I awoke to a brilliant sunrise this morning. The crew was already awake and had set our felucca adrift to ride the current to our final destination. Ibis birds called frantically to each other, adding to the ambience. We drifted for almost an hour before anchoring near our waiting bus.
We thanked the crew and said our goodbyes. We traveled (by convoy) through small towns, and I took photos from my window. Many noticed me, but when I would smile and wave at them their annoyance would turn to smiles as well. Again, I was glad for the safety of the bus...no one could ask for baksheesh while we were on a moving bus!
We made a stop off a main road in a small town while waiting for another bus. Two young girls watched us shyly. As a few of us were exploring, more children came out. Someone in our group motioned to ask if they could take photos of the two girls, but they laughed and hid their faces. I came up with another idea. Keeping my camera strap safely around my neck, I stood behind the girls and let them take photos on my camera of whatever they wanted. They broke into loud giggles whenever I showed them the picture they had just taken, and soon I had an entire group of children grabbing for my camera, wanting their turn to take photos. They seemed to enjoy grabbing the camera and turning sharply, then laughing as they dragged me around basically by my neck. A number of the photos the children took ended up quite nice. I will post them, labeled as photos taken by the kids, online. I let them play with my camera for about fifteen minutes. The young boys were the most adament about wanting to take photos; the girls were very polite and hung back watching. I made sure to include them as well. When our bus was about to depart and I had to go the children screamed in protest, wanting to take more photos. The two young girls allowed me to take portraits of them, this time not hiding their faces.
The ride to Luxor was very scenic. Since we followed the Nile north, we stayed mainly within the small area of irrigated land and saw lots of green fields and palm trees. We arrived at our hotel in Luxor in the early afternoon.
It was HOT. Not just hot, but HOT. The temperature that day was 108 degrees. "But at home," you
may say, "it gets into the 90's in the summer. That is very hot, and 108 is not that much higher." These are things I thought even to myself. However, the highest it usually gets in my hometown is around 92. 108 is 16 degrees hotter. There is a considerable difference in comfort between 70 degrees and 85 degrees; there is also a major difference between 90 and 108. "When it gets that hot," you may also say, "what difference does 100 or 108 make? It's all hot!" I will tell you from experience that it
make a rather large difference. Yes each temperature is hotter than we keep our hot tub back at home (think about THAT!), but in the early mornings and late evenings when the temperature dipped to a "relaxing" 100-102, we were happy. 108, in the sun, is basically just ridiculous. I don't think I was even able to drink enough water to replace the amount I sweated during this time.
Topdeck had arranged for an optional guided tour of the temples of Luxor and Karnak. Being tired of guided tours, Ian and I decided to go on our own. Ian had been before, and thought he could communicate some of the history for us. Going on our own was the best decision we made that day. A small group of six of us went together, split up at the temple of Karnak to wander, and decided to meet up again 45 minutes later. It wasn't just hot in that shadeless temple, it was HOT. I sweat so much I felt like my body was melting. Ian and I jumped from small shade patch to small shade patch. I took the obligatory photos and marched, miserably, to the back of them temple, just to say I'd seen it properly. The temple was beautiful; I enjoyed seeing it very much. When I used the word "miserable" above, I didn't mean that I didn't enjoy the views, just that I did not enjoy the very
liquids of my body pouring out of me and evaporating under the sun. I was in a good mood while exploring the temple. The temple's construction first began around 2200 BC, but the most work was done around 1900 BC. 80,000 people worked in the temple as guards, laborours, priests, and servants. The temple was rediscovered in the 19th century after being buried in sand for over 1,000 years.
The most impressive part of the temple, in my opinion, was a great hall filled with large pillars (134 to be exact). The pillars were massive, all with ornate hieroglyphics carved from bottom to top.
We stayed for 45 minutes and decided that we were all too sweaty and hot to go to Luxor temple just yet. As the six of us were exiting the temple, we noticed a large portion of our group standing miserably as a guide told them the history of the area they stood in. That was the exact reason Ian and I hadn't wanted an organized tour of the area...we explored the parts we wanted to see, skipped the parts that were either in direct sunlight or weren't as interesting, and did things at our own pace. With a large group and guide, it is hard to hear everything the guide says, and after awhile I start to tune them out and not care. I was happy to be able to come and go as I pleased.
We took a siesta at the hotel for an hour and a half, then met back with the other four people to walk to the Luxor temple. The complex was only about 10 minutes from our hotel. We met just after 5pm, and already with the sun dipping lower the temperature was more tolerable. We were still blanketed in sweat soon after stepping outside, though.
