I woke up this morning, had breakfast and went to the top deck of the ship. The sun had just risen and the river was peaceful as we cruised along. I took pictures of the fisherman and farmers out on the banks. I wonder what they think of all these boats filled with tourists passing by to look at the ancient wonders of their country.
We dock at Luxor and the day begins. The ship company has its own private docks and we take a few smaller boats to the other side of the river. Each covered boat is driven by a young boy who looks not much more than sixteen years old. He alone is in charge of steering and docking the heavy metal boats. What was I doing at the age of sixteen?
We arrive on the other bank and are greeted by the usual crowd of vendors selling trinkets. We head out in an air conditioned bus to the Valley of the Kings about a 20 minute drive from the shore. Along the way, Zainab explains that the look of a person's grave tells a lot about their social class. The shallower the grave, the poorer the person was. That is why the pharaohs have large and extravagent tombs that are dug deep into the center of the earth.
We are not allow to take cameras into the sites but I'll try to explain it as best I can. We get on a little cart/train that takes us about a third of a mile up the hill to the entrance. Its not even 10 am and already the sun is beating down on us. I look around at all the people from around the world dressed in strange and interesting attire. Several of the women have short skirts/shorts and tanktops on. I would not recommend this for two reasons. 1) It is disrespectful to the culture you are entering as a guest and 2) You get sunburned so easily and dehydrated with the more skin you show. There were so many uncomfortable people that you saw bright red sunburns on their faces, necks, and arms. Looked so painful. I would definitely recommend bringing lighter, wicking materials. Most days I work a pair of lightweight patagonia pants and light linen long-sleeved shirts. A hat with a wide brim would have come in handy to protect my ears from the sun but I made due with a baseball cap.
In the Valley of the Kings, Zainab was not able to accompany us into any of the tombs but she would stop outside each and give us a description before we entered. Even though it was the off season, there were crowds of people and always a line to enter each tomb. Once you did, you followed in a single file line to end and back. The colors and designs were amazing on the walls and ceilings. I liked how Zainab pointed out little details to us so that we knew what to look at once inside. For example, with one of the tombs she explained the pharoah died at a young age so they had to hurry up and finish it before the 70th day when he needed to be placed in the tomb. We noted this as we saw the less detailed work on the walls and the uneven carvings on the ceilings. We would not have known without our wonderful guide.
There were over 65 tombs in the valley and they opened and closed them to keep one from wearing too much. Some you had to pay an extra entrance fee to visit but Zainab said it really wasn't worth it. The last one that we went to we climbed up a hill into a canyon and then down this small tunnel to the tomb below. I would caution anyone who has claustrophia to go it this one and a few of the people turned back. The tomb was a little suffocating with the heat and humidity. All the sweat and breath of the tourists create the humidity. The tombs were also a little tricky to walk around in and I could see that it would be difficult for anyone who had limited mobility or was elderly to enter. I had to hang onto the railings so I wouldn't fall on the slick rock in some places. But with the heat and humidity and claustrophia it was still worth it of course! You had to sit back and marvel at the detail that the artists took. Just amazing!
After this we went to the Temple of Pharaohs around the hill in just a short bus ride. The pictures do not do it justice. Zainab took us to the most well preserved part of the temple and showed how the pictures had been defaced so that the soul of the Queen would not recognize where her body was. I kept thinking that someone must have hated her to do that. Why else would you take so much time to meticulously chip out the image of her that stands 10 or 20 feet tall on the buildings?
Next was the Valley of the Queens which was not as crowded because by the time we got there it was past noon and scorchingly hot. Your body does get used to the heat and you expect to be sweating from the moment you set off the bus to when you return. Zainab said there's always a few in her groups that return to the bus because of the heat. Some do not even get off the ship for any of the excursions she said. What a shame to be in Egypt midst all of these ancient wonders and never see them!
After the Valley of the Queens we bused back to the ship and along the way she showed us several sites that are being excavated still. They estimate that only 25% of the antiquities in Egypt have been found thus far. The rest are waiting to be uncovered. I could tell Zainab was excited about this and she told Matt he would have to come back to Egypt to help with an excavation. She also said that Egypt welcomes crews from outside nations to come in a do the digs because the country does not have the resources or money to fund all these expeditions. It was sad to her however, that the majority of the findings where done by foreigners in her country. There was one archeologist from Egypt who was trying so hard right now to be the first domestic crew to excavate a tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
After lunch we went to the Temple of Luxor which was larger than any we had seen so far. It was amazing to walk up to it across a huge park area. Zainab said that this area used to house a village of local workers selling their wares to tourists. The government shut it down and move the people to a different location in the city. Now it was more hygienic and appealing to tourists. I was sad that this was the case but also saw how it attracted more tourists and therefore more money to the city.
The outside wall surrounding the temple was close to ten feet thick! Inside were rows and rows or columns. Zainab did a great job of weaving us through the crowds of hundreds of people. I couldn't understand how anyone in a group of 30 or 40 people could hear their guides. Some had microphones and each tour member had an earpiece. It just seemed so impersonal and you couldn't ask questions like we did to Zainab so often. I was thankful for our small group of 8 people. Zainab showed us the highlights of the temple and then escorted us back to the boat because she saw everyone getting tired.
That evening we had our fairwell dinner which was amazing as usual. This time everyone dressed up even more and the waiters had white gloves on to serve us. They brought out an ice cream cake that was in the shape of the pyramids and lit it on fire! They had a performance then by a bellydancer who invited us each to come dance with her. Some of the travelers really got into it and you could tell everyone was having a good time.
Then came the whirling dervish show. I don't know how that man didn't fall over with all the twirling. It's interesting to see men doing feminine dancing in a culture where men's and women's roles seem to be so defined. He did a spectacular job and afterwards one of the staff executives thanked us all for coming. We went around and said goodbye to everyone and exchanged business cards to keep in touch. What an interesting group of people from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, and the states. I hope to see them again. We all said thank you to Zainab and each contributed a tip in an envelope had been put together by one of the guests. She did a great job every part of the way and had been so entertaining not only on the tours but also at meals and tea times. She made the trip a great experience.