Valley of the Kings, Egypt
I was up early to meet our guide and driver for the trip to the Valley of the Kings. This area is on the west bank of the Nile and is whee Egyptian royalty and nobility were laid to rest. (The trip to the temples dedicated to the living pharaohs is on the east side of the Nile and the west side of the Nile was the Pharaohs last stop on earth. It was good to avoid the west side of the Nile for as long as you could.)
Debbie, Terry, Annie and Roscoe decided to get up early for a 45 minute balloon ride over the area (I opted out since I had just been on a balloon ride) so it was just me and Mohammed in the van for the ride to the meeting point. I no sooner jumped into the van when it started. “Are you married?” “No.” (Stupid of me….) “Why you not married.” “Long story.” “But you so beautiful. Your eyes. Your eyes.” (Uh dude just drive.) Then … “you marry me.” “I pay 5,000 Egyptian pounds.”
By now I am laughing hysterically. “Uh I don’t think so.” “Why why why you not marry me.” More laughter. “We have babies.” “Sorry buddy. I’m 50 no babies for you.” “No no you not 50.” “Uh yes I am.” “No no not 50.” I proceed to produce my passport to show him I am indeed 50. “I don’t believe. You 25 or 30.” “Yea right. Can we just drive now.” “Why why why you not marry me.” “Your eyes, your eyes… ” This continued for the better part of 30 minutes as we drove through the dusty villages. We finally reached our first destination the Colossi of Memnon, which once fronted the Memorial Temple of Amenhotep III, and was also the landing point for the balloons where I would meet the others.
As we waited, Mohammed continued his VERY persistent banter about my eyes and our pending marriage. Just as I was about to lose my sense of humor about the situation, LT joined us. Thank goodness. Although Mohammed would not let it drop and made a signal with his hands that he wanted my phone number as LT and I walked toward the statutes. (Not bloody likely pal.)
So, we walked around the Colossi of Memnon, but other than the huge figures, there was not much else to see. The faces of the two mammoth figures have been carved off (a common practice in Egypt by invaders or by your successor – if he did not like you.) The colossi were cut from a single block of stone. The name Memnon was apparently coined by the Greeks and Romans who believed the statutes were built for Memnon, the African king who was killed by Achilles during the Trojan war. The picture of me beside the statutes really provides a good scale for how large these statutes really are.
We got back to the van just as the others joined us. We then moved on to the Valley of the Kings to visit three tombs: we chose the tomb of Tawosret/Sethkakht, Ramses III and Ramses IX. As we drove through the desert to the Valley of the Kings, we passed by the home of Howard Carter, which was his residence during his excavation of Tut’s tomb. (BTW – Tut’s tomb is not that spectacular. It is believed that he died very suddenly so there was very little time to build an elaborate tomb. Most pharaohs spend a lifetime overseeing the construction of their final resting place, but poor Tut did not have that luxury, which is why we did not select his tomb.)
When we got to the tombs, we had to take a little shuttle cart up the hillside to the entrance. I suppose you could walk up the hill, but the desert heat was absolutely searing (I think the word was specifically created for the Egyptian heat… holy ****. It was at least 40 degrees celsius (approaching 120 fahrenheit). Anyway, the five of us (no guides allowed) got out of the little cart and trudged up the hill to the last tomb on the path: the tomb of Tawosret/SethnakhtTuthmosis III. We walked in and were fortunate that there were few in the tomb. (BTW – no pictures permitted.) It was stifling hot and humid as we walked through the darkened corridor. Everywhere we looked there were magnificent, brightly colored hieroglyphics and reliefs on the walls. We continued our walk down into the tomb through the lower corridors and finally reached the burial chamber The burial chamber was fantastic with beautiful carvings, including the sun god on the walls. (This tomb turned out to be my favorite.)
We then visited the tomb of Ramses III who had much of the ceilings of the corridors of his burial chamber decorated with with stars against a brilliant blue night sky. Gorgeous. (I cannot imagine the fellows who spent a life time on their backs painting the stars. Unbelievable… this was not a short corridor it went on for a good block or two.) Then we passed an aborted tunnel (apparently according to the English fellow I was talking to the digging was halted because they almost ran into another tomb). The tomb of Ramses III featured a series of side rooms as we walked down the corridor with very different reliefs on the walls including people playing the harp.
We then moved on to the last tomb we were to visit and it was jammed. I have no idea why, other than it was close to the entrance. It was incredibly hot and slow moving and while the hieroglyphics on the walls were spectacular the overwhelming heat and cramped quarters made it difficult to enjoy.
As we left the site, we were BOMBARDED by hawkers. “Look here lady.” “Buy a pretty shawl lady.” “You need this lady.” And on and on. Fortunately, if you do not respond, look straight ahead and keep walking they lose interest and move on. The fatal mistake is to acknowledge them or show any level of interest. You will be immediately surrounded. We saw these poor Japanese tourists being hassled to death solely because one of them stopped.
