"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Monday, September 23, 2013

Karnak and Luxor: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.

Right, so I probably am not going to be making good on my non-promise to finish all the Egypt posts before I leave for Germany, even despite the fact that it's on a list and everything.  But I can plod ahead doggedly, because if nothing else the two best parts of my trip haven't even seen the light of day yet, and that's just not okay.   And I can hope(?) that maybe my first few days in Germany will be more like my first days in Istanbul rather than my first days in Georgia, and there will be plenty of time for catch-up before the next adventures start.  Maybe?

Where were we?  Ah yes, sailing up the Nile from our last sunset stop at Kom Ombo.  The morning found us docked at the town of Edfu, where a fleet of dilapidated horse-drawn open carriages waited impatiently to carom us poor hapless tourists through the busy streets and deposit us unceremoniously  in front of the Temple of Horus.

This temple is one of the best-preserved in Egypt, and it's huge.  Ismail took us all around, explaining the mythology of Isis and Osiris, and their son Horus's birth.  When he grew up, Horus married his nanny, the cow-goddess Hathor.  You've got to love a fertile imagination.

Inside the sanctuary
Me and Horus hanging out.

I took this last picture because I'd wanted to ask Ismail about it.  I found it during our free time, down some unremarkable stairs.  It's like a little underground canal.  Unfortunately, I think I may have pissed off some restless spirits with this photo, because immediately after I got hit with rather an emergency case of Egypt Intestines.  I booked it back to the Visitor's Center at the entrance, and truly, one really does not appreciate distance until one has the opportunity to travel in this manner.  I only had a few small coins on me at this moment, and when the attendant began his inevitable "too little too little", I just brushed right past him to make that final last, crucial sprint.  Nothing like a true emergency to help you handle a Baksheesh Shakedown.

So that... was the Temple of Horus.  At least I will never forget it.  But needless to say I did forget to ask Ismail what that canal thing was.

Back on the boat, it still was only something like 10:00 in the morning, and I decided I'd take advantage of the whole "vacation" thing, and grab a nap in my gorgeous room.  BUT, the boat was going through a lock that morning, and this process took about an hour... every minute of which was accompanied by shouting, catcalling vendors who walked along the lock next to the boat and would throw their prospective wares up to people on the boat and then make like they weren't going to catch them should anyone want to throw them back.  Needless to say, they made catching up on sleep impossible.  But it did mean I was awake for going through the lock.

Since the guilty pleasure of a daytime snooze wasn't to be had, I got a cup of coffee outside and chatted with more of my tour group.  After lunch, we braved the midday heat to go up to the roof deck and make use of the amazing pool.  Have I mentioned just exactly what an incredible deal this cruise turned out to be??

Want to know the very, very best way to get me out of a pool and downstairs and dressed with time to spare?  Tell me that the next stops on our Egyptian tour will be Karnak and Luxor.

Now, I had loved and squeed and fangirl gushed over every single thing that I'd seen on the Nile cruise so far (vendor gauntlets and baksheesh shakedowns notwithstanding).  However, Karnak and Luxor were the first sights that I was on a first-name basis with.  That I'd read about.  Seen documentaries about.  If there's one Egyptian pharaoh who's managed to become a household name, that guy would probably be Ramses II.  And I admit it, my love for the guy was a done deal ever since I plowed my way through Anne Rice's The Mummy when I was vacationing up in Maine as a gothy teenager.   And now I was about to go take a gawk at some of his most famous work.  The real deal.

I'm not going to lie.  I cried at Karnak.  I mean, not a lot, and I was wearing sunglasses, so I don't think anyone noticed (I can hope), but there were definite actual tears.  I had never, up to that point, been so happy to be anywhere in my whole entire life.  (And yes, that includes the Pantheon in Rome.)  It's only a wonderful irony of this trip that I would find my experience at Karnak upstaged twice in the next several days.

We followed Ismail around in a manic photo-snapping frenzy.  He read us hieroglyphs, and showed us an Egyptian calendar.  Explained the statues and reliefs, and provided historical context.  That guy knows a lot.  And then we were free to go.  We were supposed to get 20 minutes of exploring time at Karnak, but I politely and firmly freaking mutinied, and got that time extended to 45.  20 minutes my ass.  Seriously.  For one thing, the Karnak temple complex is big.  And for another thing, it's freaking Karnak.  I could have spent hours here.

During my happy solo wanderings across the complex, An Egyptian dude came up to me and asked if I wanted to see a Hatshepsut Colossus.  Now really, I should have known better at this point, but I was just so damn high from all the awesomeness around me that I heard myself saying "Naam, shokran!" ("Yes, thank you!"  I am an idiot.)  The guy took me over to some guards, who cheerfully lifted a barricade for me and then one of them followed my new friend and me around the corner.  Did I mention the guard had an automatic weapon cheerfully swinging from his arm?  They show me the statue, which is quite breathtaking, and then the guard commandeers my camera and invites me to go climbing on the priceless ancient ruins.  Um, why not?  My shoes are clean, I guess...

They coax me through a few more awkward poses, the guard happily snapping away while his impressive firearm swings jauntily from his elbow.  And then they try to usher me away even further from the crowd to see something else reserved for only the most discerning of silly solo female tourists.  I decline, which requires some back-and-forth, but soon enough they give up, at which point of course it's time for Baksheesh.  To my dismay, my wallet did not happen to contain any small bills, but nothing says cheerful cooperation like being in an ancient Egyptian courtyard, all alone with two dudes, one of whom happens to have a very large gun.  So I forked over the smallest I had, which objectively I think came out to maybe five or seven dollars in USD.  Not a bad deal, all told.  My brother-in-law loves this story, which I have affectionately if over-dramatically titled "How I Paid Five Dollars to Not Get Raped in Egypt."

I gratefully made my way back to the other picture-snapping tourists, and thankfully had no more adventures in Karnak that day.  And then it was back on the minibus and off to Luxor Temple.

My insistence of extra time at Karnak meant that we got to Luxor at sunset.  Some of my group expressed displeasure at this, but I absolutely loved getting to see Luxor lit up at night.  With so many temples and amazing things all packed into a very short time frame, I think this made Luxor stand out.  Not that it needed the help.

Back on the boat, it was straight to dinner after what has to be one of the longest days ever!  (Well, second-longest.  You'll see.)  After dinner, the boat had a show of a belly dancer and a whirling dervish up in the lounge, which was a lot of fun if pretty damn corny.  Also, I do have to say I vastly prefer the Turkish style of dervishly whirling, but that's just me.

Sufi Disco?
I closed out the last night of my amazing cruise up the Nile by chatting on the rood deck with Ismail and a very awesome Australian from our group named Phil.

It was my last night on the Tower Prestige, but it wasn't quite time to say farewell to Ismail and the gang yet!  One more 5:30 AM wakeup call... to pay a visit to none other than the Valley of the Kings and a few other notable sights before I once again shouldered the friendly weight of Sisyphus and set my sights to Cairo.


  1. Mary, tried to find your email address here, but couldn't find it. so I left mine, as I'd like to share sth with you regarding your blog. ^_^ when you have time, would you get back to me? Thank you! Willa

    1. Hi Willa, it's good to meet you. I'm afraid your email didn't come through in your comment, but I'm happy to talk here if you'd like.