Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Life on the Nile

So, a cruise on the Nile. Seems so romantic, so vintage, so Agatha Christie! And it is all of those things. It is also a crazy whirlwind tour of ancient Egyptian temples, a chance to meet loads of foreigners and be around English speakers, and filled with great food.

As Jason and I were traveling together, I decided it would be best (for me) if it looked like we were married. It’s very difficult for different gendered people to travel together in Egypt, and even more difficult if you’re an unmarried couple, and it gets even more difficult if either of us were ever to mention what we do in Egypt. Christians, especially those in leadership positions, do not travel together in this way—I would be expected to have a female companion, and we would have to pay ridiculous amounts for different rooms that would probably be far away from each other. So anyway, Jason and I have matching rings from Greece, and I simply swapped the hand I usually wear it on. In Egypt and actually throughout much of the world, at the time of engagement the couple wears rings on the right ring finger (where I usually wear my greek ring), and at the wedding they switch the rings to the left hand. Though I never said we were married, it was assumed and thus legitimated our traveling together. It’s definitely an awkward thing, though, let me tell you. (and I’m glad to be home where half the people who know we’re a couple think we’re engaged [only the half for whom it would matter] and the other half know the truth, plus the people who don’t really know…equally awkward but feels less like lying somehow.) I also solemnly swear that there was no funny business!

Anyway, we left Cairo Monday night on the sleeper train to Aswan. The sleeper train is quite a different experience than I anticipated: Jason and I had our own little room with two seats, a wash basin, trays for food, and a door to shut out the corridor.

I thought it was going to be like a regular train, and a dining car, and a sleeping car. Obviously my train imagination is living in the 19th century! After dinner (not bad but not great…glad I ate at home) the steward came and put down the beds: bunk beds that folded out of the wall. I took the top bunk and, upon declaring bed time, proceeded to look out the window at the dark countryside passing by. I spent this time praying for the people of Egypt, most of whom live in villages along the Nile, and also for myself and for Jason, that we would have a good holiday. And then, miraculously, I slept. I was hot and cold and feeling very dehydrated but unwilling to wake my bottom-bunk slumber buddy for my water, and I eventually got over it. Soon it was 7am and the steward was knocking on our door and ordering us out of bed so we could have breakfast before we arrived. Breakfast turned out to be a tray of different breads….not for the Atkins dieter! We arrived in Aswan just before 8am after nearly 12 hours on the train. It was bright, sunny, and chilly outside. We walked from the train station to the corniche, just a couple of blocks away. The river was absolutely packed with cruise boats, and we walked along until we saw a sign for ours. We headed down to it (just past 8am), left our luggage with the guys, and did our basic check-in stuff. We were told to put stickers on our luggage and then enjoy the sundeck or lounge bar until our room was ready for us to move in. We chose to put the stickers on our bags and then walk along the corniche some more, as it was a nice day—sunny and cool, and the air in Aswan is breathable, unlike Cairo!

After about 5 minutes of walking along the Nile, a teenager on a bicycle came riding slowly toward us on the sidewalk. As he passed, he grabbed my behind and was soon greeted by me running after him shouting “mish kwayes!” and threatening to kick his bicycle over. He got a very stunned look on his face and rode quickly away. I turned around to see Jason with a similar look on his face, and I was greeted with, “what happened?” I explained and then laughed about it and decided that, since news travels fast, no more women would be likely to get grabbed in Aswan today. (Jason always feels bad and usually gets the mad face when this happens, but I managed to pull him out of it relatively quickly today.) He requested that I explain what’s happening next time before I break away and go screeching down the sidewalk. However, I won’t warn, because by then the kid would have been gone. Anyway, it was a nice way to begin my day. We continued our very lovely walk down the corniche and back, and the only hassle we received was from very persistent carriage drivers wanting us to take a ride with them around the town or to the “big market.” Since we live in Cairo, we know better than to take these carriage rides and we also know better than to go to the “big market” where vendor after vendor will sell the same thing, which we can also get in Cairo much cheaper. There’s little that’s original to Upper Egypt that you can’t get in Cairo, the exception apparently being the Fair Trade place in Luxor, where I’ll hopefully go on my next trip up there.

