Dear Cruise Diary
Day 23 – Safaga, Luxor and Valley of the Kings
May 13, 2013
It was another early start, as our tour group gathered as soon as Egyptian officials had cleared the ship around 7:30 am. Almost everyone on the ship must have signed up for a tour, because dozens of buses awaited us.
Buses Awaiting Tours
Our private tour had four buses for the almost three-hour journey from Safaga to Luxor, which ended up being a good thing, because the AC on one bus quit working about halfway there. We were easily able to accommodate those passengers in empty seats on the other three buses, and by the time we reached the Valley of the Kings a replacement bus was waiting in the parking lot.
The terrain was mountainous near the Red Sea, but flat by the time we reached Luxor and the Nile River. The roads were rough and at times under construction and not paved. Speed bumps slowed the buses every few miles, and at one point we snaked our way on very rutted streets through one town.
Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed into the Valley of the Kings, so the only picture I had was of the drive to the entrance. I had read about the valley and its exploration before the cruise, and had pictured it as a much larger place. The 64 tombs that had been discovered were actually very close to each other. One reason King Tut’s tomb was found so late was because its entrance essentially was under the excavated debris from a previously discovered tomb.
We were able to enter three tombs, and our guide directed us to the tombs of Rameses IV, Rameses XI and Rameses III – chosen for the quality of their carvings and colors. And it was amazing to realize that so much remained of the original work more than three centuries earlier. It cost an additional $20 to enter Tut’s tomb, which was the only one that was found essentially intact. Of course, all of the treasures had been removed, mostly to the Egyptian Museum.
This was the hottest day so far, with the temperature climbing quickly into the 90s, and we were thankful for the covered patios around the valley. We also were glad we had visited the valley in the morning. After weaving our way out, through the cacophony of vendors selling postcards, books and trinkets, we boarded the buses. Our next stop was an alabaster factory – OK, mainly a store. We drove past Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple, but were disappointed to only see it in the distance. We stopped at the two colossal statues of Amenhotep III (Colossi of Memnon), and then crossed the Nile River again to have a nice buffet lunch at a restaurant along the river.
Jo At Amenhotep III statues
As we drove through Luxor, we saw dozens of river cruise boats rafted along the shores of the Nile. These are the boats that make seven-day cruises up the river to the Aswan Dam. Tourism has fallen about 75 percent since the revolution a couple of years ago so most of the boats were sitting idle.
Nile Cruise Boats
We drove past the Temple of Luxor and stopped a mile or so further at Karnak Temple, the largest place of worship ever built. Over time, Egyptian kings added new gates and sections, so as you entered you traveled back through time. One highlight was the great Hypostyle Hall, a forest of giant pillars. Further in were the two remaining obelisks believed built by Queen Hatshepsut, although Rameses II tried to take credit by replacing her cartouches with his. We had more than an hour to explore the temple, and because it was by then late afternoon, there was plenty of shade offering some relief from the heat of the sun.
The three-hour trip back to Safaga and the ship was a long end to the day. The bus drivers seemed to be racing each other, and it was common for them to pass large trucks despite oncoming traffic, which diverted to the shoulder. I decided the best option was to buckle my seatbelt and sleep. We arrived back in time for a quick shower before dinner in the dining room, this time with two couples from the U.K. I followed dinner by downloading the day’s pictures in my stateroom, recharging my camera batteries and heading for bed.
Tomorrow: Day 24 – Aqaba, Jordan, and tour to Petra and Wadi Rum