Hart on Egypt

February 7th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Emma Hart writes at Public Address:

So it turns out the longer I’m home from Egypt, the harder it is to write about. Everything I was going to say becomes hedged around with caveats. I kept telling people how lucky we were, seeing it the way we did, but was it luck? We made a conscious, and on my part pretty much agonised-over, decision, and that was the payoff. No, we didn’t get shot, but I’m not sure that was any more of a risk than it would be anywhere else at any other time. 

I’m going to write about the politics elsewhere, so I don’t want to get into that too much. I will say, though, that I had to rethink a lot of things once I was actually there, and get a bit embarrassed re: Western paternalism. I will say that if your view is basically “Democracy = Good, Army = Bad”, you need to understand that, very broadly, the grassroots democracy movement supports the army and sees it as an ally. There’s an Egyptian pop song thanking the army for coming to the aid of the people against Morsi. 

Hart says it is complicated, and it is.  One can only hope that eventually they manage to have a democratic government that doesn’t want to turn Egypt into an Islamist state.

The down side was the touts. So many people in Egypt are dependent on selling tat to tourists in order to survive. Middle-Eastern sales tactics can be intimidating to Westerners at the best of times. At the tourist sites in Egypt, and the souk in Luxor, it was off the wall. 

I was there in 2009 and found the touts more aggressive in Egypt than anywhere else I’ve been, except Zimbabwe.

It was interesting to note who coped with this better. For men who’ve never been able to understand why women get upset about street harassment, I heartily recommend a visit to an Egyptian tourist market. See how long you can handle, “Hello! Good morning! Where you from? Welcome to Egypt! What’s your name? Smile!” from men who will not leave you alone. The women coped better because we already knew not to engage, to keep our heads down and not make eye contact, to stick together and walk briskly. Yes, they’re being “nice”. Because they want something.

Sadly I have come to hate a stranger coming up to me, when I am overseas, and saying “Where are you from?” as it is inevitably just a foray into trying to get you to part with some money. Egypt is especially bad and they follow you down the street.

Despite all that I’d love to go back one day when it is safer.

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Egypt heading towards civil war?

December 26th, 2013 at 10:38 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Egypt’s military-backed interim government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, criminalising all its activities, its financing and even membership to the group from which the country’s ousted president hails.

The announcement is aimed at crippling the Brotherhood and poses a dramatic escalation of the fight between the government and group, which has waged near-daily protests since the July 3 military coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi.

Hossam Eissa, the Minister of Higher Education, read out the Cabinet statement after long meeting. Eissa said that the decision was in response to Tuesday’s deadly bombing targeting a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city which killed 16 people and wounded more than 100. The Brotherhood denied being responsible for the Mansoura attack and an al-Qaida inspired group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing yesterday.

I don’t like the Muslim Brotherhood, but I don’t think they are a terrorist group. Trying to outlaw them didn’t work for Mubarak (made them more popular) and I doubt this will work. It is hard to see a return to democratic government, as no election will be seen a valid if the party that last won an election is banned.

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Egypt gets closer to civil war

August 15th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Security forces stormed two huge Cairo protests by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi, prompting the resignation of vice president Mohamed ElBaradei and sparking nationwide violence which left at least 149 people dead.

With clashes breaking out across the country and rioting erupting in Egypt’s second city Alexandria, Egypt’s army-installed authorities declared a month-long state of emergency effective from 4:00 pm Wednesday (2am Thursday NZ time).

They also slapped Cairo and other provinces with curfews between 7:00 pm and 6:00 am.

Gory photographs and video images of the Cairo bloodbath dominated social media networks as world powers called for restraint and condemned the show of force by Egypt’s security forces.

Four churches were attacked in Egypt, with Christian activists accusing Morsi loyalists of waging “a war of retaliation against Copts in Egypt”.

The violence is not just between the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is also attacking Coptic churches.

But the anger against the Islamist movement was evident Wednesday as residents of several neighbourhoods clashed with Morsi loyalists.

