Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Egypt (2) - Baksheesh!

An early start this morning - the telephone waking us at 06:00. We would get used to this - the tours are all done in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. We waited in the lobby until our bus was ready to go. First stop was the temple at Karnak, followed by a Papyrus Institute and then the temple in Luxor itself.

Karnak was impressive - it's huge pylons flanked by two rows of sphinxes - it must have been incredible when in use. Marco walked us through the various parts and showed us specific inscriptions and statues. Some of the most incredible items were the obelisks - they were huge and fully covered with inscriptions. We were then given free time to explore. It was during this time that we were introduced to the way Egyptians pursue their tips (baksheesh). You would walk into a room and a local looking chap would usher you to the best place to take a picture - once done he would demand money. Even the official uniformed guards did it. You soon learnt to simply ignore them even though it felt decidedly awkward.

After Karnak we headed to the Papyrus Institute where we were shown how it is made and decorated. We were given drinks and browsed around - I bought a small piece with the soundings for the various hieroglyphics on it - in the hope I would be able to sound out the cartouches later - it wouldn't work!

Luxor Temple was equally impressive - in the centre of Luxor itself it is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There is a very long and famous avenue of sphinxes leading up to it - so long that some of them are buried under houses. The temple itself used to be half covered in sand and was used as a mosque - you can see the entrance door 6 metres up one of the walls still :) Since then it has also been used by the Romans and today there is a modern mosque in it too. When you look at the front of the temple it appears that the left obelisk is leaning - actually it is straight and true - the pylon behind it is slowly subsiding. There is an American mission trying to save it but our guide reckons that it will collapse within a few years.

We returned to the boat in time for lunch - being greeted with a hot towel and some lemon drink - very refreshing! As we ate and then sun bathed later the boat began its journey south. The M/S Darakum has 5 decks and 44 cabins with 85 staff. The lower deck holds the restaurant and a couple of small bars. The lobby and rooms occupy the whole 2nd deck. The 3rd has rooms, suites, a shop and a gym. On the 4th there are further rooms and the main bar and lower deck cover more than half of the boat. The 5th deck covers 75% of the boat and has a pool, a seating area next to a bar and lots of sun decks.

Towards the end of the day we arrived at Esna locks where the boat was besieged by small boats offering to sell clothes and trinkets. They would wrap the items in bags and hurl then 5 stories up to the top deck - if you liked them you threw money down, if not you returned the item. However, we were warned that many items are used and it is not uncommon for them to be crawling with fleas and ticks! We stayed away from them :) Dinner that night found us on a Kuoni table with 3 other couples. There were around 16 other English guests and maybe double that of Spanish - the Spanish were LOUD!

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