Saturday, December 11, 2010

Harassed and Harangued

I bounded up in the morning, raring to go. I got ready and was out the patio door to explore our resort. We front onto the Nile so I immediately walked around the swimming pool and out to the river. I stared out across the river and absorbed the history oozing out of it. Scum gathered at the edges of the water, along with a shoe (thankfully without a foot) and some plant matter. On the west bank was an image straight out of a textbook on Egypt. Palms surrounded the muddy, flat-topped buildings and blue sky shimmered in the background. To my right I could see the mountains which protect the valleys of the dead. To my left the Nile rounded a bend out of sight with nothing but green bushes on either side. How is it that I can be in a part of the world inhabited by people for thousands of years yet not see resort hotels and skyscrapers as far as I look?

Ramses, the cab driver not the pharaoh came to take us into Luxor. We started with lunch at the Oasis CafĂ©. On full tummies, we set out on a walk to the Luxor temple. We walked up the main street, “Corniche” with the Nile on our left. It should have been a lovely walk but the constant harassment by Egyptian touts left us cold. They offered caleche rides, felucca boat cruises, taxi rides and other things I can’t think of right now. A caleche is a horse drawn buggy. They are everywhere and the touts don’t take no for an answer. They follow you along haranguing you in the hopes you will relent. Even if one gives up, the next one is right there to take up the call. Even if they watched you say no to the last five, each one seems to feel they have a right to make the effort by standing in front of you to force you to walk around them. It was exhausting and intimidating.

Finally we arrived at the temple. The huge statues, obelisks and columns were inspiring. The sun was low in the sky and so the ruins cast interesting shadows across everything. There was a wide street with sphinxes on either side leading away from the temple. It used to lead from the Luxor temple to the Karnak temples, a three kilometer distance. Can you imagine walking a street lined with sphinxes for three kilometers? That’s a lot of cat. The city is trying to restore the road now and they have cleared all the buildings covering the earth so they can excavate it to its former beauty. It should be amazing when it is done but I bet it is causing no end of controversy right now for those displaced! The people or buildings they are moving may have been there for hundreds of years!

Throughout our wander through the temple, we were met by curious gazes. I began to feel like I had something on my face. The guides, guards and guests all stared as we walked around. Some of the visitors were children and they giggled and stared, whispering to each other. Once a little girl got up her courage to say, “hello” so I smiled and said, “hello” back. Her next word was, “money?” Sad.

Tom wandered in a different direction at one point. I was alone looking around when a guard motioned me with his finger to follow him further away from where I thought my family might be. He was smiling but I was a bit shaken by all the strange attention so I felt very uncomfortable. Rhys appeared and the two of us followed him together. The guard showed us an inscription in the wall which people touch to bring good luck. He took each of our hands to touch the wall, then our head three times and then the wall and our heart three times. Then he took our picture with my camera at his insistence. Then he held his hand out for money. I don’t carry money but I managed to dig up a British pound coin which he accepted. We then repeated the whole procedure with Tom and Julia. More guards signaled they wished to show us things but at that point we declined as politely as we could. We have found this behaviour from guards is the norm at tourist sites.

We went from the temple to the Mummification museum, weaving our way through the throngs of touts wanting to give us rides. One actually asked what he could offer that would make us give him money. The museum was small but excellent. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, unfortunately because there were some fascinating items. We saw a mummy, preserved skin from a foot, a piece of preserved flesh, a mummified head that had been halved to reveal the cavity which had once housed the brain. It is now stuffed with linen. There were lids from sarcophagi and a mummy looking rather blackened and dead. However did mummies get the white bandaged look? Every one I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few now) has been black and shriveled looking, and far more spooky than some old toilet paper doll.

We walked to the Karnak temple for the rather weak sound and light show. The guidebook said it is the best one in Egypt so it will be the last one we see. The walk was far more exciting than the show. We took a dark and quiet road by mistake and wound up in an area we probably shouldn’t have bothered walking through. Although I was holding Tom’s hand and walking with my children, a man brushed up against me and tried to grope me. This caused a significant amount of horror and rage from all of us and greatly contributed to our already unpleasant impressions of Egyptian men.

The Sound and Light was as cheesy and underwhelming as it could have been but the temple at night was spectacular. We caught a cab to the restaurant after the show, too shaken to attempt another night-time walk. By the time we got home, we were all wondering how we were going to cope with another day of harassment and anxiety.


maryanncart said...

Hi dreadful but I'm glad none of you were harrassed any further. I remember Steve saying everyone was in your face constantly! Love to all of you... Mom