Clashes also erupted between security forces and Morsi loyalists in the northern provinces of Alexandria and Beheira, the canal provinces of Suez and Ismailiya and the central provinces of Assiut and Menya.

In Alexandria, hundreds of angry Morsi supporters marched through the streets armed with wooden clubs chanting “Morsi is my president”.

An AFP reporter said the protesters set fire to car tyres and tore down pictures of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was behind the Islamist leader’s July 3 overthrow.

At one cafe where Sisi’s picture was hanging, they smashed the doors and beat up the patrons as they shouted “Sisi is a killer”.

It is difficult to see how Egypt can return to having a democratically elected President, who is seen as legitimate by the overwhelming majority of the country.

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Morsi ousted

July 4th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

The Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi from power Wednesday and suspended the constitution in moves it said were aimed at resolving the country’s debilitating political crisis.

In a televised address to the nation after a meeting with a group of civilian political and religious leaders, the head of the powerful armed forces, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, said the chief of Egypt’s constitutional court “will assume the presidency” on an interim basis until a new presidential election is held. Sissi said the interim president will have the right to declare laws during the transitional period.

I have mixed feelings on this. I am no fan of Morsi, but I don’t see that he had done anything recently to require military intervention. There was no civil war, there were no human right abuses. There were just protests against him.

It’s good that the military will hold new elections, but what happens if the people elect Morsi again, or someone else the military do not like?

Hopefully Mohamed ElBaradei will win a fair election, as he looks to be the best bet for a Government that is tolerant and relatively secular.

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Been there, done that

February 27th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

At least 19 people, most of them Asian and European tourists, died when a hot air balloon crashed near the ancient Egyptian town of Luxor after a mid-air gas explosion, officials said.

The balloon came down in farmland a few kilometres from the Valley of the Kings and pharaonic temples that draw tourists to Luxor.

Rescue workers gathered the dead from the field where the charred remains of the balloon, gas canisters and other pieces of wreckage landed.

I’ve been to Luxor and have done that exact dawn balloon trip. It is spectacular seeing the sun come up over the Valley of the Kings.

But chilling to have such a nasty fatal accident at the exact site where I had been three years ago.

All tourist activities have a degree of risk – ballooning in Egypt, safaris in Africa etc. But you do have a real sense of vulnerability when you are stuck in a fairly small basket scores of metres above the Earth, with large hot flames powering the balloon.

After the Carterton accident and now this one, I think it will be a fair while until I go ballooning again. Am thinking of skydiving at some stage though!

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The Egyptian constitution

December 27th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has signed into law a new constitution shaped by his Islamist allies, a bitterly contested document which he insists will help end political turmoil and allow him to focus on fixing the economy.

Anxiety about a deepening political and economic crisis has gripped Egypt in past weeks, with many people rushing to buy dollars and withdraw their savings from banks.

The Egyptian pound has tumbled to its weakest level against the US currency in almost eight years.

The new constitution, which the liberal opposition says betrays Egypt’s 2011 revolution by dangerously mixing religion and politics, has polarised the Arab world’s most populous nation and prompted occasionally violent protest on the streets.

The presidency said Mursi had formally approved the constitution the previous evening, shortly after results showed that Egyptians had backed it in a referendum.

The text won about 64 percent of the vote, paving the way for a new parliamentary election in about two months.

The charter states that the principles of sharia, Islamic law, are the main source of legislation and that Islamic authorities will be consulted on sharia – a source of concern to the Christian minority and others.

Countries that don’t separate religion and state almost always are worse places to live  than those countries which do.

Egyptians have the right to a democracy. All human beings have that right. but I hope the majority appreciate that there are other rights beyond having a vote.

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A backwards step for Egypt

November 25th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Egypt‘s most senior judges have condemned President Mohamed Morsifor granting himself sweeping new powers which they say amount to an “unprecedented assault” on the independence of the judiciary.