I liked Luxor much better than the Karnak temple, mainly because it seemed like a "condensed" version on the Karnak temple. It was not as large but contained all the features that I had found interesting about Karnak. There were rows of massive pillars, tall statues, and ornate hieroglyphics. As we wandered around the complex we ran into the group we had seen in Karnak. After three hours they still hadn't finished their guided tour! I could not imagine how hot and tired they must have been. Although Ian and I didn't have a guide for either temple, we still learned much and saw most of the details of both temples. All together we spent probably 2 hours in them. The other group spent well over 3, in the sun the entire time.
Luxor temple was built around 1300 BC. The temple was later occupied and used by Alexander the Great, Romans, and Christians. Eventually it was abandoned and covered completely in sand and silt. Centuries later a village was constructed on top of the ruins, the builders and inhabitants having no idea what lay beneath. Luxor was rediscovered in the late 19th century, and the village built on top was destroyed. One mosque, built in 1300 ad, was left behind to depict the more "recent" history of the Luxor temple.
Tonight was the last night we had as an entire group. 10 of us were moving on to the Red Sea; the rest were headed back to Cairo and then home. A group dinner at 7:30pm had been arranged. at 7:25pm Ian and I were heading quickly back to the hotel. Our visit to Luxor temple had taken longer than we thought, and we didn't want to be late. We tried to ignore the hassling of vendors and shopkeepers as we passed, each grabbing at our arms and inviting us to "take a look, just one moment! I will show you something!" Even as we said no politely they would beg. We made the mistake of slowing down and making eye contact with one man as he asked if we could help him with a favor. He couldn't write in English, and wanted a letter composed to a friend in another country. Could we possibly help him to write it? Ian told him no, glancing at his watch, we had to be with our group in less than five minutes. The man's eyes flashed as he asked again and again. He got angrier each time we said no and tried to step away. Finally, he yelled at us. "You are LIARRS!" he yelled, voice echoeing off his shop. Ian and I stopped, shocked. We had never seen a shopkeeper be anything but polite and smiling. "You are ALL liars!" he continued. "All of you, you say you have somewhere to be. None will help me. You have nowhere to go. You don't want to help. LIARS!" Ian started shaking with anger, and we quickly left. Back at the hotel we told Georgie about what happened. She smiled and told us that what the man had tried to do was actually a very old tactic of getting tourists to enter their shops. The shopkeeper would present a pen and paper and dictate a very simple, short letter, then invite the writer to have a look around the shop. So, in other words, after all that man's yelling...he was actually the liar. Ian and I really did have somewhere to be (ironic, because we used that excuse often, even when we didn't have anywhere to be). What an asshole! He had asked why no one would stop to help, why all of us westerners lied to him. HE was the liar. It was because of people like him that Westerners hate shopping in Egypt in the first place. Ian and I were shocked and angry for some time after that incident.
Here are a few of my "favorite" Egyptian scams, in no particular order:
~ "Hello my friend! Where are you from?" - the scammer will approach with a friendly smile, welcoming the visitor to Egypt. After sweet-talking them for awhile, he will steer them towards a shop.
~ "Where are you going?" - the scammer will give "directions" to a lost tourist. The directions will first lead by a shop.
~ "Please write a note in English for me."- The story above is an example of this. The scammer, who obviously has a grasp on the English language, will lure unsuspecting tourists into their shop by asking them to write a letter to a friend. They will claim they don't know how to write in English. Once finished, the scammer will encourage the tourist to buy something, or at least look at everything in the store before leaving.
~ "Photos 10 pounds. You touch camel, 10 pounds." - Scammers will show up on camel to major tourist destinations, then charge money when tourists try and photograph them.
~ "There is a beautiful site here, come with me!"- Scammers (sometimes the scammer is even a policeman guarding the sites) will approach tourists exploring Egyptian sites (mainly ruins, such as Luxor or Karnak) and insist on showing them spots they might not have found otherwise. Once the tourist has been lured to the spot, the scammer will demand baksheesh for their "guide services".
~ "You buy the craft/papyrus/snack/(insert anything able to be bought here) and I will give you free gift." -Nothing in Egypt is free. I repeat, NOTHING in Egypt is free. Even if they insist "no baksheesh!" they will still expect money, but they will call it a "tip" instead.
~ "You are a lucky man. Beautiful daughter!" - Scammer will approach couples traveling together and speak with the man, telling him that his woman is beautiful. He will then attempt to make them laugh by calling the woman his daughter instead of wife/girlfriend. Laughing breaks down the guard of the tourists, who will then be more likely to visit the shop.
~ "Camel/horse/taxi (insert any mode of transportation here) rides! Cheap!" -the scammer will make a quick "stop" at a store, where the tourists are encouraged to look around. The scammer will make a commission off everything the tourists buy.