Published: July 18th 2010July 13th 2010
This morning we awoke early after a long night sleeping on the deck of the felucca. It was very hot and muggy all night - we were beached next to the agricultural area outside a small village and the fields increased the humidity. The inhabitants of the fields also created another joy - methane. When the wind was just right there was a pretty ripe smell in the air! To top it off, the Mosquitos were out in full force so we awoke to more than a few new bug bites. Oh well, sometimes that is the way it goes!!
Anyways, we woke up at sunrise and hopped onto the support boat for breakfast. The boat also took us the final leg of our journey down the Nile (about 20 minutes cruising).
If any Robert Allan employees are reading this, you really would have appreciated the support boat. Definitely built on a budget, the boat used some "interesting" approaches to solve some problems. For instance, a Honda genset was placed in the engine room to provide electrical power. Instead of plumbing it in, they just opened the engine room hatch to supply the engine with combustion air and to relieve the exhaust gases. Suffice to say it got pretty smokey pretty quickly! The main engine also had an interesting exhaust - nothing too bad though, at least the exhaust made it outside the engine room! The silencer was a homemade steel can about 300 mm in diameter and 450 mm high. Not a whole lot of point in putting much more than that as far as Incan see given that the engine room access hatches were wide open all the time to provide air to the generator!
Anyways, the boat dropped us off and we were met by our bus, and very enthusiastic driver George, before being shuttled off to our first two temples of the day, on our way to the city of Luxor. We visited both the Edfu and Kom Ombo temples in the morning.
Kom Ombo was the first temple we visited. This was a temple for the crocodile god, because the Nile was infested with crocodiles in ancient times. The Egyptians figured that if they prayed to the crocodile god, the crocs would be a little mire willing to share the river. The built a big pit that was filled by the Nile naturally (there was still water in it when we looked) and they would occasionally add a few crocs to the pit. When the crocs died they would properly mummify and bury the croc very near the temple.
Edfu temple had been almost completely filled with sand when it was first discovered. The ceilings in the temple were about 25' high and there was probably only about 6' of height left between the top of the sand and the temple roof. Some people had begun living in the temple in this small space. They would enter through skylights that the ancient Egyptians had cut into the stone roof. The most obvious sign that they lived in the temple is that the temple roof is covered in soot from the fires they would light in the temple to cook and keep warm in winter.
Edfu also has a gauge for measuring the level of the Nile. You walk down a staircase into a large cavern that is connected to the Nile. The ancient kings used this to set the taxation levels. If the Nile was high in a particular year taxes would be higher because the agricultural output would be high. If the Nile was low, the taxes would be low to reflect the lower productivity of the farms.
When we finally arrived in Luxor, we were greeted by incredible heat. When you travel to Egypt in the dead of summer, you have to expect that it is going to be hot out. Today it was about 45 C (little did we know that it was going to be even hotter the next day!). Now that's not to bad when you talk about it, but being outside in it for prolonged periods trying to take in the amazing architecture and symbolism that is incorporated into a three thousand year old temple are two different things. Suffice to say we were happy to have CamelBaks feeding us a near constant supply of cool water and dry-fit clothing that could dissipate the sweat as it was produced!
We had a few free hours in the middle of the afternoon to catch up on some rest (the heat really tires you out) before heading to Karnak temple in the late afternoon before they closed.
Karnak temple is one of highlights of Egypt. There was a long period in ancient Egyptian history when Luxor was the capital city of Egypt. Consequently, many kings from that era decided to build on to Karnak temple. Eventually, the temple became huge! Much of the temple has since been destroyed by the passage of time, but much of it remains in surprisingly good shape. There were once six obelisks in the temple but today only a couple are left standing. The tallest of these is 30+ metres and weighs in at 340 tonnes. The rest of the temple is hard to describe because of its size, but it had a unique feature that none of the other temples had that we had seen so far: a harbor. There was a stone wharf built at the main entrance to the temple, and the ancient Egyptians built a canal from the Nile to the temple so the King could easily visit the temple by boat. Another unique feature was that the temple had to very grandiose entrances: the primary was the one with the harbor and the other was in line with the Avenue of Sphinxes.
