Off to Upper Egypt. Why do they call it Upper Egypt when it’s south of Cairo? Because the Nile River flows north towards Cairo.
While waiting for the flight I make no secret that I’m evesdropping on a conversation between an older couple and a younger couple discussing travel. The older couple live in Connecticut and are on their way to visit their son who’s working in Dubai. The younger couple from Chicago quit their jobs a year ago and are wrapping up a year traveling around the world. They got engaged on the trip (who says you can’t travel long term with your spouse?) and she’s planning her wedding long-distance! I of course start peppering them with questions about their trip. Be sure to follow their blog www.followourfootsteps.com. They are inspiring.
On the flight, I’m seated next to an older Egyptian woman, Fatma, on her way to Luxor for business. She runs a non-profit that helps homeless children. She insists I drink a mango juice (delish!), gives me her card and tells me if I need any help in Egypt, to call her.
Now, a friend of a friend arranged a driver for me in Luxor. Youseff. I’m suppose to exit the airport, walk to the tiny parking lot, and ask for him. Everyone knows him. But there’s no need, because before I can start my search, a man in a light blue long garment and white turban bounds up to me and asks loudly if I’m looking for Youseff. He has an infectious, booming laugh and immediately puts me at ease.
After a quick stop at my hotel to check in, we take off for Karnak Temple. He buys me water and refuses my money. He drops me at the entrance after pointing out where he’ll be waiting.
Karnack is beyond description. It’s massive, taking up the equivalent of several football fields. First you’re greeted by what seems like a mile long path flanked by sphinxes in various stages of deterioration. And then there’s the sheer size of the columns. There’s no way to capture the soaring height or the massive width of the columns. I look at my pictures afterwards, and they just show your average column. They are easily 5 stories high and in one section there are dozens of them, like a stone forest of sequioas. Some of the color from the original artwork is still visible. There are giant seated statues of pharaohs scattered about. A marble carving of a scarab (beetle.) If it wasn’t so hot I would stay here longer taking pictures from a dozen different angles and just staring with my head tilted back in awe. However, the sun is searing the skin off my arms and despite the fact that I’m drinking more water than I’ve ever drank in my life, I’m thirsty.
So, I fight the crowds and heat-induced delirium back to car.
Youseff buys me some kushari for lunch. It’s pasta and rice and lentils and chickpeas. I know, it SOUNDS disgusting. But it’s scrumptious. He also makes me some tea before dropping me back at the hotel with an agreement to meet at 6:30am tomorrow to see the Valley of the Kings (early hour = less heat.)
I quickly head down to the pool to wash away the layers of sand and dust that seem to accumulate on your body every time you visit a sight here. It cakes in your ears and clogs your nose with sand boogers. My pool sits on the Nile River on a floating dock and nothing is more welcome that that cold water.
As the afternoon brings cooler weather… and by cooler, I mean 80 degrees, which actually does feel cooler! … I walk down to Luxor Temple. Every few feet I’m approached by men asking if I want a carriage ride, a cruise on the Nile, to buy a stone statue, a papyrus painting, do I want an Egyptian husband, where am I from, how pretty I am (clearly a lie, given the state of my hair.) They’re not as aggressive as touts in India. But the combination of heat and the effort of being polite yet firm has me mentally exhausted by the time I reach the temple.
Thankfully, the temple is so awesome that it’s worth the effort. It has more colossal statues intact than at Karnak. To see several of those massive stone men in a row, instead of just one, really makes an impression. The paintings here are even more vibrant than those at Karnack, with whole scenes intact.
The walk back to my hotel is short. Not so short that I can’t manage to haggle for a pair of earrings from a jewelry stand. But long enough to be hassled by a dozen men. It never feels aggressive or unsafe. And when I tell them firmly to go away, they do. But still, it’s exhausting after a hot day battling scantily clad westerners.
It’s driven me into my hotel. Where I sit writing this in the air conditioned lounge while a DJ spins bad jazz and show tunes. There’s rumor of karaoke. And I’m eating fish fingers. Before you cringe, know that they bought a large fish fresh today, and but pieces from it to make the “fingers.” They’re delicious. Take THAT Gortons!