Anyway, upon returning to the boat we headed to the sundeck where we each took up residence on a chaise and promptly took an hour long nap. Then we found that we were able to check into our room, and so we did! It was on the bottom deck of the boat, and our window was only a few inches above the water outside, but the room was clean and lovely, and perfect for us with two twin beds, a nice tiled bathroom, and a minibar stocked with bottled water and pepsi. We could hear water splashing against the hull of the boat, which turned out to be nice at night because we were both lulled to sleep by the water sounds.

After unpacking some, we ventured out so I could buy some sunglasses. I had inadvertently left mine in Cairo, grr! I won’t tell this whole story, but I ended up buying sunglasses for 50 pounds. They were not good. by the time I got them back to the boat (three blocks, maybe), one nosepiece was missing. At the end of the fourth day of the trip (the last full day of sightseeing), one of the lenses popped out and went missing. And that was the end of the 50 pound sunglasses. Luckily I have real sunglasses here at “home”!!

Lunch on the boat is a buffet—a GREAT buffet with salads and hot dishes (pasta, potatoes, veggies, beans, etc). Dinner is a set menu with several courses usually including soup, some kind of preliminary thing, main dish with two sides, and dessert. The first and last night they also had salad bar and fresh made pasta bar with the chef cooking the pasta for you right there, which was very nice. Breakfast was again buffet, but with an omelet chef on hand to mix you up a yummy eggy breakfast. We sat at table 11 with a family—German dad, Chinese mom, two adorable children—that lives in Cairo and works for Nestle! oy. I kept my “nestle is evil” thing completely out, though, and learned a lot about the company. These two work mostly with water, which I have to admit is a blessing in a country where the water is a little sketchy. I also learned that General Mills is a partner, not a subsidiary, and that potentially that might mean that I can eat some cinnamon toast crunch when we get home. Not a lot, just some. These two people were so normal and so nice that it really helped me gain a new perspective on the Nestle situation. I also learned that each country where Nestle operates, they employ locals/nationals, not expats. These two people are the only to expats in the entire Nestle operation in Egypt. That’s pretty good news, I think, in a country so loaded with unemployment. They are also paying people a living wage—three times what teachers at government schools are making! Anyway, table 11 was served by a wonderful waiter named Nubay (pronounced Nubee). He was funny and polite, he appreciated that we could all speak a little Arabic, and I learned that he had studied Spanish at al-Azhar university. He was hoping to come to Cairo soon because he has family there, including a new niece or nephew who was born in the hospital in our neighborhood. One night all the courses of the dinner were meat, and Nubay discovered I was vegetarian and five minutes later brought me a freshly cooked veggie plate with rice, eggplant, green peppers, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes. Without being asked! I was simply eating the side dishes from the main course, when suddenly this appeared! It was wonderful. He is such a nice man. I really appreciated his care and attention, and his sense of humor. He told Jason that I am an inexpensive wife because I don’t eat meat, and he should be grateful. hahahahahah!!

Our first non-food related adventure was a felucca ride in the Nile, including views of the other side of the Nile, Elephantine Island, Aswan proper, and a very crowded river.

I remember something about Kitchener using this area as his base to go to the Sudan in the 1890’s, and I remember only vaguely something about Queen Hatshepsut and Elephantine Island, and that Aga Khan had a house up here and his mausoleum is still here, as is his mansion. We met some of our traveling companions—a big group (well, several families not traveling together, but still, a big group) from New Zealand, two Egyptian families, a German dad-Chinese mom family with two children (they live in Cairo), etc. It was quite the group. We also met our tour guide, Madame Ragaa, an Egyptian woman who lives in Cairo and does a couple of these cruises each month. She, of course, has the required degree in tourism or whatever it is you have to study here, and seemed relatively knowledgeable. She was very nice and I enjoyed being with her during the week, so that’s a bonus!

