Safaga, Egypt

Trip Start Jan 13, 2009
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Trip End May 13, 2009


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Monday, April 13, 2009

One month ago to the day, Harriet and I were withstanding blasts of sub-zero wind on the Great Wall of China in -8 degrees temperature. Today we were hiking thru the Valley of the Kings in +110 degrees temperature. Our adventure continues from the frigid north of China to the hot deserts of Egypt. But that is current; today we are going on adventure into the past. We are going back almost 5000 years to the time of the Pharaohs and the glory that was ancient Egypt. For several days we have been attending lectures on Ancient Egypt. Today we will be visiting the Temple at Karnak, The Valley of the Kings, and the Temple at Luxor. To visit the sites we will need to travel from Safaga on the Red Sea inland to Luxor on the banks of the Nile. We will visit both sides of the Nile; the east side of the Nile; the Land of the Living; and the west side of the Nile; the Land of the Dead. The Nile was and is the life blood of Egypt. It brings the water that is used for irrigation and drinking. In ancient Egypt, the land to the east of the Nile was for the living. This is where the temples and farming was. But on the west side of the Nile, it was for the Dead. This is the hot arid desert where the pharaohs and people were buried. The Nile brought life and prosperity to the people of Egyptian. The Nile was the life water to these people living on the eastern edge of the Sahara Desert. To the West of the Nile, lies the arid and barren Sahara desert which the ancient Egyptian referred to as the Land of the Dead.


We awoke early this morning as our tour was to last from 07:00AM until 09:30PM; a long day full of buildings and artifacts of ancient Egypt. As there were no competing tours for the day, we formed a large group of a little more than 400 that was spread out over nine buses. We had arose early to prepared for the trip with breakfast, dressing with long pants and long sleeved shirts over short sleeved T-shirts. Even though the temperature would soar to 110 degrees, we needed protection from the Egyptian Sun which is extremely strong and merciless. We join with some other couples that we knew on the ship and were ticketed for the same bus. Our long anticipated trip into ancient Egypt was delayed for almost an hour while missing security escort cars were located for our nine bus convoy. But this delay was not of any consequence to us as we settled into our air-conditioned bus and full of excitement as we waited to start our adventure into Egypt. At last the convoy was completed and started it journey into the heart of Egypt. From the port we headed out on to the dry and barren Red Mountains that lie along the coast of Egypt. It is a hot barren range of mountains that is only sparsely populated by Bedouins that have set up small tribal villages where the men can work in local towns and the women can care for the family plot that forms their home. The barren landscape is broken up by stops at Police Inspection Stations that were areas where both lanes were stopped and one lane at a time would move thru the station around barricades and speed bumps that would only allow extremely slow traffic to move thru the station area. The seriousness of the stations was brought into sharp focus by the location of gun towers on both ends of the station. So for over an hour we travel thru the desert mountains that are; with the exceptions of the sparse Bedouin settlements; devoid of vegetation and signs of live. The sand, dirt, and rocks that make up the Red Mountains continued on with us while we traveled deeper into the Land of Egypt heading for that fertile Nile valley that lies just past the desert mountains. As we reached the far side of the mountain range; we began our descent into the fertile plains of the Nile Valley. The Nile was the cradle of the Egyptian Civilization during its 5,000 year reign as the center of the human world.
 
As the bus descended into the valley, vegetation began to appear. Sparsely at first then gradually greening until small farms, villages, and irrigation canals became the dominated features of the landscapes. As we traveled thru the valley on our way to the Nile, we followed an ancient canal that has brought the fertility of the Nile River further out into the valley for thousands of years. The road runs directly next to the canal with villages and farms on both sides of the corridor made up of the road and the canal. This would be our view for the next couple of hours. Although the villages are the living habitation of the current local population; their design and location have probably not changed since time was. The age of the buildings are confused by the fact that there is not a tradition to paint building. This lack of paint gives the building a patina   that makes them appear much older than they are. There is a dichotomy of design in that practically all of the buildings have at least one satellite dish on its roof. The dress of the locals appears to not of changed for thousands of years. All of the farmers and villagers were dressed in robes and turbans. One of the main methods for transporting produce and other materials around the villages and across the farms was donkey cart. Donkeys were being heavily utilized both on the farms and in the small villages along the canal. The only part of the cart that indicated the newness of the cart was that the wheels were car wheels. Camel sightings were few; mostly donkeys, cattle, horses, dogs, and geese were viewed and with the frequency of the sightings in the order listed. Wheat and Sugar Cane appeared to be the major crops planted in the small farms along the canal. Villages were very numerous along the canal, but no evidence was seen from the bus that indicated that there were villages further out into the fields away from the canal. Besides farming, there were some examples of fishing as nets were strung across the canal. This was the landscape that continued until we enter the area and city of Luxor.
 
