Aubrey and I hired a taxi and visited the pyramids at Dashur, Saqqara, and Abu Sir – some of the “other” 180 some pyramids of Egypt.  Once again we were treated like cash cows…

Using a pyramid as a toilet is a disgrace, to say the least – but there was no doubt that it had been done at the Red Pyramid of Dashur, one of the pre-Giza pyramids and the only one open to visitors at that site.   After making the 63 meter (180 feet) steep passage down and up, my knees felt like jelly and I could hardly manage the steps down back to the bottom of the pyramid.  Boy, am I getting old, or what?  I was glad to hear that 44 year old Aubrey had the same experience.   Perhaps, that’s just what happens after you have to walk bent down for 126 meters; the entry channels are at the most 4-5 feet tall.  If you are claustrophobic or have any other physical limitations, forget it; pyramids are not for you.

There are three chambers between 12 and 15 meters high (36-45 feet) that are corbelled with huge stone slabs; a truly amazing effect considering the weight above and the precision of the stone fitting.  But the deeper you got into the structure, the less oxygen there is.  The stench increased and when I stopped breathing through my nose to avoid it, my eyes started to itch from the “ammonium”.

Only the Red and the Bent Pyramid are accessible by car.  I wish I had taken the time to hike out to the Black Pyramid visible in the distance, but it would easily have added an hour to the day and all pyramids close at 4 PM in the winter.  I have no clue why as there is sun until 6 PM.

Saqqara was a shock.  I had seen it 15 years ago and there were changes – some good, some bad.  A beautiful museum has been added with valuable explanations, models, and some choice objects excavated at the necropolis.  Aubrey was thrown out since he refused to baksheesh the officer who had let him at a student price with an expired student ID…

But the pyramid itself was covered with scaffolding and I could see where this was going:  Shiny white sandstone facing was applied in whole areas of the pyramid…  Is it really crumbling that badly or are we just “cleaning up” and over-restoring as in so many other places?  Soon Egypt will look like a fake Hollywood set.  Three sides of the pyramid were off limits to visitors due to construction, but I passed by one of the workers in slow pace with a big smile and a greeting.   Since I was not stopped, I circled the entire pyramid.  Not that there was anything unusual, but I was curious.

Abu Sir was a site I had never heard of.   It’s another necropolis on the west side between Saqqara and Giza.  For some reason, they manage there to completely ignore the officially set ticket price of 15 Egyptian pounds.  You can only get in after negotiating with the site-keeper and you won’t get a receipt.  From 100 Egyptian pounds to 50 to 25 per person – he finally accepted at that after we explained that we were teachers.  And then there was the guide inside who wanted more baksheesh.  Have they ever heard of sharing?  All of this is under the table anyhow!  I don’t understand how they got and get away with that.

But the site was interesting for a clearly visible causeway which is part of a full funerary complex consisting of usually five main parts:  Access to the Nile via a water channel, a funerary temple for mummification, a causeway for transport of the mummy, the pyramid as burial place, but most importantly, the mortuary temple adjacent to the pyramid.  That was the actual heart of the operation where worship and sacrifice of the deceased pharaoh would continue until decades after his death, usually until funds ran out or dynasties changed.  In many cases the pyramids completely overshadow these other parts and in even more cases there is hardly a trace left of any of them.   There were also a number of mastabas, bench-like tombs usually constructed by court officials in the vicinity of their pharaoh.

By the time we finished, there was no time left for Giza.  No wonder, the way Aubrey and I doddle and take pictures and take our time.  No problem.  We will do the rest tomorrow via public transportation.  These three sites though can only be reached via taxi or tour bus and are skipped by many.

Our taxi driver was a cheerful, talkative man with all the typical tricks of a driver who takes tourists around.  He ushered us into a particular falafel place and was not pleased when I walked across the street to get a chocolate milk drink instead.  He stopped at a particular “insider” carpet place which thankfully was closed.  And he insisted on an hour lunch even though both Aubrey and I protested.  But he stopped anyhow.  I ordered water and a coke and paid about three times as much as that would have cost anywhere.  I loudly complained and asked him what that lunch he recommended would have cost me:  50 Egyptian pounds.  “That’s small money”, he said.  No way, I protested.  That is $10 and I don’t even have dinner for that much.  I can eat for a tenth of that price getting take-out and I do since I am not a rich tourist but a teacher on a four month budget travel.  This is a concept that is hard to get into anyone’s head here.

When we paid him at the end of the day his 200 Egyptian pounds – a more than fair price for a day’s outing which we had agreed upon up front and to which I added a 20 pound tip – he complained!  He waived the 20 into my face and asked “This is all you are giving me?”  No, I am giving you 200 pound plus tip!  He ignored the 200 and kept waiving the 20 around trying to put me on the usual guilt trip.  I finally just got out of the car.  Once again, a wonderful day left a somewhat unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth.

At night I went to a nearby fast food place called GAD.  It’s one of my great discoveries.  For truly reasonable prices I get wonderful soup, egg plant dishes, hummus, etc.   If I wanted, I could splurge and get expensive local meat dishes.  But I am just as happy with the cheap vegetarian food which is truly delicious.

And so, with a full stomach I say:  Good night.




I spent the day at the Egyptian Museum.  Violence erupted again at Tahrir Square last night.

Tut and I – well, almost.

A few hundred visitors were milling around at the Egyptian Museum today, including a sizable number of Egyptians, a few individual tourists, at least two foreign tour groups that had arrived in buses, and a media-accompanied bunch of  Italians involved in tourism in Egypt who staged an appeal to the world to return to Egypt  – in other words, the place was hopping.

But the museum is huge, the crowds were still far from the thousands this museum usually processes in any given day, and many rooms were still nearly empty.  At the King Tut room I never had to share the mask or the coffins or all the cases filled with gold, with more than 5-10 people at a time.  A Japanese tour group rolled in and would you believe it, was out again in less than three minutes!  What is wrong with people?!

I spent the entire day at the museum and I am exhausted.

To western eyes, the museum looks like a dust collecting, dim-lit warehouse full of hundreds of thousands of objects crammed into glass show cases, lined up along endless corridors, and stacked into tall shelves.  Once you get over that, you will realize that the most classic and iconic images of Egyptian art are amassed here.  The Mona Lisas of Egyptian art congregate here and it is dazzling.

