Journal: Thursday 23 January 2003
It’s 24 days since I left England and I’m still not ready to go home, though I somehow don’t feel so bad flying out of Cairo as I usually do when I leave Luxor. I’ve been to so many wonderful new places and had some fantastic experiences on this trip I just never want it to end. I do consider myself very fortunate to have had Sam as my guide here this time but I’m just a teeny bit jealous that she’s now driving down to Luxor with Joyce for another two weeks. Sam doesn’t want me to leave either and we were both quite tearful as I was dropped off at the airport at 6.30am. As soon as we said our goodbyes Abdul was driving them to Luxor, his hometown, staying over tonight in Hurghada to break the journey and to join the early morning convoy to Luxor tomorrow. He’s probably already heaving a sigh of relief!
I negotiated my way through the crowded unfamiliar airport with my bags and was so relieved to find that they weren’t over the weight allowance with all the books I’d bought. My plane left at 10.00am – only half an hour late, which isn’t bad for EgyptAir. We climbed steeply up from the runway into the thick yellow ever-present smog sitting over the city, but looking down through a break in the cloud I caught a glimpse of the Giza pyramids far below, like little toys on the edge of a vast desert. To think I was down there only yesterday, looking up at the huge monuments and the tiny aircraft flying overhead. Very soon we were out over the Delta and I could see this part of Egypt I haven’t yet visited. The long sweeping coastline and the city of Alexandria was very clearly defined and I remembered how much I have yet to see of this beautiful land.
During the flight I thought about the places I had visited. All the Roman sites in the Faiyum had been totally new to me and I remembered the excitement we felt when we happened upon the occasional carved hieroglyph in some of the earlier temples – hieroglyphs were scarce in this area and we missed them. The beautiful Panorama Hotel we had stayed in on the edge of Lake Faiyum seems a lifetime away now. By the time we were in Middle Egypt I’d even got used to our personal police escort everywhere we went. The highlight of this trip was Tell el-Amarna because I’d dreamed of visiting Akhenaten’s city for years. To have two days there was an absolute bonus. We also saw many other Middle Egypt sites that tourists don’t often get to, thanks to Sam’s brilliant planning and Abdul’s willingness to go where he was told (mostly!) and to argue our case with the tourist police. It has been a real adventure. Up to that point the trip had already felt like two separate holidays, but then there was still Cairo. It had been great to explore the Islamic and earlier historical areas and my original dislike of the city has certainly altered because of this. To cap it all, our four days at Saqqara had been amazing and being guided around by our friend, antiquities inspector Mr Faoud, I felt was a real honour. I guess the trip had its ups and downs, but as we began the descent to Heathrow airport it was only the ups I could remember.
London was grey and miserable. I thought about the sunshine of an Egyptian winter and knew it wouldn’t be too long before I was there again.