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Published: December 6th 2009
All across Egypt I see many buildings half wrecked and wonder at the point of such destruction.
Peace is certainly not upon me in Luxor. It would seem not all of Africa's top predators operate at dusk. The Egyptian streets are infested with voracious, hyena-like touts, and the Luxorian variety surely cannot be matched for cunning, capacity for deceit, or infuriating insistence by any of its Egyptian or even worldwide counterparts. I am not exaggerating when I say that almost every word spoken to us in our three days here is insincere and we are frequently subjected to outright and shameless lies. In researching this trip I had heard a lot of accounts about how fed up travellers can get with Egypt, and I thought to myself, 'surely it can't be that bad'. Generally I’ve found it to be wearisome but not unmanageable. However, Luxor really would test the patience of Buddha. It is a thoroughly depressing feeling to realise that you simply cannot trust anyone in this town.
"How much is the ferry to the west bank?" (It is 1 Egyptian Pound)
"What about with a bike?" (Still 1)
"Impossible, you must rent some the other side. I show you. Good place. Good price. 20 pound." (It should be 10)
Spot the odd one out
Avenue of the sphinxes
"Good price". The number of times I hear this is laughable. If someone came up to me and actually said "bad price" I'd stop to look just out of stunned curiosity.
To break up the bulls**t we pay a visit to the splendid complex of Karnak. Although much of it is now gone, the ruins are still humungous and my head hurts when I try to contemplate what it must have looked like in its heyday, especially as around thirty pharaohs contributed to its construction after it was begun in the middle of the fourteenth century BC. The Temple of Amun within is considered to have been the largest religious building ever built.
We set aside a full day for exploring the tombs on the west bank, including the famous Valley of the Kings. My favourite sight is the Funerary Temple of Hatshepsut. Set in front of dramatic sheer cliff face it is far more imposing than anything else and I continue my tireless photography of hieroglyphics inside. The best part of the day however is the simple pleasure of cycling around between the tombs, free to explore off-road and free from hassle. On the
way back R's uncooperative chain snaps and I am obliged to tow H the final couple of kilometres home using our two intertwined chain locks as a makeshift cable. This is probably far more dangerous than it feels at the time and I am soon reminded of how dodgy Egypt's roads can be once we have replaced the broken bike. Riding down an innocuous back-street I am confronted by a motorbike heading straight for me on the wrong side of the road. Envisaging an imminent collision we both shimmy one way - the same way - then the other, and continue back and forth in that confusing reflexive way neither side can break out of. At the last second we both veer sharply left and I jerk my right leg up to the handlebars, narrowly preventing it from being ripped off. I feel him brush my back wheel which nearly knocks it from under me and I careen into the middle of the road. Very fortunately there is a rare gap in the traffic so I avoid being flattened by another vehicle. I look round to see the motorbike wobble back on track and we both ride on as if
nothing has happened.
I’m told that in Egypt there is no driving test. You simply buy your license for about 500 pounds (US$100).
In the evening a calming beer is in order and we are treated to the novelty of ordering from the hostel's young serving boy who runs across the street to buy our beverages. We feel like underage drinkers in a parallel universe.
We quickly tire of Luxor and it's time to move on. After the town gives H one final kick in the teeth when an ATM swallows his card we hop aboard a train to Aswan. The conductor unsuccessfully attempts to considerably overcharge us (officials are among the worst for trying to rip off visitors to this country) and two strangers, who gain nothing from this con, chime in to confirm this inflated price. Is tormenting tourists the national pass-time?
Aswan contains a number of interesting sights, but its biggest attraction - Abu Simbel - I will see from the ferry, and I treat it as an opportunity to recharge before Sudan, being a far more relaxed place than Luxor. My most ambitious activity is a blissful three
hour cruise along the Nile in a felucca.
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