Come Sail Away with Me – Nile Cruise Day 1

Luxor, Egypt


I was up before the sun (3:15 a.m.) for my early morning flight to Luxor and my cruise down the Nile on a dahabiya for 7 days. Mohammed and my driver were picking me up at 4:00 a.m. When I got in the car, I expressed my unhappiness to Mohammed about my Friday afternoon and in particular, my lousy lunch. Mohammed apologized repeatedly and assured me that there would be no further problems.

We arrived at the airport and Mohammed assisted me with my luggage and to the first security checkpoint where my luggage was loaded on the conveyor. Mohammed began to bid me goodbye when I reminded him that he had not provided me with my e-tickets to Luxor and Abu Simbel. Cut to the look of panic in Mohammed’s eyes. Uh oh. He searched his bag and then searched his bag again. Mohammed had forgotten to bring my e-ticket. At this point, my luggage (including my bag with all my valuables) was on the other side. However, I clearly could not pass through security without my e-ticket. Rapid fire words exchanged between Mohammed and the security guard who looked at my passport and let me pass.

Mohammed then asked for my passport back (which was passed from me to the security guard to Mohammed) and he rushed off to the Egypt airlines office to get my e-ticket. (Uh dude what happened to the no further problems assurances.) So I proceed to stand there at the security checkpoint with my luggage, but without my passport and e-ticket. Limbo land. Just great. Ten minutes later, Mohammed finally returned with my e-ticket, which he proceeded to hand to me prefaced by the comment… “It is all good, but there is a little change.” I looked at the ticket and realized that I was standing there at 4:45 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. flight that did not actually leave until 7:20. I glared at Mohammed, tried to keep my composure, snatched the e-ticket from his hand and said “This is unacceptable!” I walked away without giving him a tip. Unbelievable. This morning had turned into an unfortunate continuation of my lousy Friday afternoon, and I was very unhappy (compounded by the fact that I had very little sleep).

So I sat around the airport for almost 2 ½ hours waiting for my flight, which fortunately left on time. My only hope now was that someone would actually be at the airport in Luxor to take me to the dahabiya. I collected my luggage and passed through the doors to find two men from Memphis Tours standing there with a sign with my name on it. I was told to stand to the side while they waited for the other folks they were picking up to join us. A few minutes later two other couples passed through the doors and one of the fellows took the two couples with him since they were not going on my dahabiya. I was then left (in the searing heat) with “door #2”. The fellow proceeded to chat on his telephone (in English) to what was clearly a tour operator about the price of some side trips. Hey buddy. I’m melting here. Let’s go. Another 5 minutes pass and I interrupted him with a tap and a “let’s go.” Door #2 hangs up, apologizes and tells me we are waiting for one other couple. However, the terminal (which is tiny) is empty. “There is no one else” I said, “let’s go.”

The guy refuses to believe there is no one else so he waives his sign at a couple employees and a security guard who comes over and tells him (I presume) that the arrival area is empty. This guy does not seem to get that whoever else he was supposed to pick up was not there. By now my patience was about done. I was seething. I had a crappy Friday afternoon, a crappy Saturday morning and this jackass is compounding my anger. “Let’s go NOW!” (At this point I realized I was at risk of turning into
the ugly tourist, but I was really pissed at Memphis Tours by now and drenched with sweat in the hot (110 degrees), humid morning.) The fellow got the message loud and clear and scrambled after me as I pushed my luggage cart. He tried to help me, and I just moved faster.

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A village on the outskirts of Luxor near our dahabiya

We finally reached the car where the driver was waiting. We then proceed to sit in the car for another 10 minutes while this jackass aka Door #2 calls everyone in his phone book on the two phones he is carrying. Clearly this guy has no clue what to do now since the couple on his sign did not show up. By now I was ready to rip his head off. “Take me to the dahabiya NOW. You can talk on your phone as we drive.” “Madame, I am sorry but we have other people.” “There are NO OTHER PEOPLE. I paid for a transfer. I am hot and sweaty and have had less than 4 hours sleep because of Memphis Tours. Please take me to my boat now. You can come back.”

So rapid fire Arabic (which I am sure included the Arabic equivalent to “bitch”) and off we finally go.  By now it has been 45 minutes since I collected my luggage and proceeded to have the unfortunate encounter with Door #2. We begin the drive through Luxor down a very dusty road. The driver attempted to turn down a road and we are turned back by security. (Luxor is surrounded by security and security checkpoints everywhere since the Luxor massacre of tourists a few years ago.) Rapid fire Arabic, followed by finger pointing from the security guard. We turn around and head on over a bridge. Uh do these guys know where we are going? I keep my mouth shut and just watch in amazement as we drive in a complete circle over a 45 minute period. Finally I can’t stand it anymore. “Do you guys know where you are going? We have driven almost completely around Luxor and we aren’t even close to the Nile.” I then get some half assed explanation about security not letting them go down the road and they are trying to find the other way to the boat. (I later learned that the other way was not in fact the correct way and these guys really had no clue where they were going.)

