Rushing to the train station as usual, we sped through traffic in the taxi hoping that we were headed to the correct place. A man on the side of the road helped us to hail a ride and talked in Arabic to our driver, looking over our printed out tickets and then we were off. As our lives narrowly flashed before our eyes multiple times with the constant weaving pattern in and out of traffic that was so common in Egypt, we arrived dizzy and thankful to be alive at the main train station in Cairo. Our next stop: Luxor, to visit some beautiful ancient temples and see the Valley of the Kings where King Tut was buried in an elaborate tomb.
With no markings in English on the trains, we resorted to asking locals which cabin we were meant to stay in, and made our way into the allotted seats that were written on our tickets. Luckily for me, my seat was directly underneath the air-conditioning unit, and I had the privilege of having cold drops of water dripping onto me for the 12 hour ride. We quickly realized that we were the only foreigners within the train, summoning many stares, and almost every time a merchant would walk by selling random things ranging from power tools to children’s toys, they would stop in front of Milo. Headphones in and looking out the window became the norm to avoid unwanted attention, but unfortunately when you are on a train with people constantly screaming in what appears to be real life infomercials, it’s difficult to remain focused on being uninterested.
Falling asleep for a couple hours in the early morning, I unintentionally awoke to watch the sunrise, seeing the rays reflecting off the ripples of the Nile River that paralleled our train throughout the whole voyage into the south of Egypt. The constant silhouettes of palm trees and fields of sugar cane were endless, and it was one of the most picturesque mornings I’d experienced in a long time. So much so, that I woke up Milo who was snoozing next to me, and we both shared moments of unspoken mutual awe as our eyes darted back and forth through the changing landscape. Daylight came to illuminate the tall brick buildings with flamboyantly painted balconies, highly contrasting to the boring shells that housed each apartment. Eventually we arrived at the train station, where an older man named Muhammad greeted us from the Bob Marley Hostel we were staying at and we were taxied away to our destination. Greeted by the owners, we were made to feel at home right off the bat, given a room (with air conditioning), fed a delicious breakfast, and decided since it was still early to catch a couple hours of sleep before going out to explore.
Well rested and energized, we awoke to take a local bus to Karnak Temple, where we spent a couple hours wandering around the endless ruins, trying to read hieroglyphics, and staring in amazement at the building accomplishments of so many generations past. When the sun became too hot to bear, we left and headed back to our hostel to find a local eatery where we had tasty chicken, rice, Egyptian chorba (soup), and fluffy fresh pita before retiring for a second nap.
We had been told that the Luxor Temple was best to check out right before sunset, because once it was dark the entire site was lit up, and produced an amazing aura under the beautiful starry sky. We weren’t disappointed, as we walked among a surprisingly large amount of tourists but found solitude in a corner of the temple, relaxing on our own for a while as we waited for the daylight to break. Once it was dark, most of the tourists had left and we were almost alone to wander the grounds in awe at the shadows being cast from the carvings in the rocks.
The night concluded with an hour and a half search (hostel owners included) walking around the city to try to find an internet café with good wifi in order to update blog posts, as we hadn’t had consistent internet for almost two weeks. Both the owners continued to walk into stores and ask whether they had wifi, but to our dismay, one after the other told us they did not. Finally, we made it to a small hookah bar that was lit up only by the one person kitchen in the back, and we sat down after trying to log onto the web with their password typed in, loading our websites… and A FAST WORKING CONNECTION! We rejoiced at the ending of this impossible task of finding reliable wifi, and the hostel staff promptly bought us drinks for their internet not working as well as it said online. They were some of the friendliest people we met in our time in Luxor, and they went out of their way on many occasions to help us out with amazing sights to see, food to try, guide books, and stories.
We sat together in back of the lounge in the dark until they decided to turn the light on, passing around a coffee-mint flavored shisha and sipped on delicious milkshakes in happiness. At the end of the night when I went to post my blog though, the wifi went out and it took 30 minutes for it to load, but we couldn’t complain after an uninterrupted couple of hours getting in touch with family, friends, and contacting work exchanges.
