There are advantages to traveling when tourism is down, but there are disadvantages, too. Our flight to Luxor was canceled due to lack of passengers, so we were rescheduled onto a different flight that left later, and didn’t arrive at our hotel until after midnight. Unfortunately, our bodies still hadn’t adjusted to the five hours difference from Bangkok so, even though we were exhausted, we were awake again at dawn.
No matter. With a private tour, all we had to do was make our way to the hotel lobby at the appointed hour. A driver met us and whisked us to the dock, where we met our guide for the next five days, Mohamed, whom we nicknamed The Prophet. He referred to us as “My King” and “My Queen.” They loaded us and our luggage onto a tender; within minutes, we were being welcomed aboard our dahabiya, the Rihanna.
We were introduced to the captain and crew—but I was too muzzy-headed to register the names and faces—then shown to our cabin. After settling into our accommodations, we enjoyed our first lunch aboard—a tasty, but disappointingly “Westernized” meal. We also met one of the couples who’d be sharing the Rihanna, Genevieve and Jean-Michelle Florette (one other couple, Jeanette and Roman, from Switzerland, joined us later in the evening).
No time to waste; we rode the tender back across the river and started our tour of the ancient temples at Karnak. Mohamed, it turned out, is working on his Ph.D. in Egyptology. He was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who was actively involved in research in the Valley of the Kings, as well as a good storyteller.
I’m not going to try to explain ancient Egyptian culture and history or give a lot of detail here about all the things we saw over the next five days. Karel took excellent pictures, and he and The Prophet took care to provide accurate captions for many of them. I’m just going to summarize, note a few highlights, and share my impressions.
It was impressive that there existed such a large, well-ordered society over 5000 years ago, and that it managed to sustain itself for thousands of years. It had its periods of decline and resurgence, and it evolved somewhat, but what is most astonishing to me is how little the artwork and religion changed over that time, and how impervious the Egyptians were to outside influences.
The temples and tombs are grand and truly imposing. They must have been jaw-droppingly splendid in their time, with all the colorful artwork in its full glory, surrounded by gardens, and adorned with treasure.
When we weren’t away on an excursion, we were traveling gently south on the river, enjoying the scenery: green farms and date palms along the river, and bare, sandy bluffs and hills beyond the water’s reach. I was surprised at how narrow the irrigated corridor is, and how lightly developed, judging from what we could see from the dahabiya and on our site visits. Historically, Egypt was rich in resources and fertile farmland along the Nile, but population and development were limited by the capricious cycle of flood and drought. However, the river has been fully controlled for half a century. I thought we’d see much more development at the fringes of the agricultural zone, and more signs of Egypt’s growing population.
On our second evening aboard, the crew surprised us with a cake, presented with the accompaniment of enthusiastic drumming and singing. A couple of nights later, we had a traditional feast of Egyptian foods, followed by live music and dancing. Believe it or not, this was the first time Karel and I danced together! I really hope his knees continue to improve enough that we can dance more in the future.
Naturally, Karel played guitar and I sang one evening early during the trip. From then on the crew treated us like celebrities (requesting to take photos with us, for example) and asked us to play on subsequent evenings.
Another highlight was our visit to a camel market. All kinds of other livestock were also for sale. I spoke with a young boy who was in charge of a yearling donkey. When I told him I thought his donkey was a fine animal and very beautiful, he positively glowed with pride.
On our last full day on the river, we stopped at an island, and Karel and I joined the crew for a dip in the Nile. This close to the Aswan dam, the water was clean and quite cold.
I’m grateful we had this chance to see these wonders in situ (mostly. A couple of the temples/tombs were moved when the Aswan dam was built). We’ve heard that the original sites will eventually be closed to the public in order to preserve the remains, and the tourists will instead be shown constructed replicas. For the time being, we enjoyed having some of the sites—including, unbelievably, the Temple of Hatshepsut and some of the best-preserved tombs in the Valley of the Kings—almost completely to ourselves. Tourists are staying away while the situation in Egypt is unsteady….
Note: the photo gallery covers the entire Nile trip and therefore contains almost 500 photos; our guide (and Egyptologist) Mohamed (aka The Prophet) helped us with writing captions.
This entry was posted in Honeymoon 2013