To get to the museum I had to cross Tahrir Square.  You would not recognize it.  What a month ago was the battle field of a revolution, what yesterday was a carnival of visitors and vendors, today was a busy intersection with traffic going in every direction and a few people gathering in the middle of it.  What happened?  The BBC journalist had the news:  As the midnight curfew approached last night, the police stationed around the square marched in and dispersed several thousand partying demonstrators with batons.   Was that necessary?  By the early evening, the demonstrators had gained a bit more ground again, but traffic was still flowing in several directions.  I guess the revolution is over.

I was able to circle the entire museum.  Three weeks ago there were burned out cars, soldiers, tanks, the wounded and fighting factions.  No trace of it.  Just dangling my camera over my shoulders would have been enough for the soldiers to pull me over.   Today, I was able to photograph the burned out headquarters at my heart’s content.

At the museum I searched in vain for traces of the break in.  No broken roof, no broken glass cases.  I asked five people where the area of the break-in was and got five answers…  I gave up.  The museum shop provided the only clue:  The entire jewelry section was empty.  As the news had stated:  When the thieves could not get hold of enough gold at the museum, they took to the gift store which had a sizable jewelry department and helped themselves there.  What amateurs!  They did not even care about the difference.

No cameras are allowed at the museum.  Following the instructions I was given when I bought my ticket, I handed over my camera to a storage attendant.  But inside the museum I was surrounded by hundreds of people who flashed their cell phones taking pictures.  I was not going to have it.  I got my camera out of storage, smuggled it by the inspectors, and hid it under my scarf – another very good use of a long woolen scarf.  Remember, this is my big Nikon D-90…  And then, I took several shots of the general layout of the museum.  Enjoy.  I did not even use flash!

Good night.



About coming home to Pension Roma after a much delayed flight, revisiting Tahrir Square, and meeting a new set of characters.

For the second day in a row I had to rise before dawn.  That sits not well with me especially, since the plane was delayed for nearly four hours!  We were strung along with empty promises of 30 minutes, then 60 minutes of delay and then, our flight disappeared from the display board all together, only to be replaced with the next flight scheduled four hours later.  Really, our plane never flew.  It looked like we were consolidated with the afternoon flight instead officially due to a sand storm in Cairo.   Rumor has it that Egypt Air (like just about every other business in Egypt) is hurting to the breaking point.  But as things work out,  I joined a Danish couple for the free coffee we were offered as compensation for the delay: Lars and Inge.  They have been to Egypt numerous times, own a feluka, love the country and are just simply very charming people.  We talk and talked and as our plane was ready to leave we looked at each other in amazement on how the last three hours had passed without us hardly noticing.  All it takes is good company!

I did not recognize Cairo or my neighborhood.

Already, when I drove in from the airport, there were no tanks, traffic was three times as thick as three weeks ago and my hotel is not in a dark, dirty, deserted street but in an upscale shopping district, full of life, honking cars, flashing neon signs, and thousands of people hustling and bustling about, especially at night.  The neighborhood check points have disappeared and I could take street pictures today without being pulled into an army check point!

Tahrir Square is a full-scale party now.  Still, there were at least three to four areas where stages are set up and protesters are leading the crowd in chants.  It’s now mainly about getting rid of various ministers and high officials in the Mubarak regime and about following through on promises.  That’s what I am told by people of varying English-speaking skills.  But I also got a link from a blog reader who found a U-tube video of the crowds shouting “Death to Israel” recently and supporting the returning Sheikh Jussuf  What’s his name, an Islamist who was banned from Egypt, and who recently returned from exile.

Just to put this in perspective:  When you have a crowd cheering on a particular speaker at the square you never have the entire crowd supporting that person.  You cannot even hear a speaker across the square as it is too big – three or four speeches are going on simultaneously at any given time.   The range of opinions and goals spans the full gamut from supporting a theocracy to adopting an American-style democracy.

I looked for Shema, but I think her business at the square is finished.  If you were there a month ago, risking your life for this revolution, I don’t think you could appreciate the carnival atmosphere of  vendors and curious visitors that have replaced those who were wounded, cold, hungry, exhausted and at the brink of physical break down.

The crowd at Pension Roma has changed.  But the welcome by the staff was wonderful.  “My queen is back!” was the broad-smiled receptionist’s greeting.  The room that looked dark and a bit run down three weeks ago, feels like home now.  To have internet right here is a luxury.  That it is slow and intermittent is a small price to pay.  Sharing a bathroom is no problem.  I will miss this place!  I could imagine just living here writing a book about the characters that roll through Pension Roma in the course of a year.

One BBC reporter is still here from my first stay.  They are doing an in depth report on the revolution including Shema and her friends’ role in it.  Temoris, the Mexican journalist has left for Libya.  The anarchist/communist/dominatrix… I don’t know if she flew back.  After striking up a relationship with Temoris that will live on in the memories of the entire staff at Pension Roma for the nightly noise it produced – she might be leading the revolution in Libya for all I know.  Michalis is probably back in Cypress.

Now there are more travelers than journalists.  Guess who?  Aubrey, the Mountain Man is here.  I just can’t get away from him!   Then, there is long-haired, soft-spoken  David from Oregon – first time traveling in the Middle East.  We had a good chat about travel logistics and about the fact that once you are bitten by the travel bug, you just can’t cure yourself.  There is John from England with a most distinct bow-tie shaped moustache – not quite Dali yet, but nonetheless impressive.  He is biking through Africa.  We philosophized about the future of the world and whether being optimistic about the next generation is a good thing.  Then, there is tight-lipped philosophy professor Keith from Scotland.  He hardly looks up and certainly is not taking part in any of our far-flung conversations.  He is here on academic business and does not quite relate to us outsiders.  Pedro from Spain does not say much either as he is tuned into his iPod.  And no, I am not the only woman.  There is Stephania, a free-lance photographer from Italy with the most radical political views.  Here is just a sampling:  The US will invade Libya, and the UK is ruling the US since the civil war was just a fake, 9/11 was a US conspiracy and the reports of second hand smoking were all based on fake numbers.  Do I need to mention that she is a chain smoker?   I am pulling the “I am just an art historian, I don’t know a thing” card.   Nothing surprises me anymore, but I am in no mood for an argument.

But the most colorful person in this crowd is Tim.

