.
The first thing we saw at Saqqara was the desert. The road forms the boundary between green fields on one side and desert on the other. We began with the Step Pyramid of Zoser (a.k.a. Djoser- -spellings vary for almost all ancient names) and the complex it occupies. This is the first known pyramid, dating back to 2686 BC, and was built in three stages. Originally it had only four steps; it was increased to six only by the last addition. The entrance to the complex is a colonnaded court at the southern end. This leads to two courtyards, the larger of which reaches to the southern face of the pyramid. The stones of the pyramid and of the complex in general are smaller than those of later constructions as a transition from the mud bricks builders were used to. At the other end of the courtyard is a ninety-foot-deep pit, possibly intended as another tomb. There were also a large number of mangy dogs who suddenly decided to start barking at each other. We saw these sorts of dogs everywhere, usually just lying in the sun sleeping.
The pyramid itself is closed, as are many, not so much to preserve the interiors as because they are unsafe. Having tourists die in pyramids is considered bad for tourism. So we proceeded to Mereruka's Tomb next to Teti's Pyramid. This tomb, or mastaba, is known for its wealth of illustrations on the walls. Over the entranceway is a lintel carved to look like a rolled-up door curtain. The first room has scenes of fishing and a hippopotamus hunt. The carving is so accurate that ichthyologists have been able to identify fifty different species of fish, some of which are now extinct. There are other rooms following, with scenes of carpentry, boat-building, agriculture, government (scourging tax evaders), and so on. Of particular interest in the main hall were scenes which showed animals being fed and were (according to Hoda) pictures of an animal hospital. Perhaps, but one wonders how much of our interpretation of these pictures is totally off. As with many of the monuments, photography was not allowed inside--or rather, was only allowed if you paid a five-pound fee (twenty pounds for video cameras). However, flashes are not allowed even with the fee so that makes it academic for us--you practically need a flashlight to walk around.
Lunch was at the Mena House and was a buffet. The grilled chicken was good, as was the stuffed eggplant and all the Middle Eastern salad-type things. Unfortunately, these buffets seem to cater to tourists in that they have too much Western food.
After lunch, we went a few blocks further to where started our camel caravan to the Pyramids. The camels are all lined up, seated, and you just take the next one in line (like a taxi stand). You hold on tight to the saddle and lean back when the camel gets up, because the back end goes up first. Then we headed up the hill (on a road) toward the plateau. Halfway up, the camel owners pull over and offer to take our pictures on the camels with the Pyramids in the background. I figured why not? Jane said she never heard of anyone running off with the camera and I also realized that if he stole my Instamatic, I'd get the camel, which seemed like a good deal. However, he didn't take the camera, just a couple of shots of me on "Yankee Doodle Dandy," which he said was the camel's name. He had no trouble using the Instamatic and knew without even looking how to advance the film. (I suspect his primitive look may be a trick.) I tipped him a pound for this. He took it but said he wanted American money because it smelled wonderful. We agreed at the end I would tip him in American money.
On the remaining leg, we passed an English tourist and the camel owner was already trying to sell her a ride back. I felt like telling her that the camel's name for me was Yankee Doodle Dandy, but for her it would be Prince Charles.
The total ride was about a mile (maybe a mile and a half); I have no idea how long it took. We ended up at the Second Pyramid (the Pyramid of Khefre) since the Great Pyramid (the Pyramid of Cheops) is currently closed to tourists. I got off the camel and tipped the driver a dollar (the going rate). You don't tip until they let the camel down or they want more for that. But it's all very friendly and joking, so it isn't as obnoxious as other places.
The main area around each pyramid was supposedly cleared of vendors about a month ago, but they seem to be drifting back. However, based on what other people have told me it is still much improved.
Not everyone took the camel ride, so we rejoined the bus for a brief talk about the Pyramids. There are three: Cheops, Khefre, and Menkaure. Cheops is the largest, but Khefre was built on higher ground so actually appears taller. They're all Fourth Dynasty, about 2500 BC. Hoda claimed they were not built with slave labor, but I think the consensus is that they were. Hoda also didn't mention the recent theory that they were built of poured blocks (like concrete) rather than solid ones.
Those of us who wanted got to go inside the Pyramid of Khefre to see the burial chamber. Not everyone wanted to--Hoda said it was not recommended for people with high blood pressure, claustrophobia, bad backs, bad knees, etc. The latter are because the passageway is only about three feet high (maybe four) and has a gradient for most of the way of 21 degrees 40'. First you descend about 100 feet of corridor (all figures approximate except the gradient, which I looked up) which is made safer and somewhat easier by the installation of handrails and a plank along the passageway with crossties every couple of feet which keep it from becoming a giant slide. Then there is a short horizontal corridor high enough to stand up in, then an ascent along the twin of the descending corridor into the burial chamber itself. The chamber is 46 feet by 16 feet by 22 feet high, so we did get to stand up. I suppose for some the feeling of having millions of cubic feet of stone on top of them would make them claustrophobic, but it didn't affect me at all. At the top of the chamber is a hole where someone (tomb robbers? Belzoni?) entered. When Belzoni found the chamber in 1818 it was empty, with only the sarcophagus left behind.
