Egypt Day 8 – Aswan to Luxor

Egypt, Travelogue — By on March 25, 2011 7:12 am

Left Aswan after a hearty breakfast of chapattis and jam, washed down with breakfast tea. Got the prime seat in the minivan this time – the front, loads of space and legroom, while others were crammed in the back. We picked up some people at 2 stops on the way to Kom Ombo, one of 2 temple stops we made on the way to Luxor.

The first group of people we picked up from a night on the felluca included the Peruvian bloke I’d met on the train and later at Abu Simbel. Others in the group included a friendly, stunningly beautiful Portuguese couple, a nice Japanese girl, and a Chinese couple. They all seemed to have had a great time on the felluca, though they said it got pretty cold at night. At the next stop, some 10 minutes away, the mood wasn’t quite so jovial. A Canadian couple were bitterly upset that they hadn’t been able to go in the boat all the way to Luxor, and they hadn’t expected a minibus entry. They’d had 2 nights on the felluca, but hadn’t got much further than the other group. “I’m gonna call the hotel and tell them I want my money back” a Canadian woman kept screaming at her boat captain, who was asking for a little baksheesh. Right. Not a chance she’d get anything back. Her and her husband stood their ground for a while, then climbed into the minibus fuming, especially the lady, Mary. “Give me your phone driver, I’m gonna call the hotel,” she kept saying to the poor driver, who really didn’t want to lose any of his credit. “You lied to me. You lied to me, driver. What? You don’t understand? But you understand the word ‘money’, right?!” She yelled, her shrill Canadian tones just behind my left ear possibly causing irreversible damage. To shut her up, I gave her my phone. “Here, call with this, it’s local SIM,” I said, helpfully. Some people. Later, I learned that she is travelling ‘the world’ with her better half, and had so far been to Brazil and Argentina, and South Africa and up the East Coast to Tanzania, where they climbed Kilimanjaro. I was surprised she’d got that far with such unreasonable behaviour. She was the sort of old hippie chick with loads of money but trying to haggle everything down and arguing over a cent that I loathed. In fact, that’s what most ‘budget’ backpackers are like now. They stay in the cheapest places, moan about everything, haggle and argue over the smallest amount, yet they are on their ipads, ipods, apple macs and fancy phones at the breakfast table. Wankers. Of course you’re going to pay a little extra – you’re a rich tourist in a poor country.

So, it was no surprise when we arrived at Kom Ombo and had to buy a ticket to wander the grounds that the shrill old bat refused, thinking it should be part of the trip and completely paid for. Bollocks. It cost 120LE to go to Luxor, and that wasn’t going to include 100LE in temple entrance fees, silly woman! I paid, and was glad to have visited this riverside temple to Horus the Elder and Sobek the crocodile god, overlooking the Nile. Two impressive hypostyle halls with intricate carvings were the most impressive, with each one dedicated to a different god. In the temple forecourt, the reliefs are divided between the 2 gods, and there is a double alter at the centre for both gods. We enjoyed a good half an hour wandering the grounds, then it was back on the minibus to Edfu, the most completely preserved Egyptian temple, full of well-preserved reliefs, showing information about the temple rituals and the power of priesthood. Like Kom Ombo, it’s a Ptolmaic temple, started by Ptolemy III on 23rd August 237BC and completed 180 years later by Ptolemy XII Neos Dionyios, Cleopatra VI’s father. It follows all the plan, scale, ornamentation and tradition of Pharaenic architecture. It’s immense, with granite statues of Horus as a falcon guarding the entrance, after which you enter a court of offerings, surrounded by huge inscribed pillars. Overpowering, especially for the Frenchman who fell over, got up, and promptly fainted in it’s presence, all the while his group’s guide not missing a beat in his much rehearsed routine. From here, there is an outer hypostyle hall, and then the Sanctuary of Horus, containing a polished granite statue of the falcon Around this one were several small rooms and passages showing some impressive reliefs and inscribed hieroglyphics. Impressive. From here, it was on to Luxor.

We stopped somewhere outside a hotel, and the Peruvian was handed over to new captors, and whisked away to a hotel not of his choice. I got away from the group of’ ‘taxi’ drivers, and walked away to get a real taxi for 10LE to Oasis Hotel, a recommendation of both Greg in Aswan and Mark Richards at the BC, who had typed me a mini-guide to Egypt as by his own experience. The Oasis was set about 3-400m back from the Nile, in a smallish street. It was what I expected. Small, basic, lacking in character, but the guy at reception was certainly a character. Shareef showed me the roof, where they had an open-air restaurant and you could smoke sheesha or even ‘hasheesha’ as Shareef said with a kind of conspiring smile and gleam of the eyes. My room was clean enough with 2 single beds, completely characterless, completely barren, and at the back of the hotel so no windows. At least there would be no traffic noise.