The Avenue of Sphinxes is an ancient road three kilometers long that joined the Karnak temple to the Luxor temple. As usual for the ancient Egyptians, the road was made of stone. The really unique thing about this particular road is that both sides of the street were lined with Sphinx statues. The statues were quite big (not huge), say two metres tall each and were spaced out about every three metres. That means the Avenue of Sphinxes must have had about 2,000 Sphinx statues lining in total. In present times, the city of Luxor had been built on top of this ancient avenue, including roads and homes. Recently, however, the government decided to relocate the people living on top of the avenue and excavate the entire thing showing the full glory of the remains. About three months of work has been completed so far, and the results are amazing. Words don't really describe the sight you have staring down the avenue!
The Luxor temple (our fourth temple of the day), was beautiful. We visited as the sun was setting so we got yonder the beautiful temple lit dimly with the setting sun and the modern light fixtures that have been added by the current Egyptian people. Have a look at the pictures (when we are able to post them) and see for yourself.
After the visit to the temples we decided to go for dinner. Our guide Albert spent the night at home tonight because his family lives in Luxor. This meant our group was fending for ourselves and somewhat at the mercy of the extremely aggressive merchants. Before he went home, Albert, recommended we have dinner about a quarter of a block from the hotel at a restaurant called Lotus. Just as we got to the stairs heading up to the second floor restaurant, a man approached us and told us to eat at the restaurant and promised that we would be given local prices. We presumed he worked for the restaurant (otherwise, how could he make such promises?). When we got upstairs we were given the English menus with the tourist prices, which are inflated by about 3 or 4 times the regular price. We asked the guy that accosted us at the door way about the prices and he told us to leave and find another restaurant - the owner piped in at that moment and gave us a 10% discount. Since this was the restaurant that Albert recommended we wanted to stay, so we accepted the deal. Then, the guy from the street asked us if we wanted any beer or wine... Most restaurants here don't serve beer because Egypt is Muslim country, so we began to get a little suspicious. A couple of the girls said they would like a bottle of white wine, and a price of 65 Egyptian pounds was agreed on ($13). Off went the guy to get the wine (he left his cell phone s collateral) and we knew he was going off to buy the wine because booze wasn't listed on the restaurant's menu. While the guy was gone, the owner came up to us and asked who the random guy was. We told him we thought he worked for the restaurant, and asked if he knew the guy. The tune changed a bit and the owner said he did know him, but when asked what the guy's name was he drew a blank. Eventually, the guy came back with the wine, but to our surprise it was hot! Not warm, but hot. Like 45C!! We wanted a refund (fat chance!!) but he insisted on putting it in the fridge. We knew it wouldn't be cool enough before our dinner arrived, but there is just no sense in arguing with these people! Twenty plus minutes later he brought the now luke warm wine out and the girls decided that they could stomach it. Then the comedy began. Trying to be a professional bar man, the guy was going to pour the glasses of wine, but first he had to figure out how to get the darned thing open! He tried peeling off the foil top... No luck. Then he tried to pull it off with his hands all in one go, straight over the spout of the bottle... big surprise here... No luck. Next he took his teeth to it, and still couldn't get it. At this point, Stu who was sitting closest to Mystery Man convinced him to release his death grip on the bottle and let someone (perhaps with more wine drinking experience) give it a go. I believe his exact words were: "Let go. Just let go." Stu promptly removed the foil cap (in the usual manner) and Mystery Man was faced with his second challenge... the cork. We all yelled out in horror when we realized his intention was to push the cork into the bottle. We gave him the slick idea of getting a cork screw and the bottle was eventually conquered. Mystery Man then sat at the table next to us and proceeded to annoy us by occasionally asking for a joint, and by playing various ring tones on his cell phone at maximum volume. Before we asked him to leave us alone he asked how the wine was and told us that his favorite wine was a good Bordeaux. He was also kind enough to inform us that Bordeaux is in France. We couldn't help but laugh because it was blatantly obvious that the man had never opened a bottle of wine in his life!
So we finished our dinner and walked back to the hotel... Bg adventures were planned for the next day.