To get out we needed to "duckwalk" back the way we came. Having two-way traffic in the passageway made the whole procedure even more difficult. Luckily there were some lights along the way since holding a flashlight would have been difficult.
We then went to see the Solar Boat of Cheops. This was a boat found in a pit to the south of the Pyramid of Cheops in 1954, or rather the pieces of a boat, like a giant model. It was supposed to come together through magic to carry Cheops on his journey with the sun on the underground river at night. That didn't happen, though, and finally the archaeologists decided they'd have to do it themselves. They put a building around the boat. To go in you need to have slippers put over your shoes, not because it's sacred, but to protect the floors and the boat from all the dust you've picked up.
After the Sun Boat we went a short way into the desert to a sort of "Lookout Point" from which we could take pictures of the Pyramids from a distance and also avoid getting lots of city in the picture. (Though a large area has been protected around the Pyramids, the town is within a half-mile of their bases and beginning to wrap around the area.) Of course, hundreds of other tourists had the same idea so it wasn't exactly the serenity of the desert we were experiencing.
The last sight at Giza was the Sphinx. It faces east (the rising sun) and so is better seen in the morning but you make do with what you can. You can't get really close to the Sphinx so we had about fifteen minutes to take pictures and see some of the two temples near its base, neither of which are in very good condition.
Then the bus took us across the street to the "papyrus institute" to see how papyrus was made. This was a five-minute demonstration followed by twenty minutes of opportunity to buy papyri with paintings on them. We bought three small ones, all with Anubis on them. Before lunch we had stopped at the Karnak Bazaar in Giza, where many people (myself included) bought cartouches with their names on them. I got Mark's name instead--it seemed more romantic. (Aw!) These shopping stops can be overdone, but so far they seem to have a minimal impact on the amount of time to see "real stuff."
Because of traffic we didn't get back to the hotel until 4:30 PM and needed to be ready at 5:30 PM to leave for the Sound and Light Show. No problem, right? Well, the hotel decided to wait until 4:30 to make up our room, so we sat around while they did this, waiting to get into our bathroom. It was a bit of a rush but we made it.
We arrived a few minutes early so had some time to browse through the "California Bazaar," the "Canada Dry Bazaar," and other such authentically named shops. Mark wanted an Anubis for the chatchka table, but Anubis is not nearly as popular as the Sphinx (and most of the statues of this look as defaced as the original), Nefretiti, or even Bastet. William Golding was right about a small number of items forming a large percentage of the tourist wares (AN EGYPTIAN JOURNAL).
The Sound and Light Show (or Son et Lumiere, as the French is often used) is held twice nightly in different languages--Arabic, English, French, German, Spanish, and a recent addition, Italian. You can sit in the chairs at ground level, or there is a bar on the second floor of the building there. It begins with the Sphinx talking to you (well, not really, of course, but that's the idea) telling you all that it/he has seen. As he (well, if he's talking, we'll anthropomorphize) talks about each of the Pyramids the lighting changes to emphasize the particular one. There are also readings from ancient love poems and dramatic music. (See THE SPY WHO LOVED ME for a better idea.) The show lasts about 45 minutes. After the show, we returned to the Mena House for dinner and a folklore show. Dinner was undistinguished. I had a squid appetizer in a somewhat gluey sauce and fish fillets coated with coconut and fried, served with banana. It was pretty good but the service was very slow. The show was equally undistinguished, with not-very-good belly dancers. The fundamentalist revival meant that the dancers were fully covered from neck to knees (or more) and some found this disappointing as well. Corny it might have been, but the Sound and Light was considerably better.
We returned to the hotel about 10:30, just in time to see a beautiful fireworks display about a mile upriver, much more elaborate than fireworks back home, with several ground displays we could also see. Then to bed.
October 16, 1988: I slept late this morning, till almost 11 AM. The past two days were very full and rest was called for. After a Middle Eastern buffet lunch, during which Tom regaled us with the story of his visit to a Coptic church, we decided to go back to the Cairo Museum.
This entailed crossing the street in front of our hotel to get to the Corniche (Riverwalk). The Corniche went under the main street so we didn't have to cross that. Then back across and another block, shooing away all the taxi drivers who wanted to take us to the Pyramids, and we were at the Museum.
First we went upstairs to see some of the rooms there we had missed--one of statues of various deities, one of jewelry, and so on. Occasionally the guards would point out various objects and then want a tip but they always took a "no" graciously.
Then we went down to the main floor, which has all the statuary. For this, the guidebook of ancient Egypt we had brought with us was very helpful, as it had a whole itinerary with descriptions through the exhibits. This was especially good, because the Museum was out of English guidebooks. It also meant the guards left us alone because they could see we knew what was what.
I won't bother to describe everything we saw, since most people wouldn't know an Osiride statue from a stela--or care. If you do care, you probably want to go see for yourself anyway.
