Yalla yalla is Arabic for “come on, let’s go!” and we did. Twenty miles north of Aswan, our falucca docked (maybe more like beached on a sand bar) and we boarded a van for the five hour drive north to Luxor, which provided a quick study of the communities and geography along the Nile.
The road itself presented a metaphor for how the Nile is Egypt’s lifeline. On the side of the road adjacent to the Nile were bright green farms of date palms, alfalfa, sugar cane, and fig trees. On the other side, large expanses of desert and rugged limestone cliffs trailed off into the horizon.
We passed through a lot of small villages — slowly because the Egyptian government has recently installed speed bumps along the highway — where adobe and brick buildings are decorated with earth-toned peeling paint and dust. Some had satellite dishes tilting over eaves of thatched or tiled roofs. I didn’t see any advertising, which interested me because in many cities and villages of southeast Asia, virtually every private building and wall of the non-rich is plastered with signs advertising beer or cell services.
At roadside markets, women in black chadors milled around piles of greens and cages of chickens and pigeons. Men sat on tiny chairs lined up along curb sides drinking tea and smoking shisha. Children waved and yelled hello with big smiles (This is a familiar experience everywhere I go and one that provides a tiny piece of unscientific evidence to support my view that we should be traveling to the most unfriendly places rather than focusing on those that are rated high on the list of “ethical” countries. If you want to change unethical governments and empower people, promote familiarity and mutual understanding rather than isolation).
After two long days of travel by river and road, we were happy to arrive in Luxor, famous for its many ancient monuments. One of our first adventures involved riding donkeys on our way from Luxor to the Valley of the Kings, where pharaohs who ruled over thousands of years are buried in tombs that are miracles of art and engineering.
The donkey ride provided a comic contrast to my romantic horseback ride through the desert at Giza pyramids. The initial task involved 14 adults simultaneously navigating the best way to climb on the back of a small animal that has spent years learning ways to be evasive. Although I have never had much problem with taller and stronger members of the same species, I struggled to achieve this simple task with dignity while my donkey sidled, tap danced and reversed every time I was ready to throw my leg over. I finally succeeded by applying my years of riding experience and superior human intellect, coincidentally as one of our child hosts walked toward the donkey with threatening body language.
Once on the road, it was clear that each donkey took one of two approaches: either begrudging and plodding, or hurrying to get it over with. And there we were, 14 mostly large mostly white people perched precariously atop scruffy, self-possessed burros, trotting frantically and plodding begrudgingly in a long line, just like real Egyptians. Yun fell off her donkey while she was making a facebook video of her ride. Van’s male donkey mounted a female donkey — while he was riding. Sarah’s donkey brayed in protest at five minute intervals. I received several compliments for being able to make my donkey turn, which gives you some idea of the level of training of the equine as well as the human participants. Overall, a highlight of the trip for me!We arrived at the Valley of the Kings in tact and toured four incredible tombs. It is fascinating to realize that these most beautiful rooms were designed and built with the intention that no one would see them (except the gods, who I realize were actually important to the ancient pharaohs). Photos are not allowed anywhere in the valley and I followed the rule so I wouldn’t break a second camera. So here are stock photos of one of the tombs and the valley itself. I picked one with a hot air balloon because part of our tour group went ballooning. And I know I said I would do this when I had the chance but it meant another pre-dawn wake-up call and a rather significant outlay of Egyptian pounds. So I decided to wait for Melissa.
We visited several other amazing temples and tombs around Luxor.
And we had fun strolling the souks to buy last minute gifts and scarves and oranges for the road.
Today, we got up before dawn, again, and made our way to Luxor’s airport where we caught an early flight back to Cairo. As we waited for our luggage to arrive on the airport carousel, we shared heartfelt goodbyes and promised to stay in touch. I am back in Cairo for a few days in a hotel that has hot water, internet service, a smoke-free room and a television. Although come to think of it, I would give it all up to have my roomie back.
The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have. – Anna Quindlen