17.4.13

The Adventures of Mrs. Curly and Mr. Expensive: Pt. 2

So, apparently expecting this to be up the day after my previous post was a bit optimistic.
One week later... haha.
Pt. 2 is more exciting than Pt. 1 anyways! Meaning it was worth the wait (in theory).
So after spending a week in Cairo with my mom and brother, we made the trek south to Luxor for five days. Now, for me, it is helpful to visualize a map of Egypt. So I'm going to assume this is helpful for you also.
Excuse the assumption, if false.
So, furthest north located right on the Mediterranean is Alexandria. All major cities and pretty much all of the villages are located along the Nile from there all the way to the border of North Sudan. By train, Cairo is about three hours south of Alexandria. The only two other major cities are Luxor and Aswan. Many people have heard of the former, but not the latter. They were both ancient Egyptian cities and have tons of intact temple ruins remaining. So continuing down the Nile from Cairo, Luxor is about an eleven hour train ride, and Aswan is three to four hours further south.
You may be thinking, "Geez! Egypt is huge!"
Nope.
Transportation is incredibly slow.
The entire country of Egypt is only slightly larger than Washington State (although viewed in the opposite direction).
So on Monday morning (March 24... ouch. It has been too long since I've posted) we got up bright and early and caught our 8:00am train south. We had first class tickets, but those are the equivalent of a third class American tickets. Possibly worse, depending on the train.
Oh yeah, there are no bathrooms on the train.
Well, some cars have them, but imagine a moving squat-pot that is literally never cleaned.
So yes, I did indeed "hold it" for nearly twelve hours. That involved a type of fasting on the train, which was also easy to do because there is no food for purchase anyways. haha
The train ride was long and uneventful; Spencer listened to music and slept while my mom and I read. I finished three novels over the course of the round-trip ride there and back, and it was nice to catch up on my growing literature stack.
Now, some of you know my family and some of you don't. What you need to know is this: Spencer is possibly the most relaxed, chill person ever. I mean, ever. I have never met someone as cool and collected as he is, although sometimes that can get him into trouble because he doesn't sense danger quickly haha. My mom is the opposite: easily stressed, mildly uptight (I can't think of a word with a more positive connotation... sorry mom), and a major planner. And then there is me, somewhere in the middle.
One last note: the trains are meant for Egyptians only, not tourists, so it does not cater to non-Arabic speakers. I am conversant in Arabic and can read (slowly) and write, just enough to get around if necessary.
So, the train ride went something like this:
Spencer: sleeping.
Mom: "Taylor! Taylor! What stop is this? Do we need to ask for directions? Maybe you should call someone at the school and find out"
Spencer: sleeping.
Mom: "Taylor! Check to see how close we are!"
Spencer: sleeping.
Mom: "I really think you should ask someone how far we are. Are you sure you will recognize the stop? Are you sure you can read the sign?"
Spencer: sleeping.
And so it went. haha
Now, I jest, but the train ride was actually fairly smooth. We chatted a bit, napped a bit, and in general ignored obligations in the real world. Which is always nice.
When we finally reached Luxor (at 7:30 that evening) we made our way to our hotel room and just crashed. We had three full days of plans ahead of us!

