December 22. Another freaking early morning. We're still in Luxor, the city that once was Thebes. We toured the East bank yesterday (some toured it more than others!). It's considered the Heliopolis- the city for the living. The West Bank holds the Necropolis, city of the dead.
Specifically, the Valley of the Kings. Our Egyptologist guide prissily informs us that the name is a misnomer- there are unknown persons and nobles buried there as well, and the name was a marketing ploy. Does it matter? Not to us, but it was of grave concern to this native Egyptian.
We were the first bus to the Valley of the Kings, but it filled up quickly. I can understand why they thought it might be a good place to hide the tombs- the area is arid and mountainous and utterly unwelcoming.
The thing you probably don't grasp is exactly how much is going on in this valley. Tombs are still being discovered, excavations still ongoing. Some 3000 years later, the work continues, and will continue for generations to come. Go see the brief Wikipedia article that has a handy map, or to lose yourself for hours in the wonder of this site, check out the Theban Mapping Project.
Unfortunately, photography was forbidden in the tombs. There was concern that repeated exposure to flashes would fade the vivid colours of the painted motifs inside the tombs.
Our ticket included entrance into three tombs of our choosing, and our guide recommended purchasing the ticket to tour KV9, which had unique texts and religious paintings.
After crawling through and admiring our 4 chosen tombs, we bailed back into the bus and drove a short distance to the impressive mortuary temple of Hatshepsut. Breathtaking when first seen, this temple seems to be more Greek or Roman in design than the other monuments we have toured.
It was a cool morning, and windy as heck here. Picture the area behind us lush with gardens and trees... Hatshepsut had the courtyard of this temple, miles away from the Nile, irrigated and grew an orchard here. Ancient roots of trees still poke from the sand.
She was an amazing woman by all accounts, and was considered one of the most successful Pharaohs.
The monument, while spectacular on the outside, wasn't much to see on the inside. I think the circuitry in our brains that dealt with wonder and beauty had been short-circuited after seeing everything we had... it sounds ridiculous now to say that this fabulous temple "wasn't much."
Next stop- an alabaster factory. These men used ancient tools to carve the soft alabaster into vases and statues. I hate to think of what their lungs looked like from inhaling years of rock dust...
On our way back to the boat, we stop at some random statuary just hanging around the countryside. This area is sometimes called the world's largest outside museum, and it's easy to see why.
This afternoon, the cruising begins. We finally leave Luxor, winding our way south to the lock at Esna, where we are queued to pass through the lock.
There are 280 cruise ships on the Nile, most of them roughly the size of ours. Each has a schedule pretty much the same. One of the events that almost all the ships holds is a Galabea night. (Galabeas are the traditional long dresses worn by both men and women here. At least, that's what they said- I never actually saw a woman wearing one. However, it's pretty hard to tell what they're wearing under their gorgeous abayas. I suspect more Western clothes predominate.)
Anyhow. Galabea night is coming up. Never one to miss a chance to make a buck, every merchant up and down the Nile knows that every tourist is going to want to buy a galabea for the party. And some merchants are more... opportunistic... than others.
We're stopped at Esna lock, waiting behind other ships to pass through. It's dark yet warm, and we're enjoying a drink before dinner on the sun deck. All the sudden, shouts from the water draw our attention... it sounds as if a bar fight broke out on the water. We lean over the side of the sun deck, four stories up from the water, to see what the commotion is about. A dangerous move; we immediately get pelted with dresses.
Six or seven rowboats are jockeying for position on the water far below. They know we need a dress and have had no good opportunity to shop for one, so they're doing us the favour of bringing the shopping to us. They see a head over the rails, they choose a dress and whip it up to us. The target... er, recipient, takes the item out of the plastic and has a look... if they like it, they proceed down to the water level to begin negotiations for the item. If they don't want the item, they lob if over the deck back to the waiting merchants, who had great success snagging the items before they had a bath in the Nile. Completely random. Completely Egyptian.
My SIL bought a dress that way... the gaudiest, most overblown piece of tourist crap I have ever seen. (I've walked through the world, looking at the crap that people try to sell to tourists, wondering who actually buys that stuff. Now I know. DH's big sister keeps them all in business.)
DH and I took a couple of minutes at the vendors in front of Hatshepsut's temple to buy our galabeas, so we didn't participate in this wild game. Sure was fun to watch, though.
After we cleared the locks, we sailed through the night to dock at Edfu, ready for the next day's adventures.