October 9, 2012

Egypt: Part II

My last post left off on Day 4 of the incredible, but challenging trip to Egypt. I'm thankful to say that the challenges subsided and the rest of the trip was smooth sailing... quite literally, actually, since we spent the final days adrift on the Nile.

We arrived in Luxor late and they wisked us off to the Karnak Temple Sound and Light Show. I'm not the biggest fan of such shows, but it was a goodwill gesture for the travel hell we had encountered. Unfortunately a good portion of the show is set on a lake, which was mosquito heaven. I must be a delicious snack for mosquitos because I got at least 20 more bites. Nevertheless, the temple was beautiful at night.

Day 5 - We had a huge morning with a lot of ground to cover so we departed at 6am. Another reason for starting at 6am is the scorching heat in this part of Egypt, called Upper Egypt even though it's in the south. By mid-morning it was nearly 100 degrees! We went to the Valley of the Kings, an area of mountains that house the tombs of the great Pharaohs. Unfortunately no photos were allowed and I didn't even snap one of the outside because it simply looked like mountains, but believe me when I say it was beyond spectacular. Ancient Egyptians strongly believed in the afterlife and the tombs reflected the journey. Much of the art is relatively intact, even vibrant. I really enjoyed the various scenes depicting the journey through death and ultimately to the new life beyond. We paid the extra $20 or so to see King Tutankhamun's tomb even though we knew there wasn't much to see (all of the treasures are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), but the tomb still holds his mummy. We had yet to see a mummy on the trip so it was worth the extra few bucks. Pretty incredible.

After the Valley of the Kings we visited the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt's only female Pharoah, even if not fully acknowledged. Her story is quite scandalous and fascinating. She essentially shipped her son off to military school so she could rule the country. When he returned, he chiseled her face off nearly every statue and scene in her temple so you can still see the family rivalry thousands of years later.

I really enjoyed this temple and the mountain setting. My favorite part by far was this vibrant falcon on the ceiling in one part. It looks like it could have been painted just recently.

After we stopped to see two very big statues remaining from another temple. I try to imagine what this area must have looked like 3,000 years ago, literally dotted with temples and statues.

We ended the morning at the Luxor Temple, which was most fascinating for its grand Avenue of Sphinxes that once stretched from Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple. There is also a mosque built above a portion of the temple so while there we were surrounded by the midday call to prayer. It was incredible. And in the back of this temple there is an area where you can see three layers of history on the walls - the original Ancient Egyptians, then the Romans, then the Christians. Each one defaced the history of the other and tried to make it their own.

The moment we stepped on the boat we set sail to Edfu, which would take around 9 hours. We spent the afternoon on the sun deck watching the small villages and rural landscape pass by. It was beautiful.

We also went through the Esna Lock around sunset, where an 8 meter water level adjustment was made.

And even though we were in an industrial area, the sunset was magnificent.

Upon arrival in Edfu our guide graciously escorted us off the boat to a local shisha cafe. This was a real cafe, unlike the fancy hotel bars we'd been to. It was really great to have a chance to see a bit of a small town, mix with locals, and witness a very lively wedding celebration driving up and down the street.

To avoid making this the longest post ever, I'll wrap up the trip in the next entry!

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