Luxor Part Two: tombs, mummies and a family dinner

25 July 2014

In the morning, after another breakfast of pastries and melon, my holiday buddy and I met up with The Local from last night and his friend took us all on our day’s sightseeing trip to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Temple of Hatshepsut. The sites were on the opposite side of the river Nile to the town of Luxor but, thankfully, the drive still wasn’t too long. Our first stop was the Valley of the Kings, where The Flatmate and I hopped out. The boys didn’t want to come in and chose to wait in the excruciatingly hot car whilst we went in.

The general tickets on offer bought us entry into three tombs of our choice and we could get extra tickets for the most famous tombs, including that of King Tutankhamun. As we bought our initial tickets, the guy behind the counter was chatting away and suddenly asked for a tip. He said he’d told us which were the best tombs that were open today and we should pay him for his recommendations. We hadn’t caught a word. He repeated himself and we gave him a few pounds. We hadn’t really asked for it but it was information worth having.

Since there were student tickets on offer, I tried to use my student card to get the concession but according to the guy it wasn’t the right type of card. He said he would still accept it but I’d have to pay a tip. Even with that, it was still cheaper that way so I agreed. I figured that’s just how things worked. On moving over to the next counter for our King Tut tickets, the new guy said he would take my student card if I tipped again. I handed over some more coins but apparently this wasn’t enough so I handed over a few more. Next we had to pay for a shuttle that would take us up the hill to the valley itself. We weren’t sure exactly how far it would be walk but it was just too hot to find out. The shuttle didn’t cost much at all but already it felt like we were leaking money.

Finally, we made it into the Valley of the Kings itself and decided to stick to the tombs that we’d been recommended: Merenptah (8), Rameses III (11) and Tausert & Setnakht (14). I forget exactly which but two out of three were definitely worth the tip. I think it was number 8 and 14- the latter of which was resting place to both a king and his wife. We did almost divert from the recommendations after spotting a tomb up in the rock, at the top of a tall flight of stairs. We figured it would have some amazing views but, after making the hike in the burning sun, we discovered it was closed and had to descend again.

In each tomb, we found that we there were only a few visitors inside or none at all, apart from us. On the one hand, this meant that we didn’t have to push through crowds inscriptions all over the walls inside. However, on the other, it also meant that the guards were constantly trying to give us a running commentary in return for a tip. I would have been interested to learn more about the stories behind the images in the tombs but sadly they were just pointing out things we could already see, like animals that we could easily identify ourselves, without a helping hand.

We found out that the decline of tourism in Egypt has really affected some of the locals so we knew they were just trying to make a living but we were starting to feel like cash machines. It was a shame to feel like we had to rush around in order to get away from the hassle but being alone in the tombs did have its advantages and we were able to get us close to some of the relics, including King Tut’s mummy, which we came face to face with. The tombs themselves were beautifully decorated with hieroglyphics and with images of the kings and the gods. Some also contained sarcophagi. It was rather unbelievable that so much had survived for thousands of years.

Our next stop was the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, a woman who had reigned over ancient Egypt as a king. Her beautifully columned temple sat in the rock, close to the Valley of the Kings.

Whilst there were several tourists here, although not loads, we still got the same hassle as we looked around the statues and carvings on the walls. It was more than worth it though. As we waited for the shuttle train to take us between the temple and the ticket office. It was a relatively short distance but it was just too hot to walk, exposed in the sun. We treated ourselves to a Sprite to re-hydrate and increase our sugar-levels and chatted away to the guy in the cafe, who handed us cold water to splash on our face. He invited us to a wedding that evening. During Ramadan, weddings are not held but this one was for a Christian family so would be taking place. It was a tempting offer but we did already have dinner plans.

By the time we reached Valley of the Queens, we were exhausted from the heat and were reaching the end of our tether after being hassled endlessly for money. This time, we were the only visitors in the valley. There were only a handful of tombs open, mainly of the sons of the kings, and we didn’t spend as much time in them as we would have if we had been able to look around the quietly alone. In the last, however, the guard started telling us information about the book of the dead, which we couldn’t have worked out by ourselves from the carvings. We ended up giving him some money as a thank you – that was the kind of thing we wanted to learn about.

Finally, our new friends took us back to the hotel, where we could rest before the big family dinner that night. We didn’t want to fill ourselves up so we treated ourselves to some crisps from the corner shop that stood outside the entrance to our hotel and we munched away, chilling by the cool pool.

In the evening, our friends came to collect us and took us out of town to a little village. During the day, we had had the windows down in the taxi but now they were rolled up. We tried to wind them down only to find the handle was nowhere do be seen. One of the boys in the front seats seemed to be playing with one so we asked to use it. It didn’t fit. Instead, we pulled over whilst the other went off to borrow a handle from someone else. He returned, we wound down the windows and we were off. En route, we stopped off at his house where we were presented with some coconut milk from his family. It was exactly what we needed in the heat.

Finally we arrived at the house and met our host’s mother, father and sister, along with her two children. We were treated to a feast of bread, dips, soups, rice, meat and more watermelon than I have ever seen in my life. We were stuffed. Particularly as we had our own spread, separate from the family, who seated themselves elsewhere. After we’d eaten we went over to join them. They didn’t speak English and our Arabic hadn’t progressed far but The Local managed to translate a few words and it was nice just to sit and relax in the living room, which didn’t seem to have a roof and instead looked out onto the stars. We even got a few visits from the neighbourhood children who weren’t used to Western tourists and wanted to see us for themselves.

Before we left, the family told us that we had to come back. There was a fish tagine our friend wanted us to try and, considering how good our dinner had been, we were happy to agree to return in a few days time. We thanked our hosts and bid them goodnight before heading back into town where our friend took us to a cafe before heading down to a little garden park by the river where we could sit peacefully, watching some children play close by. It was a very relaxing way to spend the evening.

Our friend knew a guy with a horse and cart and tried to persuade us to take a ride with him back to the hotel. We had initially decided not to go on one of these rides, as the horses around Luxor looked rather malnourished and we doubted they had been kept well. This time, however, we found it hard to say no – considering how much our friend had done for us so far – and, since the horse looked in better condition than many of the others we had seen, we ended up agreeing and trotted back to our hotel for the night.

Read about the rest of my trip:

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