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Embedded Photos: 1.Gruna House 2.Luxor Temple 3.Luxor Temple 4.Luxor Sphinx 4.Luxor Sphinxes
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

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February 13. LUXOR "The Tombs of the Nobles"  We ate a late breakfast with five Korean travelers.  Two were older men who sat to our right and there were three younger people, a guy and two girls, that sat to our left.  When the second girl arrived she was looking for a place at the table and as she settled in next to the two other young Koreans our gregarious host made the comment that the Chinese always sit with the Chinese and the Japanese with the Japanese.  He was referred to the older Koreans as Chinese and the younger ones as Japanese.  The younger Korean guy understood what he said and I saw him visibly wince and then laugh.  Not understanding any Korean I could make out that he was explaining the faux pas to his friends.

Leaving our hotel we headed straight towards the corniche ("Caleche?" "Where you going?" "Can I help you?" "Caleche, five pounds!"), stopping at the bank for some cash and peeking into a silver shop along the way.  We knew the score now and did our best to plow past the never ending supply of felucca captains on our way to the ferry.  Still, some just didn't get it and the faster we walked the faster they walked, relentlessly trying to sell us on a felucca ride after we had already said "no" twenty times.   When one got really bad Rob stopped dead in his tracks and just told him "no" repeatedly, giving the felucca captain some harassment in return.  Turnabout is fair play!  

Before boarding the ferry we stopped for a coffee to assess our day.  There was a cafe right along the waterfront, in front of the parking lot of cruise boats.  It was below sidewalk level  along with a row of shops selling tourist junk.  The cafe wasn't cheap but we soon learneGurna House, Egyptd that there was an understanding that the touts did not bother you when you were at the cafe. The touts pooled up at the bottom of the stairs leading to the sidewalk level and only dared to bother you when you had to venture to the public bathroom.  They sat leering at the tourists, like prisoners unable to reach food.  We were so close but they couldn't come hassle us.  It was like being in a little tout-free zone where we could enjoy the nice weather and scenery stress free. 

When we proceeded to get on the ferry a tenacious young boy followed us all of the way to our seat trying to sell us something.  We had already said "no" and waived him away but he wouldn't go.  When we got louder a man down the bench from us intervened and asked us what the problem was.   We explained that we already told the boy that we didn't want anything but that he wouldn't go away.  This man turned out to be taxi driver that had gotten mad at us the day before.  He recognized us and reminded us of the incident but proceeded to be pleasant, sensing our frustration.  He tried to explain how bad things were for people in Egypt and that there weren't enough independent travelers like us to go around so everyone got aggressive.  He said that there were no other jobs but tourism because there were no factories in Luxor.  Almost all of the families in Luxor had someone who worked in tourism and no doubt the downturn in recent years must have been tough but I am not sure that being abusive towards tourist, lying to them, or trying to cheat them all of the time will really help the situation.  We explained that there were many warnings about traveling in Egypt because of the scams and touts and that is probably why many people take the Nile cruises and tours, so they can avoid the hassles.  He shook his head as though the guidebooks were now responsible for the situation, failing to understand that we buy guidebooks to get just that kind of practical information and they only print it if the problems exist.  The guidebooks didn't create the treatment of tourists in Egypt.  But it is a vicious circle.  Because of the hassles from touts and the fears brought on by terrorism more and more people probably do gravitate towards tours and, sadly, that money stays in the hands of a limited number of people.  When times are good it is probably discouraging for companies to set up factories in Luxor because tourism would provide tough competition for labor, leaving these totally tourist dependent towns in a depression every time something puts tourism in a downturn.  Does the government do anything to help ameliorate the situation?  I can't say but when Egypt gets the second largest installment of foreign aid in the world from the United States I have to wonder what they are doing with the money.  By the end of our ferry ride we parted on friendly terms with this taxi driver and perhaps we all now had a bit better perspective on the tourist-tout tug-o-war that is endemic in Egypt. 

We blew past the taxi station and started walking until we found a fairly priced service taxi.  We got off at the central ticket office where we were able to buy tickets to the Tombs of the Nobles in nearby Gurna village.  The village wasn't far from the ticket office so we just walked from there.  As we entered the village it all started again.  Everyone wanted to help us find the tombs.  They claimed that they didn't want anything from us but wouldn't respect our request to be left alone.  Feeling more sympathetic after our talk with the taxi driver we really tried to be polite and were almost pleading with them to leave us alone but it was to little avail.

