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DECEMBER 18, 2007

It's Mac Time



Think of me as a fool, but after travelling all the way overland from South Africa to Egypt, the first thing on my mind when arriving in Luxor was getting myself a Big Mac. In a weird kind of way this represented the end of the trip, the rearrival in civilisation, the end of subsistance on beans and mealie meal. To make it clear, there are no Macdonalds between South Africa and Egypt, our last meal between the golden arches was way back at the small town of George near Oudtshorn.

Now I don't condone our actions but sitting at the Luxor Maccas we had probably the best available view possible, with a burger in hand, perched on a bar stool looking out over the Luxor Temple. If it's any consolation we walked back to the hotel that night feeling very sick in the guts.

Luxor is the centre of any pharonic tour. It has momuments enough to spend weeks without seeing everything. Previously known as Thebes it was the capital of ancient Egypt, and is the most central location for visits to Karnak, the Theban Necropolis, the Valley of Kings, and the Valley of Queens to name but a few. After Abu Simble, Aswan and Edfu we were on the verge of being templed out, our only option was to hit the big ticket items first, then sanity prevailing we would go hard or go home.

Without any shadow of a doubt, Karnak temple is my Egyptian highlight, built over nearly half a square kilometre, the pure scope of consturction is breathtaking. The walk from luxor out to the Temples ar Karnak is only 3km, aside from a good chance to strech the legs it was a great way to get away from the hassle, hussle and bustle of Luxor and get into a few of the smaller back streets, to watch life going by and see egypt in a better light.

Without going into any kind of detail, Karnak is one of those places you really have to see to believe. The whole complex was built over a 1300 year period, it's expansion along two axis, both east and west towards the nile, and southwards towards the temple of Mut and Luxor. There are three temples in the whole enclosure as well as a sacred lake and numerous other monuments and relics.

At the entrance to the temple of Amun, the most visited of the three temples, you are greeted by an avenue of ram headed sphinxes. At the end of the avenue lies the first pylon, gigantic scale it's nearly 45 metres tall and 130 metres wide. Passing through these gates you enter into a confusing ramshackle of halls and vestibles.

The great Hypostle Hall pales anything else in Egypt temples. Over 6,000 squre metres of papyrus forest, represented through a main avenue of 14 23 metre columns that are over 15 metres in circumference. These columns are flanked by two wings of 122 smaller columns. This whole Area is surrounded by solid stone walls and a roof with a specical elevated section along the main avenue with stone grill windows to let in the light.

I cannot and will not bore you with the details of our escapades inside Karnak, surfice to say we spent the best part of a full afternoon wandering through the complex, bribing the officials to take us into their "special spots" that I am 90% sure everyone goes to. I will however harp on about the Temple of Khonsu. As the day wore to a close, and most of the crowds had left, we wandered out into the empty plains on the south west corner of the complex where we stumbled into the second of the Temples. It was totally deserted except for it's keeper who quite happily gave us a guided tour of the building. With the obvious intention of some baksheesh he unlocked a few of the side rooms and led us up onto the roof of the temple. With the sun setting we had magnificent views of the main temple complex - absolutely breathtaking stuff. This was capped off only by a visit into a little locked room at the back of the temple where, winding through a few dark rooms he took us into a small vestible of to the side of the sanctuary where in total darkness we saw THE finest paintings in all of Egypt - their color untouched by light for thousands of years was incredible.

Walking back to town that evening was the first time I had been truely awed by the Egyptian temples. Abu Simble, Aswan, Edfu were all grand temples, but nothing compared to Karnak.

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With Karnak under the belt we made the decision to forego a visit to Luxor temple. As it stands, the Luxor temple is literlally right in the centre of town and you can see 90% of it from a walk around it's circumference.

It was on this walk that we first ran into the very friendly captain Ahmed, a felucca captain who quite openly triend to wrangle us for some business. After we politely denied him our money, he was more than happy to sit around having a quiet chat with us explaining the ways and means of Luxor town. Far from the hassle we had expected luxor was turning out to be an extremely pleasant place to visit.