I headed out before sunset for a stroll down by the Nile, a similar scene to Aswan, with fellucas sweeping majestically across, motorboats cruising past, and big big cruise ships moored up. Across from the river, Luxor temple was starting to glow and amber colour gave it a wonderfully majestic air. I had to go and take a look. It was built by the New Kingdom pharaohs Amenhstep III (1390 – 1352 BC) and Ramses II (1279 – 1213 BC). It was further added to by Tutankhaman, Ramses II and Alexander the Great. After successfully getting past the touts, scam artists, felluca captains, ‘guides,’ con-men, and horse-drawn carriage riders (or pests if we give them a collective noun) I got there. The avenue of sphinxes is the first thing you see when entering from the square in front of the Abu-al-Hayguy mosque. I entered for 150LE, and saw the amazing 24m high first pylon, decorated with reliefs of his military exploits, and fronted by three colossal statues of Rames II (well, 6 originally, but only 3 remain now). Beyond lies the Great Court of Ramses II surrounded by a double row of columns with lotus bud capitals, decorated with scenes of the pharoah making offerings to the gods. The rest of the complex is made of a fascinating hypostyle hall, a few courts and chambers, and a sanctuary. Delightful, even more so that I could wander alone without having to follow a guide, and you could see all the sullen-faced Russian and Spanish wanted to break free and do their own thing. I saw a number of tourists that had strayed from the pack being picked off by the temple guards / holy men with white or grey thobes and white turbans, who hang around every temple acting officially as ‘security / guides’, but unofficially as backsheesh begging pests, who try and point you in the direction of a good photo op, shine a torch in a ‘dark’ chamber, pose for a photograph, or try and cool you down with their fan. All for a fee of course. They work in certain sections, not really doing anything other than pick off unsuspecting tourists, and collect backsheesh. They’re everywhere, in every temple. A real nuisance. I managed to avoid paying anything, brushing off any ‘help’, ignoring the frequent ‘hiss!’ to get attention. Even the official guards are at it, though they brandish machine guns and are a bit more difficult to ignore. Basically, a day long game is played by all who are there to shaft tourists. Cunts.

Still, I enjoyed my stroll around. Outside the temple, I avoided most of the touts and tricksters, though one young Egyptian who looked like Apollo Creed in Rocky IV for some reason held my attention. He seemed pretty genuine, lived on the West Bank, but was actually from Hurgada. We swapped numbers, and he promised to take me out to some cool bars with cool girls to drink beer. I liked the idea, far-fetched as it sounded, but possibly for another night.

Back at the Oasis, I went up to the rooftop to catch the last of the sun, as the mullah’s began wailing from mosques on all sides, creating an eeriness that was powerful and hauntingly beautiful; similar to what I had experienced in Cairo looking over the Islamic Quarter. I had tea and cake – free every sunset at the Oasis! Not bad for 40LE a night! Darkness fell. I ordered a beer and a falafel, and wrote. Showered and changed, and headed out for a long walk in the hope of finding the Kings Head English pub and an Indian restaurant.

Found the Indian after quite a long walk, just off Sharia khalid ibn al-walid. Now that’s a streetname. I had a couple of Sakara beers, onion bhajis, and a chicken madras with a nan bread and rice, which was pretty tasteless to be honest. Left and walked all the way back towards Luxor Hotel, then had an awful coffee and some sweet milk, bread and butter pudding, then decided to try and find the pub again. Succeeded this time, and found myself in an authentic-looking English pub complete with pool table and dart board. Arsenal vs Wigan was on TV, and I sat down to watch it with a brandy and coke. Met a lovely English couple, Sue and Geoff, while I was there, and we all had a good chat. They’d been to Luxor 6 times, and really enjoyed it, though they never did any tours as such, just chilled out. We spoke about travel and adventure, and Sue thought I was really brave heading out on my own. Geoff had been to Africa like me, but to Nigeria, which was where he’d lost his right arm, at 22, in a road accident. They were a real salt-of-the-earth couple, and I really enjoyed chatting with them. I left and walked back to my boxroom, tired and looking forward to a full day around Luxor tomorrow.

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