Journal: Sunday 1 October 2000
Luck was with us this morning when we left our apartment and immediately an empty service taxi stopped to ask if we wanted to go somewhere. We had planned to visit the Valley of the Kings, but hadn’t decided how to get there as ordinary arabeyas don’t travel that route, so we thankfully climbed into the front of the rickety old Peugeot pick-up next to the driver and set off along the bumpy road on the edge of the cultivation, turning off towards the Valley. Getting out in the car park and paying our driver the LE5 fare, we set off up the road to buy tickets.
I especially wanted to see the excavations of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP) that I had been following for the past few seasons and I knew that excavations were due to begin about the same time as we arrived in Egypt. Already the scene has changed a lot since I was here in March. While some areas have been backfilled, the new excavations now extend to both sides of the tourist path to include the area in front of KV10, the tomb of Amenemesse. Another lucky break – my friend Nubi is working for Dr Otto Schaden at KV10 and he came over as soon as he saw us to tell us what had been happening on the ARTP dig…. apparently not a lot so far, apart from a great deal of clearance and the creation of mountains of rubble. I immediately picked up on the feeling of excitement and hope that archaeologists must have at the beginning of a new season and wondered what amazing new discoveries might be made. Would they at last find an Amarna Period tomb? The excavation trench has also extended further east towards the tomb of Tutankhamun and a team of workmen were very busy there, so after a quick peek Jenny and I left to visit the tombs of Amenhotep I and Merenptah.
By late morning the high cliffs on either side of the road were funnelling the heat down into the bottom of the valley and it felt like being in a furnace. I really don’t know how the workmen manage to carry on in these temperatures, shovelling up the rocky sand and running up and down slopes or ladders laden with heavy baskets of rubble. I guess they’re used to the heat. There were a lot of tourists about this morning and I remembered that I have always tried to avoid being there in the early morning for that reason, preferring to brave the afternoon heat rather than the morning crowds. The day was still going well when we got back to the car park and met my friend Tayib, a taxi-driver who had just dropped off some tourists and he offered us a lift back to Kom Lolla.
Later in the afternoon Jenny and I walked to Malqata, past Habu Temple and through a scrubby area of long grass where a little track winds its way to the next village. I thought the tourist police might try to stop us from taking this route which is not officially allowed, but there was only one policeman on duty near the temple and he was taking his siesta. We sat on a sandy bank on the edge of the site of the palace of Amenhotep III and watched the sun slide down behind the hills sending darkness into the corners between the low walls of the palace. This place is so evocative and mysterious at sunset and I love it. One of the gafirs I know came out to say hello and sat with us in silence for a while until we all began to get chilled by the wind that had blown up with the setting sun.
We were going to stop at the Rameses Cafeteria for dinner, but there was a large tourist group there and it looked very crowded. Our friend Salah was due to finish his day’s work at the cafe soon and he suggested that we all went to the Kofta House at el-Tarif to eat. Salah’s friend Ramadan who owns a taxi, drove us to el-Tarif and shared the meal with us. I hadn’t been there before and the tiny restaurant was obviously a place where only the locals eat (i.e. the local men). We sat outside at a rickety table covered by a worn plastic cloth, beneath strings of bare light bulbs. Food was cooked over charcoal on a spit at the front by the road and as well as being a restaurant it also seemed to have a high proportion of take-away customers. Always a good sign. While the others enjoyed mountainous portions of freshly grilled chicken or Kofta (a kind of sausage made into little balls), I had rice and vegetables as the only vegetarian option, but the meal was delicious and cost only a few Egyptian pounds for all of us. Jenny and I took advantage of having a captive taxi-driver and stocked up on basic supplies from a little grocery store on the way home and we drove back to Kom Lolla with two boxes of bottled water on the roof of the car. Forty eight large bottles of Baraka should keep us going for a while and we wouldn’t need to go out and buy it each day.