The supreme judicial council said work would be suspended in all courts and prosecution offices until the decree passed by the president earlier this week was reversed. …

Morsi’s decree orders the retrial of former president Hosni Mubarak, officials and security force members accused of killings during the country’s revolution. Controversially, it also exempts all of Morsi’s decisions from legal challenge until a new parliament is elected, as well as offering the same protection to the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, which is drawing up the country’s new constitution.

Egypt may have swapped one dictator for another.

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Dom Post on Egypt

June 26th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

For the first time in about 7000 years Egypt has a democratically elected leader. After days of delay, Mohammed Morsi, a 60-year-old United States-trained engineer, was yesterday declared the winner of the country’s first genuine presidential election.

His victory is the fruit of the popular uprising that ousted military strongman Hosni Mubarak in January last year. However, it remains to be seen whether the election changes anything.

Mr Morsi, a technocrat who stood only because the Muslim Brotherhood’s preferred candidate Khairat al-Shater was barred from the contest, has begun by making all the right noises. He has resigned from the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, pledged to preserve Egypt’s international accords – a reference to its peace treaty with Israel – and promised to “represent” all Egyptians and appoint non-Muslims to key positions in his new government.

I’m not a fan of the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood, but that is no reason that the Mubarak dictatorship should continue. I suspect part of the reason the brotherhood gets so much support is because they were almost the only force against Mubarak.

It is possible that things may go badly for Egypt, especially if their new Government did try to attack Israel or break the peace treaty. But actually being in Government tends to moderate the rhetoric of opposition.  As you get focused on growing the economy, providing better healthcare etc, reducing crime, you realise these are what really matter to voters. There is of course a risk that if things go badly, they will try and provoke a fight with Israel, in order to bolster domestic support. The Iranian President does this often.

However imperfectly Mr Morsi fits the bill, he is the embodiment of the hopes of the young Egyptians who risked life and limb to bring about the end of the Mubarak regime and the tens of thousands of others who have protested on the streets of Bahrain, Algeria, Yemen, Iran and now Syria.

How he manages the tensions with Egypt’s military, relations with Israel and the West and how he treats women and minorities will be watched not only in Egypt but around the globe.

Egypt has its first democratically elected President. That is what all countries deserve – the ability to elect their own leadership.

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Mubarak goes

February 12th, 2011 at 9:42 am by David Farrar

Yesterday on Twitter, an amusing tweet said “Uninstallation of Egyption dictator is 99.9% complete” and today it made 100%.

AP report:

Fireworks burst over Tahrir Square and Egypt exploded with joy and tears of relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV.

Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday and handed power to the military. …

Thousands from around the capital converged on the celebrating crowd in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, the epicenter of the stunning protest movement that was started by a small core of secular, liberal youth activists on the Internet and turned into the biggest popular uprising in the Arab world.

The House of Saud may be having a nervous night tonight.

The people of Egypt have been freed. There is no justification for one man to rule as dictator for 30 years, and few should regret Mubarak going. Yes, he provided surface stability, but dictatorships almost always cause resentment and radicalism.

It is too early to know how the military will introduce democratic rule, and what risks this carries of an Islamist (not Islamic) Government being elected. But from what I could tell the Muslim Brotherhood was not the main organiser of the protests, and a vote against Mubarak does not mean it will be a vote for them.

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Mubarak to say he goes today

February 2nd, 2011 at 8:15 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak is to announce he will step down at the next election, according to reports.

Mubarak, the focus of millions of protesting Egyptians, would make the announcement in a speech today, reported Al Arabiya TV.

At least one million people have rallied across Egypt clamouring for Mubarak to give up power, piling pressure on a leader who has towered over Middle East politics for 30 years to make way for a new era of democracy in the Arab nation.

Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square was jammed with people ranging from lawyers and doctors to students and jobless poor, the crowd spilling into surrounding streets.

Two dictators toppled in a month is almost a trend. In Jordan, the King has sacked his Government to try and placate protesters – will that be enough?

In terms of Egypt, the focus will be on who serves as interim President, and once elections are held, which parties form the Government.

