Safaga - Luxor, Egypt

Trip Start Jan 07, 2012
Trip End May 09, 2012

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Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just after midnight the ship entered the Strait of Tiran. Once clear of the Strait the ship entered the Red Sea and set a south southwesterly towards the Port of Safaga.  Safaga is the gateway to Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings, locations of some of the most spectacular temples and tombs of Egypt, some would say of the entire world. Safaga has also become a popular Egyptian seaside resort specializing in water sports and diving holidays.

There is a sharp contrast between the arid desolation of the desert and the lush green of the Nile Valley.  To Egypt, the Nile is life nothing lives without it.  Together with the warming rays of the sun, the friendly waters of the river made a good life for the people along its banks.  The River Nile is a main source for the people of Egypt and is important for cultivation. It is known as the longest river in the world, when counting all the curves.  Egypt has a population of about 85 million people with a large amount living near the banks of the River Nile.

The main harvest in the northern regions is rice and in the south it is sugarcane.  Other important crops are wheat and many varieties of fruits and vegetables.  Egypt has the abilities to produce most of foods needed for their own people as well as some to export.  Egypt has 37 types of snakes; 7 of which are extremely poisonous like the cobra and viper. There is one so deadly that a camel can die within three minutes of being bitten by it!

Education is compulsory starting at 4 years of age with kindergarten for 2 years.  Then, another 12 years of school provided by the government for free.  English is mandatory as a second language.  There are also private schools, but must be paid by the family.  The main universities are in the north in Cairo and Alexandria, where many of the people work two jobs.  In the Luxor region, there is a much simpler life with most being farmer families. 

Going back in history, it is quite natural that the most important deities were seen as generous givers and friendly protectors.  The Sun God, clearly the most important, was called both Amon or Ra; a close second in importance was Osiris, god of growth and fertility, as well as the afterlife.  There were many other gods and goddesses as well, nearly all of them benevolent and sympathetic.  The temples and tombs of Luxor were built with the deities in mind. 

The dynamic pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty built the massive Temples of Luxor and Karnak on the east bank of the Nile, then began an impressive series of tombs on the west bank, which later became to be called the Valley of the Kings.

Our very long all day tour (13 hours) started out with a sandstorm at the pier & leading to the buses.  We boarded our bus quickly to escape the wind and sand.  All of the buses had armed security and went in caravan style as we left the port and city.  We went across the Safaga Mountains and desert towards Luxor.  Along the way, we went through many checkpoints and speed bumps on our journey of 3 hours to reach the Temple of Luxor, an ancient Egyptian temple complex located on the east bank of the River Nile.

The great Temple of Luxor, standing near the center of town, is dedicated to Amon-Re.  It was built by Pharaoh Amenhoteph III, about 1400 B.C., and later expanded by Rameses II.  The most striking feature, the great colonnade, was intended to be even larger than it is today, but had to be finished too quickly.  It also boasts a unique avenue of Sphinxes, red granite obelisk, mosque and a gigantic Sitting Ramses II colossus.  On the west bank of the river there are the Colossi of Memnon, two 64-foot statues of Amenhotep III, attached to the temple built in his honor.

Next, we went to the known five-star Sonesta St George Hotel to board a felucca, a traditional wooden sailing boat for an enjoyable lunch cruise along the River Nile.  The weather was most pleasant being on the water with a light breeze and we were served an elegant Egyptian lunch with plenty of food.  Fortunately, we had our guide, Nebe, on our boat to help explain the different dishes.  It was a treat for us to try the different foods.  We crossed the river to the west bank to head to our next stop, Valley of the Kings.  Along the way, we got a quick view of Queen Hatshepsut Temple, which is set on the foot of a limestone mountain, dating back to the 15th century B.C. It is built as a series of grand terraces with rows of square granite columns blending with the mountains.  The walls are adorned with scenes from her expedition to Somalia in search of incense trees.  We were disappointed in that we did not get to stop for at least some photos.

Further out in the west bank, the Valley of the Kings is set in an arid desert landscape and where the Pharoahs chose to bury their dead.  There are currently 64 known tombs, the last being found just recently.  Most of these royal sepulchers are long galleries excavated into the rock, with chambers at various intervals.  When we arrived it was really hot, so our guide explained the guidelines and about all the persistent vendors.  We were not allowed to take any cameras of any kind and to be extremely careful; all the Egyptians want money for everything!  We took a short train ride up the hill to the start of the tombs.  Our tour only took us to three of these tombs; Rameses IV, VII and XI, where we were given very limited time to "explore" the interiors of the valley tombs while marveling at their elaborate wall paintings.  Between each tomb, our guide would give an explanation, while constantly being bothered by the “vendors”.  They did not want to accept “NO” and just kept following you when walking outside.  Then, inside the tombs the so-called “guards” would offer information or assistance and then expect you to pay them a tip.  We were disappointed that we only got to see three tombs and then with all the begging, it was not the most pleasant experience.  Unfortunately, we did not get to see the Tomb of Tutankhamen, which was only discovered in 1922.  “King Tut” was buried with a lavish inventory of jewelry of all sorts, toys, games, furniture, clothing and weapons.  Most impressive of all is the wonderful gold mask that says so much about the high quality of Egyptian craftsmanship.  The Egyptian Museum in Cairo houses these treasures today.  Tut was a young man when he died, after only ruling for 10 years.

Our next to last stop was a short one at the Colossi of Memnon back in the west bank of Luxor.  Then, we were taken to some required store for shopping and a restroom break before the long ride back to the ship.  Egyptian regulations are very strict about when and where buses can travel at certain times of the day, thus we had to leave by pre-arranged times.  We could not go on the highway road that we arrived on, so had to use the “agricultural road” that ran along the canal.  This was a very slow road with lots of traffic, including donkey carts, hauling trucks, motorbikes, bicycles and lots of people, plus it was dark.  It took us 2 hours before we reached the open desert road.  Vehicles do not use headlights, some only with what we would call parking lights.  Many times a two-lane road became a three or four lane road because of vehicles passing.  We finally made it back to Safaga and our ship after 4 hours.  When we got off the bus, another sandstorm was happening.  Needless to say, we were glad to be back onboard & “home” safely.

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