We sailed for a bit, Madame Ragaa talked some, and we enjoyed some visits from boys paddling little personal “kayaks” around the river, stopping at boats and singing songs in various languages in hopes of a few tips. After two hours, on our way back, our felucca ended up getting stranded by a lack of wind, and we had to be rescued by a motor boat. It was quite an evening, I must say. Quite an evening.

In the morning we took a bus to a boat launch (which had a large parking lot lined with a huge bazaar—shop after shop of overpriced stuff), then a boat (where a jewelry vendor accompanied us and made a killing off some of the other tourists on our boat), to Agilika Island, site of Philae Temple. Philae Temple, dedicated to Isis (and her husband and son), is one of the many temples that was under water after the building of the first Aswan Dam, and was rescued before the building of the High Dam. All the temples were apparently moved—none are left now under Lake Nasser. Good thing, because they’re pretty cool.

We visited a lot of temples on this trip, so I’m just going to take a moment here to describe the basics of an Ancient Egyptian Temple (AET). Most temples look pretty much the same, they all have the same layout and same components, and most have similar reliefs carved on the walls. Granted, the reliefs tell different stories and I’m sure the hieroglyphics are explicitly different in each temple but to the casual observer, they look similar.

An AET has several parts: a courtyard, a memizi, pilons, a large hypostyle hall, chapels, a holy of holies, and probably columns. A memizi is a room that commemorates the birth of the god/goddess, or the god/goddess giving birth. The room is usually decorated with reliefs telling this story. Pilons are the big front walls that enclose the whole temple proper. AET pilons have a distinctive trapezoidal shape and are very thick—maybe 10 or more feet from front to back. The chapels are where offerings would be made, incense burned, songs chanted, etc. The hypostyle hall is where most of the columns are, and is a hall where priests would gather, where stories (of gods and of pharaohs) were told on the walls and columns, and where I’m sure other important things happened but I don’t remember exactly the point of this room, other than that it’s big. The Holy of Holies is where the statue (usually solid gold) of the god would be kept. The columns in AETs are usually topped with either papyrus flower or lotus flower capitals and were, in antiquity, always painted garishly bright colors that have thankfully faded to something very beautiful, when the color still exists. Keep in mind that these temples range from 2000-5000 years old, and if there’s still paint on anything, it’s quite amazing to think about!

Some other things you are likely to find in an AET: a storage room for the sacred barge—the wooden boat that would carry the statue of the god to meet the statue of the goddess for the new year celebration or for feasts; a lab or perfume room, which in one temple contained (written on the walls) the recipes for the perfumes; storage rooms (or sometimes large pits) for scrolls, jars, and old offerings that need to be moved to make way for new ones; and lots and lots and lots of hieroglyphics and other carvings.

Many of the temples in Upper Egypt were rescued from total immersion between the building of the two dams. In fact I think the total number is 16 rescued, including Philae Temple, Kom Ombo Temple, and Abu Simbel. The dam is, according to Egyptian tour guides, good for many reasons—including the availability of water for irrigation which has increased the arable land of Egypt significantly and the creation of a vast reservoir that has “saved the country from the famine being experienced elsewhere in Africa.” On the mixed blessing front is the rising water table—good for out in the desert oases, where wells are now a possibility because the subterranean water level is high enough, but bad for pretty much everything along the Nile, including homes, ancient monuments, old churches, and even the pyramids. The rising water table has made the ground less stable, and has saturated the ground and air with moisture that is causing some of these things to crumble or to be less structurally sound (after thousands of years). It’s also caused a rise in humidity levels in Egypt, which is not so good for people, buildings, monuments, documents, pollution levels, or really much of anything. Whether these positive/negative factors balance out is for someone other than me to decide.