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Kids in the village near our dahabiya

“Don’t you transfer people to this dahabiya all the time?” “Yes, but they are at a new landing area so we are trying to find the new location.” (Uh no they aren’t at a new location as I later learned.) “Look. Rather than driving around, please call someone and get directions.” So we pulled over. More rapid fire Arabic and suddenly we are turning around and going down a side road into a village on the West Bank (Luxor is on the East Bank of the Nile) so we are now in a village across from the Luxor area. We begin to drive through this village and again I feel like I am watching the Discovery Channel out the window of the car. We drove past donkeys and carts being pulled by donkeys. Men selling fruits and vegetables out of rickety wooden carts. Goats and dogs walking in the middle of the road. Children running after the car. Women walking by with boxes balanced on their head. Men gathered in a semi-circle smoking sheeshas (long pipes). Dust flying everywhere. And yes.. nonstop horns. At this point I wondered where the hell I was going.

We drove through the town to the end of the road and encountered another security guard. Some rapid fire conversation and Door #2 gets on the telephone again. When he got off the phone I asked him to please explain to me where the hell I was and when I was going to get to the dahabiya. (By now it had been over 2 hours since I landed and had no clue if I would ever see the boat.) I was assured that we were very close, but that it was a “little confusing” because the dahabiya is at a new docking point (NOT!)

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The dahabiya (finally)

And then… yep you guessed it. We turned around and went back in the exact same direction. This time, however, we turned down a side street, drove past more of the village life and then pulled over. “We will wait here and the boat will send someone to show us the way down to the river.” By now I was pretty concerned that I was involved in a real Mickey Mouse operation and had really screwed up in booking this cruise. However, ten minutes later my faith in my research was restored. A fellow showed up from around the side of a building and Door #2 got out. Some discussion and I was told it would be a short walk to the dahabiya. So the guys grabbed my luggage (without any explanation of where the heck I was at) and we set out down a very dusty dirt road, through an alley, past a number of cinder block houses and through a grassy field down a hill towards the Nile… and then low and behold… there it was my dahabiya. (BTW – a dahabiya is rather elaborate wooden sailing vessel – think houseboat – consisting of 6 or 8 cabins, a chef, captain and crew. The boat is towed by a barge when sail power is not possible. The dining area is outside on the top deck and there are lounge chairs and couches on the upper deck for the guests. It is a very slow, leisurely method of traveling down the Nile – and far different than the large steamer cruisers that generally carry tourists up and down the Nile.)

I was welcomed on board by the Captain (Victor), given a cold drink and a wonderful pink towel to cool off with that had been soaked in a mist called Fi and smelled heavenly. I said goodbye to Door #2 without a tip (the guy was a jackass, had kept me standing in the hot sun for almost a half hour, treated me like crap on the drive without providing any explanation or apologizing for the confusion and deserved nothing).

The Captain proved to be another story. When I relayed my story about the past two days, he looked disgusted and shook his head. He apologized profusely and told me that my trip on the Nile would be much different. I was shown my cabin, stowed my luggage and collapsed on my bed for a nap.

About 1:00, I headed upstairs to meet my fellow passengers: a lovely Swiss couple (who unfortunately spoke very little English), a couple from Canada on their honeymoon (Andrea and Ryan), a couple from Arizona (Debbie and Terry), two couples from Oregon (George and Sharon and Irv and Stephanie) and a fabulous, life of the party couple (Annie and Roscoe) from Sydney, Australia. All really nice people. This was going to be fun!

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The phalanx of ram headed Sphinx at Karnak

We were served a delicious (and extremely large 6 course) lunch on the deck and then our guides arrived to take us to the Temples of Karnak and Luxor. The Swiss couple and the Canadian couple had their own guides. In addition, the two couples from Oregon had their own guide who was traveling with them. Terry, Debbie, Annie, Roscoe and me were assigned a guide who knew his stuff, but seemed rather lazy. His name was El Tiab Amed or LT for short. (Put it this way. He seemed full of energy on Saturday, but Sunday morning he seemed to go through the motions… maybe a rough Saturday night). Our driver’s name was Mohammed.

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Entering the first pylon at Karnak

So about 3:00 Terry, Debbie, Annie, Roscoe and I met LT for our trip into Luxor. We hiked back up the hill through the back yard of the village huts and to the waiting van. Then it was another fascinating ride through the village (with more of the same donkeys, carts, women doing their balancing act, children running everywhere, dust flying and on and on…)

Anyway, first up was the Temples of Karnak and specifically the Amun Temple Enclosure which houses numerous temples, statutes and obelisks to honor a multitude of gods worshiped by the pharaohs and the Egyptian people. The temples were constructed over centuries and as a result the massive complex is rather confusing. As we entered the Amun Temple, we walked past a series of giant ram headed sphinxes through the “first pylon” or entryway, which featured mud brick construction ramps onto which stones to build the structure were dragged using rollers and ropes. The first pylon was never finished.

