Even if it is a miniscule walk away from the hubbub, one crowded attraction to the next.
I'm chuckling to myself about our group's concern for my safety, about wanting me to take a guide.
Every ten feet or so Ahmad turns around and offers me a piece of his collection of tourist crap. Would I like a book of postcards? (He fans them out.) Cat statue? (Holds it to catch the light.) Scarab? No, no, and no. Do I need to take his hand? (He will treat me like his mother.) No, thank you. I am chugging along right behind him on the crushed limestone trail. I could find my way over this thing without my contacts or glasses. In the dark. There is absolutely nothing to obscure the path. Up, over, down.
We reach the top of the ridge, and I ask Ahmad about some tombs I can see cut into the rock. Ah, that's in the Valley of the Queens; I'll show you. So we make a little detour so I can look down at the tomb entrances and into what's less a valley and more a ravine. We make another little detour to get a good view back down into the Valley of the Kings. Nice. We make another quick detour and Ahmad pauses, bends down and starts flicking through the dusty rocks at this feet, comes up with two little fossil clamshells in his palm, hand them to me. Awesome. I take some more pictures and we start down the other side.
Ah, I see now. I ask Ahmad about the direction we're taking. He explains, we go this way and at the bottom I go to my village for tea. If we go that way—he points down the nose of the ridge, with its warty little guard outpost—if we go that way you have to go by yourself because I don't have a ticket for the Valley, he says. Okay, I say, let's go your way, so we start straight down the cliff face.
Birks aren't really good hiking shoes, so I quickly decide I'll do better without them, and follow Ahmad with them in my hand. He keeps looking back and offering a hand, but I insist I'm fine. Though I am not taking any pictures while scrambling.
Ahmad asks if one of the men in the group is my husband. Yes. Do I have kids? Three, and a grandson. Are you married, I ask Ahmad. He says he wants to get married, but he doesn't have the money. He's been working as a guide leading tourists over this ridge for about ten years. He took a break and worked for a man making alabaster statuettes, but the man was crooked and tried to cheat his workers, so Ahmad quit and went back to this. His entended family all does this. He hopes to save enough money to marry someday. Good luck on that, buddy.
We finish with the cliff portion of our tour and resume the looping ridge trail down toward his village. Ahmad asks if I have time for tea. Man, oh, man, I wish I did! But No, I say, I promised to meet my group and I don't want them to worry. Would the group have time to come by, he asks? I think of our schedule and sadly say, No.
When I stop to put my shoes back on, Ahmad hands me the pack of postcards. A gift, he says. I suspect he's stunned that a grandma just traipsed barefoot down this cliff. I expect he doesn't see too much of that.
I appreciate the Tourism Board's humor in posting these signs. I'm hoping they get the Kodak Picture Spot signs up soon.
Starting up the ridge. The shade pavillion is on the right, some tomb entrances (demarcated by low, buff-colored walls) on the left.
A little higher now, and delightfully empty. The tourists just below us on the trail didn't go any higher and by the time we got to the top of the ridge, Ahmad and I were the only ones in sight. Well, us and the tourist police kiosks dotting the ridgeline.
Ahmad in his galabeyyah and sneaks and blue acrylic scarf. We're just about to start down the cliff below the ridgeline in order to avoid those pesky tourist police and their insistence on tickets. Shoes off!