40 for 40: Day 13 – Luxor

Today, we’re in a situation where we really hope that our guest house lives up to its Booking.com rating.

Luxor is a city split by the Nile, with the Valley of the Kings and other burial sites situated on the West Bank, while Karnak and Luxor temples are on the East Bank. Figuring that we’d want to spend a couple of days on the West Bank sites, and having heard that Luxor is the Hassle Capital of Egypt and that not of that takes place in the East Bank, I figured a 9.4 rated guesthouse on the West with a pool would be a solid bet.

We are REALLY far away from everything.

We left the Loulia this morning from Esna, making plans with out new friends Jurgen and Stephanie from Germany, before everybody was dropped off at their lodgings. Stephanie and Jurgen were dropped off first on the East, and half an hour later, across the bridge and past some donkeys, we were home.

Now, we’ve discussed this on the previous blog, specifically regarding Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka, how I’m able to pull a day trip out of nowhere from a far away place. By the time we got here, I already knew about ferries crossing the Nile, taxis, which temple was closest, which one to see at sunset, and everything. What I didn’t know was how tricky making all those parts work would be, and what time we’d actually get into town. The owner of our guesthouse basically told us we’d spend most of the day travelling rather than seeing things, so he recommended hiring a car for the day and, considering how far we had to drive from West to East, and that the day was progressing in spite of us, we bit the time-saving bullet and did that. Within a half-hour, we had an air-conditioned minibus at our disposal for the day.

There were three sights we wanted to see today, the Temples at Karnak, the Luxor Museum, and Luxor Temple, which we wanted to see at sunset, because apparently that’s when it’s nicest. We made the beeline for Karnak first but, not wanting to make the same mistake we made during our Coptic-Islamic Double-Bill in Cairo, we knew we had to eat something. I had already looked in to a few restaurants near Karnak with reviews like “Touristy but Good”, and I figured that would work.

Well, first one we tried in the pretty massive Karnak shopping complex was only open for drinks, so we wandered to the second one, Sedina El Hussein Cafe, and were by the guy running it that we could have a chicken grill with rice and vegetables ready in a half hour for 150 LE each. Not a great price, but reduced to our only option, we decided to go for it.

So we sat. We waited. Daina looked in a shop. We tried to go inside to see if it was cooler, but there were about a half-dozen Egyptians sleeping inside (obviously during the cafe’s downtime), so we figured the outside seats were best. And we waited. Then, at some point, one of us joked “Maybe it’s taking a while for the UberEats to get here”, because it didn’t look like anybody was up and cooking when we peered in.

About five minutes after that, we hear a motorbike pull up and a kid gets off with a bag full of our take-out containers, and Daina and I both look at each other, thinking “This is lunch. It shouldn’t be, but this is lunch.” There was some conjecture about whether they’d take the time to put it on a plate or just hand us the take-out containers, and they ended up going splits on it by putting the containers on plates, because when the food delivery guy walks right past the guys you’re trying to pretend you just cooked food for, the jig is kind of up.

As we were eating, we’re pretty sure we heard the delivery guy arguing with the restaurant about how much he was getting paid, figuring there had to be a pretty good tourist mark-up going on. Of course, it could have been an argument about anything, but it’s more fun to pretend it’s about that.

So, after UberChicken, we finally made our way into Karnak, made a ticket seller angry by not having exact change (which is a problem in Egypt), blew off a prospective guide who was really nice and seeming a little desperate, before another one pretended he was a ticket guy before offering up his services for a tour, which he proceeded to do several times. See, Karnak Temple is actually many temples (true) over 60 acres (also true) and if you go in by yourself, you won’t know where you are (you’d have to be kind of dumb) and you won’t appreciate the site if you’re just looking at it without explanation (maybe, but willing to take our chances).

Karnak is big, having been added on to by generations of Egyptians all the way up to the Ptolemaic Kings, with the Temple of Amun and it’s 134 columned Hypostle Hall being able to fit the Vatican and St. Paul’s Cathedral inside. There are some signs that give you an idea of who built what, and we actually enjoyed walking around alone, especially some parts where we were almost alone, minus one or two security guards. The first one opened up a gate that allowed us to see a panorama and unlocked a cloister with some beautifully painted pictures, while the other provided us an even clearer panorama through another set of stairs he unlocked. Of course, a little baksheesh at the end of it is expected, but we were more than welcome to provide it here, much more so than for the somewhat lazier groundskeepers who would point to an obelisk like it was something you’ve never seen before and tell you to take a picture, and then demand payment for their advice.

We got out of Karnak and, with the Luxor Museum on a one-hour hiatus, got our driver to do a market run for some bigger bottles of water before checking the museum out. It’s much more streamlined and easy to navigate than the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and much smaller, but pretty much everything on display was an absolute homerun in terms of artistry, with tonnes of work from Karnak and Luxor temples on display. It’s a bit steep for an Egyptian museum in terms of price (120 LE) but worth it, especially as a cool stop between temples.

Final temple stop was Luxor Temple, which is actually relatively small when you consider how gargantuan the columns and walls are, and it looks like the “see it at sunset” advice was out, because there was quite a little crowd forming in the temple, including a couple of tour groups. Still, it couldn’t take away from the red hues the sandstone turned as the sun set. Gorgeous way to end the touring part of the day.

We ended up meeting up with Jurgen and Stephanie for dinner at a place called Jewel of the Nile, with some basic local food, before making the long drive back to the guesthouse, where we moved to a higher floor, because when you are on the ground floor, that’s how you get ants.

So, big day, but good day, beautiful day, tiring day. Tomorrow, up early but back earlier as we engage in more adventures. We’re keeping it to our own Bank, though.

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