Royal Esador. We are currently parked, sorry, docked, at Esna, some 64km south of Luxor. Yesterday, we’re all very keen to tell each other, was 50°C! Yes, really. Or, for those who don’t do centigrade, about 134°F. I’ve never experienced heat like that outside a sauna and I have to admit to some wilting tendencies. We started at 6am with our fabulous guide Elia leading the way and were at the Valley of the Kings before 7am. What? So early? Yes, please, because at that time of day, not only did we have it to ourselves, but it the temperature was tolerable.
Our ticket gave us entry, plus a choice of three tombs (note: photography isn't allowed, hence no pictures). They’re open on a rotating basis to preserve them and I admit to going to the ‘easier’ ones. That is, those without long flights of stairs down. Think of it as trying to preserve myself!
The most interesting thing in these places are the sandscapes – vast, tracts of hills and rocky faces you feel sure are hiding dozens more of these intricately decorated and hieroglyphic-covered caves – and those paintings themselves. The colours are still so vibrant – blues, yellows, reds (Oooh! We’ve just set sail – lovely!) – that haven’t been retouched. I’m trying to get the hang of the ancient writing: so far I know the symbol for life and the symbol for fertility, also the eye of Horus (good luck).
Do you want or need an itinerary of the rest of yesterday? OK, very briefly, we also hit the Valley of the Queens, the Temple of Hatshepsut (the only female ever to have ruled Egypt), the Medinet Habu Temple and, my favourite, the Colossi of Memnon. Come on, who doesn’t love a big statue? We also visited an alabaster shop, Abo El Hagag, on the West Bank, at El Qurna, Ezbet El Ward, very near the Valley of the Queens, where we were treated to a demonstration of how alabaster is harvested from a site about 80km away, then carved and polished by hand. None of this imitation stuff you’re offered at the sites, but the real McCoy that becomes translucent when a light is behind it. They also carve basalt, granite and something they call moonstone that glows in the dark. The reason I’m mentioning this place, and why I would recommend stopping, is that their pieces are wonderful – cats, lions, crocodiles, jars, vases, pyramids – and individually made by hand. You’ll also get a welcome drink (and believe me, at this stage it will be very welcome), air con (yay) and salesmen who speak perfect English and won’t pressure you to buy. It’s all a very pleasant experience and the place to get your local-to-Luxor gifts without any hassle.
I just glanced out my window and caught sight of a group of boys, maybe three or four of them, about 10 to 12 years old, running along the river path with a few goats, with date palms, banana trees and bamboo the backdrop. It’s both modern and completely unchanged ancient here, a total mash-up that’s endlessly fascinating.
There’s so much I want to say about the antiquities, the people – who are so genuine and warm and friendly – and the ease and comfort of this ship, which are considerable, but I just have to share what Salah, the young man who cleans my room, constructed for me today and will finish with that. Suffice to say, I totally burst out laughing when I came in and found my new roomie.