Star Date: October 2015
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
Always, Always, Always something to be Thankful For!
Mystical. Mysterious. Transcending this earthly realm into the supernatural afterworld. Nothing is as shrouded in mystery as ancient Egypt. Visions of powerful pharaohs and elegant queens dressed in gold, adorned with precious stones and attended to by muscular slaves and beautiful ladies float through our day dreams. Large legions of soldiers and Nubian slaves built the cities and insured they ran smoothly. Merchants traded up and down the coast and sold and haggled in busy congested markets. Farmers plowed the fields and fed the citizens of this, the worlds first nation state. The land of papyrus is purported to be the culture that first invented writing and where the first stone monuments were erected. With only 1% of the population allowed to read and write the general throngs were kept in the dark and the royalty and priests were assured control. This vibrant ancient civilization remained strong and unchanged for thousands of years. Believed the world's cradle of civilization, these proud people were enjoying an orderly sophisticated life when Europeans were wrapped in skins and wielding clubs; predating Rome and Greece civilizations by several millennia. Pharos, directly connected with the many gods of Egypt, ruled with their 'divine' wisdom and were never questioned. It was their power and that of the temple priests that insured the very survival of Egypt.
Scribes, artists and sculptors performed magic with their touch and worked beside potters, craftsmen, carpenters, jewelers, weavers, dancers, midwives, and magicians. The center temple of each area, dedicated to a god such as Isis, Horas, Tho, Osiris, Seth, Hapi, etc (there are over 30 main deities) also served as a town hall, college, library and medical center. Thousands worked in and around the temples. Still to this day some of the most impressive temples on earth, these massive temples were created out of large hand hewn stones and painted in bright pigments of mineral paints. Directions of the stars and planets were always aligned as the celestial ties were strong and determined the future. Carefully and precisely the offerings and rituals to the gods were carried out, for without strict adherence to these practices the mighty Nile would not rise and flood the banks, leaving behind the rich fertile soil in which the power of Egypt depended. Having just left the mountains of Ethiopia further up the Nile, before their annual deluge, we understood that the torrential rainfall there caused the Nile to rise in Egypt. A thin strip of green, visible from the air, is the only sign of life in the otherwise vast and unrelenting desert called Egypt. The barren red rainless land was called the 'desret' and the black fertile strip along the Nile the 'kemet'. Crops grown were taxed by the pharaohs to fund their opulent lifestyles and exorbitant building projects of temples and tombs that we so love today. And so, with the Nile controlled, life in ancient Egypt fell into a routine, a balance in which the royalty and citizens alike enjoyed a high standard of living rich in music, art, and culture. Appearance was of great importance to the Ancient Egyptians. Long sleek bodies were covered in various styles of linen and adorned with elaborate jewelry, perfumes and even wigs. In fact the Egyptians so loved life that they went through great lengths to ensure that through mummification, then gathering wealth and possessions into their tombs, and performing proper rituals; their lives would continue into the afterlife. Never know what will be needed in the next life? What to pack?? Eternity is a really long time. This strong conviction of the after life permeated every part of ancient Egyptian life and gave the culture a coherence and focus.
Absolute monarchy by these 'divine' pharaohs ensured the people that the power of the gods was in their favor. Thirty royal dynasties ruled the land for over 3000 years. Around 1069BC the country split into lower and upper Egypt. With this weakening of strength, foreign powers such as the Libyans, Nubians and Persians were able to take control of the government. The culture was still so ingrained and strong that the intruders even adopted the gods and culture of the Egyptians. It wasn't until the 4th century AD when the conquering Romans, with their newly created and adopted Christianity closed down their temples and destroyed the power of their gods.
Starting at the border of Sudan in the south we retraced the history of the pharaohs from the Great Rames II who constructed the colossal Abu Simbel and Hathor for his Queen Nefetari who he loved dearly, in 1274BC. This was a warning to all who passed this way of his great power. Only the building of 2 dams near Aswan dared to threaten his greatness, and in one of the most spectacular engineering feats of modern time (in cooperation of the expertise of 50 countries) this large temple with its enormous statues was raised above the rising waters of Lake Nasser in the 1960's. Walking around the peninsula we came face to face or face to foot with the 4 large guardians of the temple. Awe inspiring. The power and might still shine through.