Finding the tombs wasn't really all that difficult anyway.  It wasn't a big village and once we found one we could make out the rest from our map.  Our first ticket let us into three tombs: Ramose, Userhat, and Khaemhat. Ramose's was first and we were relieved to get away from the villagers and into the tomb.  It wasn't fully painted but the hypostyle hall with rows of columns was quite impressive for non-royalty.  Ramose was an important dignitary during Amenophis III - Amenophis IV (reigned 1387 - 1333 BC) and like the royal tombs the relief work was primarily dedicated his funeral and life after death.  He is seen making offerings to gods and people making offerings to him and his wife.  Once scene showed him receiving foreign delegations, indicating his important status in life.  The most famous image in the tomb was of women in mourning, their hair loose and crying for the loss of Ramose, important for its vivid expression of emotion which was rarely seen in tomb art.

One of the bored attendants offered to take us down a tunnel underneath the hall where the tomb was supposed to have been.  This was a baksheesh-able service but as soon as we started down the steep dirt pathway into total blackness we reconsidered and just gave him a small tip for his effort.  Determined to "wow" us and earn a bigger reward he lead us into the internal hall behind the hypostyle hall.  It was blocked off so he waited until the other visitors left and gave us a "shhh" signal before having us climb over the wall of rocks.  There wasn't anything there really but once we reached the back wall he pulled out a mummified head.  It was the real McCoy but I am not sure it was the real head of Ramose himself.  It seemed unlikely.  From the back of the hall a hole led down into the tomb, where that steep pathway ended.  A group entered while we were in the back so he had us stand to the side and be quite.  When they were safely off to one side and couldn't see he had us climb back into the main hall.   In the end it wasn't very interesting but the cloak and dagger treatment was amusing.  We gave him a tip and the other guy came over for his bit.  He motioned that he had been the lookout so Rob gave him a smaller tip.   

Luxor Temple at Night, EgyptThe Userhat and Khaemhat were both much smaller than Ramose's but depicted more ordinary scenes of life in their time which made them historically interesting.  They were both T-shaped.  Userhat's tomb had a mirror positioned at the entrance to provide light into the tomb.  For positioning the mirror correctly the attendant wanted baksheesh.  Khaemhat's tomb was the bigger of the two and was noteworthy for its representation of the goddess Renenut, goddess of the crops and protector of granaries.  Khaemhat had been a royal scribe and overseer of the granaries of upper and lower Egypt so this was a unique to his position in life.  The tomb also had an interesting set of statues of Khaemhat and his family.  The other parts of the tomb had more typical relief work like funerary scenes, sacrificial scenes and the pilgrimage to Abydos.  Abydos was the cult temple of Osiris, God of Death, that each person was supposed to have made a pilgrimage to in their lifetime.  When we left the attendant gestured for baksheesh, for standing there and doing nothing. 

Walking to our next set of tombs, Rekhmire and Sennefer, we gathered a small following.  There were a couple of young girls selling some handmade stuffed animals that tailed us most of the way.  A tiny girl, maybe three or four, came running over with a baby goat in her hands, one hand held out for money.  It was hard to believe that she just happened to be holding the baby goat when we walked past.  Surely her parent's were peeking out from the house hoping their scheme worked.  She was just about the cutest thing I had ever seen but I feel too strong about children being used in that way to take a photo and pay the baksheesh.

We came to the Rekhmire tomb first and the dramatic proportions of its T-shaped layout immediately bumped it up to the most impressive tomb that day.  Rekhmire was a Vizier, the highest state officials, under Thuthmosis III (reigned 1479 - 1425 BC) and Amenophis II (reigned 1427 - 1397 BC).  However, it seems he was never actually buried in the tomb but perhaps made into the Valley of the Kings in an as of yet undiscovered tomb, a privilege only of high ranking officials that had the pharaoh's favor.  The long vestibule (top of the "T") at the entrance stretched a good 25 feet wide but was only three feet deep with a high ceiling.  The quality of the paintings were quite good but had suffered some scarring.  They showed Rekhmire collecting taxes in Upper and Lower Egypt, scenes of a desert hunt, and, most interestingly, him receiving gifts from foreign lands.  This scene included giraffes, monkeys, and elephant tusks from Punt and Nubia; chariots and horses from Syria; and valuable skins, ostrich eggs, and a baboon from other lands.  The races of the different places were shown in the coloring of the skin, making the mural a great display of the many peoples that interacted with Egypt so long ago.  

