Africa

Ten Days in Timeless Egypt

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2009

For the most part, the lines are orderly—probably because it’s hot, the lines are long and it wouldn’t take much for people to get annoyed. But they’re not dutifully lined like nuns at a confessional either. Once visitors enter, however, their reaction will be close to a religious experience because these tombs are awesome. It’s hard to comprehend how so much beauty was deliberately created to be hidden under tons of dirt and rock forever.

But even a brief walk down these corridors is like an afternoon in the Louvre, a few days in Florence or maybe some time in the Sistine Chapel—all rolled into one. You’re surrounded by hieroglyphics, colorful engravings, representations of gods, the deceased’s trumps and failures—totally enveloped from the ceilings to the walls. And what totally blows your mind is the realization that they’re more than 3,000 years old and they could have been put there yesterday. To say this experience is not to be missed, is the understatement of all time.

Next, we head off to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, just across the mountain from the burial grounds in the Valley of the Kings. The guide says it is possible to, and people often do, hike across from one or the other. Although in this editor’s personal opinion, the only thing that would make it an even fleeting thought might be if you’re being hotly pursued by Interpol or maybe a pack of really big, nasty dogs.

Anyway, Queen Hatshepsut was actually a woman who protected her throne after her husband the Pharaoh died leaving his very young son heir. She eventually managed to convince everyone that she had once been a man and actually managed to become the king of Egypt and ruled for 21 years, and apparently was a very successful royal making a lot of positive changes for her people. The temple itself has been renovated and is an extremely impressive edifice sitting atop a plateau with the mountain in the background.

sailing the nile It should be noted here that sailing the Nile is a singular river cruise experience. Unlike European cruising, there’s never a doubt as to what country you’re cruising through. Date palms line the river bank, interspersed with mud-clad homes—not a sign of poverty, mind you, but an ancient method of air conditioning that makes for a grateful escape from the ravages of the late-spring and summer heat. An occasional group of cattle comes down to the river to drink and nibble on the grass, haughtily ignoring the activity on the river.

And activity there is—almost 270 licensed river boats ply these waters and when you add the commercial boats and local feluccas, some days the busy Nile seems to take on all the appearances of a freeway as the myriad craft sail back and forth, hauling passengers looking forward to the next port and a trip back into antiquity, light cargo for the riverside towns and villages or maybe farmers hauling produce or fruits to market.

Coral Sea Resort—owned by Wings, the tour company that’s arranged this program—has four ships on the Nile, including the m/s Tamr Henna. The Tamr Henna was recently renovated, beautifully so, we might add, with spacious public areas, a number of large full-suite cabins and extremely comfortable cabins with full tub and shower. There’s a gym with sauna and two hot tubs on the aft end of the ship, as well as massage services available in the same area. There’s also a large main bar that does double duty as an entertainment area and for lectures, as well as a smaller bar in the second floor lounge, and still another on the top sun deck.

After a pleasant overnight cruise, the Tamr Henna docked in Edfu, where we visited one of the most incredibly preserved antiquities in Egypt—the 2000-year-old Temple of Edfu, dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus by the Ptolemaic kings, the descendants of Ptolemy, the general who succeeded Alexander the Great as king in Alexandria. Like all of the ancient temples here, the ancient Egyptians did their best to reach into the heavens to honor their gods with pillars standing 118 ft. high at the entrance. Fierce-looking falcons guard the entrance, where visitors enter into a huge courtyard.