The military, which has run Egypt since it toppled King Farouk in 1952, will be the key player in deciding who replaces him. Analysts expect it to retain significant power while introducing enough reforms to defuse the protests.

Armed forces chief of staff Sami Enan could be an acceptable leader, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood said.

Enan, who has good ties with Washington, was a liberal who could be seen as suitable by the nascent opposition coalition, prominent overseas cleric Kamel El-Helbawy told Reuters.

“He can be the future man of Egypt,” Helbawy said. “The people do not know him (as corrupt).”

A liberal with good ties to Washington sounds pretty good to me.

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Solidarity

January 31st, 2011 at 7:45 am by David Farrar

It’s been wonderful seeing the unrelenting protests for democracry in Egypt, following on from Tunisia. No country should have one party rule.

If the regime of the National Democratic Party is toppled, this may cause pangs of regret for Labour. The NZ Labour Party is a sister party of the NDP, through their membership of Socialist International.

Hat Tip: Guido Fawkes

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Giza and Memphis

November 17th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

What better way to spend a Monday than looking around the sole remaining wonder of the ancient world.

The pyramids are in the desert, but at the very border of Cairo. So it is very easy to get to them.

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These are the three main Giza pyramids. The one on the left is actually the largest – known as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The pyramids are far older than the tombs at the Valley of the Kings. They date back to around 2560 BC, so are around 4,550 years old.

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Rather than just drive up to the pyramids, I got dropped off in the desert, and enjoyed a walk through the desert. You really soak up the atmosphere that way.

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This is the Great Pyramid of Giza up close. It is estimated to have around 2.3 million blocks in total, weighing 5.9 million tonnes. You wouldn’t want someone to drop it on you!

It is thought to have taken 20 years to build, which meant moving 800 tonnes of stone a day. And they were not just dumped down. The four sides have a mean error of only 58 mm.

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The blocks have got worn over the years, but for 4,500 years of wear and tear they are holding up pretty good.

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You can climb up the first few layers, but are not allowed to ascend to the top anymore.

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A lone camel crossing the desert behind.

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I declined to go on the camels as I had been warned that the price you negotiate is only for getting onto the camel, and that afterwards you also have to negotiate a price to be helped off, and by then you are in a weak bargaining position.

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This is the smallest (but still large) of the three – the pyramid of Menkaure. The Great Pyramid is Khufu’s

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And this is the Pyramid of Khafre.

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At the apex of Khafre’s pyramid, its “coat” is still in place. The Pharoah’s didn’t actually want people climbing their tombs, so they smoothe rteh pyramids out. But over time much of the outer layer has disappeared, exposing the surface below.

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I think most people can identify the Great Sphinx. It is within walking distance of the three main pyramids. It is 74 metres tall. There is great debate about when it as created. Most think at the time of the pyramids, but some say it pre-dates them and may be over 5,000 years old.

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These shops are within 200 metres of the Sphinx. Sacrilege!

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This is the Pyramid of Djoser, over at Saqqara. It was the first Egyptian pyramid and is 4,700 years old.

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In the sand, you can see many fragments of pottery and other artefacts from the Pyramids.

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This is the general Memphis area, famous for its palm trees. Memphis was the capital of Egypt until 2200 BC.

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On the way home, went past the Saladin Citadel of Cairo. Ran out of time to look around it, so will keep for my return trip!

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Cairo

November 16th, 2009 at 6:29 pm by David Farrar

On Sunday took the train down from Alexandria. Only had to “tip” two police officers today. I have learnt that the worst question in the world you can hear in Egypt is “Hello Sir, what country are you from?”.

In New Zealand, you ask somewhere where they are from as a genuine conversation starter. Here it is a prelude to a mugging. You see they have craftily picked a question that is hard to avoid without being rude. You are obviously from somewhere and your instinct is to say where from.

The moment you do, it is all over. Like a limpet the person attaches to you talking about how good New Zealand (land of milk) is and how much they like New Zealanders and just for you they will tell you something about the local facility. Never mind you didn’t want to know, or already did know. You are then obliged to hand over some money for this favour.

