March 9, 2011

So many sites to see in and around Luxor

Next we were off to Luxor for a three day trip before we would finish our last two days in Cairo. To get to Luxor, they put us on an overnight sleeping train. So, late that night we sat at the train station waiting for the train to arrive. Perhaps not unexpectedly, it was very late.

Farmland along the Nile floodplain
This was one of the few times during the trip that we were really put in the middle of the common folk without a guide. We were on our own waiting two hours with working-class folks and some of the famous stereotypes of the third world of people with their chickens.

The Nile river is low in the winter. It rises following the summer monsoons in the Highlands of Ethiopa.

The next morning we arose to a glorious sunrise on the Nile River and it was off to see the amazing ancient Egyptian sites of the Luxor area. The most magnificent temples and artwork readily available to the public such as Temple of Hatseptsup, Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Medinat Habu, The Ramesseum, and the Tombs of the Nobles. We'll talk about those temples in other posts, but for this post I'll focus on the first two we saw...the Valley of the Kings and the Colossi of Memnon.

The Colossi of Memnon are two large statues built around 1350 BC to represent Pharoah Amenhotep III. Amenhotep also built the Luxor Temple which sits in downtown Luxor. Amenhotep ruled for 39 years and that period is widely considered the pinnacle of artistic and architectural acheivement of the ancient Egyptian world.

We headed over to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens where many of the famous mummies have been found. These include Nefartiti, Nefartari, and of course, the most famous of all Pharoahs, Tutankhamun who died in 1343 BC.

What stood out first and foremost was the starkness of the landscape. Just a few miles from the lush green Nile Valley, these rocky beige mountains lacked any vegetation at all. There was nothing that stood out about this dry basin that would indicate it was filled with dozens of ornately decorated tombs.

But, as you go down into the tombs, you see brightly painted walls of exquisite quality. We've been to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and dozens of Medieval and Renaissance sites and to see the quality in which these painted walls remain after more than 3000 years is amazing.

But, there was another interesting phenomena that we experienced at these sites. The Tippees. We would be standing there looking at a painting and then a man would walk up to us and start telling us a story about it. When he was done his hand would come out asking for a tip. As we would approach a door, two or three men would compete to be the one to open it up for us first. When they did, their hands would come out asking for a tip.

Did they have tipping in Ancient Egypt?

The problem we started experiencing was that we didn't have enough small change/bills to give tips to everyone. So, when a man walked up to us unsolicited and told us the story of some painted reliefs and asked for a tip, all I had left in my pocket was 35 cents and some $20 bills. When I handed him the coins, he started complaining and yelling to me "small money, small money, this is an insult". Like I was going to hand him a $20 bill for a story I didn't ask for.

Trolling for Tips (man on right)

Finally, the whole tipping phenomena started to really get on my nerves. I mean, I understand that these are just people trying to make a living and feed their families. But, I also felt like they were being a bit too agressive and without the proper money in my pocket, it was getting uncomfortable knowing what was going to happen. The better solution would have been to simply charge us more for the entrance fee and then pay these people a reasonable salary.

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