After 9 PM only John, Tim and I were left.  Both John and I were typing away at our computers throwing bits of sentences back and forth when Tim said to me:  “And there you are sitting next to the most fascinating man in the world and you  are typing away!”   Now that’s a pickup line.  “I am 90% here” was my response.  “What makes you so fascinating?”  John chimed in that 90% is a pretty good rate for a woman under any circumstances and we had a good laugh about that.  Tim is a tall, slightly overweight, thin-haired, pale-skinned, limping man in his 60’s from Wimbledon.  He is at the start of a one year journey that will take him through 18 countries.    From what I can tell, he has retired about 20 years ago and has been traveling ever since.

He laid out for us his plan of ruling the world as a single “world-ruler” with a sort-of parliament chosen in a rotating fashion from all the longitudinal points of the globe.  An unresolved issue is whether the world ruler should dictate policies or reflect the wishes of the people.  He has groomed himself for this role and put already, as he phrased it “tens of thousands of dollars” into that plan.  Now that is dedication, not to mention the resources!  What a man with plans and money like this is doing at the Pension Roma is anyone’s guess.  From there a most interesting conversation unfolded about world politics, religion, human nature, etc.  Certainly a man of principles, Tim has given up phone and computer and kept teasing both John and me about our addiction to modern media.  I decided that Tim is no name for a person of such lofty ambitions and decided to knight him to the rank of Sir Timothy.   Too bad he is leaving tomorrow already.  I would have enjoyed a few more conversations with him especially, since he is an excellent flirt.   Too bad, I did not get a picture of any of them.  You have to create your own.

For now:  Good night.




About traveling under the wire in an area where tourists usually are escorted, about two more temples in the Nile Valley, and about how I came into the possession of a police officer’s hat.  But mainly, it’s about an unforgettable train ride.

At times the pantheon works in mysterious ways.  Just when I needed it this morning to take a shower, Ganesh made sure that the faucet only produced a gurgling sound but no water.  Three minutes later the water was back, but I was already dressed.  If I had taken a shower, I would have missed the train.

Yesterday, one of the feluka boys pestered me asking when I would take a ride with him.  When will you go with me, Madame?  When do you need me, Madame?  Tomorrow at 5 AM, I replied.   For sure?  Yes, for sure.  When I got there this morning, there was no feluka and no feluka boy;  all was dark, so I proceeded to the main ferry dock.  But who was waiting there for me?  Achmed, the feluka boy!  If he had not taken me a few hundred yards further out and several minutes faster than the ferry, I would have missed the train.

The train was already on the platform when I arrived in the only taxi in town out and about at 5 AM.  If it had not been available, I would have missed the train and without getting out on this early train, I would have missed Dendera.

I had three minutes to departure.  But just as I was about to board the train, a police officer approached me:  No tourists on this train!  But I am not a tourist, I argued, I am a teacher.  I got up at 4 AM to make this train – three miracles had just happened to get me there and I could not possibly wait for a train three hours later just because this one for some odd reason is off limits for tourists.  Really, I am not a tourist; just a teacher.  The officer softened and agreed to let me on.  He even got on the train with me choosing a wagon and a seat for me explaining that I needed to sit best on the aisle seat going backwards.  It was pitch dark.  A few men were sleeping stretched out on a few seats, otherwise the train seemed rather empty.  The officer mentioned a baksheesh.  I pretended I did not hear.  He needed to get off the train fast as the conductor was blowing his whistle.  He did and one more time, poked his head into the window mumbling something about money.  I ignored it again.

The train started to roll.  Police corruption was one of the main factors triggering the revolution.  The police are scared.  Many police units have staged independent demonstrations declaring their solidarity with the people.  They vowed to give up their baksheesh demands for fair hours and fair wages.  I knew that.

As the train rolled along and my eyes adjust to the darkness, I realize the horrific environment I find myself.  No wonder the tourists are not allowed on this train.  A bombed-out post World-War II train could hardly have been worse.  It was a train classified as 2nd and 3rd class train only.  Tourists are only allowed to go on trains with first class cars.  I am sure the police officer had picked one of the 2nd class wagons for me, but I have a hard time picturing how anything could get any worse from here:  For starters, there is no light.  Many doors do not close and are open, some hanging rather loosely in their frames.  The scenery moves beneath you at lightning speed.  A false step and you would fall out of the train with nothing to hold you.

The conductor comes through with a small flash light around his neck – buying a ticket on the train is OK.  I pay $1.60 for a three hour ride and give him the change as a tip.  He is a young kind looking guy.    He speaks no English.   I ask him about the name of the next stop.  Instead of an answer, he makes me a list of all the names of all the stations between here and my final destination.  It is in Arabic; but no problem.  I will count.  Eight to go.

The seats are plastic and freezing cold.  There used to be fabric on the seats, but it has been ripped off.   It is still dark, at least a half hour before the sun rises and I feel around in my backpack for something I can use beneath my butt.  I am freezing from the cold seat all the way up to my head.  I feel something unfamiliar in the dark – a felt cap, the police officer’s hat.  He had left it!  For a moment I ponder how I can get it back to him and wonder if he will get into trouble for losing his hat.  Then I decide that it is a perfect buffer between me and the freezing seat and I sit on it.  A fourth miracle as I cannot find anything else in my backpack of use against the cold:  A camera, a book, a bottle of water.  I did not pack my socks.  What an oversight.   The train stops.  I move into the wagon with the lights. One down, seven to go.

Now I can see everyone and they can see me.  Everyone stares at me.  No wonder.  In my short-sleeved white cotton top, sandals and backpack, I looked as inappropriate for the ride as could be.   Everyone else is bundled up; all men; many of them draped in their traditional dresses with thick shawls around their necks and heads.   Another stop.  Two down, six to go.

On my way to the lit car I pass through three other wagons.  The story is the same everywhere:  Of the 24 windows in a car, there are no more than 4-6 still in place.  Even those that are there have smash and crack marks.  All windows are dirty.  You can only see what is going on through the missing parts.  The train races along and the ice cold air whips through the train.  No wonder the police officer suggested this strange seat:  Aisle facing backwards.  It’s the only way to escape in part from the cold air.  Despite the police cap under my butt, I am freezing.  All I have is my Egyptian scarf.  I unfold it and wrap it around me.  I sit as huddled into myself as I can, exercising my toes for some warmth in my feet.  One more stop.  Three down, five to go.

