We woke before sunrise in Cairo to catch our flight to Luxor. We had another packed day ahead of us. As we walked out of the hotel the call to prayer echoed off the pyramids. This was the first time Jess had heard it abroad so it was fun to see her perspective with fresh ears and mind. The call to prayer is very beautiful but can also be startling, perhaps even eerie, when you aren’t expecting it and its dominating the soundscape.
Peter woke up and read the news that morning only to learn that there had been a bombing in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the area that connects Africa to Asia. The militant group, ISIS, attacked and killed 33 Egyptian soldiers, the deadliest in decades for Egypt, and left the central and northern regions of the Sinai Peninsula in a state of emergency. The Egyptian President also declared three days of national mourning. Sadly, in this day of Western-centric news coverage, the incident only made the back pages of international media outlets. But in a twisted way, it was ok for us as it escaped the eyesight of family and friends that may have been concerned for our well-being. We were at the time roughly 170 miles from where the attack occurred; nevertheless, we never felt unsafe during our time in Egypt. But this incident found its way back into our lives later (we’ll get to that later in the post).
Mohammed, our tour manager, picked us up and off we were to the airport for yet another long and adventurous day. After a non-eventful hour flight South down the Nile to Luxor, we were greeted by our female tour guide, Hagar. This was her first day back to work after going on maternity leave. Jess and Hagar quickly bonded over motherhood. This was Hagar’s first baby so Jess was full of great advice considering she was about to have her third.
We checked into our new hotel, Sonesta St George, where we had view of the Nile River from our balcony. Then we were off.
We started our tour with a bang at the Valley of The Kings where 62 known pharaoh tombs are located.
So why did the Kings move their tombs to Luxor opposed to building more Pyramids in Giza?
During the reign of the New Kingdom (1539-1075 bc) Kings had witnessed the looting of the Pyramids and were fearful of losing their own treasures. So a new burial site was chosen, more modest in form from the surface, in the outskirts of Luxor. Tombs were created inside the rock of the hills which at the time were sealed and hidden. And while many of the tombs have been discovered, to this day, Egyptologists believe that there are still many more to be found.
I was initially struck by the enormous size of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Some of the tombs we visited had high ceilings and were bigger than a lot of homes. The walls of the tombs were adorned with intricate hieroglyphics telling the story of afterlife. It was believed that the drawing on the walls would come alive after the tomb was sealed to help the king in his quest for eternity. The king would be faced with trials and tests before the “weighing of the heart” to see if he could cross over to the afterlife. If the king had been noble and good the heart would outweigh the bad and all his treasures would be taken with him to his eternal resting place.
After hearing all this I wondered why there hasn’t been an animated movie made about hieroglyphics coming alive and helping a young king on his quest in the afterlife. Wait, I know someone at Pixar. I need to reach out to my sister and law. Wouldn’t this storyline make for a great film?
Unfortunately, albeit understandably, there were no photos allowed in the tombs. We visited three tombs. Each one unique and a visual treat. For me this part of the tour was very surreal. Standing in ancients tombs where a king was mummified and surrounded by all his wealth and stories on the walls with grandiose expectations was a treat. All of this happening thousands of years ago. Here is a picture of the scenery outside the tombs.
During out tour Jess and I were approached by a group of women for a picture. This time I had Peter snap a picture of the group.
The women were very kind and inquisitive. One of them asked me my age. When I told her she looked surprised then said,
“Oh wow. Your appearance is so young. You are very beautiful.”
Later when I relayed this story to my Mom she said, “It must be because you look so different from them.” Nothing like your mom to keep you grounded. Love you Mom.
Next stop was Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut the first known female monarch ruling from 1503-1482 BC. She is considered by some to be one of the most successful Pharaohs and the first great woman in history. This temple marks the first example of a turning point in ancient Egyptian architecture. One distinction is that the temple is made from limestone instead of sandstone. The temple provided many photo opportunities.
