When I returned from Mt. Sinai, my roommate enthusiastically announced that we were going to Luxor the next weekend, since we had a convenient day off on Monday for the holiday celebrating the birth of Mohammed. Exhausted from my hike up the mountain and the eight-hour bus ride back, I immediately said, “No way.”
Luckily, by the end of the week I came to my senses and agreed to make the long trip (10 hours by train) to see what Luxor had to offer.
Compared to the buses and mini-buses I’d become so accustomed to traveling in, the train was absolutely luxurious! The seats reclined, there was no music blasting, and I was actually able to sleep.
When we arrived in Luxor, we were immediately hounded by scores of guides and hotel workers trying to get us to choose them. Thankfully, we’d planned ahead and made reservations at a cheap hostel called the Oasis Hotel, recommended by our Lonely Planet guide.
The hotel owner, Hassan, was there to meet us and escort us back to his hotel, where we watched the sun rise and drank hibiscus juice on the rooftop. The incomparable Hassan urged us to make the hotel our home and said that many travelers are so comfortable at the Oasis that they end up staying for days, or even weeks, longer than they had planned. He told us everything that we could and should do in Luxor, and we immediately booked a felucca ride to a place called Banana Island for the afternoon.
As we had some time to kill before the boat ride, we rented bikes and rode along the Nile to Karnak Temple.
From the outside facade, Karnak doesn’t seem so impressive. But as I walked in, I saw how expansive and impressive it truly is. There are so many statues, so many towering columns, and they’re all covered from top to bottom with hieroglyphs. I was amazed to see on some of the columns the original coloring still intact: red, blue, yellow, painstakingly applied to the hieroglyphs.
Karnak is so well preserved because it was once completely covered under sand. It’s difficult to imagine that such an enormous complex could be completely lost to the elements, and sad to realize that an even bigger temple (which is now only marked by large statues, the Colossus of Memnon) was completely lost to a flood.
After wandering through every room of Karnak, we rode to the Mummification Museum. Although it was just a rather small room, it was nevertheless worth the admission price to see the variety of mummified animals (cats, birds, a monkey, and a crocodile) and the one very cool-looking human mummy.
Our afternoon felucca ride was the perfect relaxing activity to end a physically draining day. The sailboat took us to Banana Island, where our guide gave us a tour of the fields of banana trees, and of the beautiful, bustling village. Away from the tourist sites and shops and the relentless traffic, the village offered us a picture of what life is like for so many Egyptians: Living in small houses, working in the fields, children running through the dirt streets.
Despite the fact that we’d been touring around since 6 am, we ended our day wandering through Luxor Temple.
The second day, after our delicious free breakfast at the Oasis, we took a guided tour, arranged by Hassan, to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Colossus of Memnon.
The Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens are dozens of tombs of the leaders of ancient Egypt, dug into the sides of a mountain. I was shocked by the amount of color, so much more intact in these underground burial chambers than at Karnak Temple, and it was fun to learn that, for centuries, people (especially the once extremely oppressed Coptic Christians) had made the tombs their homes and refuge.
The Temple of Hatshepsut was perhaps my favorite. It isn’t necessarily more visually appealing than Luxor Temple or Karnak Temple, and isn’t quite as large, but I was fascinated by the story of this pharoah. Hatshepsut was one of the only female rulers of Egypt, and is considered one of the most, if not the most, successful pharaoh. She had herself depicted and dressed as a man, in order to be considered legitimate by the populous, accustomed to male pharoahs.
Though I planned on taking a nap upon returning to the Oasis, I ended up talking for hours to the other guests at the rooftop cafe. By this time, I was so comfortable at the hotel that it really did feel like home, and I didn’t even feel funny walking into the cafes kitchen to get extra forks or question the status of my falafel.
At nightfall, my new friends and my old friends alike went to see the sound and light show at Karnak Temple, to get a different perspective of the complex. The narration was all a bit cheesy, but it was lovely to wander through the temple all lit up.
We then wandered into a random restaurant, where we ran into a large group of fellow AUC students, whom we took back to the rooftop at the Oasis to show off our favorite hotel and favorite hotel owner.
On the way back, we picked up an ice cream cake from an irresistible patisserie, and shared it with all the guests and hotel employees. Hassan regaled us with stories of his life and of Luxor, and I managed to have a conversation about politics with the cook in my limited Arabic. He said he liked Barack Obama, but also liked Saddam Hussein. I spread my arms apart, and said, “Obama, hina,” waving a hand on one side. “Kwayis! (Good!)” And then I waved my hand on the other side and said, “Saddam Hussein hina. Mish kwayis! (Not Good!)”
The next morning, we had a bit of trouble procuring a train ticket back to Cairo. The seats were all filled. Anxious to get back in time to prepare our schoolwork for the week ahead, we begrudgingly purchased bus tickets instead. Dreading the 15-hour bus ride ahead, we decided to have an easy day. We found a hotel that allowed us to use their rooftop swimming pool for a small fee, and soaked up the sun and glorious views of the Nile and ancient Egyptian ruins below.
The moral of my Luxor story is: Stay at the Oasis Hotel even if you can afford something “nicer” and don’t take a bus ride from Luxor to Cairo!