Luxor… and when we are hungry, aka Suxor. Not that it is bad here, really, it’s just that people on the street are all salesman, and the taxi drivers and horse carriage drivers will literally chase us down sometimes to yell at us about getting a ride. So the feeling is much like Cairo, though fortunately the city is not quite as big or hectic, but we have definitely left the loveable oasis’ for less desirable territory. However, Luxor is home to some amazing sites and ruins, so that is the trade-off, which at least makes it worth being here for the 2 days that we are. We spent the beginning of our day on an overnight train from Asyut, which took over 5.5 hours, from 2:30 am until around 8:00am. The whole reason we even had to go to Asyut to catch the train (which was very, very late) was rather ridiculous, since we had been staying in Al-Kharga, the eastern most desert oasis, where our friend Muhammad lives and works, and we wanted to go to Luxor, which is only about 3.5 hours away. However, no buses go that way, only “special taxis” that are overpriced (350 EGP vs. under 100 EGP for the transportation that we took), so instead we took a station wagon taxi for 10 EGP each to Asyut, which took around 3 hours, before waiting for over 2 hours to catch the train to Luxor. On the upside, we didn’t have to pay for lodging, the train seats were adjustable and reasonably comfortable, and our friend Sameh (who runs the Anwar Hotel in Mut City) wrote a note in Arabic for us to give to a friend of his who runs a hotel here in Luxor in order to get a good price. So when we emerged half-exhausted from the train, and rather out-of-it, the three hotel touts yelling at us didn’t really faze us, since we already had a pre-decided destination in mind, which was very fortunate since one tout in particular was relentless, following us for 3 or 4 blocks yelling about his hotel, despite us first politely, then blatantly ignoring him.
The Fontana Hotel ended up being rather close to the train station, only about 10 blocks, and we crossed paths with sleepy children headed off to school most of the way there. The proprietor hadn’t arrived for the day yet, so we were served tea, and then we got down to room haggling, which is not only an Egyptian past-time, but pretty much mandatory not only at hotels, but sometimes at restaurants, and definitely at all the shops. You don’t have to haggle, it’s true, but then you’ll end up paying the highly inflated tourist price, which is sometimes about twice the “real” or “Egyptian” price. Basically it’s financial racism, or discrimation, but it’s simply reality in a country filled with very poor and chronically unemployed people who are inundated by relatively wealthy Western tourists.
The hotel was effectively all booked up, but a guest who was staying there for 3 weeks was just leaving as we were drinking our shai, so her room (double-booked apparently, but in Egypt that’s how things often seem to go…) was the target of our haggling, and we got a pretty fair price of 70 EGP for 2 nights, in a room with air conditioning and a private shower (amenities we haven’t had yet on our trip), plus 2 free breakfasts including eggs, so our subsequent several hour passout was done in comfort.
Since we only have 2 days here, we couldn’t sleep too late, so we got up around noon, mostly refreshed, and after eating a late breakfast (and signing up for a tour to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, etc. on Luxor’s West Bank for tomorrow morning – starting price 580 EGP, ending price 240 EGP – exactly halfprice…), embarked to the mighty Karnak Temple. We took a brief pitstop at an ATM (something the oasis’ didn’t really have in great supply), and decided to ride a horse-drawn carriage the rest of the way to Karnak, since they are quite cheap, fun, abundant, and the brutal mid-day heat is nothing to scoff at in Egypt, even during the “winter.” Upon our arrival, the sheer magnitude of the temple complex became readily apparant, since it towers at least 30 metres in the air, and occupies well over a square kilometer. Everything is made of sandstone, with detailed hyroglyphics carved on all the walls and columns, many of which show remnants of Karnak’s complete paint job that would have been amazing in antiquity. Today splotches of color exist, blues and reds mostly, usually on ceiling carvings that have been better protected from the elements over the last several millenia. Karnak was an ongoing project, with numerous ancient pharoahs, and later conquerers, including the Christians, building their own monuments to the massive temple. Despite such a rich past, the throngs of tourists today, combined with baksheesh-hungry guards, make the place in actuality rather lacking of any semblance of spirituality, though the magnitude of the monument, combined with the obvious work that went into its construction, allow its historical relevency to shine through.
To be finished later…