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Valley of the Kings - on the cheap. It's simple really and there is no need to book into an expensive tour group. For a measily one Egyptian pound we were able to cross the nile on the local ferry. From there a fairly cheap one way taxi took us out to the Valley of the Kings where we foolishly paid for the train to run us from the ticket office to the tombs, only to find the train runs about 300 metres around a corner and drops you off - nice one.

Unfortunatly our excursion onto the west bank was not to grand a day out thanks to a bad stomach (Donna's, not mine). All together there are nearly 65 tombs, of which only a handful are open to the public on any given day (and three per ticket). We decided against paying the extra money to visit King Tut's tomb, instead opting for some of the lesser known royal tombs. Donna spent most of the day visiting a royal throne all of her own!

By the time we surfaced from our first foray into the earth Donna was feeling the pain. She battled on into the second one which was located 40 metres up a sheer rock wall, then about 40 metres down into the earth. Our final tomb was tunneled deep into the surrounding rock face. By now Donna had had enough and was struggling to hold herself together. I alone plunged down into the depths to explore the tomb.

Compared to the temples and monuments we had already seen, the tombs are a bit of an anti-climax. I'm sure in their heyday, filled with jewels and efferings they would have been awe inspiring. As it was they are very long tunnels with several anti chambers, all walls intricatly carved and painted and at the end lies either an empty room, or a room filled with a big stone box. - Yep, we're templed out.

You are not allowed to take any photos in the tombs to preserve their paintings. As it is several of the tombs are permanently closed due to the humidity caused by people ruining the artwork. In one of the tombs I took a picture of the map of the tomb at the entrance way as a guid for when I was inside.. While standing in the burial chamber I was accosted by an angry looking guard wanting me to delete all of my photos. After I explained to him it was only a map he became very apologetic and proceeded to guide me through the remaining areas of the temple. On returning to the large burial chamber he proceeded to invite me to take a photo of one of the walls, intricatly covered in thousand year old paintins, flash and all. I declined - damn it.

On my return to the surface I found Donna in a very bad way. We had planned to head back to the river on foot crossing the mountains down to some of the other monuments on the west bank, as it was I wasn't sure if we could get her back at all the way she was. Exiting the Valley of the Kings a friendly local saw Donna in trouble and arranged for a taxi driver to run us back to the river at a cheap price. Donna barely made it out of the cab when she proceded to throw up in the middle of a camel parking lot. A few concerned onlookers offered assistance but there was nothing anyone could do. A fairly rough ferry crossing saw us back in Luxor and Donna tucked up in bed.

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After a day or two for Donna to recover we decided to pass up on any more sight seeing in and around Luxor. Unfortuantly we were no longer enjoying it as much as we should have and while there is still so much to see, we will leave it for another day.

We did however bow to the tourist ways and take a sunset falucca ride. We were discussing the idea when we ran into our old mate Ahmed who happily took us for a few hours out on the water, no hassle, no fuss, no exhorbitant prices and constant chatter.

Africa has taken it's toll in more ways than one. Aside from the drain on your enthusiasm, sitting around in Luxor I realised how close I was to an embarressing incident. My travel pants which have endured so much are now ripped to shreds, I'm now sewing up holes in holes. While this is great for looking poor and getting cheap stuff, when the ass is about to fall out of your pants it's time to do something. And so I lashed out on an expensive ($20) pair of jeans from the designer label of Dierct Jeans - straight out of China.

The train from Luxor to Cairo is a twelve hour journey, as a tourist you really have two options, the expensive sleep which costs a bomb (as a backpacker at least), and the cheaper first or second class seated option. We opted for second class which based on our previous experience (getting from Aswan to Edfu) was more than adequate for our needs.

Unfortunatly with Eid Al Adha around the corder it took two days of hanging around to secure a ticket. When we were finally seated we were shown into a carriage that was third class - it was truly shit compared to the rest of the carriages on the train - Donna chucked a huge wobbly and we were moved forward to a true second class cabin which was as we expected and had paid for. Clean seats - no hassle - food borught to you on a tab system - friendly locals to chat with- great views of the Nile and desert as you smoothly head north.

Ahead of us lies Cairo, a sprawling metropolis far removed from anything we have ever experienced.

Click here to see the our Luxor Photo Gallery
Click here to see the our Temple of Karnak Photo Gallery
Click here to see the our Valley of the Kings Photo Gallery

     
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