Anyway, after visiting Philae Temple, where I also practiced a lot with the “self portrait” setting on my camera, we visited the High Dam. It’s not as impressive looking as Hoover Dam or even Grand Coulee Dam, but it’s big and brown and it definitely keeps the water back. Apparently there’s a build up of silt behind the dam (you know, the natural fertilizer Egyptians were using for hundreds of centuries before the dam?) that someone needs to figure out what to do with because it’s blocking the canals under the dam that allow water through. hmm….did anyone else wonder where all that “natural silt” was going to go? Anyway, enough about the dam. It was big, it was really windy on top of it, and there are police and whatnot everywhere, as far as the eye can see, because this is probably the prime target in Egypt. A missile or bomb here would quite literally destroy the country, and Egyptians are incredibly suspicious of Israel……..

Right…back on the boat we sailed on down the river to Kom Ombo. It took a surprisingly long time for us to do this, because there are SO MANY boats on the river—like 300 or something—and they are going all over the place all the time. One normally has to walk through several boats to get to one’s own boat at any given dock, and in some places I saw as many as ten boats docked together. Imagine walking through the lobbies of 9 other boats just to reach yours. wow. We often took this opportunity to scope out other boats, in an effort to see which one we might want to take our parents on. :-)

We reached Kom Ombo just before dusk, and had the pleasure of visiting the temple at sunset. The sunset over the Nile was absolutely gorgeous, and I confess to having missed some of the tour guide’s talk because I was too busy looking at the sunset. But as far as I remember, Kom Ombo was a temple rescued from the dam. It has a few interesting (read: different from elsewhere) things in it, such as reliefs depicting medical instruments and procedures and a complete ancient Egyptian calendar.

The ancient Egyptian calendar was made up of four seasons of three months each, and each month had three weeks, and each week had ten days. The actual calendar takes up more room on the wall than will fit in a photo, so I’ve taken some partial pictures. It was very neat.

The next day we found that we had sailed on to Edfu, the temple of Horus, his wife, and their son Horus the younger. (I’m relatively sure about this one, but if you find that I’m wrong, please correct me!) Each temple is dedicated to a triad of gods—a god or goddess, his/her spouse, and their child. This temple is particularly interesting because it has reliefs showing Horus the younger avenging his father (who had been killed by his brother). The uncle here is shown as a very small hippo, being chained, speared, etc, by his nephew Horus the younger. I’m not sure whether this is also the temple that contained the lab for perfumes, but I think it was and that was really neat too. Hieroglyphs literally covered every inch of the walls, relating the recipes for perfumes and incense that were used for temple ceremonies.

My favorite picture from Edfu, though, is of me with the Horus statue at the doorway.

Horus is usually depicted as a bird because ancient Egyptians believed that gods had different aspects, one of which was represented as an animal. Hence the frequent depictions of people with animal heads, or of animals, and also the mummies of sacred animals. It isn’t that the people were literally worshipping the animal, it’s that they believed the animal represented the god…kind of like icons. Therefore one animal would be chosen (ie a particular cat or cow or crocodile) and revered as the revelation of the god, and when it died it would be mummified and buried in the sacred animal burial yard, and the priests would have to figure out which animal the spirit of the god has passed into. It’s very interesting, actually.

We moved on from Edfu to Esna, where we did not have an organized tour. After reading the Lonely Planet description of the temple here, I decided to stay “home” for this one. Jason went out to the temple and came back to describe it to me. He also managed to get accosted by a shopkeeper and to nearly end up with a 200-Egyptian-pound tablecloth, a funny story which I hope he will tell on his website sometime soon.

After Esna we had to cross through the lock, which proved to take quite some time. Our boat proceeded through a narrow channel the western edge of the river—by narrow I mean a mere 6 feet or so between the boat and the concrete wall—and after a little stop in there, we moved on into the giant lock. I don’t know how long we were in the lock, but I think it was a long time. We were still sailing for Luxor when I went to bed. Crazy! It’s only a three hour train ride from Luxor to Aswan or vice versa, but we took four days to sail it. Granted, we stopped a lot, but we definitely sailed more than 3 hours during the whole trip. Definitely.