Two hundred eighty miles north, as the ibis flies, is Aswan, a small quiet Nile town, in low season that is. Located on a beautiful stretch of the Nile it has white sand and palm trees lining the blue water, punctuated by the flowing white sails of the feluccas. The islands of ancient fame, Elphantine and the Botanical garden island to name a few. This most southerly city of Egypt is home to the Nubian peoples. Mixtures of the black tribes in Africa to the south; the Nubians have fascinating art, traditions and culture. Much was lost when the High Dam went in and many villages were lost forever, save the relics from 4500BC through today, in the Nubian Museum in Aswan. Nubians were relocated into makeshift villages, where of course they are surviving but not happy. We went in search of authentic Nubian villages on Elphatine Island, where the making of Lake Nasser hadn't affected their life. Taking the free ferry across the Nile, provided by Movenpiick Hotel, we strolled through the Hotel lobby, meeting two women from Brazil who hooked us up with Nadi, a great helpful driver who we explored with south then north all the way to Luxor. Ducking out the back gate, we walked a ledge into the unknown Nubian village to the south. We spent a delightful afternoon with the villagers; invited in for tea and entertained by a spicy little girl who danced for us and with us.
Just across the Nile was the Botanical Garden Island and on the far bank the Tombs of the Nobles, barely showing through the drifting sand. In fact most of these great sites have been buried under mountains of sand for eons. One day someone passing by notices a corner protruding, recently cleared by the wind, and wild excavations follow, with visions of golden treasures buried below.
We saw the 42m long unfinished obelisk, which after backbreaking work had been left because it had a flaw. Later we visited Philae Temple, on Aglika Island, dedicated to the the goddess Isis. It also was relocated to the current island after the flooding threatened to destroy it forever.
Revisiting the past of his wonderful journeys with his Mother around the world, Joseph took me on our 14th anniversary to the Old Cataract Hotel for an elegant dinner. We rode along the Nile at sunset in a lavish horse drawn carriage and were let off at the gate, walking past the large fountain and formal gardens. The 1902 Restaurant is the essence of elegance and rates some of the best food in Egypt. The manicured gardens line the banks of the Nile, the walls are adorned with photos of Sultans, Kings even Omar Sarif , who claimed this was "his favorite hotel in his favorite country". This is a step back in time.
Following the Nile north we explored the Temple of Horas in Edfu. One of the most well preserved temples along the river, it is dedicated to the falcon headed god Horus. Built by the Ptolemies over 200 years it is one of the most completely preserved temples in the country as it has escaped the destruction of Nile flooding.
Esna was an important trading stop for camel caravans for merchants from Sudan, Somalia and Central Africa; plying their wares, elephant tusks, ostrich feathers and fine textiles. The Temple of Khnum was excavated in the 1840's and still sits covered by sand and the surrounding village. Behind the Temple has mosques, chicken coops, junk and life as usual covering the back wall of this 'impediment to progress'! What good are these old ruins anyways? Walking down steep stairs you enter the dark interior supported by 18 columns and paintings, even with added touches by the Romans of later eras.
Stopping at a road side stand we collected fresh melons, hot flat bread, crispy falafels, humus, grilled spicy eggplant, crisp cucumbers, red tomatoes and red onions. We had a feast fit for a king - or a couple of hungry vagabonds for $2.
We met Sayed, the 'brother' of our driver in Luxor, although he was Muslim and Nagi was Coptic Christian. Hmm? Brothers or not, it didn't matter. He was another great driver (transport is reasonable in Egypt) and like my Grandma always said when asked how we were related to someone, "Everyone is cousins".
Many people talk about their bucket list, or things they want to do before they die, following the great movie starring Morgan Freeman. Time to start making out your list!! My whole life is a 'Bucket List', but going up in a Hot Air Balloon at sunrise, sailing silently over the ruins of ancient Egypt and the mighty Nile River was a memory never to be forgotten. The day before a distant sand storm had cut the visibility to 20 feet and it didn't look good for our impending flight. Getting up at 3:30AM was the hardest part for me, as anyone who knows me can attest to my aversion to early mornings. It's a circadian rhythm body clock thing. Sunsets are more impressive anyways, right? Mother Nature won out this time because the calm of sunrise is the safest time to fly a balloon, as winds shift in late morning and currents can become dangerous. Crossing the Nile in the dark we were transported to near the Valley of the Kings. Balloons lit up the pre dawn sky as they were inflated. We clambered aboard, and it seemed almost as if by magic, we were instantaneously transported up to 1800 feet, floating in the silent ether transcending the vibrant, noisy, honking modern society of modern Egypt far below. How fun it would have been to take King Tut or any of the Pharaohs for a ride high above his temples to survey his kingdom.