The sun is rising but it does not help.  There is light now, but no warmth.  I am shivering.  The train is filling up with people.  Some have to sit forward now…  A young soldier across from me is shivering, too.   But he is wearing woolen socks and heavy shoes and a uniform.  How can he be cold?  What about me in my paper thin top and my paper thin scarf?  Vendors are coming and going through the train advertising their wares with razor-sharp voices:  cookies, combs, napkins and finally… tea!  What a relief.  I sip on my tea curled up.  It feels warm for a little while.  Four down, four to go.  It’s half time.  I got this far!

I look around and the state of the train is hard to comprehend.  To mention the dirt on the floor would barely scratch the surface.  Nothing that is not essential to hold the thing together has been left in place:  The light fixtures in all but this car are gone.  The seats are ripped bare.  The trash bins have been pulled leaving gaping holes.  Only an occasional bare iron luggage rack is still in place.  The veneer covering the iron structure of the cars has been lost in most places allowing you to see the welded parts of the wagons.   Another stop.  Five down, three to go.

Whenever the train stops the smell of urine wafts through the air.  A mother with four children comes aboard.  They sit next to an open window.  How can they do it?  They don’t seem to mind and the children soon fall asleep. It is still early in the day, indeed.  I try to distract myself from the misery and read up about the temples I have planned for today:  Abydos and Dendera.  My book soon accumulates a thin layer of dust on its pages.  I must be breathing this stuff.  No wonder I have been coughing for a month!  The conductor has come by a few times sitting near me as if he wants to reassure me that there is at least one friend, one person I can trust, on this train.  He is smiling at me and making sure I am still counting right.  Believe me, I am counting!  And there is another one:  Six down, two to go.  But each stop comes at the expense of that smell…   There is something to be said for moving.

I keep looking down at my book, pulling the scarf as close to me as I can.  I packed the last couple of strips of my chocolate.  I had no breakfast.  I am cold.  The chocolate tastes wonderful.  Everyone is still staring at me.  If I just had my socks!  Seven down.  One to go.

I pack the book and focus all of my thoughts on the fact that at the next stop I can get out.  I did it!  Three hours passed.  I will look back at this and laugh.  But I am not laughing yet.  I pack the police cap.  I don’t want to lose this precious souvenir.  Immediately the cold creeps up my butt and spine again.  But there is the stop!  Eight down.  Three hours down.  It’s over!

An hour later, I can hardly imagine the cold I felt on the train as I am roasting in the heat at the temples.

At the end of the day I had taken two shared taxis, three micro-buses, one tuk-tuk (like those Geishas in India), a donkey cart, and a first class train back to Luxor!  The first class train had all windows in place even though a couple of them sported cracks and smash-marks!  Most of the light fixtures were in place and working even though a few started to dangle.  And it featured air conditioning – much appreciated at the end of the day when the sun had warmed up everything to excess.

I was faster than the “Frenchies” – a small bus full of eight French tourists, whom I met at Abydos, who went from there to Dendera to Luxor with a police escort.  And I had baffled more than three police officers at check points who all in disbelief asked “ Where did you come from?!”  I guess they don’t see too many tourists coming out of 3rd class trains staying under the wire in microbuses and on donkeys.  But when they got a hold of me at those check points, they took no chances.  They noted the license plate numbers of the cars that took me on.  In one case, an officer joined me on the tuk-tuk to make sure I got on with the right bus.  There is that “man takes care of woman” – mentality that is so common around here.  But I did not mind.  It was a kind gesture.

The Lonely Planet says you cannot yet travel in this area yet unless you take a private taxi.  Yes, you can!

Abydos has the most superbly carved relief I have seen anywhere in an Egyptian temple; just breath-taking.  The temple itself though is nearly as over restored as Hatshepsut’s Deir El Bahri.  It did not move me much.  A curious semi-submerged small temple in the back of it has great charm though.  Dendera on the other hand is serenely situated in a palm-grove and a knock-out for its restored parts.  The soot on the nearly complete ceiling beams is cleared and you can actually see fantastic imagery in bright colors.  The quality of the images fluctuates between crude and mediocre.  But some out of the extra-ordinary iconography makes up for it all:  Signs of the zodiac, images of Nut.

And the fact that the guards would rather chat than guard allowed me to climb beyond a few barriers all the way to the top part of the temple where on busier days an officer is sitting on duty in a small kiosk.  Not today.  Even though aside from me, the 8 Frenchies had arrived as well.  I got a few wonderful panorama shots.

This was a long, long day.  I am exhausted!

Good night.



I spent some time at the exquisite Luxor Museum and had several talks with several men solicited and unsolicited.

“Do you want to touch my ass?”  I couldn’t believe I heard that.  But there was a young guy who had just jumped off his motor bike approaching me as I was busy steadying my camera on a stone post to photograph Luxor Temple at night.  “You are so sexy!” he continued.  “And you are rude.” I replied.  “Do you want to touch my ass?”  Back to that!  I guess his vocabulary was limited.  “Do you want your face punched?”  I asked.  And when he reached out to touch my hair repeating how I was sexy I swung at him.  But he was quick.  I missed.  In no time, he jumped back and was on his bike roaring off.

Somewhere in the Lonely Planet I read that Luxor has increasingly become a center for sex trade; young girls for old(er) men and young men for old(er) women.   I guess, there is some truth to it.  But as usual in the Middle East when I am approached by men in somewhat inappropriate ways, I do not feel threatened or in danger even though it was dark and I was out alone.  He went through his routine, I went through mine.

I don’t know if I mentioned this yet, but on the bus to Abu Simbel and on the bus to Edfu (the same bus on which I most likely got fleeced for my camera), I have been groped by men sitting behind me.  Their hand sneaks up on the side from behind and before you know it they are at your arm or if you sit with your arms outstretched, they are at your breasts.  Egyptian women in self-defense might strike out.  I just shout at the perpetrators.  So, if you like this kind of stuff, consider Egypt your next destination!  😉

After so much traveling, I can’t help but compare.  I have to say I prefer the marriage proposals and the much subtler compliments I got from my “attachments” in Syria over the crass approaches in Egypt.  If you search the blog for “attachments” you can read up on last year’s encounters with men.

