Woke at 9, and had breakfast of cornflakes, cold pancake, and a small baguette with jam on the roof. It was a chilly yet sunny start to the day. I put my ipod in my pocket, my earphones in, and headed out for a long walk down the corniche next to the Nile, much to the anger of the scam artists who tried talking with me but I ignored them. ‘Very rude you’ They seethed, but then, so is ripping people off, tricking them, taking their hard-earned money and praying on the naive. I’ll stick to my ipod thank you very much.
Stopped briefly at the really interesting Mummification Museum, and learnt all about the mummification process, and that the ancient Egyptians mummified animals as well as people. When a person died, their internal organs, lungs, liver, stomach, intenstines – the viscera – were removed, leaving the kidneys and heart. The brain was removed by inserting a metal probe up the nose and whisking it, reducing it to a liquid that could be drained away easily. Then the body and organs were covered in natron salt and left to dry out for 40 days, after which they were washed, purified, and anointed with a range of oils, spices and resins. All were wrapped in layers of linen, with amulets set in place over various parts of the body as priests recited the incantations needed to activate the protective functions of the amulets. Each internal organ was placed in its own Canopic jar, and the wrapped body and funerary mark inside its coffin, where it was ready to begin the funeral procession to the tomb. Pretty fascinating stuff. In this museum, as well as a well-preserved mummy of a 21st-dynasty high priest of Amun, Maserhari, were lots of mummified animals including a crocodile, baboon, fish and cat. Great stuff.
I continued my walk, tuning out to the touts offering services as diverse as felluca rides, trips to special shops, hashish, cocaine. What a mess lack of money has made of the money-hungry locals. Islamic morals have disappeared here in the face of mass tourism. The fascinating rich ancient culture we come to see has absolutely no reflection on the weasel-like sneaky, greedy, rude and uncultured one we see in present-day real life. What a shame Egypt’s best days were thousands of years ago. Nobody would have time for these people if that old culture didn’t exist. But then, if that old culture didn’t exist, the people who make a living from it would probably be a lot nicer, and maybe people would still come for the felluca rides, the food, and the other preserves of this once great place.
Getting thirsty, I stopped at a ministore to buy water, and got talking to Hassam, a young handsome lothario who was trying to learn Swedish. Nobody speaks Swedish in Luxor, and the keen entrepreneur wanted to be the first to offer tours in Swedish. A good idea. He had a girlfriend from Denmark. They all have Western girlfriends, the young lads over here. It’s Pattaya for women. Instead of desperate, money-hungry poverty-stricken girls prostituting themselves to old Western men, it’s a complete reverse. There is a God.
I left him to his studying and continued onto Karnak Temple, a largely ruined complex of sanctuaries, pylons and obelisks dedicated to the Thebon gods and the greater glory of the pharaohs.
The site covers 2 square kilometres, and the great hypostyle hall – the largest in the world, unmatched in grandness – 134 towering papyrus-shaped stone pillars, behind each of which a guardian / unofficial guide / scam artist in a grubby white thobe was stationed, beckoning you over for a good vantage point for a photo then demanding baksheesh, also on a scale perhaps unmatched in the world.
Apart from the hall, I found little else that interested me as most of the rest was ruined and my imagination wasn’t up to it today. I did fall into a backsheesh trap, however, and cursed myself for falling for it. One of the men in white thobes beckoned me to go behind a wall to the other side, where some statues were, an area you can visit anyway – it not being an ‘off-limit’ zone. A machine-gun toting guard was also there, both of the men with big smiles. I waited for the man in the thobe to go away then wandered around the back to take a few snaps of the statues. The guard tried to tell me the history, but I refused to acknowledge him, and turned to go back, where the man in the thobe was. Where I had walked through was now sectioned off with a rope, and for backsheesh he would let me back through. I protested, said the rope wasn’t there when I went around, which it wasn’t, and got out without paying backsheesh. Result, but what a clever little trick, and the guard and his friend must make a tidy profit each day from that one.
I left and got a horse and carriage back to Luxor Temple for 10LE. On the way, Babu, my driver, tried to trick me into going to a special market, which ‘today only’ had ‘everything half price’ and wasn’t ‘a tourist place.’ I stubbornly refused to go, so he tried another tactic. “Please, my horse gets a free drink of water if I take you. No take you no water for my horse.” I wasn’t having any of it. He carried on trying different tactics, trying to sell me different things, complaining about having no money. I humoured him, and even gave him a small tip when he finally brought me to the temple. He had a full, round and greedy face, greedy for backsheesh, and a patter that many a tourist would fall for. Luxor is the scam capital of Egypt, which makes it one of the scam capitals of the world, and people like him are everywhere, nibbling away at the dollars on legs that are tourists.
I went to the internet cafe, and had a brief walk through the touristy souk, getting invited for tea at every turn. I made it back to the hotel, up to the roof for a beer, then next door to Sakara restaurant, an Egyptian place of some class. The place was a famous British Ambassadors house, and hasn’t changed much since that time. A dusty bookcase is still there, containing a 1955 copy of National Geographic. The chairs, the beams, the tables, the window panes….all seemed to hark back to the early 20th century, and a more refined era. The place had airs and graces, battling against the grime of everyday life outside. It had only Egyptian fare, but that was fine. Tonight, it also had a special guest – Jimmy Conner – an old bald American from Miami with a stomach like the hot air balloon I’d be riding in the morning. He was brash, loud, and very American, but in a strangely endearing way. We were the only 2 guests in the room. I sat on the other side of the room to him, slightly behind, and he and I were both facing the same way, so it may have looked like we were both talking to ourselves when we had a conversation. Jimmy Conner loved this place, and had been coming to Luxor every year for 20 years or so. His daughter is general manager of the fanciest hotel in town, the Winter Palace. Conner recommended dishes to me, commenting on his own food as though he were announcing it’s deliciousness to the world, and kept winking and clicking his tongue at his favourite waiter, the only one who talked to him. I had planned to read quietly, but not with Jimmy Conner in the room. After a lovely meal of stuffed pigeon, I went and sat down at his table and we chatted. He said I was the only person he’d ever spoken to while dining in here. Maybe he spoke to others, but it was only me who had given him the time of day. He was lonely, I suspected, and, though one or two marbles were loose, he was still pretty sharp. I liked his very American directness – he didn’t mince his words about Tamils, Egyptians, Islam. I told him I’d meet him the next day, He said he’d be with friends. He goes to the same place every night. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever meet again, but I was glad I’d been an audience for
Outside, I chatted briefly with the grubby guy who sells vegetables across the street from the Oasis, and then back to the hotel, as I needed to wake up at 4:15am to go hot air ballooning during sunrise over the Nile and West Bank of Luxor.