As we entered the Luxor area, the small villages disappeared as a larger older city took over the landscape. Traffic which was always moving along the road that we were traveling increased and slowed as we entered the city. Suddenly we were there; we were at the Temple of Karnak. On one side of the road was the City of Luxor as it appears today and on the other side of the street was the Temple of Karnak which although in ruins from its previous glory was still showing the majesty that made it the largest temple to any god in the history of mankind. The 5000 years of history of the Egyptian Civilization was there. Although ran by the High Priests of  Egypt,  the temple have been in constant change for thousands of years as succeeding pharaohs added improvements that would make that specific pharaoh,  the greatest and best loved of all the children of the god of Egypt.  Every Pharaoh was believed to be a child of the god, Ra which was the greatest of all of the gods of Egypt. This divinity of the pharaohs was the reason that they could have the dedication of the people that would be required to garner the wealth and labor that was necessary to build and maintain these large temples and other structures that are so identified as the part and fiber of ancient Egypt. These temples are testaments to the power of and love of the pharaohs of Egypt.
 
For the past 4 hours we have been on a journey from the Red Sea into the Nile River Valley, now we were at our first stop and we would be leaving our air-conditioned bus that had served as our window into the current Egypt. As we stepped off the bus, we realized that the weather forecast of 100+ temperatures was correct. It was hot, but it was dry. A very slight breeze was stirring but offering no relief from the heat. We knew that we were in the desert even if the greenery that bordered the Nile Area disputed that fact. A desert can exist even in the absence of large flowing sand dunes. Even the short distance from the buses to the entrance of the temple was sufficiently long enough to re-assure us of the correctness of our decision to wear long sleeves and pants as protection from the Egypt Sun. But as we entered the Temple of Karnak, the high heat issue moved from the foregrounds of our minds to the background. The temple grounds, full of sphinxes and heroic statues of Egyptian Pharaohs and gods, brought the full force of the history of Egypt directly down upon us. We were in an area where pharaohs, kings, high priest and other inhabitants that had worked, lived, and visited this temple for 5,000 years had walked. The enormity and detail of the site was overwhelming. Heroic statues of 30 to 40 feet in height guarded the entrance to the temple. In front of the Temple was the start of a long avenue of over 9 1/3 miles long that connect the Temple of Karnak to the Temple of Luxor on the other side of the city. This avenue was originally lined with over 2,000 sphinx-like statues with ram heads. We entered the temple thru gates of wood from the cedar trees of Lebanon that originally stood over fifty feet in height. As we walked into the temple we quickly saw the 134 large columns that supported the original ceiling and floor of the Library of Egypt. Egyptian Pharaohs had continued to reign over Egypt even thru the occupations of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arabs. But they were gone for the latter occupations of the Ottomans, the French and the English; that continued to dominate Egypt until Egyptian Independence in 1959. But when the temple was first built, Egypt was the main civilization and power of the world. Toward the center of the temple were two large obelisks that towered above the temple buildings. One that was built by Queen Hatchepsut was 97 feet in height. Queen Hatchepsut was the only female pharaoh of ancient Egypt. Every wall, column and ceiling of the temple was covered originally with paintings and reliefs of gods, pharaohs and other figures that help detail the life of ancient Egypt. To explore the temple in a manner that its history would dictate would take days and for Egyptologists it would take years. But our time was short and as cruisers, we were scheduled for a luncheon on the banks of the Nile.
 
The Hotel that provided our luncheon was just a short distance from the Temple of Karnak. It was tightly squeezed between other buildings on the banks of the Nile River. The short period that we were back on the bus and headed to lunch provided a welcome relief to the heat of the day. As we entered the hotel we escorted thru the hotel out to the back open terrace to a set of steps that would take us to a lower level that was open by windows to the Nile River. Being on the inside ensured a luncheon in air-conditioning that was a luxury here in the desert. The food was very good and Harriet and I were able to sample the local beer called Stella. Even from the days of the pharaohs, the Egyptians have been brewing and drinking beer. The beer was cold and a welcomed addition to our meal. After the meal we were informed that one of our tour group had died earlier in the day. He suffered a heart attack. Although we had not known him well, we had talked frequently with him during our activities aboard the ship. He, like us, was a frequent exerciser at the ship's gym. His wife returned to the ship after her husband was taken to Port Said there to wait for the Tahitian Princess and then he will be taken by the Tahitian Princess to Athens. There he will be shipped back to his home accompanied by his wife. There was also three other incidents during the day. The first was when a passenger fell on the gangplank exiting the ship. During the day two other passengers suffered mild attacks of heat exhaustion. This was an unusual port with this amount of personal tragedy.
 
