Maria brought a bowl of coco pops from the kitchen, she had bought them for Jack, knowing that every kids loves anything covered in chocolate, naturally Jack was over the moon and he added these to his already huge banquet of omelet, bread, honey and fruit.
We had a long, and hot day ahead of us and so having a good breakfast was key, we were heading to our last place in Egypt, the West Bank of Luxor.
The West bank is premier and hardcore in terms of sights and it draws tourists from all over the world and has for decades. All keen to experience a slice of Egypt and to see history still being discovered today. It’s a fascinating mixture of ancient history and archeology.
There is just too much to see and do on the West Bank, and so with Maria’s help I had put together an itinerary that was suited to Jack. Typically a tour of the West Bank costs around LE£70 not including entrance to the monuments. (We had decided to go independently) But it’s a bit of a chore, the ticket office is far from most places and so you have to decide what you want to do there and then go to where you decided. You can’t for example be driving down the road and see something that looks good, you must have ore purchased your ticket which stinks of India to be honest. However the Valley of the Kings, and the Temple of Hatshepsut have their own visitor centres and ticket offices, and since these were the first two place on our itinerary we we made our way to the public ferry at the backside of the Luxor Temple, paid LE£1 and jumped on the boat.
And really, that was where I started to eat my words, and where the hassle began. We were hassled non stop on that boat, it was constant, and was it not for my calm manner it would have very easily and very quickly have got aggressive. It was hostile, and forceful and they were insulting, calling me disrespectful, why was I in Egypt if I refused to pay into the economy etc. All geared toward putting me under pressure so that I took the service, which was mainly for a taxi. I was asked “what have I done to you for you to not want to use my service” I said, I offered a service, I wanted to sell my camera, would he buy it. He got the message and laughed as he found someone else to harass.
Once at the dock the hassle continued, horse and carriages, bikes, scooters, guides, tickets, taxis, buses – you name it. It was full on. In situations like that I tend to try and walk to a main road. These guys might be offering a taxi but often what happens is they don’t have a taxi, they are making themselves agents and so getting a commission which is of course added to your fare.
Taxi drivers exist to drive someone from A to B and if you offer them a price that makes them money then they will accept it. Finding that minimum price is the difficult part, just LE£1 (ten pence) in Luxor will buy a local some food. And considering Luxor has absolutely nothing (seriously) going for it other than tourism, they have no other choice than to work for what they can get. For instance, I feel a little sorry for the horse and carriage owners, there are dozens of them in Luxor, fancy and often gorgeous carriages pulled by a skinny horse. Tourism is down 90% in Luxor compared prior to the revolution. These guys invested everything in buying a horse and carriage and probably lived the good life for some time. People’s perception of animal treatment changed and so they adapted and made sure their horses were fed and looked after. I don’t know anyone who would ride a sick horse. And so these guys have to make a bottom line (the food) before they turn a profit, if they don’t, then the horse suffers, which makes getting business even harder for them. It’s an impossible situation.
I knew the price from the dock to the Valley of the Kings could be got for just LE£15 (a quid fifty) for the 8km journey. The price of course started at LE£50, it was very busy, and the driver slowly made his way through the chaos. As we sat waiting I saw two Chinese girls looking like they were getting seriously harassed, they were obviously trying to get somewhere but were facing a wall of aggression. I wound the window down, and said “Ne how” (hello in Chinese) and being white I instantly had their trust, I asked if they wanted to jump in with us and they didn’t give it a second thought, they didn’t even ask where we were going. It happened that they too were heading to the Valley of the Kings and couldn’t even get a price, drivers were simply accosting them for full price tours, claiming one way taxis didn’t exist. Needless to say they were grateful for us helping them out and they insisted on getting the taxi fare.
The Valley of the Kings is literally in a valley, cut deep into the desert stone. Huge cliffs keep the heat in, and at 32 degrees already, it felt much hotter. Entrance cost LE£80 and gives you the opportunity to go into three of the many tombs except for the tomb of Tutankhamen which costs extra. You literally have to wade through the market that is conveniently built before the entrance, and yet again it was full on aggression with people grabbing my arm trying to physically pull me into their shops. Once through the souq I was stood having a drink and some guy started talking to me, he was a guide and offering up his services. I cut him short and refused his services, he spat on the floor in front of me and started shouting at me for being disrespectful, how could I come to his country and be so ignorant, I was not welcome and the rest. I stood and listening to every word he said and then laughed at him, I told him he was one of the reasons tourists stayed away and I probably respected his country more than he did.
There is a shuttle train that runs up to the entrance, and so we hopped on it, and once at the entrance was completely bombarded by ‘officials’ who looked suspiciously like locals. Photography is banned in the Valley of the Kings, and this is rigorously enforced, by entering you give the police and officials authority to confiscate your memory cards, phones, cameras etc if you are caught taking photographs. I explained there was not a hope I was leaving my camera with him. And I refused and continued walking, he took major insult by this and started going absolutely mental. He grabbed my T shirt and shouted in my face, I pushed him away and had just had enough. I pointed in his face and told him if touched me again I would kick the shit out of him. The tourist police had decided to actually do something at this point and asked me to put my camera bag, in the daypack I was carrying. I did this, and off we went. I could hear him arguing with the police as we walked off. These guys genuinely feel insulted that you did not let them screw you over.
