We had barely settled in on our cruise ship Clio and it was already time to leave. Thanks to government bureaucracy we had a late start, which was sorely needed after the mixed drinks at the captain’s welcome aboard party and the unlimited wine at dinner. I was shocked when one of the waitresses rushed up to us and gave us a hug. She remembered us from our cruise on the Corinthian on the Iberian peninsula two years ago. She did look vaguely familiar to us, but she seemed to have vivid memories of us for some reason. Wonder what we did. Maybe I look like her mom...
Egypt’s tourism industry really suffered after the Arab Spring. Numerous terrorist incidents against tourists from Europe, the US, and Asia made everyone stay away. Our guide Amr said that he did not work for six years. Now that the tourists have dared to return, the Egyptians are hyper with their security measures. Today we flew thirty minutes to Luxor from Hurghada, a six hour drive by bus. We went through a typical TSA twice, the second one about one hundred yards from the first. On our twenty minute drive to the airport we were accompanied by an armed security official. He was replaced by another after we landed in Luxor. Although they were not dressed in military uniforms, they looked like Mafia dons. No one could mistake them for tourists. They did not make me feel any safer. Instead they were a constant reminder of past blood shed.
The Hurghada airport was new and modern. The only thing missing was airplanes. They were kept a long shuttle ride from the terminal. It was not clear if that was also a security measure. We’ve never heard of Hurghada, but apparently the Europeans and Russians have. It’s a popular diving spot and a good place to hide from the winter.
Luxor is located in Upper Egypt, a confusing name since it is in the southern part of the country on a map. The terms refers to the Nile, which flows north from Uganda and Ethiopia 4,150 miles through Cairo and Alexandria into the Mediterranean. All we saw from our airplane window was desert; 94% of the country is totally arid.
Today we visited the Temple of Karnak, an extraordinary complex of pylons, obelix, sanctuaries and kiosks, built over a period of 1,500 years by a series of pharaohs who each tried to outdo their predecessors. The site is large enough to house ten cathedrals. The complex is dominated by the Temple of Amun-Ra, with its giant forest of papyrus reed shaped pillars. The sandstone is carved with cartouche names and pictures of battles, animals, pharoah’s wives, and anything else the pharaoh of the moment thought memorable or impressive. After the Egyptians accepted Christianity, the temple was ignored and neglected. Every time the Nile flooded, which it did annually, silt and gravel swept inside the temple grounds, when the Arabs arrived in 600AD, the temple was half buried. You can see graffiti half-way up the pillars, carved when you could stand on those huge piles of sand. Not surprisingly, much of the temple has fallen down. Much has been looted and what is left lies helter skelter on the grounds. We were surprised to see some sheltered areas that still retained the pigment that must have made this a gaudy looking place.
We are spending the night in the Winter Palace Hotel, built in 1886 for government officials such as King Farouk who came here to escape the cold of Cairo in the winter. Cold is a relative term. We had high tea outside overlooking the Nile and pretended we were much more important than we really are. Our room has chandeliers and thirty foot ceilings. Lah-di-dah.