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September 27th 2007 by Aaron & Tina
“The Hassle Capital of Egypt”

Posted under Africa & Egypt

Archeologists and historians would no doubt argue that Luxor was one of the greatest ancient cities and the sheer number of temples, tombs, and ruins that remain provide unprecedented insight into the rise and fall of ancient Egypt. The remains of this once-great city have created a Mecca of Egyptology but to experience this history, travelers must endure the present-day city. Luxor is very small in comparison to Cairo and is actually made up of three separate areas: Luxor town, Karnak on the East Bank, and Thebes on the West.

We spent our first two days in Luxor touring ruins with Mohammed. On the West Bank, we saw the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Temple of Hatshepsut. The Valley of the Kings contains sixty-two tombs of ancient kings; each tomb consists of three to five rooms, etched and painted with stories of the deceased slaying his enemies, making offerings to the Gods, and traveling into the Afterlife. The Valley of the Queens is similar, though smaller in scale, and contains the tombs of the sons of Ramses III, who both appear to have died at an early age because they are portrayed as children. Upon arrival you see why this place was so sacred to the Pharaohs. The lush green landscape, with thousands of date palms and fields filled with sugar cane, magically connects the Nile with the mountain range near the West Bank. As we drive, we spy farmers tending their crops unfazed by the sweltering morning sun. Goat herders guide their flock along busy thoroughfares oblivious to the hazard they present to passing motorists. Barricades slow traffic and provide checkpoints for the Antiquities Police charged with guarding tourist safety in between their frequent naps.

Arriving at each of our appointed destinations, we are greeted by rows of tour buses, all picking up or dropping off their cargo. We’re thankful for the privacy of our small entourage but we still are subjected to the touring masses in huge groups all pushing their way through the (insert featured attraction here) for a quick (often forbidden) picture of the claustrophobic tombs and narrow temple passageways. The oppressive heat of Upper Egypt penetrates the mind, body and spirit, invoking a mind-blurring sense of weariness. The history imparted by our all-knowing tour guide Mohammed is fascinating but soon all of the Pharaohs, Gods, and temples begin to run together. On our final day with Mohammed we visited Karnak Temples and Luxor Temple. One of the largest ancient complexes of courtyards, sanctuaries, pylons and obelisks in the world, Karnak Temples are interesting because generations of Kings contributed to the development of the sixty-acre complex by erecting temples and monuments to themselves, all in the same place.

There is little, if any, industry in Luxor aside of tourism, which breeds intense competition for the almighty tourist buck; there are too many carriages and too many feluccas for all of them to thrive and no single one has any competitive advantage over the others. They are all the same. The only way that they can compete is to hassle, to be aggressive and persistent, and to make you say no at least ten times before they give up and move on to the next victim. The storeowners sit on chairs outside their storefronts, touting their wares and trying to usher you inside for a look at the same cheap, dusty tourist junk that every other store sells at “specially discounted” prices. “Just look! No hassle!” Newsflash: the mere fact that you are yelling at me is a hassle! We don’t even acknowledge them anymore – it’s more effective to simply ignore them. We have grown weary of personal interaction with the locals but we have discovered a second floor terrace café, where we can comfortably and inconspicuously do our people watching.

The woman walking down the street with a thirty pound sack of potatoes balanced on her head is far more intriguing than the tenth set of stone temple remnants that all look the same. It is common here to see two men greet one another by kissing both cheeks and also to see two men strolling arm in arm. Men lie in mats on the dirt, or on the dirt itself to nap in the hot afternoons and they can often be seen in groups, sitting in deep conversation under the shade of a tree. In one of the indoor bazaars, we saw several men napping on stacks of rugs that were for sale and one man sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes, under a table of merchandise.

On one of our first evenings in Luxor, we hired a carriage because the offer price of five Egyptian pounds (less than $1) was too low to resist. The eager driver offered to take us to a market where we could buy souvenirs and he took us on the scenic route so that we felt like we were getting our money’s worth. After a few zigs and zags through some back streets, we came upon a local (not tourist) street market similar to the one in Esna. Buffered by the security of our carriage, we rode through the market, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of daily life. Old men sat on the dirt road, with their wares for sale: fish, fruits and vegetables, spices, tails, hooves and heads of various animals. Skinned carcasses of meat hanging in doorways and freshly cut sheepskin on carts overwhelmed our senses with wild-eyed amazement. Women bartered for their daily meal stuffs and children wandered the streets with nothing to do. There is no free public education and many children do not attend school.

