Saturday, March 29, 2008

Going to Egypt pt VII

A(nother) big day today, our second in Luxor. We're off early to see the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens on the west bank of the Nile. Greg and I pack for the day's adventure before heading downstairs to the breakfast buffet.

The valley is bleak, and if it weren't for the small birds flitting among the rocks and shadows I could almost call it sterile. Our minivan driver parked in the large asphalt lot and our guide David hopped out to buy the tickets. We grabbed our hats, our water, and cameras and stepped out into the early-morning heat.

After years of watching sedentary tourists practically expire, the Egyptian government installed a Universal Studios-style tram to carry people the quarter-mile from the parking lot to the entrance to the valley. David hands us each two tickets, one for the tram and one for the Valley of the Kings itself. He explains that the valley ticket permits us access to up to three tombs in the valley, but that not all tombs are open, so we start strategizing what we want to see most while we put-put up the incline. Don consults his PDA.

We stand in the welcome shade of a rest area while we explain to David where we'll be and where we'll meet and when. I hand him a page I've ripped out of my guidebook, the one describing the walk up and over the ridge dividing the Valley of the Kings from the Valley of the Queens. Oh yes, he says, I've done this walk many times. It takes forty-five minutes.

At Don's suggestion, we head up the valley to the tomb of Tutmosis III. Most of the group eyes the lengthy staircases dubiously, but Don assures everybody it's worth it: the tomb is decorated in a singular style with passages from the Book of the Dead. We head up.

[I've got no pictures from inside the tombs. Photography is not allowed, David explained to us, not because of the flash but to keep people and their moist exhalations inside the tombs to a minimum. For the same reason guides can't accompany their groups inside.]

[But it was awesome!]

The second tomb we visited was more typical; so typical I don't remember whose it was. And I can't consult my notes because now I am completely out of pens. If I was to do this trip again, I would have brought two or three dozen pens with me: the tourist police, tomb "guards," kids selling tourist tat, they all badly want a pen. So now I have none, and no notes.

But somewhere along the way between Tutmosis III and the crowd around the entrance to King Tut's closet of a tomb, we have picked up a guide for the trails leading up and around the valley. For some odd reason this reassures the rest of our adventurer's party, that I will have a guide for this 45-minute walk. Fine, I agree, and explain to Ahmad, no group, just one, and that I will be back to meet him at this spot when we have finished tomb-crawling. Okay, he says, look for me! See! Blue scarf. Okay.

So I blow off the last of the tombs and make arrangements to meet everybody at the cafeteria at the Temple of Hatshepsut on the other side of the ridge. Take lots of pictures, says Don.

Ahmad and I take off like shots up the hillside.

The long, hot walk from the shaded rest area up the valley to the tombs. The guy with the bucket is working on/excavating one of the tombs. Beyond him, some tourists in shorts—guess they didn't get the memo on inappropriate attire.

One of the new and improved maps outside each of the tombs, courtesy of David Weeks' mapping project.

One of the staircases leading up to Thutmoses III's tomb. The whole thing was so very Indiana Jones (even the tram, if you think of it in a Disneyland attraction way): the cliffs, the narrow passageways, the prunish old men in native garb sitting on their heels...

I don't know what this is, just that I liked the look of it and it's near the spot where I agreed to meet Ahmad for our little stroll. I verified my own sense of direction with our guide David, who said, Take that trail up and over there, down and around, and we'll see you in 45 minutes.

I'm looking back down into the Valley of the Kings after walking uphill for just a few minutes. It felt like mid-80s temps, and the soil was nice and grippy under my Birks. The structure on the right is the shaded rest area; the buff-colored walls are tomb entrances.

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