We left the museum at 3:30. As we were leaving, the guard counted the writing implements in Mark's pocket (four, because he counted the flashlight) and said, "One, two, three, four--too many!" so we gave him a pen and he was happy. We bought some postcards and then left the grounds (the museum closes at 4). We started to walk around a bit, but the first thing we had to do was cross the main street and by the time we did that we were exhausted. But seriously, folks.... Actually, Mark wasn't feeling well (a touch of Mummy's Tummy perhaps, though it seems more flu- like--something like what I had in Oaxaca, I guess), and we decided to go back to the hotel. This in itself was a major undertaking, involving crossing two main streets, trolley tacks, and the bus station bus lanes! We made it back safely (trick: cross with a local and downstream of him/her) and spent the rest of the evening in the room. I did browse through a couple of shops in the lobby, but found nothing of great interest. We opted for room service for dinner (something we had never done before in all our travels) and even then I ended up eating most of Mark's dinner (a fruit plate). Mark dozed off during the evening, but neither of us could really get to sleep until almost midnight.
October 17, 1988: Web had to get up at 2:30 AM for our 5 AM flight to Aswan. On the way to the airport we drove past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument of the 1973 war. It also contains a memorial to Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in the viewing stand across the street from the Tomb. Seen in the middle of the night, it is an even more solemn site than it would be during the day.
At the airport, they xrayed our luggage, but did let us pass the film around. We arrived in Aswan about 6:15 AM but had to wait a while before the luggage was retrieved. I used the rest room at the airport--clean than I expected, but strictly B.Y.O.T.P.
We got to the hotel about 7:15 AM after having to wait for the ferry to Elephantine Island, where our hotel was. Our rooms weren't ready so we had breakfast and then sat around the lobby. I dozed off a bit. Finally at 10:45 we got our room (we were the last to get ours) so we quickly changed for our 11 AM lunch. We needed to eat that early so we could be back at the airport for our 1:40 PM flight to Abu Simbel.
Or rather, so we could be back at the airport to wait two extra hours for the 1:40 flight to leave at 3:40. That's the sort of thing that one does in many Third World countries these days, since the airlines seem to show up the worst of the problems. (Even in developed countries, the airlines are the major source of dissatisfaction for travelers.)
So we and hundreds of flies sat around the airport talking, sleeping, reading Tom's second hundred postcards he was sending, and flying. Unfortunately, it was only the flies who were flying. We did get refreshments--a bottle of warm soda. I had Life, which turned out to be red cream soda. We also had a bottle mineral water which had been frozen, so we had ice water for the first time in days.
Finally around 3:30, amidst much pushing and shoving--it was open seating and there were a large number of pushy Italian tourists who would cut in front of you in line--we boarded the plane. The pilot made the forty-minute flight in twenty minutes (pedal to the metal, as they say). From the Abu Simbel airport it was just a short bus ride to the temples. By flying later, it was a little cooler when we arrived.
We walked along the top of a ridge overlooking Lake Nasser. We found out later that this ridge formed the top of the mountain that the temples had been built in originally.
There are two temples, the larger being the better known and more photographed. The guide gave us some explanation of the figures on the outside of the temple, including the four colossi of Rameses II (again!) and the baboon frieze above them. Then we went inside the temple (the larger one) and the guide started to explain the carvings inside. These were lit by electric lights--for the first two minutes. Then they had a power failure. Luckily Tom had brought a powerful flashlight and the guide used that. It wasn't quite as good, but it saved the day. There were also several other groups to contend with, so it was all rather hectic. Walking back to the buses things had quieted down somewhat and it was possible to get some feeling of majesty and serenity there.
Back by the buses were the vendors. On the way in I had seen a plaster Anubis that I thought Mark might be interested in, so I pointed it out to him. He asked, "How much?" The dealer said, "75 [pounds]," or about $30. Mark offered ten pounds. They settled on thirteen pounds and a pen, though after taking the thirteen, the dealer asked for one more before handing over the statue. When I went to pull the money out of his hand, he relented.
Other people bought things, but they seemed to think half off was a good price.
Then back to the airport where we waited for the plane, but only about fifteen minutes to a half hour, and back to Aswan, getting to the hotel about 7:35 PM. At this point we discovered that in cleaning the bathroom they had flooded the room. The water was gone, but the carpet was still wet and my small suitcase and its contents were also wet. Luckily the only things in it were dirty laundry, old t-shirts, and a sweater. (Actually I also had sanitary napkins, but fortunately they were in a zippered rubberized bag.) So I hung the stuff up to dry and at 8:20 we met Tom for dinner in the nightclub.
Dinner was good but not great. Mark and I had what was billed as rack of lamb, but someone else later said was spur. To me it looked like three lamb chops each. I had cream of chicken soup with almonds to start. The desserts seemed typically rubbery, at least Mark's Charlotte Royale. My Creme Caramel (a.k.a. flan) was not bad.