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Anyway once I got to Cairo, checked in at the hotel, and discovered the swimming pool is one of those ones with a bar in the middle of it. Nice.

I’m not sure I have mentioned this before, but to respect local customs I have not worn shorts outside at all. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Now I have avoided the very hottest months but it has still got up to around 30 degrees, and even in shorts that is hot – especially for me who still has an internal thermostat attuned to Dunedin climate. So swimming pools are a welcome relief.

cai2 This is the view from my room.  What a great location to be staying. Met up with a friend, and we enjoyed the view from the balcony for hours.

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Decided to go to the famous National Museum of Egypt. Even better learnt it was only a couple of kms away, so could walk there, avoiding a taxi driver negotiation.

The bridge over the Nile has these lion statues at each end.

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The Cairo International Film Festival is very highly regarded, and a source of pride to many in Egypt.

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The Cairo Tower. It is 187 metres tall and has a restaurant at the top. It is mainly used for TV signals

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This is the famous Egyptian Museum. The sheer amount of artifacts is staggering, and you could easily spend days here. The treasures from King Tut’s tomb are amazing, as are his two gold coffins. The wooden outer coffin and the mummy itself remain in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Everyone says this is a must see, and they are right. Both the quantity and quality of material is vast.

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Alexandria

November 16th, 2009 at 8:56 am by David Farrar

Alexandria is a lovely city – most of all it is clean, unlike Luxor and much of Cairo. It makes such a difference not having dirt and dust everywhere.

The hotel arranged a driver and car for only NZ$12 an hour. Unlike Luxor where there are formal tours, Alexandria is more the place where you just go the places you want to. I also did not want to be a full day tour, as the reason I chose Alexandria was partly just to have a nice place to relax for at least half a day. Holidays can be very exhausting!

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This is the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which is Latin for Library of Alexandria. It is to commerorate the original Library of Alexandria whose loss is one of history’s tragedies.

The ancient library was thought to be the largest in the world, The exact size is unknown but most estimates are that it was in the hundreds of thousands. The world would be a different place today if that knowledge had survived. Knowledge is what separates us from the cavemen.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is near the site of the original Library, and has shelf space for eight million books. It is also unique, being the only facility that has a copy and external backup of the Internet Archive.

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This is the Citadel of Qaitbay. The citadel is around 550 years old, but prior to that the site was the location of the Lighthouse of Alexandria – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.The lighthouse was built just after 300 BC and as destroyed in earthquakes in the 1300s.

The citadel is a pretty cool fort to look around in its own right also.

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A view of the harbour and Alexandria from the Citadel.

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This is Pompey’s Pillar. It is so named as legend had it that Pompey’s ashes were sprinkled at the vase of the pillar. This is unlikely though as it turned out it was constructed in 293 AD for the Emperor Diocletian.

Pompey was murdered by Ptolemy XIII in 48BC. The King thought doing so would please Caesar, but in fact Caesar was appalled that such a great Roman (even if his opponent) was killed in such a way.

The Pillar is 30 meters high and weighs 396 tons. and surrounded by various other artifacts, and also the subterranean remains of a Serapeum. This was a must see.

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This is a photo down in the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, one of the seven wonders of the Middle Ages. You go down a large spiral staircase to get to them.

Technically cameras are banned from the Catacombs but technically a Blackberry is not a camera :-)

The planks are quite wobbly and trust me you don’t want to find out what the water is like!

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These are horse bones – possibly killed during the razing of Alexandrina by Emperor Caracalla. The Catcombs were actually discovered by a donkey in 1900 when it disappeared down a previously unknown shaft. My guide told me that the donkey owner was very upset, and tried to get his donkey back, and only when they realized it had fallen 20 metres did they realise it was beyond help.

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Also went to the Alexandrina National Museum. It isn’t a huge museum but worth checking out. This is a bust of Emperor Hadrian – one of the better Roman Emperors.

