Wednesday, April 29, 2009


FRIDAY, APRIL 24, 2009 – 106/39 – SAFAGA (LUXOR), EGYPT

Well, we are five days behind on writing the post. This just reinforces the fact that a port day everyday is a killer! So….

We have breakfast in the room this morning since we need to be on the dock at 8:00AM to meet our driver. The wind has blown a gale all night and is still bowing, but so far, it is not too hot.

There is no longer a security convoy so we meet our driver and our security escort, Sam, as soon as we step off the ship and we are on our way. It is a three-hour drive to Luxor with one break. Mountains rise up almost from the Red Sea and we drive for almost an hour through barren rugged terrain, and I do mean barren!

There is not a sign of any vegetation. This turns to a sandy desert landscape and the sky is a dusty from the wind, but it is not a sand storm; yet! As we start this sandy, desert section, we stop for a break. Sam gets a STRONG Turkish coffee and Dick bargains with a shop owner for a shirt. I think Dick wins because the owner is obviously furious when we leave, but Dick has his shirt!

About an hour later, Sam says it will be green soon. Sure enough, the road starts running along a large canal that has many irrigation pumps along it and the landscape turns green. However, the living conditions step back to about 100AD! People are farming completely by hand on tiny plots of land. We see men sitting on the ground cutting the wheat with a hand sickle and tying the stalks into sheaths. Women and children then pick these up and load them on carts pulled by donkeys. The only sign of modern farming is a thresher sitting in someone’s field to which the wheat is hauled and threshed.Of course, they then pick up the grain and chaff by hand! People are living in mud huts -- literally. There is unbelievable poverty.We felt like we were looking through a time machine window back two thousand plus years into biblical times. We get to Luxor after our three-hour drive and see donkey carts driving down the main streetand The Temple of Karnack and Luxor Temple as we drive along the Nile. We will stop here later, but now we trade Sam for our guide, Michael, and head to the West Bank! Our first stop is the Colossus of Memnon, the two statues that guarded the entrance to the now destroyed Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III. There is actually work in progress on the Temple and there is a field full of interesting bits and pieces waiting analysis and assembly. Michael is doing the tour a bit different from the plan as he thinks his way is better…welcome to the Egyptian male! So at his direction, we head to the Valley of the Kings. On the way, Michael points out the burial sites of the nobles, the artists and the workers. The hills and cliffs are pocked with openings to these tombs. In the Valley of the workers, people have built their homes at the entrance to the tombs. This practice has been going on for 100’s of years. There is a modern visitor center at the Valley of the Kings and, after buying our tickets, we sit with Michael for a very informative half-hour and learn the basics of the religion and the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. All the pyramids around Cairo and on the Giza plateau are from the Old Kingdom (3,100BC – 2,400BC). The only known burial from the Middle Kingdom is a mud brick structure outside of the Temple of Hapsepshut here in the Necropolis of Thebes. The burials in the Valley of the Kings are from the New Kingdom period that ended in 320BC. Our tickets give us the right to go into three tombs. The tombs open on a cycle, so what is open when you are here is somewhat chancy. King Tut’s tomb requires an extra price ticket to enter. You can walk from the visitor center but there is a tram for an extra cost and, since it is 110F in the shade, we buy and ride. Once at the gate, you show your ticket and enter the area of the tombs.I believe there are twelve tombs and King Tut’s open at a time and you just pick the ones you want to see, present your ticket, get it punched and walk in or down, as the case may be.

Michael explained here are three types of tomb decoration: painted only, edged and painted and bas-relief and painted. We see, on Michael’s recommendation, what he thought were the best of each kind that were open. These are KV2 - Ramses IV, which is simply painted,KV6 – Ramses IX, which is edged and painted, and KV16 – Ramses I, the most detailed in the bas-relief method.

Considering the outside temperatures, the interiors were not too bad but they were still hot and dusty so we had no incentive to linger. There is really not much to see.The light is bad or worse. In one, we are handed a flashlight. One tomb is a fairly flat walk back into the mountain, one has several flights of wooden steps but they are not too steep and the last one is down wooden steps at a 45 degree angle for some 60 yards -- down and then back up!

After looking at the three tombs and some areas of continuing work,we return to the trams and then the visitor center. Our cool car (sort of) was most welcome and we then moved on to the Temple of Hatshepsut. As we pull up to its visitor center, the right rear tire on the car spontaneously explodes from the heat!

The Temple of Hatshepsut was in ruins up until 15 years agoArcheologists have substantially reconstructed it using its original materials.There are still fields of stone pieces waiting identification for use in this ongoing project.While it is interesting to see what it looked like when built, the temple is grand but sterile and we did not linger in the ever-increasing heat.

Our final stop is the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III, now known as Medinet Habu. We found this complex to be the most impressive thing we saw the whole day. Its stone carvings are unusually deep and well defined and much of the original color is still intact. One gets a very good feel for how it looked 3,000 years ago! We are not sure why it is not shown off more.

By this time, it is nearly 3:00PM and we are an hour behind schedule as well as hot, tired and dusty. We head for the Nile and take a small ferryboat up river past the Temple of Luxor toward the bridge and across to the Sonesta Hotel while the driver takes the car on the 30-minute drive to the bridge and then back to the hotel. The hotel is, supposedly, one of the best in Luxor but it is well used. Later, we find out that some of our fellow passengers who stayed here on the two-day trip into Luxor got extremely sick from the food.

After a cold Coca-Cola from the bottle (no ice, thank you very much!) we rejoin the car and head for the Temple of Karnack. This is a most impressive place with huge pillars and with some of the roof stones still in place. One can still see the landing stage where the barges of the Pharaohs docked. There was a canal from the Nile to the temple as there was to all of the Mortuary Temples on the west bank of the Nile.

By now, it is pushing 5:45PM and we drive back to the Temple of Luxor for a quick stop for a few pictures before we must head out of town.The most interesting thing about Luxor Temple is that a recent mosque was built on the site of the Temple and when the ruins were excavated the mosque was left several feet above the floor of the temple. For some reason, no one may leave Luxor after 6:00PM in the evening. There is a bit of confusion as our car had the flat earlier and they change cars so we have four good wheels and a spare for the trip back. Sam joins us again at the Luxor Temple and at 5:55PM we leave the front of Luxor Temple. There is a huge traffic jam at the checkpoint and both Sam and the driver are very tense until we get cleared to leave for Safaga. It is a three-hour drive back to the ship, once again through interesting country side.The wind is kicking up dust as we head east out of the town of Qena. We arrive back at the ship about 9:30PM, order a room service dinner and fall into bed!

Oh, before I forget, Egypt is paranoid that there will be another attack on tourists like the one in the Valley of the Kings in 1997. There are soldiers and “Tourist Police” everywhere carrying automatic weapons. There are checkpoints on the highway every 15-20KM where we are stopped and checked for proper travel permits. This is not so much our permits as those of the driver and guide being authorized to have us in their possession.

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