Day 80 Mar 24 (Safaga --> Luxor, Egypt)

Early breakfast in the room. Met Sheila and Ron to team up for our long trip across Egypt to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. We had about 20 buses travelling the three hours or so in a convoy escorted by security vehicles. Not sure whether to feel like a VIP or a duck in a shooting gallery. Actually, we have been told by Chris of Vantage that this type of treatment is more to reassure the tourists than out of any real need to be concerned. The traffic is stopped at check points. There are many of these on the way - apparently each town has a perimeter set up and armed guards in towers to enforce the security they have. I have a lot of respect for Chris so I decide not to worry but I can understand why others are a bit uneasy. Yet another culture to try to understand. Oh, we travelled about two thirds of the three hours through "scenery" like you might expect El Paso to have if it didn't rain for a few years. It looked more like a moonscape than anywhere on earth. The final third of our trip was along the Nile. Many farms using irrigation water from the river.

Our buses were air conditioned and they brought two extra ones along in case of a failure of some sort. In fact we had to transfer a busload of people to one of the spares early in the trip due to an A/C breakdown. I guess this isn't the first rodeo for whoever planned ahead enough to have backup buses!

Our guide (each bus had their own) was pretty good. She spoke pretty good English and she has a degree in Egyptology and works in the Cairo Museum. That means she knows her stuff. Apparently Egypt was hit very hard in the wallet after 9-11 because tourism is their number one source of income. They are really working hard to overcome any problems. I understand they even have an edict (not a law but almost as powerful) to be nice to tourists. This would explain why the vendors actually take no for an answer better than some of the other countries we have visited. Don't get me wrong. They are still persistent. But if you are firm they back off.

So, we get to the Valley of the Kings (in case you are wondering about a rest stop to break up the long drive...didn't happen. We had a potty on board and were told we would have to make do with that. Come to think of it I remember how long it took a team of girl soccer players to use the rest room on out of town trips. Twenty buses would no doubt be quite a bit longer. Once again, good planning by the tour organizers!) and everyone hits the rest rooms. Then we were briefed by our guide and sent off in search of tombs. This place is a valley in which something like 62 tombs have been found so far. It is huge. Think McKelligan Canyon size or so (for those of you who have been there). A tram took us from the visitor center to the main area and we were given tickets to visit 3 tombs. We were told where and when to regroup afterward. I found out later that some guides made their bus stay together and walk as one group. While that may have seemed like a good idea, we found we could find less crowded tombs and spend more time where we found the most interesting things to look at. If you've ever tried to follow a guide in a group of almost 40 people you know it can be difficult to hear and see. Add to that 104ºF temperatures and narrow corridors and you can see why I'm glad our guide, Dina, treated us like adults.

From the Valley of the Kings we went to the Temple of Hatchepsut. She was the first Egyption Pharaoh who was a woman. And you thought women couldn't be kings! We had just a quick photo op here before moving on to the Colossi of Memnon. These are two statues (colossal in size of course) which were actually statues of Amenhotep III. The ancient Greeks apparently decided to rename them (after conquering Egypt) after the Trojan hero Memnon. I guess you can do that kind of stuff when you are the conquerer.

Next we went to the Temple of Luxor. This is right in downtown Luxor and was once connected by 2 miles of small Sphinxes to Karnak. A number of the Sphinxes remain but many have been destroyed over the millennia. Egypt has the oldest recorded history going back about 5,000 years. Let's see, when was the USA founded? Hmmm.

Finally lunch! Well, maybe dinner... it was about 4 PM I think. We weren't really starving. Most of us had breakfast and were given a sack snack or did they call it a snack sack. Whatever. It contained a sandwich, piece of fruit, carrot bread muffin or something like that, a cookie and a bottle of water. So we had munchies as needed. Lunch was a buffet in a very nice hotel, the Sonesta Saint George in Luxor. Most of the food was tasty. I did find disappointment in a "sirloin medallion". What was I thinking. I'm from Texas. Steak and Egypt just don't go together like mom and apple pie do they?

We had almost two hours for lunch but after such a busy day we needed the rest. Then it was off to shop. These tours always seem to find some time for shopping. Not a bad idea because we often don't have much time after a tour to shop. Besides, tourists need to spend money on souvenirs to boost the economy right? Well, I didn't. Well, actually I did but earlier. There were some souvenir stands in the Valley of the Kings. But I managed to walk through the afternoon shops and not find anything I wanted. I'm not sure I have room for what I've bought so far so I'm not buying anything unless it really calls to me and is relative unbreakable and small in size.

So after the obligatory donations to the local economy we hopped (well, by this time we weren't hopping anymore) aboard the buses for our last Luxor experience of the day. That was the Sound & Light show at the complex of the Karnak Temple. This sounds a lot more Disney than it should. It was actually pretty disappointing for many. They walked about 1000 people or so through different parts of the Temple complex by turning on lights (ushers were present to assist) and having narration through speakers to explain some of the history of the area. After about a half hour of this we were moved to a seating area on a hill behind the complex and the show continued. The history was interesting but hard to follow at times. The lights turned on and off at various parts of the complex along with the story but they used simple white lights for the most part and the lighting didn't always seem to be connected with the story. Suffice it to say that the pharaohs ruled Egypt for thousands of years. They had the biggest and best tombs of any culture (as far as I'm aware) and managed some amazing engineering feats. Very impressive!

We started back to Safaga and our ship-home around 9:00 PM. We arrived shortly after midnight. Nothing like an 18 hour day to wear out a bunch of senior citizens. We all slept well! (Most managed to get a head start on sleeping on the bus.)

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