Egyptian/Jordanian Odyssey – A Diary (Part 2)

Day 6: We have arrived in Luxor. After a group discussion and with the blessing of the On the Go head office, a decision is made to split tomorrow’s busy schedule into 2 days. So today we begin with a visit to the Valley of the Kings. On the surface it is unremarkable – just a pile of sand and rock. Yet it is a goldmine of extreme archeological importance. It was the royal burial grounds for the ancient Egyptians and has already yielded a wealth of discoveries which includes the tombs of Tutankhamun, Seti I, and Ramses II. Yet a great deal of it remains unexplored. We visit 3 of the tombs in total. Whilst the paths are easy and straight, their length and the crowds make it slow going. And even though all the treasures have obviously been removed, the hieroglyphs make the visit well worthwhile.

Thebes – Hatshepsut Temple © Julian Chan

Thebes – Hatshepsut Temple © Julian Chan

Our next stop is the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. Located beneath the cliffs at Deir el Bahari, the structure is immediately recognisable as out of odds with the Egyptian architecture I have seen anywhere else. In fact, it’s almost classical in nature. Around the temple however, the sculptures and hieroglyphs are familiarly stunning.

On our way back to the cruiser we stop by an alabaster workshop where get a glimpse into the workmanship involved in alabaster crafts. There are some beautiful items in the showroom and quite a few sales are made. Later we stop by the Colossi of Memnon, two massive seated sculptures situated oddly and virtually in suburban Luxor.

Dust and rain storm, Luxor © Julian Chan

Dust and rain storm, Luxor © Julian Chan

Back on the cruiser the afternoon is ours to do as we please. Whilst there is much I want to explore in Luxor, a lazy afternoon on the pool deck beckons once again. As we sit there with our novels and dirt-cheap Stella beer, something catches our eyes in the distance. What looks like a distant storm inches its way closer by the minute. It seems oddly localised and as it arrives we see it is a mini dust and rain storm which amazingly travels past our cruiser without much affect at all. The rest of Luxor is not so lucky. Later that evening I go fro a walk to take some images of the Temple of Amun-Ra, very close to where we are moored, a temple Mo dismissed as unimportant. I beg to differ. I take the cheapskate’s route by not paying the admittance fee and just circumnavigate the site, much of which is visible from the street. In retrospect I wished I had gone in.

Day 7: As we have a later start today I take a stroll around Luxor before breakfast to take some pictures of the locals and more of the Temple of Amun-Ra.

Karnak – Temple of Amun © Julian Chan

Karnak – Temple of Amun © Julian Chan

Our first destination today is Karnak, a massive open-air archeological site, the largest of its kind in the world. I am in awe. Mo and I have a run-in in regards to how much time we stay here. How ludicrous to put a time limit on such magnificence. The main causeway through the complex is lined with pillars so tall the mere act of looking up is a very noticeable act.

When we return to Luxor, we grab a quick lunch in town, after which I go for a whirlwind tour of the Luxor souq. It’s always nice to visit the local markets but it was nothing special.

We then depart for what we’ve been dreading – the overnight bus ride to Dahab. It’s a trip so ridiculous that it is unbelievable to me now that only one couple in our group had opted to upgrade to an optional flight instead. To make things worse, On the Go decided to give us the worse bus of the trip for this particular drive. The seats are so cramped that I cannot get comfortable, even with 2 seats to myself. Having stopped for a dinner break at glitzy Hurghada, we set off again for Dahab. After a short drive everything comes to a stop. The traffic comes to a full stop for a very long time. We pull into a carpark and wait. Mo goes out to see what he can find out. Eventually he returns with the news that there’s been a flash flood about 100km down the road and no one is going anywhere until 7.30am tomorrow morning. Strictly speaking, the tour company is within its rights to claim ‘force majeure’ and let us sleep it out in the carpark. All the tour guides however group together and with the help of head office manage to find us a nearby hotel able to room all of us, at the company’s expense. They have won serious brownie points tonight.

0956_en route to dahab_floods

Floods © Julian Chan

Day 8: What a difference a bed makes. The good news is the roads have opened and the convoy heads north once again. At some point during the otherwise uneventful journey we see signs of the flooding from last night.

The floods have put us hours being schedule but fortunately all we had scheduled was a lazy day in Dahab. It is also New year’s Eve and we are late for the party. By 9pm we have arrived at the Mercure Resort Hotel, a magnificent, sprawling resort with an ample supply of rooms. After refreshing ourselves we join the party in the beduin camp, which is already in full swing. The tent is full, the food plentiful and good cheer abounds. On stage a small troupe of Russian girls are the ‘entertainemnt’ and display an uncanny lack of any talent whatsoever. It is mesmerisingly awful. Welcome 2011!

Day 9: After a sound sleep and a small breakfast it’s time for our visit to the Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole off the coast of the Red Sea – a popular diving destination. We jump aboard a few jeeps and embark on the 30 minute drive to the Blue Hole. The place is beautiful and lined with Beduin styled, open-air restaurants.  We place our lunch orders then grab out snorkels and fins and go snorkelling around the hole, which is rich with fish. The water temperature is beautiful. We stop for lunch and return for one more snorkel.

Dahab – The Blue Hole © Julian Chan

Dahab – The Blue Hole © Julian Chan

After returning to freshen up we head out to Dahab, which is a revelation. the place is unashamedly touristy but eminently pleasant to be. It abounds with souvenir shops and eateries and absolutely no hassling from the vendors. It is a paradise. We shop for a while then dine at a seafood restaurant called El Fanar. After yet another sumptuous (and cheap) meal, we head back. I came with no preconceptions about the food in this part of the world and have to say that I have been blown away by almost all the meals on this trip so far. It has been a red letter day.

Day 10: A pretty easy day is in store today, which begins with a lounge at the resort’s private beach. After an hour of this I move up to the large pool. The pool water, despite looking irresistible, is shockingly cold. How disappointing. At some point I am roped in to join a soccer match between our random collection of guys against a bunch of Russians. We win easily 4-1 thanks largely to one talented German guy.

0983_dahab_mercure hotel

Mercure Resort, Dahab © Julian Chan

Dahab by night © Julian Chan

Dahab by night © Julian Chan

The rest of the day is pretty much relaxing with Mojitos. Later that night we return to Dahab, this time to dine at Ali Baba’s, a barbeque restaurant. I order the Mixed Grill Deluxe, which is a veritable feast of meat. I rate it the best meal I’ve eaten on this trip, which has been full of amazing meals. Our tables right up against the water’s edge, the food is fabulous, a few hookahs are also ordered and spirits are high. The sad thing is tonight is the last night for about a third of us, whose tour ends here. The rest of us proceed to Jordan tomorrow. After a few sad goodbyes, we call it a night.

A rather harsh decree, Aqaba © Julian Chan

A rather harsh decree, Aqaba © Julian Chan

Day 10: Today begins with a very early start at 4.30am, as we are joined by some new faces (those who did the 3 day felucca trip) and head off to Taba. After a short boat trip, we arrive at the beautiful port of the Aqaba Royal Yacht Club. Our Jordanian guide Okla meets us and transfers us to our hotel. A few of us embark on an exploration excursion around Aqaba on foot, which reveals itself as a place of little interest. The only aspect of interest is that Israel is visible from the harbourside. We also chance upon a wonderful shawarma outlet called Tabileh. The rest of the day and night are unremarkable.

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