Also ran out of books to read (I’m onto book eight already) so managed to track down a bookstore that sold some English books. Like everything else, one had to haggle the prices. Managed to pick up three old Egyptian detective novels by Elizabeth Peters that kept me occupied on the train.

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The train trip North

November 14th, 2009 at 4:34 pm by David Farrar

I left Luxor Thursday night. The Palace Nile hotel was very good value – only NZ$40 a night for a very good hotel room. Both Turkey and Egypt have cheap hotels. Interestingly though the food is not that cheap – for example the dinner would cost more than the accommodation.

I took the sleeper train to Cairo, and then a day train the remainign two hours to Alexandria.

At Luxor train stations I spent several minutes telling various touts no I did not need their assistance. But then as I get to the train track, a Police Officer politely asks what train I am on. I tell him, and he (so I thought) kindly took me down to the right carriage. Just as I am thinking how nice that was, he tells me that I can “reward” him if I am grateful.

I couldn’t believe it – even the effing Police want a tip. And yes of course I gave him one – you don’t generally say no to armed police. I’m not sure if this constitutes my first act of bribery of a public official!

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This is my room. Was pretty reasonable for US$50, when you compare to the cost of flying.

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A typical rural scene. The train windows were very dirty. While the train inside was actually very nice, the exterior looked like it was 50 years old and had never been washed.

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Most areas though are like this. Makes you realise how lucky we are in NZ.

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The hotel in Alexandria is on the Mediterranean Coast, and you can see the Mediterranean Sea in the background.

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And the actual beach is only one minute away. Alexandria is not so much a tourist city (even though there is stuff to see) but a holiday destination for many in the Middle East.

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The Valley of the Kings

November 13th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

As great as it was to see the sights from on high, there is nothing like getting up close and personal also, so did a tour of the West Bank also. I thought this was exceptionally good value – for NZ$100 I got a car all to myself, a driver, a guide and entry to the major attractions.

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First we had a look at the Colossi of Memnon. They also date back to around 1350 BC, even though the Romans upgraded the top of the right hand one later on.

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That track up there is where you go if you take the Donkey option to get over to the Valley of the Kings. I’m not kidding – you see packs of tourists on donkeys heading up that hill.

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This is the reconstructed temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Up top parts of the original walls and artwork remain. Hatshepsut is viewed by historians as one of the most successful female Pharaohs. She ruled around 1500 BC.

Her step son, who was nominal co-ruler with her when alive, seemed to resent her as during his reign many pictures of her were literally scratched out – you can see the vandalism still today.

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This is artwork on the original walls of the temple. You know you can see numerous pictures of this stuff, but there is nothing like seeing it in real life – knowing it is 3,500 years old. Amazingly well preserved.

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This is Anubis – God of the Dead. All Stargate fans will know him 

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This shows boats on the Nile. They also show many different fish and goods.

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Again the quality of the artwork is superb. What a civilization it must have been back then.

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And this is the house of Howard Carter – the finder of King Tut’s Tomb.

After this temple, we went to the Valley of the Kings proper. Now earlier this year they banned cameras which is a shame, so this image is from Wikipedia.

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There were 62 tombs in the Valley of the Kings but in 2006 they discovered a 63rd. Don’t think archaeology is last century – there is still so much to find.

It has been a tourism site since Roman times. Sadly even by then, most of the tombs had been looted.

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I went down KV57, the tomb of Horemheb. It is a relatively deep tomb – you descend a considerable way underground. This is what you see down there. Image from Theban Mapping Project.

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Also went into tombs of Ramesses IV. This tomb was very shallow but very colourful.

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This is from the tomb of Rameses III. You get to do three tombs in total. You have to pay extra to see KV62 or King Tut’s tomb and I decided to skip it as I have heard the tomb itself is nothing special – what was special was the contest which are now if the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – I hope to visit them on Monday.

The combination of this, plus the balloon ride has made this a great day. Now about to head north tonight.