Throughout dinner a four-piece band was playing--a *bad* four- piece band. They were doing such traditional Egyptian melodies as "Tequila" and "Strangers in the Night." At 10 PM the show started, with Nubian musicians and dancers. The music was obviously influenced more by Africa than by the Middle East and had a lot of energy and a good beat ("it has a good beat; you can dance to it"). The women were covered up even more than in the first show, with only their faces and hands exposed, but it was perfect for this and no one expressed any disappointment over it, though there were some who didn't like the music. (What do they know?) But the three of us loved it. This was followed by a belly dancer who was (according to Tom) a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Throughout dinner we talked about traveling, tours, Travcoa, and the other people on this tour (catty, catty!). We concluded that traveling was great, tours were okay but geared mostly toward older and less adventurous people, Travcoa was not very good, and the other tourists in our group ranged from acceptable to truly awful. (One man claimed he had never seen any good plays in New York, but that Oklahoma City had really great theatre. I thought Frank, a San Franciscan and a New York/London theatre-goer was going to die!) Travcoa has a good reputation but so far we've been disappointed in several things (like having us spend a morning in a hotel lobby). Tom seemed surprised that our tour manager spoke no Arabic. Given how much she claims to love Egypt, this is surprising. Finally about 11 the warm-up band came back, our signal to leave and go to sleep after a very long day.
October 18, 1988: After an extremely boring breakfast I changed some money, then sat around writing and talking until 10:30 when we transferred to our boat, the Oberoi Shehrayar. Since our cabins wouldn't be ready until noon, we dropped off our bags and went out to walk around the souk/bazaar in town.
Along the waterfront were a lot of tourist shops. We bought some postcards and a necklace there, then walked back a block or so from the water. This seemed a lot less tourist-oriented. Yes, there were t-shirt and galabeya shops, but there were also shops selling spices, pots, underwear, and other everyday items. We watched a man turn his donkey cart around in the narrow alley and another one carrying a live goat on his shoulders. And contrary to everything I had read, it was not particularly dirty or smelly. It was very dusty, of course, but you do not need to carry a handkerchief soaked in cologne as one person suggested.
We returned to the boat, had lunch, then boarded the bus for our afternoon tour. We started by crossing the Aswan Low Dam, whose top forms part of the road from the airport, then drove to the High Dam. The High Dam was built between 1960 and 1971 with the help of the Soviets after the United States put some unacceptable conditions on our aid (probably having to do with Israel). I mentioned earlier the plus and minus sides of the dam, but another minus is that basically the entire land of Nubia was submerged and 100,000 people relocated. Whether they feel the trade-off was fair is a question to ponder.
Next was the Temple of Philae, which was also relocated because of Lake Nasser, to a higher island. The temple was originally on the site of the dinner that Set gave Osiris when he tricked him into the coffin. It is also where the head of Osiris is supposed to be buried. All this was explained with various tour members getting to be the various gods and goddesses. I got to be Isis, Mark was Set, and one of the men of the gay couple was chosen to be Osiris, so when the guide said that Osiris was the god of fertility, this got a good laugh from everyone, though the guide may have been puzzled. The Temple of Philae, dedicated to Isis, was vandalized by early Christians who found many of the figures to be too pagan (though not all--one wonders what criteria they used). Luckily they only plastered over many of them, but some of the larger ones were chiseled out. The plaster at least can be removed. (By the way, the island the temple is now on is Agilkia. The temple dates from the Ptolemaic period.)
We returned by boat to the bus which we found after some confusion. The guide had told us the number of the bus, but it turned out to be in Egyptian numerals! We then rushed to the Northern Quarries, getting there five minutes before closing time to see the Unfinished Obelisk. This is an obelisk that cracked as it was being cut out of the rock. It would have weighed 1100 tons, but now serves only to show how the quarrying was done since the only marks on it are from quarrying. I had expected something vertical, but it's more like a ten-degree angle from the horizontal.
Then back to the ship to write until dinner. Dinner was an egg and vegetable cold appetizer, chicken piccata, black-eyed salad, potatoes, vegetables, peach melba, and coffee. It was not very good. Red Oak Diner makes better chicken piccata.
After dinner was the captain's cocktail party, which the captain did not attend. The bar had the disco lights going and disco music, but no one was dancing. Gradually people started drifting out, but Tom, Mark, and I decided we had to uphold the honor of the United States and outlast the Italians. It was touch and go, but then Tom mentioned the Fibonacci numbers, which got Mark going and we were the last to leave, at 11 or so.
October 19, 1988: This morning was mostly devoted to a felucca ride. A felucca is a sailboat with a particular type of sail that I can't really describe very well, but you've seen pictures of them on the Nile. In order to make this seem more worthwhile, we made two stops. One was on Kitchener's Island at the botanical gardens. This would have a pleasant stroll were it not for all the vendors of necklaces, who carried their wares on their arms and seemed to jump out from behind the bushes to badger every tourist they saw. Actually they didn't meerly *seem* to jump out from behind the bushes, they *did* jump out from behind the bushes. These were the most numerous and persistent vendors so far.
For the first part of the felucca ride we had to tack against the wind, which meant someone had to keep switching from one side to the other to keep the boat from tipping over. For much of the time this was Mark, but eventually he did get to sit on the low side. The second part was with the wind, so was quicker and more level and took us to the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan. The Aga Khan was a 20th Century leader of the Ismaliya sect of the Shiites. His mausoleum, with its sarcophagus of white Italian marble, is on top of a cliff which forms the beginning of the Western, or Libyan, Desert. It's not a straight up-and-down cliff, but the hike is quite tiring. The Mausoleum itself is plain, or as plain as a building of pink granite and imported marble can be. It was nowhere near as plain as the rock tombs in the cliffs nearby.