We left the Valley of the Kings (you really need about 3 days here) and made a brief stop at a tiny alabaster shop where we watched a demonstration of how alabaster is made. They first carve the stone with a pick and then wrap it with cotton and glue and leave it sit for 2 days. The stone is then carved into the piece of artwork, fired, filed, rubbed smooth with sandstone and sandpaper, waxed and left to sit for 15 days. Then viola. A gorgeous semi-transparent figurine. We wandered around and looked at the various pieces on display, and I made the mistake of showing interest in a sculpture of Nefertiti. The young fellow showing me the statute, Mohammed (what else – I think it is the Arabic version of John), began to follow me and yep… the same lines. “Are you married?” “You are so beautiful.” “Your eyes are so pretty.” ACK! Then the line that made me buy the damn statute… “I would give a million camels for you.” A MILLION CAMELS! Wow Mohammed #1 was out. I could have a million camels. (Wonder if my neighbors in Kirkland would mind camels in the empty lot adjacent to my house.) I paid for my purchase laughing all the way out the door. I told Mohammed #1 he was out because the offer just got upped to a million camels. Everyone in the van was laughing.
We made a quick stop at a very dusty convenience store so Terry could buy some cigarettes, and I hopped out so I could buy a bottle of water. I handed the guy a 200 pound note and apologized for not having anything smaller. “That is OK my queen. I am just honored you visited my store. You are so beautiful.” (OH MY GOD guys please give it a rest.) However, I realized that my status had now increased, and I was now an unofficial Queen. Yowsa! They better start preparing a tomb for me in the Valley of the Queens. So after I got back in the van and relayed the story, everyone was laughing… except Mohammed #1. Only a slight forced smile. Poor guy.
So we drove on to the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut. This would be our last stop before we headed back to the dahabiya and begin our cruise. The temple took 40 years to build and is surrounded by huge limestone mountains. And quite frankly, it was difficult to see the temple at first because it seemed to blend so well with the surroundings. LT warned us that this temple suffered from extreme vandalism as Hatshepsut’s step-son Tuthmosis III removed her name and face wherever he could. (Talk about sour grapes… apparently Tuthmosis III was too young to rule when his father passed away so Hatshepsut co-ruled with him until she managed to push him aside with the assistance of priests to assume the role of pharaoh for 15 years until her death. Tuthmosis III ordered that all reference to her be wiped from Egyptian history. Her mummy, however, was recently been identified and is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo… which I saw.)
As we got out, I thought I would keel over from the heat. Holy ****! It was just getting hotter and hotter. (I later found out that the site of Hatshepsut’s temple is one of the hottest places on earth… yea no joke….)
The temple was constructed on 3 levels and after an overview of the site from our guide LT, I decided to start on the Upper Terrace and move down. The 3rd level at one time had a series of Osarid statues, some of which remain. I wandered through and past the statutes and back to the center of the Upper Terrace where I made my way to the back to the Sanctuary of Amun, which had a lovely pink tinged granite doorway (my picture turned out like **** though.)
I walked around the Upper Terrace examining the hieroglyphics and columns before heading back out and past the Osarid statutes to the Middle Terrace. Here were the best hieroglyphics and reliefs in the temple. My favorite was the relief showing people collecting plants to make incense and perfumes surrounded by animals and birds. It was drawn over a series of walls and was really fantastic. I then moved to my left and walked through the Hathor Chapel where there were two chambers with Hathor headed columns (Hathor was the goddess of love and pleasure and was represented by a cow.) I then doubled back and walked to my far right to the Chapel of Anubis where there were more brilliant reliefs (although many were of a disfigured Hatshepsut… poor thing.)
By now I was done in and it was time to head back to the boat. I walked down the ramps and met up with our group and off we set in the van. At this point all I wanted to do was wash the dirt and dust and perspiration off me. We made the final trek through the village (but not before poor Mohammed #1 made once last ditch effort for my number and email) near our dock watching the same amazing sites… men on their knees bowed over in prayer (we were passing through at the noon time prayer), donkeys and goats, kids walking home from school, the market in full force and on and on. When we got out the the van to begin the walk down the hill, little kids came running from everywhere to greet us. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Say hello back and give them a smile and it is another chorus of Hellos. (Only word they know.) The kids were beautiful, charming and if they couldn’t put a smile on someone’s face no one could. The villagers were very kind and allowed us to take pictures without objection. Just fabulous.
We got on the boat and I immediately showered, changed and headed upstairs to the top deck for lunch. Now about the dahabiya. Think houseboat with sails. There are literally hundreds of boats on the Nile , however, most are large steamers or paddle wheel boats that move quickly up and down the Nile and house hundreds of people. I was on a tiny little, slow moving, boat with 12 others and a staff of at 16. And instead of the standard 4 or 5 day cruise, we were on the Nile for 7. Now this is the way to go.
As we sat having yet another 6 course lunch (appetizer, salad, soup, main course, desert and cheese course) we untied and began the slow trip down the Nile to Aswan. We passed by farming villages, fishermen casting nets, kids playing in the water (not sure if that is a good idea), cows drinking in the river, birds, and mile after mile of sugar cane and corn crops. It was heaven.
We spent the afternoon watching life on the Nile go by. I had a short nap and listened to the water lap at the dahabiya as we floated along at a very leisurely pace. We ended up anchoring for the night near a farm in the middle of nowhere (at least it seemed that way to me). We had another fabulous 6 course meal under the stars and by the time dinner was over it was time for bed. It had been a long day and I wanted to get up early to see the dahabiya pass through the locks near Esna the next day.