Luxor was built around 4000 year old Thebes. It has the greatest concentration of impressive ancient Egyptian ruin in all of the country Karnak is nothing short of magnificent. The great Hippostyle Hall has 134 lotus blossom pillars. We should have gone a little earlier to avoid the tour buses from the Red Sea coast resort of Hurgada. We just didn't know. In large complexes such as these it is possible to watch the tour crowds on a schedule then move out of their path. I spent enjoyable time on the far side of the massive lotus pillars. It was quiet, impressive, magical and after having read much on ancient Egypt and the Egyptian Series by Wilbur Smith I half expected to see the Pharaoh walk by, followed by Taita the slave. Later near the Sacred Lake, where rituals were performed to the gods twice daily, I noticed a couple of women circumnavigating the large Giant Scarb stone. I inquired and was told by a guard that if you circle the stone 3 times you will have good luck. Knowing the scarab is a symbol of good luck I thought what the heck! Away I went 3 times. Finished, I sat in the shade of a tree near by. Along came a small group and the guide announced you must circle the stone 7 times for good luck. I'm not a bit superstitious but, Better Safe Than Sorry; and around I went another 4 times. In the 100 degree heat this was no easy task. I had just settled into the coolness of the shade when a third group came by. The guide knowingly announced, "If you circle the Sacred Scarab Stone 3 times it is for good luck; 7 times you will become pregnant!" I think this was a time to express my first 'OMG'! Knowing I had had my babies in my 20's, raised them proud and independent, and it was now my time to voyage to the corners of the Earth and beyond; I was only plagued with a small lingering dread for a couple of minutes as I recalled the immense magical power of the rulers of ancient Egypt.
We had planned to take a Nile sailing boat or 'Felluca' down the Nile towards Cairo but due to the lack of tourists and low season cost was prohibitive. Only a few large sailing hotels made the trip in the summer. Plan B. Instead we grabbed a 'felluca' on several occasions and sailed the sunset in the cool breezes of the Nile When 'planning' a trip for a year it is hard to hit the ideal time to visit for every country. Some place are right on - others not as perfect. One just has to be flexible. We ended up in the scorching 110 degree F heat, causing us to get up early, hid out mid day and reemerged about 5pm. Our good friend, Michael, another fellow travel crazy we met in Bangkok, chose the winter to visit and just about froze to death. I guess the books are right, visit spring or fall! Remember high season anywhere means lots of tourists.
with many temples, Karnak was started in the Middle Kingdom period, then
over the next 1500 years was enlarged, dismantled, restored,
changed, re-carved, repainted, etc. The end product is a blend
of all the magnificence of Egypt.
Luxor Temple, in the heart of the city, is another spectacular
example of the opulence of Pharaoh rulers. It is open all the time so
you may choose to
visit around sunset to take in the graceful columns in the
golden light and gaze on the
start of the road between here and Karnak. Lining the road,
which is now being excavated, are 3000 lion statues. Modern
Egypt has luckily discovered that ancient ruins mean tourism dollars
and and so are starting to preserve sites all through the country.
For this road to be restored the 3 km back to Karnak, many '7-11's'
will have to be relocated. Such is progress or regression in
And so it goes.........................................Next Tomb Raiders! Working our way up the Nile from Luxor and the Valley of the Kings to Dendara Temple. Until then let's remember in this Thanksgiving season that There is Always, Always, Always something to be Thankful For! Take a moment to list some of the many blessings in your life! Take care and Thanks for Keeping in Touch! We Love to hear from you.
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar equals 7.63 Egyptian pounds
recommended driver/guide/all around guy:
We took the free Movenpick Hotel ferry over to Elephatine Island. Walked out the back gate - along the edge of the wall then entered the Nubian villages. A good look at Nubian life. You can then take a felluca over to the Botanical Gardens for a stroll around (50EL) then maybe to the tombs on the hill.
Don't miss the Cataract Hotel Phone: 097/2440497 or 0111 5542 2476 for delivery or instructions how to get to this back alley place
Pizza Esmo A - the best vegan pizza around - loaded with veggies, olives, etc Large size only 42EL
Philae Temple dedicated to Isis and Osiris with a history of Hapi the Goddess of the abundance of the Nile. Don't pay more to the boat drivers than the listed price of 70EL.
Saber: another great,
trustworthy, low pressure driver for the West Bank and all of the
area. Speaks good English. He has been driving tourists around Egypt for years. phone # 002_01144839002
Great Felluca and boat
captain: 50 to 70 el per hour. Try an hour at sunset!
Walk out the front door -
left - right down Joseph's St at the Joseph Hotel
Just before is a Chinese AND Indian restaurant - had a good curry there
Sinbad Hot Air Balloons-
Phone (002) 095 227 2960
Michael Cremo -
Grahmn Hancock - The Message of the Sphinx- book
Robert Schoch - Expert in Geology on the true age of Sphinx
Even the train stations are decorative in Egypt.