We had a very early wake up call in Luxor, and we woke to find that a look out our window showed us the mountain atop the Valley of the Kings. cool! Our morning excursion was to that very valley, which was a really fun trip. We drove around and across a bridge and then down quite a long way until we came to the Colossi of Memnon, to huge statues of this king, which used to sit in front of a temple but the temple hasn’t been fully excavated yet. The statues are really colossal….hence the name. Anyway, from there we drove more and more until we came to a parking lot flanked by…you guessed it, a bazaar. There are so many shops in these places AND you are required to walk by them on your way in and out, because a fence has been erected between the shops and the place you want to go, forcing you to walk by literally every single shop and shopkeeper. It’s quite exciting. Anyway, we got to the ticket office and then we still had to ride a little trolley thing up to the valley entrance. This is one well hidden valley, let me tell you. The kings were obviously REALLY tired of tombs being looted, because the switch from humongous pyramids to this quiet, hot, desolate, hidden valley is huge. But: the mountain’s top looks suspiciously like a pyramid. Hmmmmm….

Anyway, Jason and I opted not to visit Tutankhamun’s tomb this time, saving that for when the parents arrive in April (insha’allah). Your regular Valley of the Kings ticket allows you to visit three tombs, so we visited the tomb of Merenptah IV (I think) which was neat—lots of carving/painting on the walls all the way down the shaft AND in the actual tomb; the tomb of Tuthmosis IV, which was a big climb back to it, then a hike down two long shafts (and back out), but was worth it because the painting was so well preserved on the walls and because we were literally the only people back there—no one else seemed to have found it. It was nice to get away from the crowd a bit. January is high season in Upper Egypt, and we felt it. There were probably a thousand people in the Valley of the Kings, and it was noisy and hot and crowded. Crazy. Anyway, the third tomb we visited was Ramses III, which is so incredibly decorated and is also huge—we had to walk back a really long way and then found that we couldn’t go any farther because the excavations aren’t complete. This tomb has so much painting on the walls that nearly the entire tomb is covered in plexiglass. Wow.

From the Valley we headed on over to Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. This was like Jason’s mecca, and he was so happy to be here. The Temple is very large and is set against a mountain. Apparently you can walk/hike over the hills from the Valley of the Kings to the Temple, but we obviously didn’t have the opportunity to do that. We went on a bus. Anyway, at the parking lot we found more shops, and another long walk from the parking lot up to the temple. The little trolley filled very quickly, so Jason and I opted to walk. We arrive at the same time as the trolley…what does that tell you?

It seems that tourists are only allowed to visit the second and third terraces of this temple. I’m not sure what’s on the ground floor, but given the state of the temple, probably not much. It turns out that Tuthmosis III, son-in-law of Hatshepsut, didn’t like sharing the rule of Egypt with her and actually didn’t like her much at all. After she died, he came in and destroyed/defaced everything she had done. So there isn’t a lot to see in this temple, other than evidence of angry destruction by a petulant son in law. There are some partial reliefs, a little painting, but mostly what you’re there to see is architecture and evidence that there was such a powerful queen of Egypt who ruled by her own right. And yet she often had herself depicted as a man—in statues, paintings, etc. The only part of the temple that’s relatively undamaged is the temple to Hathor, off to one side. Tuthmosis III had some qualms about destroying god-related stuff. The temple has lots of columns, some great reliefs, and a well-preserved room (leading to the holy of holies) where you can still see what the original colors of paint must have looked like. Very bright.

At some point during this morning we also stopped at an alabaster factory, where handmade alabaster stuff is, well, made. It’s beautiful but this place was much too expensive and the salespeople were rather pushy. They had a clever presentation, though, about how alabaster is made and how you can look at it in light to see quality.

