Mon, 07 Jul 2008 15:46:25 +0000
Luxor Day 1 Index Cairo Day 4
For today, I'd planned to visit the west bank of the Nile, where the Valley of the Kings are. Unfortunately, things are rather far apart over there, so you really need to book a car. I'd booked one yesterday with the guy at reception, for 140 EGP. Expensive, but given that I'm renting a car and driver for the entire morning, not outlandish. Compared to most of the hustlers in Luxor, this guy seems relatively honest, so I didn't try to haggle the price down.
I set off at 8:00. A nice touch is that the guy came with me over the ferry to be sure that I got handed over to the right driver. There are as many hustlers on the west bank as there are on the east, so this is a good thing. The driver doesn't have great English, which I like: no pointless smalltalk.
Things were looking grim at the first stop: a pair of collosal statues that I hadn't asked to see. I was basically told to go and photograph them and get back in the car when I was done. I specifically hadn't wanted a tour, just a lift to the two things I wanted to see. But this was the last time it happened, otherwise I got exactly what I wanted.
So the first stop was the Ramesseum, to pay my respects to poor old Ozymandias:
But apart from the colossal fallen statue, it's a pretty nice temple in its own right. I guess not as spectacular as the Luxor temple, but there's lots of carvings and a fair bit of paint still remaining. One element I hadn't seen before was huge carvings of Rameses in a chariot crushing hordes of enemies beneath his wheels. Presumably it's this that inspired the bits about the "sneer of cold command" in the poem.
There were a couple of other tourists there, being dragged along behind a guide. The guide was feeding them some rubbish about how no-one knows how the statue could have been built, so it must have been magic. I am so, so glad that I'm not bothering with a guide. There was another guide doing the same thing as always: following me about pointing at things in the hopes that I'll fork over some cash for the service. It was pretty hard to ignore him, and he didn't have any other calls on his time apart from lurking around me. He did eventually get the message, though.
From there I was driven to the Valley of the Kings, which I have to see otherwise people will complain at me. It's a rather odd attraction. First you take a silly kind of mini-train from the ticket office to the actual valley: a journey of some 100 metres! But I didn't see a single person walking it. Then in one small valley there are something like 50 tombs. Of those, about a dozen are open to the public: although usually some are closed. You get a ticket to visit any three of your choice, but the tomb of Rameses VI and the tomb of Tutankhamun require separate tickets. It's a bit confusing. Wikitravel suggested visiting one each from the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties, but it wasn't quite so easy since the best choices for the 19th or 20th dynasties turned out to either be closed or require a separate fee. I spent more time outside wandering around the valley confused than inside the tombs.
The first tomb I visited was the earliest, Thutmes III, right at the end of the valley up some stairs, and then diving down again into solid rock. It was incredibly stuffy as well, and stank of the sweat of thousands of tourists. But it is pretty fantastic to see the perfectly preserved paintings covering two rooms. Mostly it was fairly simple heiroglyphs, with some paintings of the pharoah and his family thrown in. There were also more of the blue roof and yellow stars I'd seen in Karnak, but far better preserved.
The second tomb was 20th dynasty, Rameses IV, a long straight passage cut into the rock. It's always been open, and so apart from being robbed, the walls at the entrance are covered with some old Coptic graffiti, pretty interesting in itself. I also liked the paintings of the "book of the night" and "book of the day", with the sky goddess arched over the whole thing.
The last one was Spitah, from the 19th dynasty. It was probably the least interesting: after some promising paintings near the entrance, it just becomes rough stone walls the rest of the way. Very cavernous, but not very enthralling. The heavy outer sarcophagus is still there at the end, but it's not so great compared to stuff in the Egyptian Museum.
The whole place was full of hustlers harrassing the tourists, of course. Including quite a few people trying to sell me marijuana, a surprise given how many security gards are around. I guess they don't bother doing anything about it. One guy tried to sell me three statuettes for 2 EGP, which seems a very small price and makes me wonder where he got them from. There were a lot more people selling stuff at the exit, and as I was a few minutes early to meet my driver I sat down to watch. They do surprisingly good business. I really wish tourists wouldn't buy so eagerly from them, or would at least haggle a bit harder. With such high profits to be had, it's no wonder they invest so much time and effort harrassing me the whole time.
So having spent a couple of hours there I went off to meet my driver and go back to the ferry. This was only about midday, but I was exhausted. In fact, I think I may have caught the sun a bit while I was walking around. Either that, or it might be the lethargy of a slight stomach bug I seem to have picked up again. There was no question of doing anything exciting in the afternoon.
Finding an interesting place for lunch was a challenge: I'd already tried both suggestions from Wikitravel. I really needed a nice cold diet coke, and I realised the best solution for that was McDonalds. So four months into my journey, I finally resorted to getting food at McDonalds. And a good thing too: it turns out McDonalds in Egypt has free wifi. I really needed this to download maps of the African towns I'll be visiting. So I spent an hour or so stocking up on maps.
On the way back, one hustler who yelled out at me called out "Hey, Australian!" Good guess, I thought. Then he yelled out "Matthew!" Now that's just plain suspicious. I didn't turn to see if I recognised him, since that's exactly what he wanted me to do. But I very much doubt he would be one of the very few people I've given my name to. I think these guys might actually be sharing information with each other.
Back at the hotel I was really starting to struggle with fatigue, and needed a lie down. They have a rather nice area on the roof where they serve breakfast, with a mixture of tables and chairs and low mats and cushions. I had a very small nap on the mats, just until the sun moved around to shine on my face. Very refreshing.
When I went back downstairs, I got to talking to a young Korean guy who was just checking in, another lone traveller. He was feeling rather alone and desperate to have someone to chat to, and I was happy to oblige. Mainly I spent that time complaining about all the scams the Egyptians keep trying to pull. He seemed pretty naive about a lot of stuff, and I told him everything I knew about the scams that are out there. And guess what, in Cairo he'd been suckered into a horse ride same as me. Except he paid a whopping USD 150 for the privilege! And he's just a student, with a far smaller budget than mine. Cairo is a cruel, cruel place. This Korean was on an interesting trip: he was finding small towns and looking for families that would put him up as a lodger for a few days. He said he wanted to get a real view of Egyptian culture. Very brave. He also had far less luggage than me: only one change of clothes. Impressive.
I kept chatting until it was time to get to the train station - nice that it's such a short walk. While I was waiting on the platform, a family camped next to me, and the smallest kid, must have been about three, started nervously trying to say hello to me. I've learned to sit stonily through any and all unsolicited introductions, but it's the little kids that are the hardest. Surely children that young must genuinely just be curious about the foreigner? But the fact is, many kids are indeed salesmen, for precisely this reason. So I've generally been snubbing them too. Very mean. But this time, hey, it's a three-year-old. So I gave a smile and a salaam, which went down very well.
This is a very late train that arrives at a far more sensible hour. So I should get a reasonable night's sleep this time. I badly need it.
Luxor Day 1 Index Cairo Day 4