This was the end of a day of many conversations.  Earlier I had been at the bazaar to buy some high quality papyrus paintings.  If nothing else, these are light weight and as Egyptian as it gets.  After all, I have to bring back some souvenirs.   The recommended Papyrus Man had left his shop and so I waited at his neighbor, George’s booth for him to return.  The name George gives it away – Christian.   His English was passable and so I asked him about his life as a Christian in Egypt.

Just as the guy in Aswan, he feels that relations between Muslims and Christians have been good in Egypt.  They both shared the opinion that the burning of churches was instigated by the Mubarak regime to seed hatred and strife between the two groups.  For the first time I heard it mention that there are supposedly millions of Muslim converts to Christianity in Egypt who have to practice in secret since conversions away from Islam are punishable by death according to Islamic law (Sharia).   George mentioned a satellite channel in which a highly respected Christian clergy compares the Koran with the Bible.  He said this is the way even illiterate people become familiar with Christianity and realize the fundamental differences between the two particularly in regards to condoning and rejecting violence.  I wonder if there is official data to support this claim.

I added this day in Luxor to see the notable Luxor Museum.  It is exquisite even if small.  Actually, I prefer smaller museums as much as I prefer smaller towns.  I get overwhelmed in cities like Cairo or Teheran.  There was no photography I have to refer you to resources on line if you want to see a few things from that museum.  I had been there 15 years ago, but so much stuff was added after 2004.  New discoveries were made, older pieces were restored, mummies from abroad returned – all of that is on display now in a dimly lit, air conditioned, well labeled, clean and modern environment.  One of the statues struck me then and it remains my favorite now:  A head of Seti I that once must have been part of an oversized standing sculpture.   It is unusually realistic and has so much personality.   The red granite it is carved of makes it glow.  It is one of the entrance pieces of the museum.

The museum is still on very limited hours and closed at 3 PM.  I was the last person out and for some reason the police officer who checks bags when people enter started a conversation with me about the “New Egypt”.  Before I knew, I had a cup of Egyptian tea in front of me and stood chatting with him for almost an hour as the guards poured out and the museum was locked up.  “My name is Mohammed, as everyone else’s name is around here”, he apologetically introduced himself.  His English was impeccable.  We talked about the dangers and the possibilities of the New Egypt and the time it would take to change people not just from the outside in but the inside out.   He was surprised to hear me say, that after the 1989 changes in Germany, we still are dealing with the vestiges of the old divisions 22 years later.  The changes Egypt is potentially facing are a lot more fundamental and will take even longer.  Impatience might be one of the most underestimated factors that could ultimately lead to failure.   Both he and George indicated that they are not interested in “the beards” – the Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt.

And so the day went taking in art and talking to men.

Good night.



I spent the last day with Spirit Man visiting more sites at the west bank of Luxor and made some unpleasant discoveries.

Where to draw the line?  It was baffling for me to hear that the Egyptian government wants to clear the entire three kilometer sphinx alley between Luxor Temple and Karnak.  But I was not prepared for what we saw at the Noble Tombs.

Mountain Man had left in the morning after an argument with Mandu over the price and the amount of some substances he had provided.  Mountain Man was simply deducting the difference from the hotel bill.  Mandu, as we hear is addicted to these things likely more than Mountain Man and once again cheated on price and quantity presumably to stack up his own supply.   Mountain Man was not about to be fleeced.  It got heated between the two of them.  I escaped.

Spirit Man was going to leave via train in the evening, so the two of us embarked on one last adventure together.  We visited the Noble Tombs.  Tourists usually come via tour bus, private taxi, donkey, or at least by motor bike.  The locals looked at us quite funny when we arrived everywhere on foot.  But between 7:30 AM and 4 PM we managed.  We only had to leave out a couple of tombs that were a bit far for one day.  To get tickets, you have to go to a central tourist office where they sell dozens of individual tickets without a map or any direction.  To figure out what you want is quite a task.  Lonely Planet is helpful but spellings and tomb names don’t always match…   To see all the sites in this area costs a good $100.  That’s more than most people around here earn in a month!

I had spiced up my bottle of water with orange-flavored, orange-colored electrolytes to keep me hydrated.  Everywhere I pulled out that bottle to take a swig I was questioned on what I was drinking:  Stella (beer), wine, whiskey?!  Just imagine drinking any of these as you walk kilometer after kilometer in the burning heat.  But it goes to show the reputation we have acquired around here as perpetually drinking and debouching savages.  I explained what I was drinking but I doubt I got much credence.

Medinat Habu, a temple by Ramses III which is notoriously skipped by all the tour buses – as long as there are any – blew us away.  Finally, there were some hieroglyphics and relief scenes that could be photographed as they were cut deep enough and still colorful enough.  I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see day after day, washed out, dusty, dark and shallow reliefs that look like empty walls when photographed.  Void of visitors, as usual, there was at least one diligent German Egyptologist at work who had mapped out the entire temple on diagrams down to every scene on every column.  She had a field day.  An assistant held up mirrors to illuminate some of the motifs.  All Egyptologists should have gotten an emergency sabbatical when the demonstrations in Egypt started.  They will never be able to work like this again.

The tombs cannot be photographed.  I sneaked a few horrible short videos, but the guards were like hawks walking around me and my big dangling camera…  I hope my son can do some editing and rescue a few good shots.  But all the tombs are illustrated in books and I am sure on line.  They are breath-taking!  These are the burials of the workers who worked in the service of the queens and kings valley’s nearby.  They had their town known as Deir El Medina, their temple, their cemetery.  The wealthy of them built small but exquisite tombs for themselves which they painted (rather than carved).  The state of preservation is simply amazing to a fault.  You are tempted to dismiss some of them as modern restorations; that’s how vivid and detailed they are!  It was exciting to be in the places where some of the images are in situ which I have been using to teach for decades.  There are scenes of daily life, metallurgy, agriculture, funerary processions, plant and animal life, and more.  One of the most charming features are the tomb ceilings which are not star- or vulture-filled as they are in the royal tombs, but they are made up of strips or squares of colorful patterns reminiscent of textiles and carpets.  One ceiling featured a vineyard.  Sitting in it made you feel like you are in a lush garden.