Another early morning began with plans for the Valley of the Kings, which we heard was one of the best tourist attractions to check out in Luxor. A fifteen minute walk followed by a ferry ride across the river to the West Bank of the Nile dropped us in a sea of taxi drivers trying to give us rides, but the journey wouldn’t have been complete without first being hassled by a Nubian guy trying to sell/rent us bikes. Instead of immediately declining, we kept being extremely sarcastic with him, telling him that we had ran the 200+ km between Aswan and Luxor (even though we had never been to Aswan), and that we were visiting family and cousins who lived in both Aswan and Luxor. When he finally realized (after about thirty minutes of nonstop sarcastic comments) that we were in no way interested in renting bikes from him, we got off the ferry and bargained a taxi to not only take us to the Valley, but also wait for us to return and drive us back to the ferry. With our stomachs in our throats, one working seatbelt in the front two seats, and a burning interior from sitting in the sun, we sped off down the deserted highway, through military checkpoints until we were surrounded by massive mountains in the vast expanse of desert. It was here that we would walk inside and pay for tickets, which we later realized only allowed us into three tombs (more on that in a second).
Unfortunately in Egypt, there is still so much corruption when it comes to making money off tourists, and the Valley of the Kings proved to be another attempted scam. Showing them my student ID, I was immediately met with “this isn’t an international ID, and doesn’t have a date on it, so you will be charged the full price.” Of course, I argued for what seemed like ages until the ticket teller asked where I was from, in which I told him the United States and he promptly gave me the student price without any more questions asked. However, this was all too common in my travels within the country, where someone tries to use the smallest things in order to make you pay more just because you’re a tourist and they assume you have a lot of money. Don’t be fooled by this bullshit! All you need to do is stay firm and argue, and you won’t end up having to buy into this circle of corruption. Still, it’s annoying that it is necessary everywhere you go.
Of course, upon entering the tombs, cameras were restricted, and one of the guards caught me taking photos, so I had to pay a bribe to get my phone back. Totally worth the three dollar bribe (see below), but still annoying when he pretended to act as though he wasn’t watching and purposefully turned around to catch me in the act. I need to work on my sneakiness, I guess. Then, when we went to enter a fourth tomb, we realized that the admission only included entrance to three, even though no one had told us at the gate. Annoyed and pissed off, especially due to the realization that King Tut’s Tomb we had been looking forward to seeing was under construction and unable to be viewed, we walked back to our taxi. Although the hieroglyphics in some of the tombs were incredible, in retrospect I would have enjoyed looking at photos online over the effort we had to put in to get there.
If you visit the Valley of the Kings, make sure not to get caught taking photos, otherwise the guards will take your phone or camera, make you pay baksheesh (a bribe), and threaten to turn you into the police who will arrest you. Here is the product of a 3 dollar bribe. #valleyofthekings #desert #luxor #egypt #offthebeatenpath #middleeast #bribes #baksheesh #tombs #lonelyplanet #travel #bromadictravels
The night was concluded back at the same hookah lounge, where we ordered two more hookahs and sat using the wifi for hours while everyone else was absorbed in a national football game going on on the tv. Going back to our hostel down the street, we retired for the night after some questionable shwarma bought on the way.
In the morning, we woke up to return on the train, and our eleven hour ride turned into thirteen as we were stalled outside of the main station in Cairo for two hours due to unforeseen technical difficulties. During this time, we were bombarded by more real life infomercials resulting in our whole train car giving a round of applause and buying up all the stock of multi-tools from an enthusiastic seller, and then a guy overhearing Milo, Jeremy, and I speaking English, and beginning to talk with us. This was the first experience where we were immediately asked if we had Facebook, which became the norm while meeting locals. We should have lied and said no.
Instead, he added all of us as friends after two minutes of speaking because we were the first native English speakers he had ever met, and immediately began taking selfies with us, before making one of the photos of all of us together his cover photo online. Creeped out and confused as to why sixty of his friends were quickly tagged in the photo of us and likes began to amass on the photo, I defriended him and untagged myself from the barrage of photos he had taken of us. Weeks later, I received a message from him with the simple message “WHYYYY?????” to which I blocked him and am still weirded out to this day. More on selfies and Egyptians obsessed with meeting Americans in the next post.