Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 85

Luxor

Thursday 5th June

We slept comfortably last night and slumbered all the way through to this morning’s wake-up call at seven o’clock. As usual, Sandy was up and active a little before me and I eventually tore myself out of bed by seven thirty. This left little time to get ready and have breakfast before our eight o’clock departure to the West bank where the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens and Hatshepsut temple awaited us in accordance with our predetermined tour itinerary.

The room downstairs where we were supposed to have breakfast did not have air-conditioning and it was already starting to warm up considerably. The temperature here has been topping the 45 degree Celsius mark over the past couple of days and I didn’t want to start the day off all stuffy and flustered so I asked the waiter to serve our breakfast in one of the other restaurant areas where it was nice and cool. He was insistent that this was not possible and it wasn’t until I informed (as opposed to requesting) the manager at the front desk that we would be taking our breakfast in the cooler room that the waiter finally capitulated. A little, gentle persuasion goes a long way here.

Once again, our American travel writer friend was with us on this morning’s tour along with his girlfriend and a very nice couple from New Zealand, who we subsequently exchanged contact details with, as we may very well look them up in their home country when we are there in about eight or nine months from now. The now familiar three Australian girls are staying in our hotel and we bumped into them also a few times today. We just seem to keep on bumping into the same people over and over here.

Luxor is the jewel in the Egyptian crown and the West Bank sites are the jewels in the Luxor crown and we marvelled accordingly at the fascinating tombs and temples throughout the morning. It’s difficult to put into words the impressions we were left with after our visit but suffice it to say that Luxor has been the highlight of our trip to Egypt thus far. It was extremely hot with temperatures soaring well into the forties and towards the end of the tour, everyone was starting to become more and more lethargic and spending less and less time at the sites, yearning for the air-conditioning of the microbus. Although photography was strictly forbidden, we managed to steal a few snaps in most of the tombs we visited – sometimes out of sight of the oftentimes-vigilant guards and with varying degrees of success. Since Sandy’s camera can be completely silenced, she had the most success at surreptitiously sneaking the few photos that we collectively managed. A few small notes were enough to make some of the guards look the other way. The baksheesh really does help grease the skids here but every situation is different and warrants and on-the-spot analysis of what action is appropriate and to what degree you can get away with something.

We returned back to the East Bank of the Nile and the whole group went to grab lunch at the same restaurant we ate at last night. I’m not sure why we ended up paying quite a bit more for exactly the same meal as last night but after taking a step back a looking at the bigger picture, the actual amount we paid for our two meals including drinks was still less than $9 so I wasn’t too fussed.

We parted ways with the other members of our tour group after lunch, as they will all catch some form of transportation out of Luxor this evening. We may yet bump into some of them again since Elliot, the American writer, was toying with the idea of visiting Sharm El-Sheik and or Dahab to do some diving – as we will do in couple of days.

Our guide, Ehab, remains one the very best guides we’ve ever had. He has gone out of his way on numerous occasions to keep us happy and does things for us that are well and truly over and above the call of duty. He took us again to the silversmith factory that had only just closed on us last night only to find it closed again until later this afternoon. We decided we would head back to the hotel to rest for a while until it opened again and so here we are, lounging around after a long day of antiquities sightseeing.

So, the visit to the silversmith factory was at last successful. It’s just a very small workshop, no bigger than a few square meters in size, and contains just a few machine tools and cupboards full of supplies and materials. It was located just off one of the side streets from the main row of bazaars in the middle of town and this meant that we had to run the gauntlet to get to it but it turned out to be well worth the effort in the end. There were three people there including the workshop owner or manager and two other workmen. Ehab explained what it was that we were looking for and a whole host of trinkets and blank, silver cartouches were suddenly brought out and paraded in front of us on the workshop bench. We studied many of them and started to work out what we wanted and what sizes would be necessary. Our plan was to have them each decorated with the respective names of our Nephews and Nieces in hieroglyphics and we started to calculate which names would fit and how they would best look arranged. After a solid forty minutes or so of contemplation, the financial negotiations started and I once again revelled in the bargaining game. During the high season, this particular wholesale outlet would take in orders from the passing cruise ships at thirty and forty pieces at a time but the numbers of tourists is quite meagre at the moment and I sensed that this was working to our advantage as we were able to drive the price down a fair bit. Ehab explained to me after we had left the store that the prices that we were able to negotiate were considerably less than the previous customer that he took there. We placed our order and diligently went over the whole thing to make sure that no errors would occur. I left the building with a distinct sense that I had struck a fantastic bargain that certainly never would be possible just about anywhere else in the world. In one fell swoop, we have now taken care of all our Christmas duties for the coming Christmas season. It’s a good thing that we tripped over this opportunity to do so given that we typically spend more money on sending our gifts through the post (much less purchasing them to begin with) than we just spent on the entire collection of decorated liver cartouches with necklaces.

The silver cartouche order was an unexpected expenditure (although I’m certainly not complaining) and that theme continued this evening since we also decided to extend our stay here in Luxor. The original plan was to leave this afternoon but we wanted to get another tour in so we extended our stay for one more night. In talking with the travel agent representative this evening, it transpired that the ferry from Hurghada to Sharm El-Sheikh doesn’t run every day. We certainly didn’t want to spend sixteen hours in an overnight bus from Luxor to Dahab, as the Australian girls are planning to do, so we opted to extend our stay here in Luxor by two nights instead of one with an additional night in Hurghada so that we would be able to catch the ferry to Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday morning. Once we disembark from that ferry, we will make our way to Dahab and sort out some accommodation and diving options. We want to SCUBA dive at Dahab as well as Sharm El-Sheikh (the very best diving is at Sharm) but the accommodation at Sharm is much more expensive so we will try to arrange everything from Dahab instead. Actually, we change our plans so frequently that it’s hardly worth predicting what’s going to be happening beyond a day or so.

Our extension here in Luxor will include another tour to Dundara tomorrow morning. This tour, along with the additional three nights stay, the transportation from here to Hurghada and the subsequent journey across the Red Sea on the fast ferry has added another E£970 ($161) to our budget. Since we have a $50 per day budget for just food and lodging alone, we have no room to complain about this additional expenditure given that it includes the additional tour and all our transportation needs for the next few days. We still need to pay for food but food is so cheap here that it’s not really a concern.

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