We sailed the rest of the way around Elephantine Island (so called because the rocks look like elephants' backs) and saw from a distance the Temple of Khnum, the ram-headed god. It took us a little longer to get back then we expected because the wind had died down but the boat didn't sail on time even though we did make it back.
Lunch was Nile perch, good but it would have been better grilled as described instead of coated and fried. During lunch we sailed north (downriver) to Kom Ombo. All along the western bank was a thin strip of cultivated land and then the desert rising behind it.
Someone in the Cinema Club at work talks about how she loves the desert and desert countries. I can see how she might, because the desert has a certain stark beauty and majesty. It's not my personal cup of tea as a permanent residence but it is fascinating to see. It is not just a flat expanse of sand, but full of dunes and cliffs. Some day maybe we'll go somewhere where we can actually get into the desert on camels rather than seeing it from the Nile or an air-conditioned bus.
After lunch we arrived at Kom Ombo where we saw the temple dedicated to Horus the Elder and Sobek, the crocodile god. This temple dates from Ptolemaic times and has been badly damaged by later religions chipping out the "graven images." In this temple archaeologists found hundreds (maybe even thousands) of mummified crocodiles. Our local guide for Upper Egypt, Rabia, pointed out many interesting sections of carving on the walls. For example, in one section he showed us how the various days of the year and corresponding festivals were listed. In other sections we explained how the carvings depicted the annual wedding of Horus and his bride, each carried in a ceremonial boat by priests from their respective temples to meet one day a year.
One of the disadvantages of seeing the Nile by cruise ship is that whenever you get to a monument, so do hundreds of other tourists. They try to spread out the groups over the whole temple area and do the "high points" in different orders to avoid bunching up, but it's still difficult to sense what a temple must have been like to the ancient Egyptians when it's filled with a dozen groups speaking a half-dozen different languages.
On the way back to the ship we passed through a small bazaar. After some haggling, I bought two galabeyas and Mark bought one. One of the ones I bought turned out to be large on me, so Mark got it and I think I'm getting the one he bought. (A galabeya is a long cotton gown.)
We then sailed to Edfu where we docked for the night. At 5 PM I went up for tea in the lounge, then went into the small shop to browse. While I was there, there were four other American women. One was buying something for her daughter who was also on the cruise. Another one asked where the daughter was and someone said she was in the bar talking to a couple of guys. "Are they good- looking?" one asked. "Are they rich?" said another. A third said, "Are they single?" I turned to the mother and said, "They're together" which just cracked them all up. The mother said, "You really know how to destroy a mother!" In addition to destroying a mother, I bought some postcards and some stamps. I've been buying postcards of David Roberts' drawings of 19th Century Egypt--great stuff!
Dinner was an Egyptian buffet, though most of the hot dishes didn't look particularly Egyptian. Also, the lines were so long and crowd control so poor that I had just salads and cheese, and that seemed to fill me up just fine.
After dinner was the galabeya party. Each group had to present a skit. We did one on mummification; two other groups did one on tourists; the other two groups did slave markets. At least we were original, but we didn't place well. However, everyone seemed to get the same prizes--cheap plastic necklaces and cheap camel toys. Most people did not wear galabeyas. After this some of the crew came out and performed some Nubian music and dances for us and we ended up in a giant "conga line" around the whole lounge. However, when they replaced the Nubian music with disco, that was our cue to leave.
October 20, 1988: Breakfast selection was so sparse I had corn flakes. So far on this trip the food is the worst of any trip we've had. I think we shall avoid tours with all meals included when possible in the future.
At 8 AM we went to see the temple of Edfu, the Temple of Horus. To do this we climbed up a stone stairway for the dock to our horse carriages. Unfortunately, this stone stairway was also where they washed down the after-effects of the horse-drawn carriages above. We rode four in a carriage through town--Mark got to ride with the driver. (This sort of thing is not as appealing to the older folks, I guess, partially because it involves climbing up there.) The town was probably a typical town in Egypt with donkeys traveling side by side with cars, meat hanging in open shops, and all the activity and bustle that is missing from your average American town, but more common in other countries which are more agriculturally oriented.
In the Temple of Horus we heard how Horus finally defeated Set. Set had taken the form of a hippopotamus and we saw scenes of Horus hunting and eventually castrating the hippopotamus. This was depicted in a sequence of carvings which Rabia said represented scenes in a play which would have been performed here. Other carvings showed the sacred marriage between Horus and Hathor. In the courtyard was a particularly fine statue of a ferocious-looking Horus in the form of a falcon (rather than just falcon-headed). Within the temple were many elaborate columns in hypostyle halls. While the common people could enter the courtyard, only the priests could enter the hall and only the high priest and pharaoh could enter the sanctuary. In the sanctuary is the pink granite naos or niche in which the statue of the god was kept. The statue has long since "gone missing." In another small room behind the sanctuary was a replica of the boat used to carry the statue in processionals. There was a side room used for oracles, complete with a hole in the floor through which the priest could control the statue of the god for the oracle.