Afterwords we went to a workers shop where the products were made from genuine Egyptian alabaster amongst other raw earth materials. Most of the souvenirs in Egypt are actually made in China from cheap materials and plastics, but this was one of the government verified shops where souvenirs can be purchased with a lot more confidence. And since Jess offered to take some souvenirs home for us, we purchased some great small pieces made from the local geology for our future home. The owner of the shop, however, had a gimmicky introduction by his front door that included his workers doing a song routine as they showed their work in action. I was volunteered to take a hand at one of their tools.
Possibly Peter’s least favorite thing to do is shop so here he is attempting to entertain himself.
Before returning to the hotel we visited Colossi of Memnon which is two 3400 year old enormous statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. It was under his reign that Egypt reached it’s political and culture high point. Now it sits by the side of a road, in the middle of nowhere, next to a parking lot.
After another long adventurous day we headed back to our hotel for a brief rest then a sunset felucca ride on the Nile River.
This is a felucca – a small boat propelled by oars or sails.
We enjoyed tea, getting to know our comedian tour guide Ruby (picture below is not Ruby but the felucca driver), and watching the sunset over the Nile.
Always one to help out, Peter rowed our felucca for a bit.
Impressively when the sail had to be tied down one of the men on our boat climbed to the top of it (look closely in the picture below). Not a job for the weary of heights.
We enjoyed a truly beautiful sunset.
Our last big event of the day was a horse drawn carriage ride through the city. We weren’t totally sold on it as it sounded really, really touristy, but in the end what else were we going to do? This got us out in the city from a fun and efficient viewpoint.
Ruby went with us and had the carriage go through the souks (markets). Jess was in the front of the carriage so she had to duck as we rode through stalls and dodged people. I couldn’t believe we fit through the narrow passageways and overhead makeshift roofs. It was super fun and had already surpassed expectations shortly into the tour. I couldn’t count how many times the shop vendors said “thanks for coming to Egypt” even though we weren’t customers. You could tell they truly hope for the tourism to pick up again.
We made a pit stop for “Egyptian beer” or sugar cane juice. With the heat, we all really enjoyed the stop. Such a refreshing and delicious drink.
After a quick drink we were back on our way through the souks again.
And then something very memorable happened.
As we were continuing our tour Ruby announced that the markets were blocked off and we needed to turn around. Just then we saw a large group of women all in black burkas (conservative Muslim attire) pacing in an oblong like circle wailing as a ritual to mourn the death of someone in the community. Ruby soon found out that the ‘someone’ was in fact a soldier from the neighborhood that was killed in the Sinai Peninsula that morning and that the news had just gotten back to the family. There is mandatory military service in Egypt for young men that makes this type of circumstance all to real and palpable for all families.
It was a very powerful moment that was all together touching, moving and sad. It made us think about the disassociation between numbers and actual lives that we read about in the newspapers. We read earlier of the 33 dead, but seeing the real impact of one soldier on a community made the number come alive in a humanizing way. We all took a moment of silence to process what we had just seen while also shaking our heads at all the senseless loss of lives in the world.
Ruby with his humor and affable personality was able to bring us back together with solid comedic timing. We decided to make a stop for hookah and fruit drinks then a little shopping in the souks.
Before we headed into the souks (markets) Ruby gave us a game plan for negotiating. If the price was too high he would turn his back so we knew to negotiate more. Jess and I would barter with the owner. Ruby would turn his back. We would come back with a lower price. This would go a few rounds until we agreed on a price and Ruby would stand motionless. We didn’t know if Ruby was actually on our side or in cahoots with the stall owner, but it didn’t matter as it was still fun, entertaining, and inexpensive. At one point I played the honeymoon card as it came up in conversation. The owner said, “Now you tell what you want to pay.” Apparently if you are on your honeymoon they have to give you the price you want. Not wanting to take advantage I gave the price he had been asking for.
On our way back to the hotel Ruby told us once again that he heard many locals saying in Arabic, “thank God we have visitors” directed at us. We felt so welcome and thanked for being in Egypt by the locals.