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A forest of pillars at Karnak

To the right were the chapels of the god Mut, Khonsu and Amun as well as a chapel to the pharaoh Seti II. This area had some lovely painted hieroglyphics on the walls. From here we walked through the courtyard past the second pylons into the Great Hypostyle Hall. This place was fantastic. Imagine walking through 134 mammoth papyrus shaped stone pillars all carved with hieroglyphics. It was amazing. Everywhere I turned there was something new and interesting to examine.

After walking through the maze of pillars, we moved through more pylons and reached the Inner Temple that featured the remains of two obelisks both erected by Queen Hatshepsut. The first was to honor the god Amun and the second was to honor herself. (The Egpytian pharaohs and queens had zero humility. As LT noted after we passed yet another statute of Ramses II… “there’s another mini-me” …. apparently LT was an Austin Powers fan.)

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The god with the … uh “big stick” at Karnack

Anyway, we wandered through more pylons and into more temples featuring gorgeous (and colorful) hieroglyphics. LT made sure he pointed out to us the god of fertility Min, (who I believe is related to the Bes, the god of fertility in Turkey because this guy was also ah … how shall I say… carrying a big stick….)

Anyway, we continued to wander through the massive complex and LT would stop and point out interesting hieroglyphics and sculptures (we even saw the first Egyptian calendar). We approached the Sacred Lake (where the priests would bathe twice a day) and saw the fallen obelisk (the obelisk Queen Hatshepsut built to honor her own coronation, but which apparently fell down in the giant earthquake) as well as the Giant Scarab dedicated to Khepri a form of the sun god. LT told us that the
ancient Egpytians believed if you walked around he scarab three times while reciting a wish and asking for good health it would come true. So … I took the plunge and walked around the humongous stone cockroach … it remains to be seen if my wish will come true (or have good health!).

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Walk like an Egyptian at Karnak

We spent about 20 minutes just wandering around the site taking pictures and then it was on to the Luxor Temple. This temple was constructed primarily by Aamenhotep III and Ramses II and it showed. Ramses II was everywhere (remember… mini-me). The Luxor Temple was primarily used to celebrate Opet, the annual festival to honor the gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu when the statutes of the gods were taken from Karnak and paraded down the avenue of sphinxes 3 km to the Luxor Temple. (The Avenue of Sphinxes was apparently buried under illegally built residences. The government has torn down the residences, relocated the residents and is in the process of restoring the 3 km Avenue of Sphinxes which will link Karnak to Luxor. We saw the work in progress and it is going to be spectacular.)

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A seated Ramses II at the entrance to Luxor Temple

As we entered the Luxor Temple complex we came to the first pylon that was fronted by two massive seated statutes of Ramses II (apparently there was at one time 2 additional seated statutes and 2 standing, but those have not survived). In addition, we saw one of two giant pink obelisks that adorned the front of the pylon. (The other pink obelisk was taken by Napoleon and now sits on the Place de Concorde in Paris. I have seen it and it does look beautiful there, but IMHO it belongs back in the Luxor Temple.)

Once through the pylon, we then entered the Great Court of Ramses II (what else would you name it??!!) where there were more statutes of Ramses II. No doubt this pharaoh loved himself. (Also, given his longevity – 99 years – he had plenty of time to make sure the world did not forget him.) Adjacent to the Court was the 14th century Mosque of Abu al-Haggag that was built into the complex. We then veered to the right and walked through the Colonnade of Amenhotep II, which is a series of papyrus shaped columns decorated during the reign of King Tut (his statute was also in this colonnade). After we passed through the colonnade, we entered the Sun Court of Amenhotep III (a large room enclosure decorated with massive papyrus shaped columns on three sides.) The final room we visited was the Hypostyle Hall where much of one of the walls was painted over with Roman scenes, including Christian depictions dating to the 3rd century A.D.

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Me in the Great Court of Ramses II at Luxor Temple

LT gave us some time to wander around so I took the chance to retrace our steps and go back to look at the mammoth statutes of Ramses II. At this point, I should be tired of the guy, but he was one of the most influential pharaohs bringing peace and stability to the region by settling differences with the Hittites and building amazing monuments so I figured that I owed it to him to at least spend some quality time with his statutes.

We headed back to the dahabiya just has the sun was setting. We would spend the night docked in Luxor, visit the Valley of the Kings in the morning and then push off to begin the cruise down the Nile.

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Luxor Temple at Sunset

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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