The requests for baksheesh were unnerving.  After a while we had exhausted our coins and small bill supply.  We tried to explain that we were walking for a reason:  We are not filthy rich tourists and we are not a group where each can give one pound and make the guides happy with a large sum.  We are alone.  The guides are not guides anyhow.  They are the gate keepers of the tombs and have the keys.  Often they do little more than rattle off names of the dead and gods.  They can’t speak English, nor answer a single slightly more sophisticated question.  After paying the hefty entrance fees, we were not in the mood of dishing out much more in any case, especially since our one pound tips were frowned upon…

But from 15 years ago, I had an image in my mind of the Noble Tomb area.  There were colorfully painted Nubian houses.  We walked through a village and were shown various tombs by the locals.  All of that had vanished.  The government decided to bulldoze the village and to relocate the locals in the new town where our hotel is.  They were given houses and apartments and we heard that many of them were quite pleased with the change.  But it strips the entire site of its charm.  As manicured and sterile as the Valley of the Kings already is, soon the Tombs of the Nobles will look the same:  Concrete walks with divided staircases for the flow of tourists coming and going next to an enormous parking lot.  Toilet facilities do not amount to more than a dirty trailer lacking running water – that is made up by plastic bottles filled with tap water…

A few lone mud-brick walls, a few heaps of ceramic tiles, and a few big holes in the ground remain.  No doubt, soon all of this will be smoothed over as well.  No trace of local residents, except perhaps, two.  The residents of two dwellings were still there – waiting for their alternative housing.  A young Egyptian told us that now, under the “New Egypt”, he might be able to stay and to convert his stables into a coffee shop for visitors.  That should make him a wealthy man.  I wish him luck!  He also tried to sell us supposed antiquities which he and his brother looted from a nearby tomb; or they faked them.  Who knows?  Either way, I stay away from these things.  It’s not worth it.  But I had to ask myself where do sensible accommodations for tourists start and a healthy side by side with local culture stop?  I have no answer but something seems to go astray in Luxor.

Back at our rooftop hotel we watched the sun set.  Joanna, the ex-pat entertained us with a few more stories from her previous three marriages.  She seems more like a friend than a hotel worker.  With the two of us (and now soon only me), Joanna seems to look for company.   We gave Spirit Man good tongue-and-cheek advice on how to choose a wife.  He was rather contemplative as his time in Egypt comes to a very fast end.  And I realized that my time in Egypt has dwindled to a shocking five days!  But the good news of the day was that the museums in Egypt have opened again!  It looks like I will get a chance at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo after all.  But first, I will stop at the Luxor Museum and make a day trip to Abydos.

Good night.



About a morning spent at the Luxor temple, an afternoon spent writing for the blog, and an evening wasted hunting for a new camera and finally a few thoughts about Egyptian culture.

By the dozens they flock to the ferry on the west bank in the early morning, bundled up in thick shawls draped over their long blue, gray, or black kalabias (the long, dress-like outfits men wear around here).  They are on their way to work on the east bank, I, was on my way to the temple in Luxor.  Three large national ferries transport the locals back and forth all day.  And since the foreigners still are not coming, some of the smaller motor boats have taken to the ferry business providing faster service at the same price.

The temple is lined up on a north-south axis and the sun never sits quite right for perfect pictures, but early mornings or late afternoons are best for visits.  It is a much smaller temple than Karnak, but it once was linked to it by a three kilometer long alley of sphinxes.  In front of the Karnak temple the sphinxes are ram-headed; in front of Luxor they are human-headed.  I wonder where that changed, how and why.  The government is determined to excavate the whole 3 km alley right smack through the middle of downtown.  I have no idea how that is supposed to work since nearly the entire stretch is built up with relatively recent residential and commercial building.

I know you don’t need me to tell you what you can find on line, so if you are interested in the complex, and long temple histories of Luxor and Karnak, you can look them up. I will focus on the not so obvious:

One of the fascinating idiosyncrasies of this temple is that it once was completely overgrown by mud-brick houses the locals had built right into it using temple walls as convenient backings for their dwellings.  The government cleaned that up when tourism turned into a major industry.   No traces of this usurpation can be found except for a mosque which was too old, and too special to be destroyed.  It now is an integral part of the first court of the great Ramses II.

The minute you step off the ferry as a foreign looking entity, you will find yourself surrounded by people who offer you taxi, buggy rides, or other services.  I shook them all, only to be approached by an older man a few meters down the road.  In perfect English he started to quote what clearly were literary passages – shame on me, my English literature background is limited – so I have no clue what it was.  But we struck a conversation.   A former English literature major who studied in the US, he now is a feluka captain.  Obviously, he was looking for business.  If I had not gone on a feluka trip already – to travel with him would be a treasure trove of information and all that in any variety of English accents at demand.  He demonstrated his ability to speak English either the American, the British, the French, or the German way.  What an actor is lost in this man!  His nickname is Shakespeare.    This was a fun five minute morning encounter.

The next person approaching me was a tall broad-shouldered man, the Imam of the intrusive temple mosque.  It has its entrance just feet away from the temple ticket office.  He invited me to a tour of the mosque and was impressed by my unsolicited routine of taking off shoes and whipping out my head-scarf.  The mosque is quite beautiful due to its intimacy and its mix of architectural features.  Its history goes back almost 700 years.  There is one old and one new minaret, the tower used to call for prayer; and one old and one new mihrab, the niche facing Mecca.  The structure is stuccoed and white-washed, interspersed by intricate wooden lattice windows and some brick work. The inside of the mosque contained the old Pharaonic temple walls and columns, full of hieroglyphics, cartouches, and Egyptian deities.  There was no obvious sign of defacing or iconoclasm.  When I asked if it was a problem for the supposedly an-iconic Muslims to pray in front of images of the ancient gods, he responded:  “No problem.  We like our pharaohs.  They are our grandfathers, but we pray to only one god  here”  How interesting!  I think he should have a word with those who in the name of Islam smashed the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.  Those were some people’s grandfathers, too!

Luxor temple has nothing quite as impressive as the hypostyle court in Karnak.  But the entrance of the temple with one of the few still standing obelisks and the giant statues of Ramses there and in the first court, are among my favorite spots in Egypt.  You feel dwarfed and awed by these statues.    Many photographs and many hours later, I left to rest at my former luxury hotel Nefertiti.  They have this wonderful street restaurant away from traffic.  It is quiet.  And I still remembered the code to lock into their wifi network…

The loss of my camera is still something that gives me a stomach ache every time I think of it.  I feel so violated.  I am pretty sure now that it happened on the microbus from Kom Ombo to Edfu.  For a while I put my bag down since the bus was not quite full.  How easily anyone from the back row could have gone into some of my side pockets.  There was nothing of value except my camera there…  And as Joanna, the British cleaning lady of our hotel told me:  “Absolutely!  That’s what people do on buses.  And then they will sell you camera most likely for no more than 100 Egyptian pounds (the equivalent of $20) because they don’t know any better.”  Oh, it hurts!

