We crossed the Nile to the west bank of Luxor to see the Valley of the Kings. It has been the site of royal burials since 2100BC, but it was the pharaohs that ruled from 1550 - 1069BC who chose the isolated valley we visited today. Perhaps they chose it because one of the mountains had a vaguely pyramid shape. Sixty-three magnificent tombs are located here and more remain to be found. Shortly before we left home to come here, a whole new treasure trove was unearthed. New techniques that allow imaging beneath the soil have made finding tombs somewhat easier, but it’s still back breaking work, especially in the hot summer sun. When we came here in July in the 1980’s, day time temperatures were rarely below 120º.
The tombs have suffered greatly from treasure hunters, floods, too many people like us tromping around, and the humidity produced by the gallons of sweat we exude. We did not recognize the place. Not too long ago a significant rainstorm flooded the tombs and caused massive washouts. The rebuilt facilities made our experience today quite user friendly. An entrance ticket allows you to visit three tombs and OAT included two more: King Tut’s which was not impressive because all of its contents are out touring the world, and Seti I, who supposedly lived 102 years. Inside, the tombs were a riot of color and shapes. It was like visiting a grand European cathedral; we hardly knew where to look. The basic tomb creation approach was to dig a gentle slope into a hillside, apply wet plaster to the walls, carve designs into it after it dried, and then paint each figure. To do a good job, the tomb builders needed about eighteen years, but some of the pharaohs like Tut died too soon and short cuts had to be made. Seti’s tomb was extra grand because he lived much longer than the others. Each tomb was filled with all the treasures that the pharaoh would need to enjoy his afterlife. The tombs were crammed to the ceiling like storage units. Marie Kondo would not approve. Not long after the tombs were finished and filled, grave robbers would dig their way inside to unearth all those treasures. It’s a race between archeologists and local people in need of a buck to this day. Many of the tombs also have graffiti on the walks written by ancient tourists, mostly in Greek and Latin.
After sampling five tombs we were ready to move on: amazed and delighted but not needing to see all 63. After a while all those figures and cartouches blurred together in our minds. So we went on to a totally different sort of new experience: lunch in a mud hut. Our hostess was a rare woman who dared to divorce her husband after eight months of marriage. Here divorces are nearly always initiated by the men. Her father died when she was young and she felt some pressure to get out of the family and give her widowed mother one less mouth to feed. She knew him for a month before she agreed to marry and discovered her impression of a sweet and loving man was a big mistake. Pregnant, she moved back home to her parents’ mud hut and rejoined her old family. The hut is on the bank of the Nile in an area that still floods when too much water is released from the dam upstream. She does not own the land it rests on, but registers it annually with the Luxor city fathers. Official squatting. Last year she was shocked when bull dozers moved in and began to clear the ground. It’s not clear why they stopped, but she had to hire someone to build the mud hut again. They have added electricity and running water so she had a TV and washing machine. Numerous family members shared the meagre space with her and assisted her with preparing a hot meal for the twenty of us. She was so cheerful and proud of her accomplishments living without a man. Looking at her home we wanted to feel sorry for her, but her demeanor let us know that she was more than satisfied with her life.
Then it was back to the airport to return to Hurghada and board the Clio once again. The security we went through left us feeling we may never choose to return to Egypt again. Two TSA type checks at the airport, an examination of all our passports and the undercarriage of the bus as we entered the port and another x-ray check as we got onboard. And of course, we were accompanied by our mafia looking protectors every step on the way. Security is giving a lot of people jobs, but turning us off.