Luxor deluxe

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[Writing in our hotel room back in Cairo again. I have an internet connection, but can't seem to reach the mail relay server that will let me send email.]

After about four hours on the train Sunday evening, we reached Luxor. It was not exactly a comfortable train ride, since we didn't have a private sleeper car and we were hot and cramped. But we were determined to put the bad and discouraging aspects of our trip behind us.

As soon as our new guide Ibram met us at the station (and, by the way, I am certain that I am massacring even the loose art of transliteration with all our guides' names), we felt the tide had turned. Young, short, and rotund, Ibram was nonetheless filled with a contagious enthusiasm about Luxor. Laura asked him if we could stop for fast food on the way to the hotel, and he and our driver were more than happy to accommodate our wish. We scored some tasty falafel and shawarma sandwiches from a walk-up cafe, and we polished them off long before reaching the hotel.

The hotel itself was beautiful, and from the balcony—yes, balcony!—of our spacious fifth-floor room we could see out across the Nile. When we awoke on Monday, colorful hot-air balloons were drifting through that view, over a glistening, glimmering green landscape on the far side of the river. Our morning itinerary was set, but the for the afternoon itinerary we had three options to choose from, one of which was a balloon ride. Seeing the balloons there in the morning light made me a little sad that we hadn't selected that option. But not too sad, because I really had no desire to see Laura huddled in an acrophobic lump on the floor of a gondola.

We had chosen to start our tour bright and early, and the hotel provided boxed breakfasts for us to take with us. Our first destination was the Valley of the Kings, where we entered three of the sixty-two tombs that have been discovered there and excavated: the tombs of Ramses I, Ramses III, and Ramses IV. Next stop: Hatshepsut's Temple at Deir el-Bahri, a magnificent site that can be seen from the city of Luxor, miles away up a mountainside. After that we hit the Valley of the Queens, where we entered the amazingly colorful tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramses II. We also saw the tombs of two of the sons of Ramses III, which also meant seeing the mummified baby or fetus that was found near the sarcophagus of Amun-her-khepeshef. I felt like I was seeing something from "Ripley's Believe It or Not." Laura was just creeped out.

We closed out the morning with a stop at the Memnon Colossi, then broke for lunch. Ibram deposited us at a riverside buffet restaurant where we, once again, gorged ourselves. Then he took us to Luxor and Karnak Temples, which was our choice of afternoon activity. Let me say that neither of us was prepared for the scale of Luxor Temple, and triply unprepared to have the scale of Karnak Temple dwarf that. "Blown away" would be putting it mildly. I can only hope that the awe in our voices comes through on the video we shot, which I'll try to get uploaded to YouTube shortly after we return.

After that, we whiled away a lazy afternoon and evening. We wandered a few blocks from our hotel, fending off unusually aggressive merchants (and this in a country of aggressive merchants). While Laura read on the hotel's back patio, I slipped over to the next hotel to spend an hour on a computer in their business center (since the Lotus's own connection was down). I then joined her on the patio, where we drank mineral water and read. Eventually we wandered down to the railing at the edge of the Nile to watch the sun slip below the horizon. Then we wandered back up to our table on the patio to read peacefully and—


It was a noise like a giant lawnmower, coming from the direction of the water. Suddenly employees of the Lotus wer hurrying out to the patio, urging everyone to get inside, shouting a word I couldn't quite grasp. Laura and I didn't know what was going on, but one of them was reaching for my water glass and bottle, picking up my backpack.

A roiling cloud of white smoke suddenly appeared between the patio and the water, rising up like a wall, dramatic in the dusk light. Then men burst through the wall, men crouched low and running, carrying what looked like personal cannons slung low at hip level.

The white smoke was issuing from the barrels of the cannons.

That's when the word the hotel staff was shouting clicked: "Mosquito!"

Some group or another, official or not I don't know, was spraying for mosquitos—and they had turned the effort into the charge of the light brigade.

Laura and I scooped up the rest of our stuff and ran inside, trying not to breathe. In the dining room, with the door secured behind us, we watched through floor-to-ceiling glass as the blurry shapes of the men rushed past. Even inside, we could smell the foul stuff, that poisonous taste that lodges in the back of your throat and won't cough loose. We were horrified to see that the men doing the spraying were not wearing masks of any kind.

We could still smell the gas even inside the dining room, so Laura and I ascended one floor to the lobby and watched the white cloud dissipate. I felt sick for a while that evening, but I don't think there was any permanent damage.

At 8:45 pm, Ibram and our driver showed up to drive us to our train. We liked Ibram a great deal, and apparently our non-English-speaking driver liked us, because not only did he give us banana Chiclets, he also pulled over at a sidewalk cafe on the way to the station and bought us each a glass of his favorite drink—raw cane sugar juice. Well, it's better than mosquito spray.

Our train left at nine. It was a sleeper train again, this time north to Cairo. Dinner was served in our compartment, and this time we turned in early, looking forward to a 6:00 am arrival.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on June 1, 2008 1:02 AM.

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