After finishing the tour/lecture Rabia gave us fifteen minutes to get back to the carriages, which were only two minutes walk away. There was a large courtyard at the other end of the temple which seemed to have some structures in it so we walked down to see what it was. It was the front courtyard of the temple, complete with flanking statues of Horus and giant figures on the facade. How any tour could miss taking people around to see that is not clear to me. There were also some partial buildings across the courtyard from the main temple that we looked at which didn't have the usual swarm of crowds.
Finally we went back to the carriage and rode back to the boat. I highly recommend the carriage ride. It cost four pounds for four people and included round-trip plus waiting for us about forty-five minutes at the temple and is a good way to see the town without rushing through in a taxi or bus. In New York you don't even want to think about what such a ride would cost. Most towns in Egypt seem to rely more on carriage rides than taxis anyway.
Getting back to the boat was a little easier and cleaner--they had thrown pieces of cardboard over the worst sections of the steps. But we were late leaving because they couldn't get one of the metal stakes out of the stone dock. (To tie up, they drive metal stakes into the dock and tie up to them.) It took them a half-hour of hammering and pulling to get the last one out.
It took about three hours to sail to Esna past mostly farms with water buffalo, donkeys, and an occasional camel. We saw one tractor the whole time. We also passed a couple of factories, but no one wants to waste valuable farmland for factories.
After lunch we lined up to disembark for Esna. There was a problem, however. The power to raise and lower the gangplank was out. So for about a half hour we watched a couple of the crew members standing on the gangplank (which had been swung around to form a sort of balcony in front of the door) trying to work it with a control box hanging from above. Eventually they all came back in to go up to the top deck, from which they started pulling up the cord and control box. As luck would have it (at least our luck), the cord had wrapped itself in a knot around the gangplank railing. Since no one from the crew was around, I climbed out onto the gangplank over the railing across the doorway and untied the cord and gave it two yanks down, at which point they raised it the rest of the way. In the process I also gave Jane heart failure when she saw me climbing out onto the gangplank--I think she thought I was going to swim for shore. Then someone came over and thanked her for having me so that so she figured they had asked me. I told her "No" and she said she was glad she didn't know that at the time! Anyway, they then used a crane (a different one?) to swing the gangplank out and the cruise ship passengers hit Esna. (I got to be the first one off.)
Esna is known for the Temple of Khnum which is arrived at by walking through the bazaar, which is about two blocks long. Then we went down a steep flight of steps to the temple, the ground level having risen over the years to be almost level with the temple's roof.
Khnum (in one legend) was the creator of everything. He was a god local to Upper Egypt, though, so most books which emphasize the monuments of Lower Egypt give him short shrift. This temple is similar to that in Edfu in its hypostyle hall, but is much smaller. It's amazing how much of the color, particularly at the tops of the columns under the roof, remains. Again, Rabia explained many of the scenes and hieroglyphics on the walls with which I will not bore you.
We walked back through the bazaar. A boy asked Mark for a pen, so he gave him one of the pens we had brought to give away. But the boy didn't want that one; he wanted Mark's flashlight (which looks like a pen). We kept saying no and he kept wheedling until finally I said "No!" so loud that three vendors turned around. Here is someone basically asking for a handout and then complaining it isn't generous enough.
We went back to the boat because we were told to be back by 3:30, but the boat didn't leave until after dinner. Several people complained they would have liked to stay on shore longer, to which Jane gave her standard response: it's not her fault, it's not Travcoa's fault, it's the boat's fault. Except that we were paying Travcoa to deal with the boat. I am not pleased with Travcoa so far and am curious if Kenya will be better.
Dinner was the best on board so far--gazpacho, tomato and cucumber salad, and lamb kofta (sort of like sausage but without a casing). After dinner we wrote in our logs and watched part of part two of a Soviet film dubbed in English with Arabic subtitles (SIBERIADE).
About 11:30 PM we finally got into the lock just north of Esna. They let ships through only two or three times a day to avoid typing up traffic on the bridge across the river since they also have to swing the bridge section out of the way. We were the only people from our group to be on deck to watch this, but there were quite a few Andorrans. When this excitement was over, we went to bed while the boat continued on to Luxor, arriving about 4 AM. A series of problems and poor planning meant that we did most of our sailing when we didn't have a chance to see anything.
October 21, 1988: This was it. The big one. The high point of the trip (or at least of the Egypt part). The Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens (or Queans, as Tom said), the Temple of Karnak, the Temple of Luxor. So we were all out promptly at 7 AM to get on the buses. There were no buses. In fact, we weren't even in Luxor, but a few miles upstream. So we spent an hour getting increasingly angry at Jane, Travcoa, the ship, and anyone else who contributed to this mess. Rather than give you all the gory details I will just say that at 8 AM a ferry came to take us to the buses across the river. Jane immediately told us that we would get back for lunch an hour later so no sightseeing would be dropped or shortened. This placated us enough that we didn't lynch her on the spot.