The Valley of the Kings has some 63 royal tombs, all burial places for royalty of the New Kingdom of between 1550 BC and 1069 BC. They were discovered, and then ransacked with ancient thieves taking everything they could. Today tombs are still being discovered, and those already discovered continue to have other chambers and corridors found. All the Tombs are very different from each other, but generally they are long corridors into the cliff face, or steep descents into holes in the ground. They are beautifully decorated, the walls and ceilings covered in gorgeous Egyptian artwork and hieroglyphics. At the end of some tombs is a sarcophagus or the actual casing which contained the mummy. I have to say, once inside the Valley the hassle was minimal, occasionally a local would shine a torch on a dark spot and expect a bit of backsheesh but it was harmless. The three tombs were chosen by Jack and was Ramses IX, Ramses III and the tomb at the far end of the valley and straight into the 300m cliff face – Tawosret/Sethnakht (which was also our favourite) actually, as we sat deep in the tomb I asked Jack if he knew the story of mummy’s and he said “seriously dad, course I do” so I asked him to tell me and this is what he said “Candice, on Phineas and Furb tripped over a ball and then she found some toilet roll and ended up wrapping herself up in it becoming a mummy and walking like a zombie”
I left it at that.
It was a real shame, but we didn’t get a single photograph and there was some world class photo opportunities. I did consider taking one on the sly, but it was simply not worth the hassle and so opted against it. Probably rightly so.
I had considered walking over the mountain to the Tempe of Hatshepsut but it was too hot, and there was a sign prohibiting climbing of the mountain, despite it obviously been a means for baksheesh.
Leaving the Valley of the Kings was every bit as difficult as getting there and even the servee which charges just LE£0.50 (5 pence) was telling me it was LE£20, it seemed that tourists who travelled one way were fair game to get scammed on the way out. I had people trying to put things on my head, taxi drivers trying to bleed me dry and so we decided to walk.
Neither of us were bothered about walking and I think the driver who pulled beside us sensed that. For LE£10 (a quid) I figured we might as well just jump in.
The Temple of Hatshepsut is probably what most people associate with Luxor. If you google image Luxor it’s what comes up. The huge temple sat in the massive cliff face with long, steep steps making their way to the top floor. It’s a very beautiful and somewhat imposing structure, it’s almost as definitive as the pyramids in regards of what we perceive of the ancient Egyptians. And so for us it was a must. Again you must trawl through a market and then pay the entrance fee of LE£30, it was good, but there was too many people there, it was a little chaotic and getting a good photo was difficult. It is located at Deir al-Bahri which is the officially designated hottest place on earth and so Jack got a kick out of knowing he had been to the hottest place in the world, and even though it was only around 36 degrees, it was still hot enough to know you were somewhere hot! (He’s still not over it either!)
The day by now was getting on and the constant, full on hassle had worn me down. We decided to jump in a taxi to the ticket office to decide where we would go next. At the ticket office there was just a few locals kicking about and literally, as we jumped out of the car they jumped up and ran towards us. As I stood trying to decide what we would do next, I couldn’t concentrate on a thing as people were in my face telling me this and that and so I looked at Jack who was obviously now feeling it too, the heat, the fact that everything was such hard work. We decided we’d had enough and started walking the few miles back to the ferry port. After about 200m the last hanger on gave up and suddenly it was silent, and we were amongst green fields set to a desert backdrop of overwhelmingly large mountains peppered with thousands of holes which contained tombs. After about 15 minutes we had had time to really fall in love with the beauty of the West Bank. Then out of no where we heard “hello”, and sat getting some shade beneath a palm tree an in a field to our right was a woman and three kids. She gestured us over and so we went and sat with them, they were processing sunflower seeds and she offered us some. It was clear the only English she knew was hello and as they tried to talk to us in Arabic, it became a comedy of sign language. It was surreal, relaxing, and a real welcome reminder of true Egyptian hospitality.
We continued our walk and suddenly saw two massive statues, we were at the Colossi of Memonon and as I tried to take a photograph of Jack someone stood in front of the camera and tried charging me. It’s a completely free place, and yet the hassle continued. We decided to bail, and jumped in a servee, I handed him LE£2 which was twice what it should have been for me and Jack, hoping he’d just keep quiet and he did. And as we waded through the final bits of bull shit back to the boat I couldn’t wait to leave. Once on the boat I saw a couple and was talking to them. They had only visited Rameses Temple and had completely had enough and so decided to leave the West Bank. Maria later told me that so many people have plans of visiting everything yet return just a few hours later worn down by the hassle.
Once back on the East Bank we grabbed a really late lunch, and given it was an absolutely gorgeous day I bought Jack a chocolate sundae from McDonald’s. We sat in the park with the amazing Luxor temple behind us, not a cloud in the sky and it was beautiful. We were relaxed, and the West Bank was now a distant memory. A little girl probably aged around 6 came over to us, bare footed she asked “tea, Pepsi” it’s a common thing, parents send kids to foreigners as a service and then they get a small markup on whatever they sell you. I asked how old she was and she replied “tea, Pepsi” at the moment Jack offered her his ice cream, her dirty hands and clothes told a story of extreme poverty, but the smile on her face was one of happiness. She had one of those faces where when she smiled, her whole face smiled. And Jack responded by smiling back. With that we got up and walked off into the chaotic streets.
This trip has shown me a side to Jack that is exciting, caring, friendly, funny, happy, optimistic and accepting. From the long journeys, to scaling pyramids, rubbing pepper spray from our eyes, overnight trains, extreme heat, walking miles and miles, ancient temples, boats, camels in the desert, and the stunning river Nile. Jack asked me if I’d always look after him, I replied that of course I would, to which he responded “even when your dead” It was a glimmer of the little boy underneath it all, beneath the bravado and the cheeky smile is a little boy, just five years old learning his way in life.
And now, as I write this final entry we are sat on the rooftop looking out over the beautiful city of Luxor, its still hot, the skies are still a gorgeous blue and the Nile still glistens. Knowing that we go home tomorrow I just looked up at Jack, he caught my glance and responded with a huge smile and a wink which scrunched his whole face up.
Its the perfect end to a perfect journey.