Journal: Thursday 21 October 1999
Last night Jenny and I had been invited to dinner at the home of Jennifer, who lives on the West Bank. We had a lovely evening with good food and good conversation and lots of music and laughter. At some point we got onto the subject of camels and how much Jenny would like to ride one. Jennifer’s husband Mandour immediately offered to take us for a camel ride the next day – which I flatly refused, but Jenny excitedly accepted. My recent encounters with riding animals had been less than successful and the thought of being uncomfortably perched high above the ground on a layer of blankets on top of a hump, trotting along dirt tracks or crowded tarmac roads did not appeal. Maybe if this was the only means of transport and I needed to cross a desert, I would think again, but this particular trip I did not consider necessary. So this morning Jenny went off alone for her camel adventure and I had the morning off to wander the streets of Luxor, meeting my friend David at the Amoun restaurant for coffee. This was the first time we’d managed to meet up on this trip so far and I thought he really wasn’t looking very well.
At lunchtime I crossed the river and met Jenny at the Rameses Cafe at Medinet Habu as we had agreed. She enjoyed her camel ride very much and had organised to hire a horse from the stables for later in the week, having reawakened an old passion for riding. We had lunch (lentil soup), chatted with my friend Salah and browsed his bookstall before deciding to spend the afternoon at the Ramesseum.
Walking along the dusty road to Qurna, several tour buses passed going in the other direction towards the bridge, a good sign that the temple would be fairly quiet. As usual around the Ramesseum area, there were many small ragged children selling little handmade peg-dolls and Jenny bought a couple just to get them off our backs. They kept surrounding us in groups of four or five, tugging and pulling at our clothes and stepping in front of us so that we couldn’t move, asking for ‘Bon-bon’ (sweets) and ‘stylo’ (pens) or baksheesh, constantly calling out their predictable mantra of ‘What’s your name?’. These children are enterprising, well-meaning and obviously in need of our cash, but they are very persistent and can become tiresome and I have long ago given up trying to have a reasonable conversation with them. After Jenny bought the little dolls, she must have been spotted from the village because a dozen or more older children were suddenly running down the hill towards us. Luckily we had arrived at the temple and we hurried through the gate into safety. Tourist police sat dozing in a shelter at the entrance. In their badly-fitting white uniforms held together with black leather belts and crossed straps and holding mean-looking machine guns, they woke up long enough to chase away the children and all became peaceful again.
Jenny went off to explore the temple while I concentrated on photographing Rameses’ battle reliefs on the Second Pylon and the depictions of barques of various gods in the ‘Astronomical Room’. The light today was just perfect for this. Later, one of the guards I had met last year brought us both a cup of tea and we sat in the shade of the dimly-lit hypostyle hall and chatted with him for half an hour. Afterwards, every time I pointed the lens of my camera at something, the guard was looking over my shoulder and shouting ‘Action!’ just as the shutter clicked. This was quite funny for a while….. !
In the late afternoon Jenny and I went back on the ferry to Luxor and to our hotel. We were staying in the newest and smartest hotel in town, the Sonesta, but had spent very little time there so far. Tonight we decided to splash out and have dinner in the hotel restaurant, which cost a fortune but was very nice. An early night because tomorrow we are off to Aswan.