A visit to any foreign land is merely a slice of time in the life of a particular country, a snapshot of what that place was like during the few days or weeks of one's visit. As travelers we naturally tend to freeze a place in our minds once we've been there, forgetting that long after we've left, time continues. It was a different place before you arrived- it is a different place after you've gone home. JP, our trip leader, has visited Egypt three times before this trip, beginning in the 1970's- each time he saw the same cities and sites but each time he saw something new, different, and exciting. Egypt, like the rest of the world, is constantly changing. A nation who's economy is firmly rooted in showing off its rich history; the entire country is one giant archeological dig site. Yet Egypt, like all nations, is working to define its future.
people's homes and businesses are often knocked down by the government to make way for new dig sites
Egypt's cash cow, its industry of archeology, often conflicts with modern living here; as new and important archeological discoveries are being made all the time. This is vital to the economy, however, people's homes and businesses are often knocked down by the government to make way for new dig sites. Finding balance is difficult at best. Improvements and restorations of existing historic sites are made regularly, the already impressive temples and tombs seem to grow more impressive as the country's economy advances. The city of Luxor, Egypt's wealthiest, holds the greatest concentration of the country's most important archaeological finds; the magnificent Temple of Karnak is here, along with the famous Valley of the Kings, where the tomb of King Tutankhamun, along with many others, is located. Of course the Temple of Luxor itself is here and that of Hatshepsut. The famous Colossi of Memnon statues, some seventy feet tall, carved from single blocks of stone, and representing the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, are here as well. The most important feature of Luxor, and all of Egypt for that matter, is not man made, however, although it is older than any artifact located here; it is the Nile river, the life blood of Egypt and most of the African continent.
The Nile river valley, a narrow yet fertile ribbon of green that supports the entirety of Egypt's population, covers a scant six percent of this nation's total land mass. Over ninety percent of Egypt's land is barren desert. protecting the Nile and it's water is Egypt's most important national security issue. Because the Nile flows from south to north, it is Egypt's neighbors to the south- the whole of the African continent below Egypt that effects the Nile and its water quality the most. We took an evening sail on the Nile, launching from the dock in front of our hotel, we sailed in a traditional Felucca, it had no motor, only sail power, but the crew were excellent sailers. The current on the Nile is constant and the winds are steady; we watched the sun set as we sailed. The river was full of Felucca boats sailing past each other in a common dance to catch the wind. These simple wooden vessels have been used on the Nile for centuries to ferry passengers across the river. Today they are mainly for tourists, but it's one of the few truly historic and authentic ways to experience Egypt and its most important resource. Like the whole of the Muslim countries we've experienced so far, Egypt held many pleasant surprises.
Perhaps the most memorable experience was getting to hang with our guide Ahmed during our visit- a true scholar. He could have taken us to all the normal places, spoken the standard lines, been a regular tour guide, but he was far above that. Incredibly knowledgeable, patient, and passionate about Egyptology, Ahmed was simply lots of fun to be around. We saw so many wonderful things under his brief stewardship, but for me, the most fascinating experience was had while visiting the valley of the nobles. We were far off the normal tourist track, we had just seen a fantastic tomb with magnificent carvings when Ahmed asked if we would like to see an even rarer site; one few people ever see. These tombs have only local town folk to watch over them- no tickets are sold here. They do aggressively try to sell you small trinkets in every known language. These people don't have much money, but they are very smart. This area is famous as the five hundred year old home of the most notorious tomb raiders in Egypt. At their peak, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, this is where wealthy collectors came to discretely purchase illegal authentic artifacts- today the village sells only junk.
it was as if, for a moment, we had become the archeologists
The area is an archeological jumble of useless rubble and potential new discoveries. The ancient tombs are stacked one on top of the other with many tombs eroded away and exposed to the elements. One of the local men showed us a short cut to the tomb Ahmed wanted to take us to. We climbed through broken doorways, over loose rock and the debris of thousands of years of history and robbery. Fragments of tomb paintings and hieroglyphic carving lay everywhere- it was as if, for a moment, we had become the archeologists. We reached the small but spectacular tomb with its pristinely colorful wall paintings, for Ahmed, the tomb was a classroom, a chance to share more of his passion. For us, it was a rare and very authentic top off to a wonderful visit to Egypt.
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