In the twelve days since we arrived, there hasn’t been a single cloud in the sky and the temperature has gone from a pleasant 28 celsius in Cairo to a sizzling sauna here in Luxor. Scientists have apparently debunked the theory that eggs can be fried on the pavement here, but we’re not convinced. Our swimming pool is a tepid 29 degrees, but it actually strikes cold when we get in. To beat the heat, and the incredible crowds, we visit temples and tombs at dawn. By 9am the temperature is above 36 degrees, and by mid-afternoon waves of hot air make all exertions uncomfortable. We see the vacant looks of package tourists as they are herded from temples to tombs and force fed mind-spinning names, dates and historical facts by guides working on the premise that the more they talk the more baksheesh they can expect. We take our time to meander and be awestruck.
This is the 3,400 year old Temple of Amun in Karnak. Pictures cannot convey its sheer enormity. It is the height of a ten storey building, and the size of the pillars; the height of the roof; the complexity of construction; and the intricacy and beauty of the carvings, leave us speechless. So does the policeman who tries to lure us into some dusty corner to see ‘something very special’ because his wife’s cousin lives in Toronto, and then tries to shake us down for backsheesh. Unofficial guides try to latch onto us at every turn and, uninvited, start their spiel. If they get out 3 or more facts before we can stop them they consider themselves hired.
We are just about temple’d out now; Abu-Simbel, Aswan, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Luxor, Karnak … been there, seen that. But now in Luxor we are in the land of the dead. Here in the arid mountains overlooking the Nile are the most celebrated Pharaonic relics – the tombs.
While everyone knows of Tutankhamen’s tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, there are hundreds of richly decorated burial chambers deep inside these arid mountains. The hieroglyphs and murals are breathtakingly beautiful. We’d love to show you, but the penalty for taking a photo is a 1,000 dollar fine and the confiscation of our camera’s memory card.
However, we can show you a picture of Howard Carter’s gas stove.
Interesting eh! Carter’s house opened as a museum last year and is preserved exactly as the great man left it. But don’t expect to come here on a package tour – the museum is free and the knowledgeable guides won’t take backsheesh, so there is no money in it for local tour operators.
As we walk the streets in Luxor we are constantly yelled at by taxi drivers, felucca skippers, caleche (horse carriage) drivers, shoeshine boys, newspaper sellers, and restaurateurs and storekeepers of every imaginable kind. We slip in and out of our hotel like film stars trying to shake off the paparazzi. Because we have been here four days we have an entourage of hopeful venders lying in wait whenever we emerge onto the street. “Hello Canadian – Where you go? You want felucca? You want taxi? You want caleche?” Etc. etc.
This is one of the caleches that race around the town to the crack of a whip. We would show you one with a driver, but if he saw us taking a picture he would hound us for baksheesh for an hour.
To get our attention drivers of taxis constantly beep their horns and stop to yell at us. One taxi stopped and a caleche driver ran into the back of him. The poor horse was stuck on the trunk of the taxi while the two drivers screamed at each other – we quietly left the scene … there were four more taxis and another caleche waiting for us around the corner. While there is no shortage of modern buses and cars, (though almost no higher-end models other than very ancient Mercedes), many of the locals get about on donkey carts like this …
Or trundle their wares in old wheelbarrows like the baker’s wife struggling off the ferry with a barrow load of bread…
We like the bread here, although we worry about the way it is transported in dusty old baskets and on donkey carts. We saw one young girl sitting on a public bench outside a restaurant carefully slapping the dust off each piece of bread before stacking it on the dirty stone seat. We ate at another restaurant. God knows what they had done to their bread, but at least we didn’t know - maybe it had been sitting about in the gutter like this lot?