The great hall that extended perpendicular from the middle of the vestibule was an even more imposing chamber.  It stretched 35 feet long and had a sloped ceiling that started at a height of over 9 feet and raised up to 20 feet.  While the scale was much smaller it gave anLuxor Temple at Night, Egypt effect similar to that of the Great Gallery in the Pyramid of Cheops.  The walls were covered in murals, all more well preserved than the vestibule, showing a lavish funeral banquet on one side that gave way to an afterworld scene of a lake and trees and ended in offerings of purifications.  The other wall showed slaves in the act of preparing and storing the food which merged into images of artisans and smiths working on the preparation of the funerary items, followed by a funeral procession that ended with gods, Isis, Osiris and Anubis, and the deceased with his wife before a table of offerings.

Up hill from Rekhmire we found the tomb of Sennefer, Mayor of the Southern City, the only tomb that could have surpassed Rekhmire.   The tomb didn't have the awesome size and dimensions of Rekhmire the but the quality and vivid color of the imagery were fantastic.  Down stairs that curved into a hole over 35 feet deep, we entered a compact vestibule with a ceiling too low to stand.  Taking a seat on the floor we methodically went through the wall images that showed servants bearing the mummy's ornaments on trays, including a large decorative collar, leather sandals, and a heart shaped amulet. The ceiling was covered in grape vines which represented Osiris' vineyard and its concept of vital strength.  Bending over to enter through the door to columned burial chamber we found that the chamber had enough room for us to stand.  

The burial chamber showed a series of scenes going clockwise around the room and included all sides of the four pillars. The first image showed Sennefer with his wife Merit followed by an elaborate funeral procession where the deceased ends up before Osiris, god of the underworld, and his wife-sister goddess Isis.  The back wall showed Sennefer's pilgrimage to Abydos, the cult temple of Osiris.  The right wall showed Sennefer and his wife worshipping Osiris and Anubis, god of mummification, scenes from the Book of the Dead, and the purification of Sennefer and his soul with Anubis, Isis and Nephthys.  The pillars all showed various scenes of Merit making offerings to Sennefer on three of the sides while the fourth side showed separate images purification and the ceremony of the opening of the mouth.  

Leaving the tomb of Sennefer we picked up tails again. One young girl, not more than ten, wearing a tattered purple dress, had followed us since we had arrived, always trying to sell her little stuffed animals.  The adults stayed at a distance while the children did their work.  It was annoying and heartbreaking all at the same time.  This village of Gurna was in a difficult position.  The government wanted to relocate them so they would stop looting the tombs.  Military were sent to force them out killed some of the villagers, giving a new meaning to the term "West Bank" of the Nile.  The city of Luxor continually tried to extend its control over the west side of the river, against the wills of the local people.  Unfortunately their desperate efforts to sell us things only dissuaded us from even stopping to look at anything, knowing it would only exacerbate the situation.  If they had something we might want to buy we would never find out.  The whole situation made it unpleasant for us and was sadlyLuxor Temple at Night, Egypt self-defeating for them.  We were some of the only independent tourists that were there all days while most tourists came and went in tour groups, insulating themselves from the badgering.  Some of the homes in the village were beautifully painted on the outside with images of the pilgrimage to Mecca, a sign of someone who had made the pilgrimage themselves.  It would have been nice to see more of the village but all of the touting just turned us off.  We scampered swiftly to the next set of tombs: Nakht and Menna, both scribes from the 18th dynasty.

After the outstanding tombs of Rekhmire and Sennefer, Nakht and Menna were less impressive.  The Nakht tomb had been the sad victim in an experiment in better presentation and preservation of a tomb that failed.  The walls and ceiling were covered in plastic that had fogged up and obscured the artwork. The space was snug at best but that didn't keept he attendant from following us and trying to squeeze in around us.  As we tried to read our guidebook he randomly pointed at different things and we were unable to persuade him that we needed any help.   The only painted walls were in the vestibule and in their limited space the depicted scenes of country life, offerings to the gods, the funeral banquet, hunting and fishing scenes, grape harvesting, offerings to Nakht and his wife, and purification of offerings before Nakht.  The scenes of everyday activities were interesting and set the tombs of the Nobles apart from the their royal counterparts.

