29.09.2010 - 06.10.2010 40 °C
Luxor is the city into which we flew, where we boarded our ship and from where we departed. Most of the shops and businesses are situated on the East bank of the Nile.
Today, it appears run-down and dilapidated, but in ancient times it was known as Thebes and was the religious and cultural capital of Egypt for centuries until the Greek period. The main god of the city was Amon, who became linked to the sun god Ra, thus creating the new 'king of gods' Amon-Ra. His great temple, at Karnak just north of Thebes, was the most important temple of Egypt right until the end of antiquity.
Luxor is becoming known as the world's greatest open-air museum, as new archaeological discoveries are being made daily.
Sadly, 800 families have been forcibly bought out, and their homes and other important buildings are being demolished in the centre, to expose the full extent of this processional avenue. A cartouche of Cleopatra has been discovered along the avenue, proving that she once visited the place.
The Egyptians are generally poor, but seem contented. The government has guaranteed jobs for all, which means that there are often many people employed to do the same job, but this also means that wages are low. We were astounded to learn that our erudite guide, who has a Masters in Egyptology, earns a paltry LE 60 a day (= ZAR 60, = £5 Sterling). Hence the importance placed on receiving tips as a means to supplement one's income; every bus ride, boat ride, photo opportunity, etc. was not without the expectation of a tip. Tipping is a fundamental way of life in Egypt - it's not offensive [to us], but was a bit expensive [for us as South Africans], since our currency parallels the Egyptian pound. It really saddened us to observe how often many of our fellow cruisers refused to hand over a bit of dosh e.g. to coach drivers - and volubly complained about the tipping culture to anyone within earshot. It seems that the annoyance factor generally exceeded the compassion factor - even though tourists have so much more ready cash than these poor folk will ever have. Sandi kept muttering "mean spirits"!!
Many of the houses are made of mud bricks and the second and third levels seem to remain in an unfinished state. This is apparently a provision for the sons [when they marry] and their families to build and complete each level, in which to live.
Many of the side streets are narrow and dusty, and side-walks don't exist!
The public buses are more like converted bakkies, and if you cannot afford the bus fare you are allowed to hang on at the back!
Donkeys are also an important and affordable means of transport.
The caleches are for the tourists, and the drivers constantly good-naturedly hassle one for a ride when one is seen walking. Notice the loads of orbs on this photo. "How dare you walk when you can see I need a fare?"
There are very few traffic lights in the city, perhaps due to great resistance to their introduction, by the drivers. They showed such great impatience in waiting for them to change, that the lights actually show how many seconds until the change!
On the river, the main form of local transport is the faluca.
The tourist markets, or souks, have a variety of goods, which can be bought at reasonable prices, as long as one barters earnestly. Bartering is as fundamental to Egyptian tourist life as tipping!
Sandi herself became a regular item for whom the men were keen to barter. The Egyptian men were full of admiration for my beautiful wife. When the first one asked how much I wanted for her, I replied modestly "a hundred camels." Very quickly the price rose with successive traders to "five thousand camels, three pyramids, and a Mercedes Benz" to a final best price of "a million camels, half of Egypt, and the Luxor Temple". Sandi reckons it is fantastic for a gal's self-esteem! Of course, she is more valuable than the best offer, so I still have her!
On the other hand, the shops for the locals are very different to the tourist ones.
We passed this colourful mosque on the outskirts of the city.
The West Bank of Luxor is far less populous, but boasts the Valley of the Kings, the two temples of Ramses ll and lll and the Collossi of Memnon.