We had lunch back on the boat, and in the afternoon we headed out to the East Bank—to the big stuff! Karnak Temple is the largest temple in Egypt (the world?). It’s so big that I couldn’t even figure out how to take a picture. Seriously. It’s huge. We wandered around, being shown some things and wandering off occasionally (I know, we’re bad, etc etc). Karnak’s hypostyle hall has 134 columns, all humongous, topped with either papyrus or lotus capitals, and all COVERED with hieroglyphics that are large and deeply carved. There’s also some really high up “graffiti”—names and such in English—which was carved before the Temple was uncovered. At one point all these temples were filled with sand/debris/rubbish/rocks/etc, and where there’s graffiti 10 or 20 feet up, that’s where the level of debris used to be. It’s amazing, and makes me wonder what they did with all that stuff they scooped out of these temples. Karnak has so many rooms, so many sections, so many columns, that it would actually be possible to get lost inside. We ended up at the sacred lake—the place where priests and pharaohs would purify themselves—which has a scarab statue on the bank. We were told an old Egyptian superstition that if you walk around the scarab three times and make a wish, your wish will come true. I looked over and saw about 30 people doing it already! We heard conflicting reports, though, as to whether you should go clockwise or counter-clockwise, so Jason and I held hands and went three times around one way and made our wish, then three times around the other way and made the same wish. Just to be safe, you know? I was reminded of when I taught my English class at the cathedral the phrase “hedging your bets.” hehehe!

Anyway, I think one of the coolest things (besides the columns) at Karnak is Queen Hatshepsut’s obelisk.

It’s, oh, the tallest obelisk I’ve ever seen. It’s a single piece of granite quarried and carved at Aswan and then shipped downriver to Luxor—all over a period of only seven months. She donated it to the temple because that’s what rulers did—ever ruler contributed something to the temples. This particular temple has contributions from probably a dozen pharaohs. Crazy. This obelisk, though, is so big that it was impossible to take a picture of me with it. And we’re very lucky that it’s still here, given Tuthmosis III’s insistence on destroying her stuff. The obelisk has names of or words about (or something) the gods on it, so he couldn’t destroy it. Instead he built a high wall around it so people wouldn’t be able to look at it. Part of the wall is still standing there.

Speaking of the wall, I am reminded that at Karnak you can see “Ancient Egyptian Scaffolding”—the ramps that were built in order to build such high walls (or pyramids). Mounds of dirt and old bricks are built as walls with ramps so that there’s something to stand on and to move the large limestone blocks along to put them in place on the real wall. The front pilons of Karnak are not finished, so on the inside you can still see this “scaffolding.” Neat.

After Karnak we moved on to Luxor Temple, smaller but still neat.

Lots of statues of Ramses II—he really loved to see statues of himself. Luxor Temple is interesting because it demonstrates something I learned on the METS trip in 2004: Holy places often remain holy places throughout the centuries, despite a change in what kind of worship is taking place or what is being worshipped. Luxor Temple is one of those that was used by the Romans and then by the Christians, so there is a room with frescoes from the Roman imperial cult, and also crosses carved into the stone because the same room was used not only as the ancient Egyptian temple but also as the sanctuary for the Roman gods and later as the Church. Very interesting. In addition, there is a mosque built inside the Temple (though access is from outside) dedicated to a holy man from the area. So it’s an ancient Egyptian temple, it’s a Roman pagan temple, it’s a church, it’s a mosque….hmmmm, see a trend here? Very interesting. It does make one wonder whether thousands of years from now tourists will be visiting ruined and/or reconstructed churches, wondering at the belief system and the architecture and art and inscriptions, taking pictures, and buying souvenir books. I would like to think not, but I’m sure the Ancient Egyptians never thought this would happen either and yet here we are!