The next morning we got up early for yet another busy and full day.
We visited the Karnak Temple which is the largest ancient religious site ever made. It covers approximately 200 acres. The construction started in 1400 BC and took 1000 years to build. It is a city of temples and was the main place of worship, considered “most select of places.” The Karnak Temple was definitely a highlight with it’s massive obelisks, statues, and temples. It was the first time I have ever walked through an ancient city and it was a thrill. There were so much to see and learn in Egypt that it was difficult to keep it all straight. All our brains were spinning with the information overload.
Since Jess and I are both yoga lovers we took the opportunity to pose at the entrance with a row of sphinxes while simultaneously doing a sphinx pose. Technically Jess is in upward dog due to the baby in her belly.
We ended up with a ton of pictures. Here are some favorites.
Next stop was the Luxor Temple which in ancient times was connected to the Karnak Temple by two miles of what is known as Avenue of Sphinx. These rows of sphinx weren’t discovered until recently in 2010. Below are the sphinx in front of the Luxor Temple. There were 1350 sphinx in total. It is believed that Cleopatra walked this avenue.
This Temple was founded around 1392 BC and is mainly the works of Amenhotep III, who reigned from 1390 to 1352 BC. and Ramesses II whose statue is seen at the entrance of the temple.
Just like all ancient Egyptian works the structures are just massive and impressive.
During the Christian Era in Egypt 33 AD-4th century parts of the temple were converted into a church which you can still see remnants of of the Christian religion on the walls even though the temple was eventually converted to a mosque and painted over.
The colors above is an example of restoring what the Temple use to look like in ancient times. It was explained to me that a chemical is used to bring back colors to the temple walls and in five years the entire temple will be lit up. I would love to come back and see that. I would imagine that it will only enhance the already beautiful visuals. Below you can see a wall being worked on.
We did one last stop at the Mummification Museum and it wasn’t worth the money. Overpriced and just not much to see. I only mention it because if you are reading this and planning a trip to Luxor I don’t recommend going. If you look at Trip Advisor you will see that many people share this sentiment.
After this marathon tour of Luxor we headed back to the airport to catch our flight to Cairo for our last evening together with Jess before Peter and I headed to Istanbul.
Our last night we stayed at Fairmont Hotel Heliopolis which was another nice hotel. We had our last dinner together sitting outside by the pool processing and discussing our trip together. Again, as I look back on that dinner I don’t think we realized just how incredible our trip was. That’s the beauty of the mind and travel. The experiences take time to digest and when they do they blossom and unveil themselves in such incredible ways that develop you as a person, educates you as a citizen of the planet and etches indescribable memories, cultures and visuals into your brain that can never be taken away. We knew at the time that we had just partook in something beautiful and the hindsight of the trip only multiplies those sentiments.
In the morning we met up with Mohammed one last time who made sure we were all set at the ticket counter.
It was another early morning. While Peter was off finding coffee Jess and I sat near the gate waiting for boarding. While I was sitting zoned out and pretty tired I heard Jess say, “Jaime come here. Quick.” I walked over to her and just then she turned me around and put her arm around me, “Look at that sunrise.” We both stood there for a few moments taking it in. Sunrises alone are always exquisite but this time standing there with my dear friend after our adventure together, this sunrise was exceptionally special.
We flew from Cairo to Istanbul where we said our good-byes to Jess. This is how we felt about that.
One last note about Jess. She did all of this travel from Hawaii to Croatia to Egypt and back to Hawaii while being five months pregnant. It was a lot for anyone, pregnant or not. We had early mornings followed by long days, road trips and a handful of airplane trips. She was always upbeat and positive. Never seemed tired and never complained. She was an inquisitive traveler in all the right ways. It was thoroughly impressive for both Peter and I. Jess was a perfect travel companion and we hope to believe she felt the chemistry too. We are grateful that she joined us on this part of our journey.
Next up, Turkey! This was a destination that turned out to be a surprise favorite.
Thanks as always for reading and commenting. I appreciate it. Much love.