I don’t know what it is about Fuji, but my search for a camera in five different stores in Luxor turned up the exact same useless digital camera everywhere:  3X zoom (I had a 14X) and the use of AA batteries that last little to no time (I had proprietary batteries which would last all day) – and that is only the beginning.  The price varied from 500 to 750 Egyptian pounds ($100 to $150).  No thanks.   I wonder if Cairo sports a better selection.  I will hang in there for a few more days.

The evening was a social event.  Next to Joanna, the British ex-pat, Nicola, an Irish ex-pat showed up at the hotel for a chat.  As I was processing photos on my computer, the two of them chatted over tea with Kasper about the world, life, and spirits of course.  I wondered if some day I would become an ex-pat somewhere in the world.  I can picture that; but not in Egypt. There are some things about this culture I do not stomach very well:  Trash, smoking, greed and cheat, and most of all the lack of culture which to me is most noticeable in the absence of reading.  People around here simply don’t read.  There is a library, but I hear it’s quite empty.  Not many books, even fewer people.

People are very nice and welcoming to strangers, but with a smile in their face and after assuring you how much you are their friend, will turn around and screw you over.  Poverty may be an excuse, but it is not an answer to this phenomenon.  There are other cultures in the world equally poor that do not breed this behavior.  Of course, there are exceptions to this, but collectively, this holds true.

The ex-pat women had stories to tell about abuse and violence.  Joanna observed that children are never nurtured here.  Mothers don’t sing to their children, don’t read to them, and don’t cuddle.  Kids are to be tough and self-sufficient.  They are trained in the hierarchical pecking order which keeps everything running around here.  They will be punished physically, if they don’t conform.  Much of this can also be seen with animals.  They are living tools and servants, never pets or companions.  They will get food, but won’t be loved. Neither kids or animals nor women are treated kindly when they misbehave.

In many ways tribal mentalities still run deep.  How much of this will factor into the future of Egypt will have to be seen.  People now talk a lot about the “New Egypt”; an Egypt, free of corruption with fair wages and opportunities; a self sufficient Egypt that can play a leading role in the Middle East.  But will people be willing to work for this?  Will they be able to give up the “me and my kin first” tribal mentality and put forth a country which will operate on democratic values and promote the common good regardless of tribal hierarchy?  In Shahallah!

Good night.


Check out Mountain Man Aubrey’s photos on his blog.  I added his link.  20 years, 50 countries – if you like virtual travel, I am sure he will have something there for you.  ET



This is about a day spent at the temple complex at Karnak, about some guards, some tourists, and some spirits who remained silent.

Spirit Man is a great motivator.  He was determined to be at Karnak at 6 AM when it opened, shortly before sunrise.  He was convinced that Karnak Temple was the destination he had to reach on this trip, as it had been foretold to him in a dream a year ago.  Without his determination I would have never made it out of bed that early.  One last time the three of us took off together and we made it to Karnak at the moment the sun rose over the pylons.  I wish I had paid attention in my photo class and knew what to do when photographing into the sun…  You have to take my word for it.  The photos are all washed out.

Karnak is the temple of temples probably anywhere, certainly in Egypt.  Poets of all ages have tried to describe it and I won’t even try.  You just have to be there to feel the power of it.   We took bread, fruits, and water to the temple and had picnic at the temple of Ramses.  Imagine that!  Nobody was there, nobody bothered us.  Then we parted and lost ourselves in the vastness of this temple.

The complex of temples covers a two square kilometer area but it feels bigger than that.   It was started in the Middle Kingdom, but over the next 1500 years it was added on, destroyed, rebuilt, enlarged, restored, and enhanced numerous times by numerous rulers.  Nine sets of pylons ever increasing in size, attest to the competitive challenges this temple posed to every new dynasty; the goal was to outdo one’s predecessor.

Around noon I was exhausted and rested at the one small concession stand near the sacred lake.  The owner rushed up to me with a big smile:  “Are you from the coach?”  Coach?  It took me a minute to understand what he meant.  There was a bus, that had just arrived and word of it had spread like wildfire through the temple.  A bus!  The first bus in a month; it must have been the event of the day for the guards, guides, trinket sellers, and toilet attendants.  No, I was not from the coach, but it did not take long before the first scantily dressed tourists from the coach turned the corner.  They were mainly British and had come down for a day trip from the Red Sea resorts.  I guess they are brave enough now to do this again.  They were given one hour to tour the temple and then had to be back on the bus to continue to Luxor temple.  One hour!  By that time, I had spent 6 hours at the temple already and I had not seen it all.  How eternally grateful I am that I don’t have to travel like this anymore.  One hour for the greatest temple in all of Egypt…  That should be punishable.

I bit my tongue not to say anything about the woman’s dress, or the lack thereof.  It was a disgrace, but in the bulk of the tourist crowd she blended in and with the desperation the Egyptians feel about the tourist void she was wholeheartedly welcomed, even if laughed at behind her back.   Within an hour the beach tourists were all gone and the place sank back into its bird-chirping silence.

Aubrey had smoked who-knows-what for breakfast and was walking around with his ear phones plugged in listening to music and taking pictures with his awesome 300 mm zoom lens.  I am sure he was a happy clam.  I only saw him twice in eight hours from a distance.  I ran into Kaspar once in a while, but he would more likely be found meditating in some out of the way corner where not even a guard would find him.  I busied myself taking over 500 photos…  The light was not ideal everywhere, but to have the temple void of people was just such an opportunity.  For long times in between I would retreat into the Great Hypostyle Hall for shade, to rest, and to listen to the stones and the sparrows nesting in them.  This hall is certainly one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever been.  The guards were sleeping, had gathered in groups off the main path to chat, or were fishing in the sacred lake!  Nobody hassled us; we had become part of the temple life and were left to our own devices.