This concluded our guided visits, and was a fantastic end to our trip. We were supposed to check out of the boat after breakfast in the morning, but our train wasn’t until midnight. The boat management offered to let us stay in our room until we needed to leave for the train station, because no one was checking in to the lowest deck until Sunday. We graciously accepted this offer! Saturday morning we slept in a little bit, made it to breakfast just before it closed, and then headed out for a morning visit to the Luxor Museum. This museum is by far the best museum I’ve seen in Egypt—you can tell it was designed and built by an American museum (the Brooklyn Museum, actually). Displays are cared for, protected, well lit, and have signs. There’s stuff from King Tut’s tomb (though the major treasures are in Cairo), there’s stuff from the golden age of Egypt’s army, there are two mummies, AND there are the remnants of Akhenaten’s wall-offering to Karnak Temple. Akhenaten was the pharaoh just before his bro Tutankhamun, and he’s the one who tried to change the religion. He became pharaoh and made some offerings and whatnot, and then decided that there was only one god—Aten—and he changed his name, moved his capital away from Thebes, and generally abandoned Karnak. After he died, his heretical stuff was destroyed and the blocks of this wall were used as filler for pilons. Luckily they were found because it’s VERY cool. You can kind of get a sense for how large this would have been, and for the stories it tells, because the majority of the blocks are in place. neat. The Luxor museum also has some of his statues of himself, which are fun because they look so different from any other pharaoh, especially with his pouty lips.

post-Luxor-museum visit, we had lunch on the boat and then decided to rest for the afternoon. I finished a book and got in a nap before we decided it was time to get moving if we wanted to catch the sound and light show at Karnak temple. We decided to walk because the taxis around Luxor are so expensive (basically 20 pounds to go anywhere), so we left about two hours early. We walked along the corniche and chatted away, but after a while realized that we should have come to it by now. We asked a tourist policeman, who told us to keep going, which we did. By now we were in a thoroughly non-tourist neighborhood and had no idea what to do. The next tourist police guy we asked was no help at all and called over a taxi driver. The driver said we had passed it and it was three kilometers away from where we were standing! We ended up paying the guy 5 pounds to take us there. We arrived literally as the show was starting and when we went to buy tickets we found out that the cost for students was not the 20 pounds for entrance to the temple (the only price listed on the marquee), but 44 pounds!! We paid it anyway and hurried in. The sound and light show was neat because we got to see the Temple at night and also to hear some of the stories associated with the temple. They do all these voices as though the pharaohs who built it are talking to you, telling you about their contribution to the temple. You walk around (the whole big group) seeing different things and hearing the stories. Then you end up at the theater by the sacred lake, where they tell you more stories about everyday life, about how many people would be working here, about Thebes, ancient capital of Egypt (which, by the way, is Luxor-Karnak today), about why pharaohs chose to make contributions to the temple, about the end of the Egyptian religion, etc. It’s quite interesting and the cheesy factor does not outweigh the fact that you can really learn quite a bit, not to mention that it’s incredibly cool to wander a temple in the dark!

The show lasts just over an hour, and then you get herded out of the temple a different way than the way you came in because the next show is starting back at the front! Luckily we were near the taxis, so we grabbed another expensive taxi back to our boat, where we packed, chilled a little, and then left for the train station. Our train was at 11.45 but was a little late. We had opted for a regular 1st-class train to go home, rather than the sleeper train, because the cost difference is so significant: US$55 for the sleeper train or 45 LE (student price)—about US$7.85—for the 1st class train. 1st class trains are nice, with large comfy seats that recline nearly to laying down, padded armrests, and adjustable footrests. We slept most of the way home, arrived in Cairo just before 9.30, grabbed our luggage and headed for the metro, and found ourselves once again ensconced at Dawson Hall by 10am.

I admit that Ancient Egyptian stuff is less exciting to me than, say, Jerusalem stuff, but it was still really cool. You can almost imagine the priests and priestesses, the festivals, the workers spending years carving the hieroglyphics and reliefs, the gaudy colors these temples would have been painted. And watching Jason get excited about something he’s been waiting years to see was definitely enough excitement for me!! It was quite a trip, and I doubt that this long blog entry does it justice. But if you are my or Jason’s parent/sibling, you’re going to experience it anyway and then you can write about it for yourself. For the rest of you, umm, photos? I’ve loaded them in my photo page in the album non-creatively titled “Nile Cruise.” :-)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this ridiculously long account of my week. I will say in my defense that this week-long trip took me 1/3 the space to write about than the previous week! :-) I’m off to Italy for a week on Saturday, so who knows how long I’ll write about that. oh me, oh my!

No comments:

Post a Comment