Luckless in Luxor

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
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Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I woke up on Tuesday with a sore throat, which I chalked up to a long and dusty Monday.  After enjoying one of the hotel's lovely croissant's for breakfast, we got our packs together and caught a taxi to the service taxi station.  During breakfast, we'd spoken with Hainan, the lovely hotel manager, and picked up the first hint that our service taxi idea might not be such a good one.  As it would turn out, she was right: the service taxi wasn't really an option for us.  I'm not sure if it was because Tuesday was the first day of the holiday, or if it just isn't something foreigners do (despite being listed in our guidebook), but either way, it created more heartache than it was worth.  The only offers that were made were for us to buy an entire minibus and pay wayyyyyyyy too much for it.  Based on the info in our guidebook, we'd expected to pay 35-40LE each ($7-8); the drivers were all asking for ten times that amount.  None of the buses that filled up were heading to Luxor -- was it too far or too unusual of a destination for locals?  

After seeing the situation we were faced with, we decided we would increase the amount we were willing to pay to 100-150LE for the two of us.  We stuck to that price for about an hour, after which we realized it was simply not going to happen, and that 200LE (being offered by a kindly looking gent) was actually a very good deal -- so we agreed to it and climbed into Guma's minibus.  

During the drive, we realized it was actually illegal for him to drive us to Luxor (as mentioned in the previous entry, tourists are only allowed to travel on certain types of transport), so we stuck to our "We live in Turkey" story, which seemed to get us through most of the police checkpoints.  It didn't work at a few of them, so we had to pay 2-3LE baksheesh in a couple of places, letting Guma sweet talk the police officers and get us through to the next gate.  

The road between Aswan and Luxor was beautiful, winding along the Nile and through sugarcane fields, which made up some of the greenest bits of the country we would see on our holiday.  We drove through towns where children played and adults relaxed while celebrating the first day of the holiday.  The sun was shining and the traffic was light -- perhaps the day was improving.

We made good time and got to Luxor in about three hours, pulling into the city around 12:30pm.  Guma dropped us off in front of the gates of our hotel, the posh Sofitel Karnak.  It was about 3-4 kilometers out of town (past the Karnak Temple Complex), but we'd found an amazing deal for a superior room at only $50 a night which we couldn't pass up.  Because it was so unbelievably cheap, I'd expected the hotel to be a little on the older side, perhaps a bit worn and not as nice as our Nha Trang Sofitel experience had been.  However, as we walked up the quiet, tree-lined drive to reception, those thoughts were erased -- the grounds were gorgeous, and the setting was peaceful and quiet -- it had all the makings of a wonderful place to spend a few relaxing days.  

We got to reception and waited to check in while absorbing the luxury of a five star hotel.  The receptionist said he couldn't find our booking, so I gave him the printout from the internet reservation.  After a few minutes, he realized that the reservation was not for the lovely Sofitel, but for another hotel down the road that had masqueraded online as the Sofitel.  Embarrassed, extremely agitated, and uber-disappointed, we began the walk of shame down the long hotel driveway and in the direction of the Karnak Hotel.  

Neither of us was optimistic about the Karnak Hotel, but we were still unprepared for what we saw when we arrived at the poser place: it was a complete run-down shithole.  We thought we would have to stay the first night in order to avoid being charged, and were dismayed when we looked at the rooms.  Fortunately, we didn't have to pay, nor stay the first night; we were able to pick up our bags and leave that joke of a hotel behind.  (As a side note, when we went home, I checked online and found that the Karnak Hotel had indeed listed itself as the Sofitel Karnak and had gone so far as to actually steal their hotel description directly from the Sofitel's website -- there was no limit to the level of deceit).  

Now we were even more frustrated and feeling completely dejected, but we still needed to work out what to do -- we needed a place to stay for the evening!  While stopping for some hummus and 7-Ups, we called a few hotels in our guidebook.  After finding one that had rooms, we got a taxi to take us into town and gave the hotel a look-see.  Despite being the same price, it was nowhere as nice as the Philae had been in Aswan, but we decided to give it a go anyhow so that we could try and salvage something of the day.  

We tried to put on happy faces as we wandered through the souk behind the hotel, and finally started to feel a little better when we found Snack Time: a little fast food place with wonderful and cheap falafel -- one of our favorite foods.  Not only was the food tasty, but the restaurant had a balcony overlooking the Luxor Temple -- pretty impressive for an 11LE lunch (for the two of us)!  From the balcony, we could also see the main town square, which was absolutely overflowing with people celebrating the holiday.  

After lunch we weren't sure what to do, but we knew we were interested in finding a cheaper hotel, so decided to take the ferry to the West Bank and see what we could find there.  Luxor is a city that has grown to nearly 500,000 people, most of them populating the Nile's East Bank.  There are a few of the Ancient Egyptian structures on the East Bank, like the Luxor Temple and the Karnak Temple Complex, but most of the tourist sites are on the West Bank.  We thought if we moved across the Nile to the West Bank, we'd be closer to more places to visit and it might be a bit more convenient.

The ferry, which was much, much, much larger than the one in Aswan, was insane and incredibly unpleasant.  Our white faces attracted attention immediately, mainly from a large group of 7-12 year old boys.  They surrounded us, lobbing questions at us nonstop, touching us, and just overwhelming us in general -- we couldn't wait to get to the other side.  Fortunately, the trip was very short and  we disembarked as quickly as possible, happy to have room to roam.  We later discovered that the chaos on the ferry was down to the holiday; our other ferry trips wouldn't be nearly as "exciting."  

Once on the other side, we quickly walked away from the touts and found a nice, quiet side street full of guest houses to explore.  We looked at several, searching all the while for the dream hotel I'd found online weeks earlier but couldn't remember the name of.  We had planned to book it, but after finding the amazing Sofitel deal, we booked that instead (or so we thought).  When we finally found the dream guest house (our very last stop, of course), it was full.  We decided to think about our options and took the ferry (ahhh!) back to the East Bank.  

We looked at one more hotel on the West Bank, then decided to do something productive and walked to the wonderful Luxor Museum.  While it was full of more amazing sculptures, statues, and other artifacts, we thought it was too small -- we wanted more!  By the time we'd made our way through the entire thing, it was nearing 8pm and dinner was on our minds.  We walked to the other end of town and plopped ourselves down in an (English) Indian restaurant: yum, yum, yum.  The curries were tasty, the beers were cold, and the waiter was friendly... and Christian, something that stood out a bit more in a country like Egypt, where Islam is very present and prevalent.  We talked to him for a quite awhile, learning that his definition of fasting was simply not eating meat -- so by his reasoning, we fasted every single day!  

The sore throat I'd woken up with had since intensified and I started to feel increasingly worse, so we headed back to the hotel where I immediately passed out and slept for the next 9-10 hours.  I hoped that sleep would do me some good and I'd wake up feeling ready to take on the West Bank and all its amazing treasures the next day.
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