The site had a number of armed guards in uniform and plain clothes.  It is somewhat disconcerting that they walk around with these truncated machine guns under their jackets.  But they are friendly.  They are not here to scare you.  They are a vestige from the days many years ago, when tourists were targeted by local terrorists.  You can probably look up the details on line better than I can recollect them.  Every site has metal detector machines now and countless soldiers stationed in and around them.  I have been waived through all of them in all of the temples so far – with so few tourists around, no terrorist would bother.  I don’t look like a terrorist, so I won’t be checked.  I guess, in the States you would call this profiling and in the name of PC would have to check me anyhow.  But we aren’t in the States and the reverse benefits from profiling are fine with me.

One of the bored and underemployed plain-clothes officers named Mohammed became an admirer.  In the morning, I got an invitation to tea.  Later, I got involved in a conversation.  In the afternoon I was offered a gift of a small alabaster stone with my name in Arabic letters and finally, I had an invitation to his home.  Needless to say I turned it down.  But he gave me his email address just in case…  🙂

The day cumulated in an interview for the German national radio.  I saw a young guy walking along with a German speaking guide at the temple and as you do when you have about five foreigners around per day – you say hello and make a bit of small talk:  Where are you from?  What brings you here?  But after that the guy whipped out a big microphone asking if I would mind an interview on why I am in Egypt and what I think of recent events.  It was hard for me to say no.  Thank goodness he did not have a camera.  I do not want to be seen the world over sunburned and with my white turban wrapped around my head.

This was an exhausting day.  We went back to the hotel in the afternoon.  No energy for anything else.  In fact, Kasper and I splurged on a horse-drawn buggy ride from the temple to the ferry.

Mountain Man cooked the first night and Spirit Man cooked yesterday.  I made it perfectly clear that cooking was not in my repertoire and so the guys went out and returned with pizza.  We spent the last evening together eating pizza and drinking hibiscus tea.  It was really great to travel with these two guys for a while.  Mountain Man will head onwards to Cairo or perhaps into the desert, tomorrow.  Spirit Man and I will spend one or two more days at the same hotel before his time in Egypt comes to an end.

Spirit Man took count at the end of the day trying to figure out what messages he had received.  The expected spiritual “bang” had not materialized at Karnak as he had hoped for.  But he was beginning to wonder if it wasn’t the encounter with Mountain Man and I and the things we talked about, that was the point.  Mountain Man certainly has some life experiences which can be an inspiration for any young man and I have a few things up my sleeves as well.   I hope he found what he was looking for.

Good night.



I walked for about 4 km each way to reach one of the lesser famous ancient temples of this area, the temple of Seti I.  The best part of it was not the temple but the walk and the opportunity to watch rural life; people and animals.

Joanna claimed that it was way too far to walk.  Joanna is from Great Britain and fell in love 8 years ago with an Egyptian.  He turned out to be a wife beater and she broke up with him after two years but did not want to leave here.  She now is the cleaning lady at hotel Kareem working part-time for about $100 per month.  When the tourists left, all the employees at the hotel were sent home.  She is the first to be back now that we are here.

But Joanna was wrong.  Not only was the walk doable, but it was a treasure trove to observe rural life around here.  The path to the temple followed one of the Nile irrigation channels.  The road was narrow and dusty and in many parts bundles of grass, hay, and greens were strewn across the road since animals were tied up outside the house and would graze there.  There was no motorized traffic on that road, but bikes and donkey carts went back and forth.  Frequently, there were benches lined up near the channel, often sheltered from the sun with simple straw fences where people would gather and along the way I observed people doing laundry, burning trash, or just hanging out.  There were painted houses, run-down houses, and upper-scale villas.  There were tiny repair shops, bread ovens, and animal stables.  It was a colorful variety of simple rural life.  The people were friendly, except for a woman who would not stop shouting over the fact that I took a picture of her goats and did not pay her.

It is very hard to photograph people here.  Either they want a bakshish for every picture you take or they refuse pictures all together.  A National Geographic shot got wasted today since two women who were squatting in a doorway of brown sun-dried mud bricks in the most gorgeous and colorful outfits, refused to be photographed.  It was a perfect shot starting with the colors, the composition, the light; I would have given almost anything to take that picture, but they did not budge.  Why?!

Animals, houses, benches, scenery – all that was easy to photograph and will comprise the bulk of the blog today.  I still have my big D-90 camera.  The advantage is that it is fast.  The disadvantage, it is huge, heavy and ostentatious given the surroundings here.  I hope that the pictures speak for themselves, but here are a few observations:

There was trash in the river and near the riverbed; everywhere.  This is nothing new.  I have observed this in the Middle East just about anywhere.  Only Iran was different, but then, it does not count as part of the Middle East.  When I recently talked to an Egyptian about the fact that from Egypt to Syria every country is dirty he replied:  “We are dirty on the outside, but clean on the inside”.   Well that’s a way of looking at it.  I only don’t know how that goes along with the constant cheating.   Mountain Man pulled the religion card on one of the guys who was trying to extract four times the going rate of him.  He asked him where in the Koran it says that you should screw over foreigners?!  The man profusely apologized and dropped the price instantly.  I guess, I should try that more often.   I don’t mind paying twice.  But above and beyond that, I feel abused.

What impressed me on this walk was the close proximity of animals and people.  They still live side by side here, share the road, the riverbed, and the gardens.  And what follows is the close interaction of people.  These benches create a sense of community between old and young, families, locals, and even strangers.  More than once was there an invitation to a cup of tea and to sit down on one of the house benches.

Teacher Asab invited us for tea.  But after he exhausted his three English sentences, it was hard to communicate with him.  But the tea spoke for itself.  He was proud to have foreign guests and waived over every local who would pass to sit down with us.  The head master of his school accepted.  His English was even less than Asab’s.  I guess, that is still possible in rural Egypt even among the educated.

One little incident was that I got bitten by a very angry, very vicious dog with puppies.  She was nursing her little ones near the river, quite a distance from me. But I stopped to take her picture and she did not like that one bit.  With exposed teeth, snarling, and barking, she charged and attacked me.  She snapped at my leg and not jokingly.  But as my baggy clothes have come in handy before, this time they saved me from a potentially serious bite wound.  The dog got my pants and ripped out a sizable piece.  At that point I fought back, kicked and yelled and made the dog retreat at least as far as to rescue the piece of cloth it dropped.  I was not giving that up.  The villagers stood by at a distance and watched…

And where was Spirit Man taming the wild beasts when you need him?!

I took the pants to a tailor who will stitch it all together again.

There is never a dull moment around here.  🙂

Good night.