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Adventures of a short vet

Balloons, donkeys and more temples

EGYPT | Sunday, 27 June 2010 | Views [1073]

We started VERY early with a wake-up call at 4:15AM. I dragged myself out of bed and staggered blindly down to the lobby to meet Shaun, Sam, Aly & Jackie in catching a bus to the ferry across the river where we would be going for a ride in a HOT AIR BALLOON! There were about 20 people on the ferry and, when the guide started telling us about safety precautions and landing positions, one American girl piped up, “I think we’re on the wrong boat! Aren’t we going to the Valley of the Kings?” Turned out her boyfriend had secretly booked the ride to surprise her…and no, he didn’t propose. It was pretty funny but I was reminded of how glad I was that our American girls weren’t that annoying as she continued to screech in surprise and kept interrupting the guide to the point where he had to ask her to be quiet!

We arrived to find 6-8 balloons being inflated in the semi-dark of the early morning. The noise and heat of the flames heating the air was incredible, as was the number of people running around stabilizing the balloons. I was surprised at just how big the basket was; consisting of four compartments that each held 5 people, and a central compartment holding the pilot and four massive gas canisters. We climbed into our compartment, the pilot blasted hot air into the balloon, and we were off! I got a little bit of vertigo when we went straight up and ended up quite high above the ground, but was soon distracted by the magnificent sight of the Valley of the Kings and the sun rising over the Nile. We dropped down a bit and the easterly wind blew us rapidly over the city and towards the river. We later found out that the balloons are actually not supposed to cross the river as there are too many power lines & not enough landing sites. But we did, and luckily couldn’t understand the pilot as he yelled into his RT to the team below. We couldn’t use the westerly wind to push us back to the Valley landing site as it pushed us to low down over the city, and the pilot was trying to get permission to land near the airport. Unfortunately, the last time a balloon went near the airport the business was shut down for 6 months, so this was not really an option, so we aimed for some poor local farmer’s crops. Sometimes it’s good not understanding the language! Aly looked over to Sam, who was looking more than a little worried, and asked, “Meshi?” (okay?), to which he replied, “Mish meshi!” (Not okay!). Eventually we touched down illegally on a field, and the ground team scrambled to get the basket secured after a bumpy landing on the crops. They had to pay for the damage to the farmer’s crops, but at least we didn’t get sucked into the exhaust of a plane!

So after an eventful but amazing ride, we met the other lazy bums and our local guide, Ahmed, at 7:30am near the Valley of the Kings. He told us that the valley was chosen as a burial site on the West bank of the Nile where the sun sets (i.e. the end of t life) as opposed to the East bank where everyone lived (sunrise equating to the start of life). There is a natural pyramid marking the site, chosen for the good quality limestone cliffs into which the tombs would be dug. But before we headed in for a closer look at the tombs we had another treat waiting. A donkey ride! And, unlike the camel ride where we were led like sacks of potatoes, here we were in charge of our trusty steeds. I climbed aboard my little jack, and we were off! I thought I would have a lot less control without any stirrups and very little opportunity to use any “leg”, but it was well trained to the bit and actually wanted to have a run! Sam & Aly, who both could ride, took off, so I followed them and managed to get a few good little canters in until the poor thing got too tired. We rapidly left the rest of the group behind and rode peacefully past fields of trees, crops and workers. Eventually we hit the main road and had a few hair-raising moments crossing to the other side. It was great fun, and totally worth the stiff and sore legs the next day!

We then headed to the Valley of the Kings, where our tickets included a visit to three tombs – Rameses I, III & IX. Ahmed explained the meanings of some of the hieroglyphics and told us stories of the ancient gods. Such as how Set, the god of evil, killed his brother Osirus out of jealousy, but Osirus was brought back to life by his wife Isis after being made into the first mummy, and now lives in the Netherworld where he is in charge of weighing a man’s heart against a feather to decide where his soul will go. If it is light then the man goes to heaven, but if it is heavy with his sins then he’s sent to hell.

Some of the tombs had beautiful carvings and painted walls, all guarded by locals trying to “guide” you for a fee. Shaun foolishly took a torch offered by a doorman, forgetting that nothing is free, and was subsequently followed as his new guide tried to point out random things, such as the painting with a massive erection! Trust Shaun to attract these people.

