Journal: Monday 18 December 1995
We had spent only two full days in Cairo, but it felt like much longer. I still wasn’t sure if I liked the city but it certainly had been an important part of the ‘Egyptian Experience’, as our package was called. On the surface, to the casual tourist who is ferried about in coaches and groups it is a city trying hard to modernise itself. We were introduced to a Cairo wearing its best clothes. But already I had realised the huge contradiction and struggle here between the thriving economy of a western-style culture and the hidden poverty of the slums which for millions of Cairenes is their daily life.
We left our grand hotel early in the morning in a coach on route to the airport, picking up other tourists on the way. There was a lot of waiting. The smog and traffic fumes were bad this morning and even with the air-conditioning in the coach I felt I could hardly breath by the time we reached the airport at Heliopolis. More waiting as the internal flight to Luxor was delayed by an hour, held up for some important passenger to arrive. The flight took 50 minutes and from my window seat I was able to look out over the desert as we followed the Nile south. It was a lovely flight and I watched the changing patterns of desert, hills and valleys until before long we were descending towards Luxor. I felt quite emotional as we touched town on the bumpy runway once again. My excitement of the first few days in Egypt returned as I left the aircraft and felt the hot breeze and fresh Luxor air on my face. It was a strong feeling of coming home.
Our hotel, The Isis, had recently been built and was at that time one of the best in Luxor. It was situated right by the Nile, that wonderful river which I already felt had claimed me. Walking in the afternoon sun, down through well-tended gardens draped with bougainvillea and hibiscus flowers right to the water’s edge, I could look across the calm stretch of river to the Theban hills beyond. This was the point that I really fell in love with those mountains which had for centuries protected and hidden the incredible tombs of kings and nobles buried in the Valleys of the West Bank.
Later that evening my friend and I daringly took a caleche into the centre of Luxor to walk through the bazaar. We were instantly adopted by two little boys, who, bare-footed and wearing grubby blue galabeyas, took our hands and led us through the suq. Mustapha and Hani both spoke excellent English and were only too pleased to show us the ‘best’ shops and advise us on prices. We chatted to shopkeepers who plied us with numerous cups of strong sweet Egyptian tea and we bought one or two presents for friends back in England – a place I had hardly remembered since arriving in this wonderful country. Tired but happy we eventually walked back to the hotel. I was so excited to be back in Luxor again.