After our lunch, we again boarded our buses and headed for a bridge that crossed the Nile and took us from the east bank of the Nile to the west bank of the Nile which was the Land of the Dead for ancient Egyptians. The Valley of the Kings was located on the western bank of the Nile River. This area was started in the last Kingdom of Egypt, in the first and middle kingdoms of Egypt, the pharaohs would build large pyramids which would be monuments by which the souls of the pharaohs could use to find their bodies for their afterlife. The main reason for the pyramids and Valley of the Kings was the ancient Egyptians belief in an afterlife. The ancient Egyptians believed their soul would return, find and then restore their body for the afterlife. They also believed that they would come back as they were in their first life. If they were a pharaoh, they would return as a pharaoh. If they were a doctor, then they would return as a doctor. That is why the pharaohs and others buried their processions with their bodies. They would use the processions in their new life. This also showed the importance of the body. If the body did not survive then the soul would not be able to find the body and thus be unable to start the afterlife. Thus the mummification of the body would ensure that the body would survive and be ready when the soul returned to it. Another fact was that the Pharaohs realized that the pyramids were quickly plundered and the processions removed and not available for the later use of the pharaohs. So the power of the soul was upgraded in the religion so the soul would not need a landmark to find the body. With this change the locations of the pharaohs' burial sites could be hidden from the grave robbers.
 
When we arrived at the Valley of the Kings, the hot temperature of the morning was superseded by the extreme heat of the midday. The temperature had risen to the 110 degrees. To protect the known and unknown tombs of the valley, buses are no longer allowed into the valley floor of the tombs. We exited the buses and boarded small trains pulled with electric vehicles, much like you would see at a large American Amusement Park like Disneyland in Anaheim. So in the hot temperature of the day, we boarded the first car of the train. Boarding with us was a local man selling postcards for an amount that needed to be reduced thru negotiating. We bought three sets of postcards for $1.00 US. This was something that we believed would be beneficial as no photography was permitted inside of the tombs. Video photography was also not permitted anywhere in the valley. Thus we arrived in the small ancient valley fully dressed and ready for outdoor only photography. We were also carrying a couple of bottles of water. Harriet added an umbrella to her outfit so that she could provide herself with much needed shade in the heat of the afternoon. The valley floor is narrow and sloped slightly uphill with no shade except for a couple of man-made covers. At the front of the valley near the entrance to the King Tut Tomb is a new excavation site that is currently being explored. It has the potential for being an important find that could be announced later this year. Our Ship's Lecturer is an Egyptologist that said we should pay extra attention to the site as it may become an important site later. It was a hole on one side of the valley that was roped off and had lots of pieces of pottery stored on the side of the hole. No current activity was occurring as this was the summer months and too hot for excavating. That work was reserved for the cooler winter months. We examined the area and took some photographs of the excavation site. The valley is narrow and windy so that from this location we could not see to the end of the little valley. To reach the end of the valley, we started walking up the valley passed the major tombs toward the far end of the valley. Although not a steep incline it is still an uphill walk to the end of the valley and the temperature is extremely hot. At the end of the valley was a single steep staircase that climbed from the floor of the valley up the its walls to yet another tomb that was located up near the top of the valley. With the heat and our limited time at the site, we decided to not continue up the ladder but to return down the valley to the sites of two tombs that had been recommended by our bus guide, who was also an Egyptologist. So we went down the valley toward the entrance of the first tomb. It is a special feeling walking down into the tomb thru a square man-made tunnel in the side of the valley that was dug thousands of years before to house the earthly remains and prized procession of an Egyptian pharaoh. The walls were covered in plaster and painted with pictures and hieroglyphics that told about the pharaoh and his life, as he had wished it to be told. The burial chambers were normally located near the end of the tomb along with satellite rooms to hold the pharaoh's processions. We viewed the two recommended tombs. The first was KV8 - Akhenaton and the other was KV9 - Ramses IX. The valley was sand, dirt and rock that were baked in the hot Egyptian Sun. Besides making the site extremely hot, the sun also contributed the light that bathed the area in a brightness that could only be endured with the use of sunglasses. While at the tomb area we met a couple of the numerous Tourist Police who monitored and protected the archeological sites. Here at this site was some dark skin Egyptians that were close to the original race of Egyptians. Since Egypt was occupied by the Arabs, the majority of Egyptians now look more like the other Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula. There is a large group of Egyptians in the south of Egypt that has remained more isolated from the Arab influence and has the dark skin look of the original Egyptians.
 