We then did the optional visit to King Tutankhamen’s tomb, despite the relative expense for such a short visit – you can’t really go to the Valley and not see his tomb! The tomb itself was pretty small and not nearly as elaborately decorated as some others due to the king’s untimely death, but it was impressive to see his mummy in the special controlled conditions chamber within its actual tomb.

We also visited Ramses VI tomb, which had the best preserved colour hieroglyphics in the Valley – not overly impressive until you remember that the paintings are over 3000 years old!

Our group then split up to do some optional extras. The American girls visited the “workers’ village” where the people who worked on the tombs lived. These people weren’t slaves, but were “hired” to work on the tombs, on the condition that they had to live in the nearby village for the rest of their lives, as the location of the tombs had to remain secret. But it was guaranteed lifetime work, which considering the current recession, can’t be too bad.

We chose to head to Dier el-Bahri, where a temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut (or “Hot Chicken Soup” as Ahmed described her!), the first female pharaoh who “stole” her stepson’s throne when her husband, the pharaoh, died. She had been ruling with him for the past few years and felt that she could maintain the kingdom through intelligent peaceful negotiations. Many were against it as a female could not be head of the army, and so people were afraid it would be seen as a weakness leading to invasion. But she managed to negotiate treaties with all her neighbours, showing what a good politician she was. When she died her stepson took over, and out of resentment decided to deface her temple to prevent her from getting into heaven, believing that removing her face and name would cause both the gods and her people to forget her. He vandalized all of her cartouches containing her name, and toppled her statues. Luckily some of the statues survived and have been remounted outside the temple. It was much quieter than the Valley of the Kings, which was great as we were able to find some empty rooms for some great pictures and quiet contemplation.

We then headed over to the Valley of the Queens, where the pharaohs’ families were buried in over 80 tombs. Despite our guides’ lack of enthusiasm (“you’ve seen one tomb you’ve seen them all” was the impression we got) we loved it as there were almost no other tourists and the painted engravings on the walls of Ramses’ II sons’ tombs rivaled those of Ramses VI. They showed the Pharaoh “introducing” his son to the god Osirus in order for the kid to enter through the “Gates of Heaven” as a child did not have sufficient knowledge of the gods and their ways to enter alone. There was also a mummified foetus that had been mummified when it’s mother died. The Egyptians believed that once a child could be felt moving then it was a person, and so deserved a proper burial. These days women who are having trouble conceiving will come to kiss the case “for luck”.

On the way out I was offered 3 carvings for EGP5, which then dropped to EGP1 when I ignored him. I fell for it and made the mistake of looking at the carvings, at which point the price changed to EGP100. I wasn’t actually interested so offered EGP20, thinking that would be it, but he buckled and came down to EGP30 in the end. So now I have three more rocks to carry home – good thing I packed light!

We picked up the girls & headed over to Ahmed’s house for an AMAZING lunch cooked by his lovely wife. After stuffing ourselves to bursting point (again), we had a lesson in writing our names in Arabic & hieroglyphics. It was like being in school again! I ended up ordering a small silver cartouch for my sister’s birthday since she loves all things Egyptian. Plus it’s a lot easier to post than a stone carving!

Finally we returned to the hotel, grabbed our beers and headed back up to the pool. We returned to find some strange towel sculptures in our rooms - these guys have a wierd sense of humour!We lazed around until dinnertime, when we caught a real live taxi-van (1 EGP each) to Snacktime, but this time we dined in the luxury of the top floor overlooking the Luxor temple and the Nile. After dinner the Americans headed off to the Sound & Light Show at the Karnak temple, while the other girls went downstairs to check their e-mails and I joined the boys in watching the football. It was a good game, but both the guys fell asleep while I managed to stay awake only with the help of a strong Turkish coffee. Finally the game ended and we made our way home through the surprisingly busy streets. It seems in this heat everyone becomes nocturnal, even little kids were awake and playing in the park at midnight! We jumped in a taxi and Sam panicked for a minute as he hadn’t seen Shaun climb in the front and when he asked if I’d seen him I replied, “Oh, he just kept walking!” I pointed him out before Sam jumped back out of the van. So gullible.

Tags: donkey, heiroglyphics, hot air balloon, ramses, statues, tutankhamen, valley of the kings, valley of the queens

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