Tuesday: Day 1
So, we knew in general things we wanted to do in Luxor, but we didn't have a super firm schedule. After advice from some locals, we made the decision to take the trip out to Valley of the Kings.
A bit of history.
Valley of the Kings is a valley out in the middle of the desert (about thirty minutes taxi ride away from the main city of Luxor) where most of the Pharoahs were buried. There are nearly sixty Pharoanic tombs located here, including King Tut's. King Tut is the only mummy still located in his own burial chamber, so those of you who saw the King Tut exhibit somewhere in the states over the past year didn't see the real deal. Tut is happily resting in Valley of the Kings. The reason that King Tut is probably the only Pharaoh whose name you've heard is because he is the only Pharaoh whose grave was found intact, with all of the gold and jewels and pretty loot.
So, although a bit scattered, there is some brief background about the Valley.
After the drive out, we went and purchased tickets (pricey!) and headed in. Here's the thing they don't tell you: you pay about 100EGP per person to get in... and you're only allowed to see three tombs.
Yep, only three.
Now, that may sound pretty exciting, but when the tombs are slightly larger than your bedroom bedroom, visiting three is quite a brief excursion. Also, you aren't allowed to take pictures.
Both of these rules are in effect for the same reason: fear of damaging the remains.
So I only managed to sneak one photo of the outside area. Inside the tombs though, I have no evidence. I'm sure you can find images online, so try that out.
Each of the tombs is an empty room with hieroglyphs coating the walls and ceilings, and occasionally an empty sarcophagi. Because of the safety measures, most of the original paint is still intact, which is pretty amazing. The colors are so bold; turquoise, gold, crimson, and black primarily. The ancient Egyptians made the paint by mixing minerals with honey, and coating the walls with a wax-mixture when completed.  There are full murals on some of the ceilings which are stunning, and some beautiful bas-reliefs as well.
The overall opinion was this: Valley of the Kings is amazing, but because of the stifling heat and visiting restraints, a little lackluster. We didn't end up going into King Tut's tomb, because we didn't have enough money (an extra 100EGP per person to see just his tomb!). I mildly regret the decision, but in general we were too hot and exhausted to stay much longer than we did.
If you are ever able to visit, the most beautiful tomb (by far!) was that of Meron-Ptah. Look up some pictures if you can't make the trip, instead.
We ended the day with dinner on the roof of our hotel and going to sleep early.

Wednesday: Day 2
Several weeks prior to our trip, I began research for the best things to do in Luxor. One of the most highly recommended excursions was to take a felucca (a type of sailboat) out for a day on the Nile. After looking around at what was offered, I decided upon Spirit Felucca trips.
A brilliant decision.
The owner of our sailboat, Hazel, is a British woman who has lived in Luxor for six years and owns her own tour company. She took us for a private seven hour trip on her boat down the Nile and for a brief stop on a small island.
By far, our Nile cruise was the most perfect part of the trip. It tops off the list of my favorite things I have done in all of Egypt. Hazel was an amazing host with great stories, prepared THE most delicious Egyptian food (the best I've had yet!), and was so relaxed. We lazed about on the boat from 11:00am till sunset, talking, eating, reading, and just enjoying the scenery.
We took a short break near sunset at "Banana Island," a small island in the middle of the Nile where they grow bananas. It was a nice little break, and the bananas were delicious.


Guys are allowed to swim in the Nile (women aren't) so Spence decided to take a dip. He thought he was pretty cool... which I guess he kind of was. haha. Not everyone gets to say they swam in the Nile River. 
Our Felucca for the trip - Spirit.








The Nile at sunset. Absolutely beautiful. And definitely one of the most amazing ways to end a day.


Thursday: Day 3
Our last day touring Luxor we spent at, in my opinion, one of the Wonders of the world. We went to Karnak. Karnak is a temple complex in the heart of luxor (a five minute drive from the hotel!) that took nearly two thousand years to build completely. It is absolutely MASSIVE. Huge pillars and columns, obelisks, and ruins overrun an area of a few square miles. There is a giant man-made lake in the center; the biggest pool I've ever seen.
There are hieroglyphs covering everything, and statues in every direction. In many areas, there are trace remnants of the original paint from the temple.
Don't believe what your told.
Giza? Meh.
Karnak? Absolutely stunning.
If you come to Egypt, it is worth more time and money to make a trip to Karnak than it is to go to the pyramids. The sheer mass and detail of the site is overwhelming. It was stunning; we all agree that that was the most amazing archaeological/historical site we have visited in Egypt.

A to-scale model of the entire Karnak complex. It is massive!



















On Friday, we made the train ride back to Cairo and were joined once again with our friends. Saturday, Spencer and my mom had their flight back home, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. It was really nice to have them here; not only to show them what it's like, what I deal with, but also because it cuts down the bitterness of being apart. When you don't see people you're so incredibly close with for months, it gets to you. It helped us all to have time together again for a bit, and now there is only a two month waiting period till we see each other again!

In a week and a half, our school is having spring break. Now, I would like to be optimistic and hope that I'll post again before that time, but I also know that I'll be very busy. Inshalla, you will hear from me again in the next two weeks. If not, Spring break is a much needed real vacation (minus the catch-up I played after my family left) with some more travelling involved. You'll hear all about it afterwards, but know that we are making a trip to visit students in their villages, going to the White Desert (google it!), and spending time in Alexandria and in a small town with beautiful white beaches East on the Mediterranean. I can not wait. Until next time... :)
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