As our carriage pulled away from the local market, I conceived the idea of going back to the market the next day on foot, with a camera and a pocketful of baksheesh to see what kind of pictures we could get. The guys were on board with it so we spent that evening and the next morning working to break our bills into smaller denominations. Thanks to the Aaron and Andrew’s uncanny sense of direction, we found our way back to the street and the market was bubbling with activity. I should also note that I dressed more appropriately for the occasion and we all felt immensely more comfortable. The people were engaged in their daily business of buying and selling so, while we drew the typical “gringo” stares to which we have grown accustomed, less people actually approached us. For whatever reason, we did not disrupt the flow of activity to ask for photos but rather held our cameras inconspicuously low and snapped a few great shots of the interactions. As we reached the far end of the street, we began to turn down another alley that would lead us back into the market for another lap. As we started down the alley, we were engaged by a group of young girls who began following us and, despite our best efforts to thwart them, craftily enticed us into sparse conversation. The further we walked, the more they began to merge themselves with us, the stickier they became. If we tried to take a photo of something or someone, they would scamper into the shot and there were too many of them to manage. I found myself wanting to swat them like flies, to hiss at them, anything to shoo them away. With their scheming little black eyes, they seemed more like animals, like vultures, than children. Innocence has faded from the hardship they have already known in their young lives. As we came to the collective realization that our situation was not going to improve, we gave up and turned to walk back the other way. The little leaches followed us, of course. The ringleader (the oldest of the group; probably eight or nine years old) stuck to my side and continued to gradually crescendo her magnitude of annoyance. Both Andrew and Aaron were carrying backpacks and, while I had been walking with my purse clutched and my arms tightly against my pockets of baksheesh, I randomly glanced back to catch one of the smaller scamps trying to open Andrew’s backpack. I sternly swatted her grubby little claw away and, when I realized that their strategy was to steal, I firmly swiped my hand between the ringleader and myself and, in a raised voice said “NO”! As long as I live, I think I will never forget her response. She raised her petite four-foot frame, pointed a scrawny, brown finger in front of my face and, in the evil, muted tone of a gypsy’s curse, said “Be careful, Madam. Be careful”.

Shortly thereafter, we lost them and as we made our way back to the hotel, Andrew discovered that the little monsters had unsnapped the clasp of his money belt, which contained his credit cards and cash and remained concealed beneath his clothes. This seemed an unfathomable feat for such young crooks. Had they actually succeeded in the removal of his belt without his notice, it would have been an expensive and inconvenient casualty…but we would have to give the little thieves credit. They are good at what they do!

Our last two days in Luxor have been relatively peaceful and uneventful. Our tours came to an end and we sadly parted ways with Andrew, who headed back to Cairo on the overnight train. It was rejuvenating to have a couple of days with no itinerary and, now rested and recharged, we are flying to Sharm el-Sheikh and then driving to Dahab tonight for some scuba diving and beach time on the Red Sea. Time for Tina to get her fins wet…FINALLY!!!


4 Responses to ““The Hassle Capital of Egypt””

  1. Valerie on 27 Sep 2007 at 9:12 am #

    I am so glad that you are sharing so many of your experiences with us.

    Once again, I have to question why I do not worry. I know that you are both smart and pray that you are safe at all times. Even when you have such young crooks to follow and look to steal from you.

    Tina, you are an adventurous one and Aaron I commend you for going along with the continued exploits of your lovely wife.

    Be Well, Love ya, Little Bear Mom

  2. Andrew on 27 Sep 2007 at 11:00 am #

    What fun times we had! It’s funny to read that story and to have been there…..don’t think I could have described it any better. How’s the $2 shirt holding up? 🙂

    Can’t wait to hear about Sharm el-Sheikh. Istanbul is amazing! More like Europe than an Islamic country. If you guys get the chance, I would say swing by. Most everybody speaks english and there aren’t too many aggressive sellers in the bazaar. I’ll send pics and update you guys more tomorrow.

    Miss you two!

  3. Becky Moroneso on 28 Sep 2007 at 1:56 pm #

    WOW!!! What an amazing trip so far! Can’t wait to read and see more…
    Take care!

  4. Alicia on 28 Sep 2007 at 3:09 pm #

    Hey you two-
    Tina, you write beautifully! When I read the entries from Luxor and Cairo I felt like I was there with y’all. What amazing stories and adventures. Can’t wait to read the next entry.
    Envious of your travels in Texas,