We drove west toward the Valley of the Kings. Our first stop was at the Colossi of Memnon, two giant stone statues which at one time probably flanked the road to the Valley of the Queens and other areas at the edge of the Western Desert. Now they sit partially ruined, in the middle of a cane field.
We then proceeded to the Valley of the Queens and in particular the tomb of Queen Hatshepsut. On the way we passed many houses with brightly decorated fronts. These are the homes of those who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca and often have a picture of a plane or a ship to show how they got there.
ueen Hatshepsut ruled in her own right around 1475 B.C.; until Ptolemaic times, there were few female rulers. Her mortuary temple (as opposed to a cult temple, which were most of what we had seen to date) is three-tiered and surrounded on three sides by high desert cliffs. With its facade of simple square columns, it looks more like a public library than a pharaonic tomb. A lot of restoration work is going on; the Polish are currently working on reconstructing the third level.
We had a group photo taken here, being a somewhat better backdrop than the ship's lounge. Then back to the bus where we had to wait for one person who was still shopping (there's always one!). But finally Mark got back and we could leave.
We stopped next at the Tomb of Khaemwese. I helped Rabia negotiate with a Spanish-speaking group as to who would go in first (we let them go first). It was very hot, partly because the white rocks of the hills and cliffs in which the tombs were cut reflected a lot of heat and light.
It was really surprising how well-preserved the tombs are, especially the colors. It is true that they have been protected from light for thousands of years, but it is still amazing to see. Khaemwese was the eldest son of Rameses III and died while he was still a child. So in the pictures he is shown with the long lock of hair that boys wore until they were circumcised (about 12 or 13). Also, Khaemwese is being presented to the gods by his father, rather than standing on his own. The tomb itself is about the size of a small house inside, though the ceilings are higher than normal ceilings. And it's even hotter inside the tomb because there is no ventilation or air flow (the mummy certainly wouldn't need it!). The attendant/guard walked around fanning us with the foil-covered cardboard he had which he also used to reflect light from the entrance at the end of the main tunnel onto the walls and into the side rooms. Again, I'm sure you don't want detailed descriptions and layouts for everything we see; read Murnane's GUIDE TO ANCIENT EGYPT published by Penguin if you do.
From the Valley of the Queens we went to the Valley of the Kings, passing the Ramesesseum (or Medinet Habu) on the way. This is Rameses II's mortuary temple and had been listed on our itinerary but we didn't stop. (It looked like it might be currently closed to the public.)
Then on to the main part of the Valley of the Kings, a cluster of several tombs around the "Temple of Coca-Cola," as Rabia called it. (Actually the snack bar served Sport Cola.) We went first to Tut-ankh-amen's Tomb, discovered in 1922 virtually intact. All the other tombs had been plundered, but the only grave robbers to find Tut's Tomb were discovered in the act and the tomb resealed, this shortly after the original burial. Then it remained hidden, in part because the rubble from another tomb had been piled on top of it a few hundred years later and this concealed it. Having seen all that was found in the tomb, we were expecting something much larger. The antechamber is about 12 feet by twenty feet and the main chamber the same, with two tiny rooms, one off each of the larger ones. The walls still had all (or almost all) of the gold paint and the mummy case was displayed here. They are very strict about photography here. In all the other tombs they merely tell you not to take photos; here they make you check your camera at the entrance.
After this we went into the Tomb of Rameses III, a much larger (longer) tomb than the first. This has a dogleg where the diggers ran into an earlier tomb. It probably also deterred grave robbers for a while, but not entirely, since this tomb was also empty when recently rediscovered.
We had about twenty minutes on our own after that, so Mark and I went into the Tomb of Amenhotep II. This was not a straight-line tomb like the others, but made a right-angle turn halfway in. It also had three sets of descending stairs. When we finally got to the pillared hall where the sarcophagus is kept, I understood the phrase "quiet as a mummy's tomb." In the other tombs and in the pyramid you could hear other tourists so it never hit you how that many tons of rock would block out all sound.
Climbing back up those three flights of stairs in the heat made me decide to visit the "Temple of Coca-Cola." Then back to the bus. Mark did some haggling on the way and picked up some more statues. Why does he keep buying rocks. Our suitcase will weigh a ton!
On the ferry back to the ship, Tom bought a stone head (of Akhenaten?) from an extremely persistent vendor about ten years old. When Mark said he might buy a head, Tom said he really didn't want this one and sold it to him at cost. More rocks!
After lunch we went to the Temple of Karnak, outside Luxor. This for me was the high point of our time in Egypt. It is not a single temple really, but a multi-acre, multi-temple complex. We entered through the gate at one end of the Avenue of the Sphinxes (these are ram-headed rather than human-headed) and proceeded through the hypostyle hall with its 134 columns, so big that one hundred men could have stood on the top of one, and over seventy feet tall. We saw the two remaining obelisks; the rest have been taken to such places as New York, London, Paris, and Rome. This dispersal is bad in that it is removing some of Egypt's cultural heritage (frequently with absolutely no compensation), yet the argument can be made that it is humanity's cultural heritage and if it all stayed in Egypt only a few people would be able to see it. And certainly there are things that cannot be moved--the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Temple of Karnak. You could wander around for hours and not see everything. That from the first construction to the final additions took 2000 years of almost continual work may give you some idea of its size. The Pyramids and Sphinx are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (aside--I wonder who picked the list), but I have to agree that Karnak surpasses them.