Menna was our last tomb and we were starting to grow quite weary.  The attendant had to come open the tomb since business was too slow to stand there all day.  Another T-shaped tomb we started in the vestibule with images of agricultural life, Menna and his wife receiving offerings, the couple before Osiris, and offering scenes.  The perpendicular hall had images of the funeral procession, Menna before the judgement of Osiris, statues of Menna and his wife, hunting and fishing scenes, and the pilgrimage to Abydos.  It was all starting to look a bit the same at this point. Rob tipped the attendant, not for opening the tomb but to solicit his help in keeping our entourage at bay.  He made a fair effort and we got most of the way back to the highway before two young girls came after us again.  The one that followed me practically tripped as she tried to get me to stop.  I finally told her "enough" in Arabic and she gave up and walked away.

We caught a service taxi back to the ferry dock.  These brief rides were turning out to be some of our most pleasant interactions with Egyptian people.  On this ride we were joined by a single man who spoke good English.  He was very jovial and chatty, explaining that he was on his way across the Nile to visit his girlfriend.  His car had broken down so he had to take public transport but he couldn't go a day with out seeing her.  He hoped that one day he would be married and could see her all of the time.  He was quite genuine and his frankness was endearing.

The sun was getting low by the time we hit Luxor again but there was still some daylight so we decided to visit Luxor Temple.  Our book suggested that evening was a nice to go since few tourist went at that time, so naturally it was packed with people.  As was typical a guide tried to cut in the ticket line but Rob squeezed him out.  I asked if he was a guide and he said "yes".  I commented that the guides always wanted to cut in line and make the rest of us wait and we didn't appreciate it.  His group was not far away and I could tell that they heard me which gave some small satisfaction.  

The crowds inside the temple were really insane.  In the smaller areas we could only move as fast as a crowd does when exiting a movie theater, slowly, slowly.    It wasn't the largest of Egypt's temples but pretty well intact with a long dramatic colonnade and grand wide open courtyards.  But, its most appealing feature was the Avenue of Sphinxes that once connected it to the grandiose temple at Karnak.  The "avenue" is now truncated by roads and buildings but the stretch that remains was still impressive, all the more so at night when the temple was lit up.

We exited on the far side of the temple so we could easily get to our favorite restaurant.  It was a tour group exit and weLuxor Temple at Night, Egypt managed to squeeze through just as a group was exiting.  As I came out the other side a papyrus salesmen tried to grab me on the arm.  When they crossed the line and got physical it always annoyed me and when I turned to give him a dirty look he took it as a sign of interest which prompted another papyrus salesman to lurch towards me as well. I held my hands up over my head and just plowed past them. 

The waiters at Amoun recognized us by now and the competing restaurant had given up trying to lure us over as we approached.  Even the shoe shine man who sat in front of the restaurant greeted us with a smile.  We enjoyed a relaxing meal, pretty well exhausted from our long day.  Walking back to the hotel we had a caleche driver yell at us from across the street.  We replied with a firm "no" but that didn't discourage him from rounding his carriage at the next gap in the island to come harass us some more.  We waited until he had nearly completed his U-turn before we bolted across the street.  He responded by keeping his horses turning right around and returning to the side he had started on so he could keep following us.  It was obnoxious behavior but they never failed to look perplexed when you got mad at them.  In their minds it was some kind of game.

We paused at the Internet cafe to check email but the biting flies made it quick.  Back at the hotel we showered and sank into bed. 

GREECE Athens Jan 27-Feb 4

EGYPT Cairo Feb 4 Feb 5 Feb 6 Feb 7 Aswan Feb 8 Feb 9 Feb 10 Luxor Feb 11 Feb 12 Feb 13 Feb 14 Feb 15 Nuweiba Feb 16-17

JORDAN Petra Feb 18 Feb 19 Feb 20 Feb 21 Amman Feb 22 Feb 23-24 Feb 25 Feb 26 Feb 27 Feb 28 Feb 29-Mar 1 Dead Sea Mar 2 Mar 3

ISRAEL Eilat Mar 4

EGYPT Cairo Mar 5 Mar 6 Mar 7 Mar 8

GREECE Athens Mar 9 Santorini Mar 10 Mar 11 Mar 12-13 Crete Mar 14 Mar 15-16 Mar 17-21 Athens Mar 22