Sunday, March 23, 2008

Going to Egypt pt V

Two, no three things stand out in my memory of my first day in Luxor. By now I've been on the move for five days, and while my body has settled into local time, my brain is ready for a rest to process everything going on. I keep a notepad with me when I travel so I can jot down reminders, but I'm experiencing a critical shortage of pens on this trip, so I have no notes, just these lingering impressions.

As the passengers from the early-morning flight from Cairo waited for the luggage carousel to start, I watched the sun rise over the sandy mountains. It was beautiful like all desert sunrises are beautiful, in the way when it's not the Eye of Horus rising, but something wild. And with the day only minutes old I could tell it was going to be much, much hotter here in the middle of the country.

We had three hours to look at the countryside as we rode in our minivan among our protective army convoy to Abydos. Anna, Glenn, and I played a game of listing all the plants and birds we saw, but mostly we stared out at the poverty and desolation of this extreme desert. Even in Cairo, we saw people driving donkey carts; now that we're well outside the zone of any city, that's all we see: tourist buses/minivans, army pickups, a few bicycles or motorcycles, but mostly donkeys and donkey carts. Sometimes a cold case of sodas in a local storefront, or a satellite dish stuck to the side of a cinderblock building. Lots of cinderblock and mudbrick buildings, many looking either half-finished or partly decayed. Many unroofed or with unfinished upper floors. Why bother? When Anna asked our guide, David, how much it rains here (David is from Luxor), he says, Two days a year.

Our minivan has a/c, and little curtains for each of the windows to block the sun.

The third thing that stands out for me is Dendara. Everything I've seen until Dendara has been curious, interesting, impressive...and fossilized. Our little adventurers party was excited to see Dendara's famous zodiac. And it was beautiful and impressive, as was much of the temple complex. But while we were poking around a couple of galabeyyeh-clad locals were sitting next to a grate, and asked if we wanted to go down into the store-rooms.

I've spent enough time traveling to know that if some stranger asks you if you want to see something, you say yes. The men warned that the stairs were steep and the passageway small, leaving me as the only enthusiast in the group. So down I went.

It was no storeroom, nor was it a crypt as my guidebook called it. It was...something else. Connected to the instructional rooms holding the zodiac above? I still don't know what, but it was the first time a piece of ancient Egypt felt alive. I got a few precious moments down there my myself before I wiggled back up and insisted on Greg following me back down. We had to share it with other tourists this time, but it was still awesome.

That was also our first night on the Hamees, our floating hotel, which was a ton of fun but I was so tired that night I don't remember a thing.

Everybody had a different deity they'd hunt for in the riot of imagery inside every temple. Sekhmet was mine, Glenn's was Sobek, Don's was Thoth, Anna's was Seshet, and Greg's was Min. Here's Our Lady of the Wrathful Heat as depicted in Abydos.

Many Egyptian temples are "enhanced" with interior lighting, or full-on sound and light shows. Many of the temple interiors are soothingly dark and the lights, which you can see in this photo from Abydos, let you see the reliefs. But they usually produce ghastly-colored digital photos, at least with a point-and-shoot. This one, for some reason, came out quite nice.

This was either in Saqqara or Abydos; I can't remember. But it is a temple of Osirus, built where one of the pieces of his rent body fell to earth. The temple was originally underground. Don and I got a guard to let us go down the stairs, but he wanted too much baksheesh to allow us over the barricade partway down the stairs, so no green waters from this holy of holies.

Greg was quick enough with the camera to catch this sign for Cofe Shop Sity. We saw tons of fractured English signs; not surprising, since everything went through a language and an alphabet scramble. Plus the whole Arabic vowel thing. Too much fun. The photo also gives you a taste of the excrable architecture of modern Egypt.

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