One of the things that makes seeing these monuments less spiritual than it might be is that everywhere you go, guards and attendants want to point out interesting things and then want (demand, practically) baksheesh--a tip. Now, I can understand this for staff in hotels and restaurants, but when civil servants have to do this to earn a decent living--and I suspect they do--that tells me that the economy is not all it should be. I would be happier if the government raised the admission price for all the monuments, or at least raised it for non-Egyptians. $1.50 or so to get into the Cairo Museum is dirt-cheap. But I suppose even if they doubled it and paid the guards better, baksheesh is too ingrained a concept in the culture. One could have a spectrum of tipping with Egypt near one end and Iceland at the other (they run after you with your change if you leave it). China was near Iceland but is apparently shifting away.
After Karnak we went to the Temple of Luxor at the other end of the Avenue of the Sphinxes. The middle section of the avenue is missing, having been supplanted over the years by the town spreading out. Some fragments can be seen here and there between the buildings.
Though smaller than Karnak, the Temple of Luxor is interesting for having had within it a mosque and a Coptic church. The mosque is even still in use.
After an early dinner we went back to Karnak for the Sound and Light Show. For this one you walk through the halls and courtyards as it proceeds and finish up seated by the sacred lake. Though the end part dragged a little, it was still much better than the show at Giza. Towards the end we had a lot of competition from the minarets of Luxor because of the Prophet's Birthday on Saturday or Sunday (we get conflicting information). It formed an interesting counterpoint but was at the same time distracting. We bought the audio cassette so we can try it later without distractions, but unfortunately in New Jersey instead of Karnak. When we got back to the boat we finished packing and went to bed.
October 22, 1988: This morning we flew back to Cairo. It shouldn't surprise you that the flight was late. On the way to the hotel, I told Mark and Tom what we should have done was tell the boat's captain the first day that we didn't like the food and ask if we could eat with the crew. They liked the idea but Jane said she would have died.
We had lunch with Tom and ordered all the Egyptian food on the menu we could find. Mizzeh is a Middle Eastern version of the pu-pu platter (which is a Chinese smorgasbord) and has an assortment of appetizers: hummous, baba ganough, korbeba, and so on. Then we decided to go back to the Khan-al-Kalili Bazaar. Basically this was us tagging along with Tom--he arranged for the taxi and all. For a taxi, you tell them how many hours you want them for, end-to-end, then negotiate a price and pay them afterwards. If you pay them when you get out to do shopping or whatever, they have no incentive to wait.
We walked around for about an hour. We started in the tourist section and Tom bought a couple of things. It was fun watching him bargain though he may be something of an easy mark because he doesn't press them very hard. For one shop we ended up going up a narrow flight of stairs to a small brass shop on the second floor. There are a lot of these "second-story jobs" that not many tourists know about or see.
Gradually we found ourselves out of the tourist section and into the real market area where there were piles of onions, stands selling food, a stand where people could burn incense, people fixing engines, etc. It was fascinating to watch and because I was a woman no one really bothered me. Everyone said hello to Tom and Mark, though, stroking their chins because of the matching beards. At one point Tom gave a legless beggar twenty pounds and on the way back the beggar insisted on kissing both him and Mark, twice on the cheeks. There is no welfare here; people in need depend on the alms-giving all good Muslims are supposed to do. Tom seems to exemplify the saying about casting one's bread upon the waters--he appears to be both very generous and very rich.
After a terrific hour--Mark and I alone would not have been as adventuresome--we returned to the pre-appointed corner. The driver was there, but no taxi. The streets had been closed off because of the Prophet's Birthday (Mullah Denebi or something like that) and would we mind walking a block to the taxi? Of course not, except the block was closer to a mile and uphill. But even this worked out because we got to see the parade and to teach the driver to sing "Happy Birthday to You" for Mohammed. The ride back was a real kamikaze ride, but great fun as we kept joking with the driver about his driving.
We arrived back in time to pack (we seem to do a lot of that) and dress for our gala farewell party. Tom talked about going into town for the festival but with that traffic we probably couldn't make it back in time for the plane.
At the cocktail party, I tried a gin and tonic, which was the drink of the trip. I didn't like it. Jane handed out the group photos and cartouche keychains with our names on them, as well as delivering the cartouches we had ordered. Mark's name was different on the two; I wonder which is correct.
Dinner was at the King Tut Room. I had--can you guess?--lamb cutlets; Mark had the mixed grill. For desert I had flan and Mark had pomegranate seeds--very good. I also had a couple of glasses of Haenckel Trocken (sp?) which Tom ordered on Jean's recommendation. It was very good and, after saying goodbye to everyone and swapping addresses and hugs, I was able to go to sleep for about three hours.
[Continued in the Kenya/Tanzania trip log.]
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