The day was passing and our time in the Valley of the Kings had been exhausted. It was now time to board the buses for two photography stops before crossing back across the Nile to the Temple of Lexor. The first stop was at the Temple of Queen Hatchepsut. Although called a temple it was a funeral preparation site that was for the preparation of the dead for burial. This was reason that it was on the West Bank instead of on the East Side of the Nile. As it was not a full stop, but a short photo stop we did not get to go inside of the Temple but were able to view it from a short distance. It was a large temple carved directly into the cliff on the side of the mountain. This was the last stop we made on the west bank. From here we again crossed the Nile back to the East side, the side of the living.
 
We headed back to Luxor and the Temple of Luxor. But before we entered the city, we passed an open field that had two large seated statues. They were the Statues of Mennon which once stood at the entrance to a large and impressive temple that has since been lost to the ravages of time. The two large statues are now standing guard over a large vacant field. They stand as silent testimonies to a time that was once and now is gone. We only spent a short time at the site, just long enough for a few photos and a wondering as to what the site must have looked like when the statues were first put in place in front of a grand palace of a pharaoh.
 
By the time the bus reached the Temple of Luxor, the sun was sinking in the lower in the sky and the evening was cooling the temple site down to a more comfortable temperature. It was now comfortable to walk thru the temple. Although smaller than the Temple of Karnak, the Temple of Lexor which was at the other end of the Avenue of the Sphinxes was equally impressive. Inside of the temple was references to a pharaoh of Egypt that was not a native of the country but one of the conquerors of the country. His name was Alexander the Great. It is believed that his body was returned to Egypt after his death for burial, but that is note a confirmable fact.  Also inside of the temple was a painting of a group of people that looked more like later Romans than earlier Egyptians or Greeks. This is one fact that I will need to explore with our Egyptologist on board. 
 
Our day visiting the sites of southern Egypt had finally come to an end. We boarded our bus as the sun dipped below the horizon and darkness fell on the land of the pharaohs in Upper  Egypt. With the coming of darkness and lower temperatures the people of the area came out of their homes and met in the open areas of the city of Luxor and the villages along the canal leading back to the Red Mountains. With the heat of the day gone, it was time for the locals to enjoy the company of their friends and neighbors. With the coming darkness,  lights came on from all of the buildings and sites of the area. From most of the homes we could see the televisions glowing in the darkness of the room. Away from the villages was the dark road that was only illuminated by the lights of passing traffic. Thru this darkness our buses sped back along the canal, up and thru the Red Mountains and out on the shores of the Red Sea to the Port of Safaga where the White Lady waited for us to return. Because of the numerous security stops and having to wait several times for a change of security escorts, we were becoming later and later in our return to the ship. Our time to return to the ship came and went. We were not yet back in port. The time for the gangplank to be lifted came and went and we were still not back at the port. Finally the convoy entered the port area and we were driven back to the ship. An hour and a half late, we arrived late but fully satisfied with our tour and the marvels of the ancient world that we had seen during the day. It was a long day of over 16 hours in which we had an adventure not only of distance, but of time as well. It was a memorable day that we will long remember.
 
Tomorrow we will enter the Suez Canal and head to Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea. But that will be another blog entry.
 
The hunt for Harriet Results:
 
This hunt for Harriet will be in the Land of the Pharaohs which is a location not only of place but also of time. She will be waiting for you to find her.

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Where is Harriet? Hunt 
This hunt for Harriet will be in the Land of the Pharaohs which is a location not only of place but also of time. She will be waiting for you to find her.

Linda Fergueson on April 15, 2009  

This time I think she is at the far right of the picture standing in the small crowd of people a little apart and to the left of the two people in red shirts and by another person in red top and tan skirt. Harriet is in white top and dark pants. Does this make any sense? Linda
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