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A birdseye view of the West Bank of Luxor

November 12th, 2009 at 10:01 pm by David Farrar

Going up in a hot air balloon was never something on my list of must dos – partly because I always wondered why they don’t catch fire more often, but when I saw a balloon tour over parts of the ruins on the West Bank of Luxor, I figured that would be a view worth paying for.

Cost is around NZ$200 which I thought was reasonable value for 90 minutes actually up in the air. The only hassle was having to meet the driver at 4.55 am to get me there!

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This is the view we had as we got to the takeoff strip. It was still well before 6 am, and we had crossed the Nile by boat by then. Ou pilot told us that group was being reckless going up while dark as if there is an emergency it helps to be able to see the ground. I agree!

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This is our balloon having the air heated up

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This is taken inside the basket as we rise up. Yes you stand close to the flame and yes it is bloody hot.

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This is the Temple of Queen Hatshsesut.

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A view of the crops on the side nearer to the Nile.

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I just love this photo (and the view). The sun rising in the East over the Nile, with a balloon in the foreground. Magnificent.

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These are some of the Tombs of the Nobles.

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You get some idea of how high up we were at this stage. You don’t even notice until you look down, as you move so fluidly.

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In ancient times the Nile meant life or death. You can see why with this photo – the areas that get water from a high Nile flourish, while areas further away do not. Almost all of Egypt lives near the Nile or on the coast in more recent times.

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Some other balloons starting to rise after us.

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I’m sure the safety briefing said nothing about leaning out of the basket so someone can get a better shot of you!

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Again we went pretty damn high up.

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This is taken on the maximum zoom lens. You couldn’t even see these guys working away except for the moving crops that alerted us.

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And as we came back down to land, the support crew ready to hold us down. We were told how to brace ourselves for the landing but one could have remained standing it was so gentle.

This was an absolute highlight. I recommend it to anyone who visits Egypt.

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Relaxing in Luxor

November 12th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

On Tuesday flew into Cairo and then did a domestic transfer to Luxor. Landing at Cairo was spectacular as you can see the desert and pyramids all around Cairo as the plane goes low.

The taxi drivers in Luxor were marginally less dishonest than those in Istanbul. In Istanbul I had one driver try to charge me 90 Turkish Lira (around NZ$80) for a 10 km trip which had cost me only 20 TL in reverse. I simply refused to pay and told him I wanted the Police as he was trying to rip me off. I finally gave him 40 TL. The next day I made a point of watching the meter every few minutes. But then another driver added 50 Lira on at the end of the trip. Again I refused and said I saw it at 30 Lira just two minutes ago so am not paying 80. The thieving bastard then said I had given him a 50 Lira note when I gave him 100.

Don’t get me wrong – loved Istanbul, but the taxi drivers are criminals.

Luxor was marginally better. The airport has a sign up telling you the cost into Luxor – around 30 Egyptian Pounds or NZ$7. The driver tried to tell me the sign meant US$30. Again I refused and we settled on US$15.

Later when heading into Luxor Temple from the hotel, I negotiated the fare in advance. He started at 50 EP and I started at 10 EP and we settled for 35 EP which was reasonable. I don’t mind a robust negotiation in advance- but I do detest meter fiddling.

Anyway staying at the Nile Palace Luxor. It is a very nice hotel, and one I would recommend.

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There is a large courtyard in the middle of the hotel where you can dien and drink, and every night they have entertainment. This is a photo of the dancing girls from my balcony.

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Some remains from the Temple of Luxor, which is in the main town. It was built over 3,000 years ago.

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The hotel swimming pool, and that is the Nile behind it. It was 30 degrees today so the water was just lovely. My only problem has been I have already read all the books I brought with me, so had to buy some more books to read while sun bathing.

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The Nile. The river is the longest in the world, going from Southern Rwanda to Egypt stretching just over 6,500 kms.

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The central courtyard area during the day.

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The sun chairs at the edge of the Nile. Very relaxing to see the many boats go past.

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