Day one started the day before, when I had to move from the house to the apartment so as to be in town for the ungodly hour I needed to be at the airport. It was arranged previously that I would share transportation to the airport with our writing coach as we both lived near one another. This was modified on the last day as one of her previous students, also living nearby, knows a taxi driver who is trustworthy to take us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning.
Although I had not expected it, I did get a couple of hours of sleep that night, got up in good time to be ready for their pick-up, and off we went to the airport. We went to the terminal for domestic departures and I saw in my mind’s eye the difference between that and my previous departure, ten days ago, to El Gouna. Then, I was taking a private plane, so went to the VIP lounge, where I was escorted out of the limousine by two body-guard types into the empty, comfortable lounge, my luggage was taken care of. Here we had to lug our luggage and go through several checkpoints before getting to the ticket counter and checking in our luggage. But each trip had its own threats to my comfort zone. This time I was worried about meeting new people, and more so about the threat to my writing skills. This was touching upon a subject which has become very important to me. It would either confirm me in this career, or threaten it no end. To me that is not just a hobby, or even a career, my writing has now become an essential part of my being, an extension of the essential me, a lifeline and a therapy. The threat to that not only threatened my comfort zone, but my very life-style and happiness. But this was my choice, I had to test the waters and see if I would sink or swim.
A large part of the group forming this writers class was traveling on the same flight and I would get to meet them for the first time at the airport. The first thing to impress me was their youth. They were all fresh looking girls, mostly veiled, wearing sensible elegant clothes befitting the type of journey we were undertaking. A Nile cruise is a mixture of the exotic lifestyle and exhausting sightseeing.
We finally boarded and exactly on time, the slightly more than half full plane took off. One thing that surprised me, as I had not used a local flight in quite some time, was the fact that the screens dropped before takeoff, presumably to show the safety instruction video, but instead started with a rather lengthy verse of the Quran. Things of that sort tend to scare me, it is exactly like going into surgery and the last thing your surgeon tells you before you are put under, is : good luck! What? Do we need heavenly intervention to get from Cairo to Luxor? I tried to calm myself that this is probably a tradition that might have developed during that ghastly year of MB rule, and prayed that we had a good pilot.
We did, and took off, flew and landed in Luxor in one piece, and even early. The pickup at the airport went smoothly, but again shadows of my landing in El Gouna, where a fleet of large comfortable cars picked us up and the luggage was handled by another large group of people and I did not see mine till I found it in my room. Ah well, this time I was traveling coach and part of a fairly large group and had to submit to the general rules.
Luckily the weather was very pleasant, a slight, cool breeze made the morning a joy, and the first impression of Luxor, driving in that coach from the airport to the pier where our boat was, was of a quaint little town, with narrow streets, all lined with the most beautiful red flowering trees and a riot of colored bougainvillea, that turned an otherwise ordinary looking town into this colorful beautiful little jewel. But it was my first glimpse of the Nile that took my breath away. Very wide at this point, and a fantastic blue. I promptly went crazy with taking pictures, then started noticing two things. The large number of trucks transporting the squeezed remnants of sugar cane, and the incongruous look of numerous satellite dishes on top of the rather humble one floor houses built along the Nile. The highest building did not exceed four floors, and these were the new ones.
We reached the pier and filed out of the coach. Finally our luggage was being collected by the boat staff. But my first introduction to the boat was such a contrast to boarding my brother’s boat, it was more of a parody than anything else. True, in both cases we had to walk a plank from the pier to the boat, but what a difference. In this case we walked onto a makeshift plank that had some sort of lose corrugated iron square bridging the plank into the boat. But it was not the one we were booked on. It is a boat that is being renovated, so we walked into a dark, ghost-like boat with gutted walls and workmen’s tools everywhere. It had a close, stuffy smell, as though it was an abandoned ghost ship and brought to mind Joseph Conrad’s writings. Then, surprisingly, we crossed yet another boat in a similar situation till we finally stepped on to our boat which was sparkling clean, beautifully decorated and where the clear, blue waters of the Nile showed at the end of the reception area.
Checking in was the usual mundane act followed in such cases, but we were told to go have breakfast immediately after dropping our luggage in out staterooms. This is too grand a description of the slightly cramped quarters assigned to me, but its redeeming factor was a huge glass window that will become a treasure once we sail. It currently overlooks the ghost ships.
Breakfast was a buffet which we did justice to, as we were quite peckish by then, but we had a couple of hours to kill before our scheduled first tour to the Karnak temple. I took this opportunity to unpack and try to adapt my space to my needs, it didn’t take much time, so I tried to relax till it was time to go, by browsing through Facebook and my e-mails.
The tour of the Karnak temple was very impressive and you have to take it yourself to feel the overpowering grandure of the huge statues, the stately columns and the sheer number of sphinxes lining the entrances to the temple. It is the largest ancient temple in the world and sprawls over several feddans, including a man-made pond. To describe the sheer beauty and the awe it inspired can never be given justice, it is something that has to be experienced to be understood in all it’s historic and emotional beauty. But what did upset me was the evidence of wanton, deliberate desecration of such holy places. Fairly high on one of the columns is carved the name of “John Gordon” who will forever go down in history as a self glorifying idiot who managed to carve his name infamously by destroying part of the world’s sacred history. There were other evidences of graffiti, and sheer blind hate-filled destruction attempts against those stately columns that have, despite all that, survived for centuries.
By the end of the tour we were given half an hour to wander about and I chose to go to the shops surrounding the entrance to the temple complex. One of my reasons for taking this tour is to try in my small way, to help alleviate the economic straights the Luxor people were suffering from, ever since the American and European attitude towards Egypt became so negative. To say that tourism, which is the lifeblood of such places, came to a screeching halt would not be very accurate. There still is a trickle of tourists coming in, and they are making such great bargains, a trip to Egypt these days would be a veritable steal.
I went into a shop with the intent of buying anything, and was rewarded with two beautiful cotton pieces, a blouse and a galabeya, with embroidered handwork, for the price of less than one meal at a decent restaurant. I bought both and endured the embarrassing gratitude of the shop owner. I then went and sat in the shade with a couple of young men working in another shop and got to talking about their current plight. It is heartbreaking. But the consensus was that with the election of Al Sisi, the formation of a new Parliament, things should start settling down and life would gradually get back to normal. An optimistic outlook that does not negate the current painful situation. By the time the rest of the group showed up I was ready for a shower and some cool long drinks.
To be continued …