Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Egypt, continued

Because we arrived at the hotel in the afternoon we did not have time to book a tour for that day. However we knew that the nearby Karnak temple had a sound and light show in the evening so we called at the taxi driver who took us to the hotel and arranged to meet him out front around 6:15pm (about 20 minutes). He told us his brother would pick us up and made sure we knew his taxi number -- we soon learned why. When we stepped out of the hotel a taxi driver immediately tried to offer us a ride. We told him we were waiting for another taxi that we had called and he told us "yes, yes that's me, he sent me to pick you up". But I knew from the number on the side of his taxi that he wasn't our taxi, which meant of course that this guy was flat-out lying (so tip #2: remember your taxi number if you have arranged a pick up). We told him no and our taxi pulled up 30 seconds later.

This taxi driver, brother of our first taxi driver, was also a pleasant enough person but a more reckless driver than his brother. I swear we spent about half the journey on the opposite side of the road (on a 2-lane road) and we had no seat belts. I joked afterward that he must have thought we were from Britain so drove on the left-hand side of the road to make us more comfortable. He dropped us off and told us he would be waiting here when the show was over.

Karnak temple:

The temple is huge, the grounds are almost 2 square kilometres, and the first half of the sound and light show involved us moving at certain stages through the temple complex where we would stop for 5-10 minutes for some light effects and background narrative before moving onto the next part, eventually winding up at groups of seats by the Sacred Lake for another 20-30 minutes of show. The light and sound effects were not that impressive, in fact the narrative got hokey at times, but being in this Temple, with its 75-foot inscribed columns, hieroglyphic-inscribed walls, and 3000+ year-old statuary, was awe-inspiring. And since it was night-time the temple was quite dark (tip #3: bring a flashlight, the flooring is a little uneven and there is next to no lighting). Mom and I really liked being there and we looked forward to when we would be visiting it in the daytime a couple of days later.

Next day: we had arranged for a private guide to take us to the main attractions on the West Bank: the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Our guide was Michael, whom by his name I could tell he was not Muslim (he's a Coptic Christian).

We had a private car and driver as well, doing it this way was recommended by a colleague of mine since it would apparently cut down on the hassle from touts. We quickly left the city to cross the bridge to the West Bank. The ride took about 15 to 20 minutes and on the way we could see:

Police at every major intersection
a lot of donkeys, giving people rides, pulling carts, or loaded with harvested crops on their back
a lot of farms with small farmhouses made of mud brick and sometimes thatched roofing

The police were there to reassure tourists of the overall safety. In 1997 there was a major terrorist attack at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut where 61 people were killed. Not surprisingly tourism to the area plummeted and a lot of local people suffered from lack of income. Since then there has been a significant police presence. Not that I was too concerned -- the terrorist group that committed the attacks is no more. Everyone in Egypt was so horrified by what the group had done that the group lost whatever public support they may have had. People who would have normally supported whatever cause the group was fighting for were instead informing the police of their whereabouts, and the group was swiftly crushed by the authorities.

First stop: the Colossi of Memnon

What you see here are two large (65-foot) statues of Pharaoh Amenhetep III (1390-1353 BC) in what seems like an empty field. The area is actually the remnants of the Pharaoh's Memorial Temple but unfortunately most of the Temple was made of mud brick and lay and the Nile floodplain so over the centuries the flooding of the Nile destroyed the Temple except for the two stone statues. Now that the Nile does not flood due to the Aswan Dam there are archaeological excavations under way at the site of the Temple. The two statues were still impressive though. Mom and I were there for about 10 minutes, taking pictures of the statues and looking at the graffiti written on the base of them (some of it looked like Greek or Latin so perhaps some of the graffiti is centuries old)

Okay, got to go again. I promise to post more in the next few days.

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