Monday, April 27, 2009
EGYPT - DAY 1
EGYPT -- We had no pirate troubles in our transit through the Gulf of Aden. We did a 4-day overland tour so we saw a lot so this might be kind of long-winded. I am sitting on our balcony writing this as we are sailing past some Greek islands in the Mediterranean with a temp in the low 60s. Egypt was an entirely different temperature scheme with a high of 115 one day (but it was a dry heat – ha, ha).
FIRST DAY – 19 Apr -- Our ship landed at Safaga on the Red Sea where we boarded a motor coach for a 3-hour drive through the desert to Luxor (the Greeks called it Thebes). The desert was quite barren with only an occasional spec of green or a bit of greenery around the occasional village we passed through until we got close to the Nile where everything was a verdant green. The Egyptians are very security conscious since tourism is their most important industry and terrorist attacks on foreign tourists happen every now and then. Our bus had an armed guard on board and there were military checkpoints every 10 miles or so where we stopped. In some stretches the tour busses went in a convoy. The military knew our route and when we had left each checkpoint. They presumably would check up if we didn’t show up at the next checkpoint in a reasonable period of time. In the recent past they would also accompany the convoys with military vehicles, but no more. Every crossroads or bridge crossing had its armed police watchtower and pillbox with Kalashnikovs showing from the openings.
Our guide Hisham was with us for all four days. He was great. Had an excellent grasp of English as well as a good sense of humor. Egypt’s history is long and complex and he helped us put what we were seeing into context. Hisham is an Egyptologist and, like all licensed guides in Egypt ,had to go through thorough training and pass tough tests.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS – The later pharaohs decided that the practice of erecting large pyramids to mark their tombs was simply giving grave robbers an easy way of finding tombs to rob so they constructed elaborate tombs underground in a kind of remote area (62 of them discovered so far). Unlike the pyramids (plain inside), these tombs have elaborate painted hieroglyphics and decorations and carvings on the walls. King Tut’s (Tut Ankh Amun) tomb was discovered here and was the only one discovered that had not been looted. The valley is unremarkable in appearance – just a barren, mountainous desert valley with nothing green.
Some of the tombs are near the valley floor and some are on the mountainsides. We visited the tombs of Ramses II (ruled for 67 years and died at 92 after fathering 200 children) and that of Ramses IV (less famous but the painting in his tombs is very vibrant in color). Considering that these tombs are from 15 centuries before Christ they are in remarkable shape. There has been some vandalism – most of it dating back to the days when the Greeks ruled here and then later by the Coptic Christians, but in general the pictures and hieroglyphs are fairly complete and in strong colors. We were not allowed to use cameras inside, so sorry no pics from there. There is still exploration going on there and Clyde enjoyed watching the digging.
We drove from there to Luxor with a brief photo stop at the Temple of Hatshepsut (ha cheap suit). She was the only female pharaoh and this beautiful temple was built for her by her architect and lover. It is half carved out of the mountainside and half built up. Her son destroyed most of it when he came to power and it has been largely restored. He was sore, it seems, because she sent him off to study for the priesthood when he was a boy instead of letting him take the throne. One of our friends Bob tripped over a rock in the parking lot (who knows why there was a big rock in the middle of an asphalt parking lot ) and Clyde supervised the first aid by the bus driver.
LUXOR – On the way to Luxor we began to see a broad agricultural zone – very green with lots of irrigation. (we occasionally saw a dead cow or donkey floating in an irrigation canal). Most everything is done by hand on little 5-acre plots. There were a few tractors around, but also a lot of donkey carts. Donkeys are an important animal here of transport and hauling loads.
Something that is very popular is doing river cruises on the Nile on floating hotels from Aswan to Luxon. Here is a pic of a typical boat.
Luxor is in southern Egypt on the “upper” Nile. The Nile here is beautiful with all sorts of boat traffic including the traditional sailboats – “feluccas”. The two most famous landmarks are the Luxor Temple and the Karnack Temple. We arrived in Luxor about 2 PM where we checked into our hotel and had lunch. Egyptian beer “Stella” is pretty good. Wisely they left us in the hotel (Steigenberger Nile Palace Hotel) through the hottest part of the day and we started touring again about 5 PM. Mary used the down time for a bit of shopping. Clyde suffered the heat in the Valley of the Kings and stayed in the hotel all evening.
We drove to the temple of Luxor and arrived about dusk. This temple has huge sandstone pillars that once held up the roof that are so large that it takes 20 people joining hands to encircle one. There is an avenue of Sphinxes leading from there to the Temple of Karnack. There are probably 50 of them on each side of the avenue and, based on the spacing of the ones discovered so far, Egyptologists believe that there were originally many more (a total of 1200 if my memory is good.) Lit up at dusk, this avenue was very impressive (though you can see my photo is less than impressive). Egypt plans to remove the modern building that were built on top of this ancient avenue and restore it – it only extends about a ¼ mile now. The Luxor temple complex covers at least a city block – it is huge.
After nightfall we went to the Karnack temple. (it covers acres) to see the sound and light show. You stand in pitch black for a while waiting then suddenly some features are illuminated and a deep, booming pharaoh-like voice begins to tell you about what went on here; what the main features are; and how they came to be put into place (many pharaohs added their own additions and improvements). The changing lights lead you through the complex with stops, narration and projected images of pharaohs and gods; and you end up in some bleachers overlooking a lake. At the far side of the lake are some buildings which they use as a projection screen to show various ancient images. Very interesting. We had dinner at 8 PM and crashed.