RING RING RING RING RING! I am startled awake by the room phone. In my sleep I had been having a mild ‘anxiety’ dream in which I was searching futilely for a specific Pharaoh’s tomb. Luxor is invading my subconscious. Gathering my senses in the near dark, I answer the phone. It’s our tour guide, Mohammad. He’s ready to start our morning tour of Temple Karnak 30 minutes earlier than we planned. He gives no reason. Ok, no problem, we were going to oversleep anyway — good thing he woke us up. We throw on clothes, grab a cup of coffee at the breakfast buffet and head into daylight still groggy.
The heat has subsided slightly, which makes the experience easier. Karnak is a huge series of interconnected temples developed over two millenia. It’s vast, but only a quarter is open to the public. It’s built on a god-like scale, with most walls and structures going 100 feet high. The effect is very difficult to capture in pictures or video. The breathtaking central room contains over 50 columns, each 10 feet in diameter and over a hundred feet high. It rivals anything I have seen anywhere. Like Petra, the Karnak temple is worth the extra effort to get there if you are in the Middle East.
Like all our experiences so far in Luxor, there is some hassle. The tour was cut short at 90 minutes even though we had paid $260 for a half-day tour. Our guide calls ‘headquarters’ and shrugs his shoulders. He says it’s not his fault and we are done. Getting ripped-off like this makes me angry enough to spoil my excitement and I can’t help but feel like the Karnak experience was a bad one. Back at the hotel, I fire off some angry emails but I doubt I will have any success.
At the pool, we order pizza and the kids devour it. Lily plays with an Arabic-music-playing-stuffed souvenir camel she has named Lily Hannah Creekmore II, like the Pharaohs. The girls and I play in the pool and Emma scratches me deeply on the forehead accidentally. Maybe it’ll look like a gang scar and I’ll get less hassle. I’m called to the lobby by one of the many pool attendants where Hassan, our tour agent, has arrived. I cut to the chase with him. “Did I get the half day tour I paid for?” His eyes say he knows I’m right. I’d rather have the money back, but I know that isn’t going to happen so I bargain for an additional tour. A few short rounds of negotiating, and I have a brief tour of Luxor Temple booked for 5:30 p.m. It’s still hassle, but maybe I’m getting better at it.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s Monday. Trisha and I work in the room and the kids nap. At 5:00, we head to the beautiful, cool, spacious bar and have a coffee and cold water. The kids discover chocolate macroon cookies served with our coffees and enjoy them a lot. It’s the little things that are often the most enjoyable on a long trip.
I had lost the car and driver in my negotiations, so at 5:30 we trudge through the heat with our guide about a quarter-mile to Luxor Temple, our last sightseeing stop in this crazy city. Luxor temple is the companion temple to Karnak and is much smaller, but it has several stunningly large sculptures each over 50 feet high. The sun is low on the horizon and the shadows cast long and dark through the columns making spectacular patterns.
This temple has two religious parasites growing on it, a Fatimid period Mosque and a Coptic Christian church. The Mosque stands on top of a central colonnade and is painted white to stand out from the ancient stone columns. The church, which eerily has bat-blood sprayed over the walls, was a hideout of Coptic Christians at a point when they were persecuted. It’s got byzantine-orthodox-style pictures of the apostles painted colorfully on top of the stone carved Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The sun wins a small battle on day 12: The kids get a light sunburn. Dammit! It makes them extra tired, but they are so strong. Room service is in order tonight. We’re pretty beat and taking a lot of work calls. Outside a drum band with a single tooty trumpet plays loudly late into the evening along the Nile promenade, presumably for the entertainment of tourists. The cars honk along as they pass in front of our window. It feels like Luxor is taunting us one last time.
We are all ready to leave. Luxor fought us hard, but we fought back and were rewarded with some fantastic images of ancient Egypt and memories of a fabulous hotel. I doubt Trisha and I will return, but Lily talks excitedly about bringing her kids here. The drum bands will still be playing.
[Photos by Trisha Creekmore]