Journal: Monday 24 January 2011
Early on Monday morning Abdul took us to Luxor airport in his minibus. Watching the steam-like mist rising from the canal alongside the road on the West Bank and taking a last look the beautiful pink sunrise glow of the Theban Mountains my heart was already missing Egypt. This is a longing I always feel when it’s time to go home.
It is quite a long journey over the bridge and as usual we were late arriving at the airport, being among the last to check in. We checked our luggage and hurried up to the smart new cafeteria area and bought cups of coffee – this airport has changed a great deal in the years I’ve been coming to Luxor. Once, little more than a few low buildings on a desert runway, it now feels much more like any international airport in the world – well almost. Within a couple of minutes the announcement came that our flight was now boarding. Goodbye Luxor, I hope I’ll be back soon.
We flew out over Karnak Temple and the Theban Hills and had a great view of the West Bank monuments before turning and rising out over the high desert, now and again getting glimpses of the shining water of the Nile below. Within an hour we were heading over the coast west of Alexandria and out across the sea.
Journal: Monday 6 December 2004
Sam and I were up at 5.00am. Abdul had arranged to take us to the airport at 7.00am but it was actually nearer 7.45am by the time we left, which just reminded me that Egyptians have no concept of being on time. When we got to the airport, there was a big queue of locals for the Cairo flight, but Abdul managed to persuade the police to let us go to the front of the queue as we were late. We checked in our luggage and they grumbled about the weight but let us through as we were the last to check in – the flight was due to leave at 9.00am. We hurried up to the cafeteria, only to be confronted by another big queue at the counter and there was not enough time for a last cup of coffee. At least we didn’t have long to wait and soon almost everyone else had boarded the busses so we thought we’d better go too. We were both very subdued but I felt OK as we climbed the steps on to the plane, with a last look around before going inside. It wasn’t until we were taxiing up the runway that Sam & I dared to look at each other. My cold suddenly got particularly bad and Sam put on her sunglasses and hid her head under a blanket. After about an hour we could speak to each other for the first time today! I really hate this bit.
We spent the flight talking about where we had been. We’ve covered a lot of Egypt this time, from the Delta and Cairo, right down through Middle Egypt and finally Luxor, even venturing south as far as Esna. The flight was good, the movie, as usual, unmemorable and we arrived in a grey wet London only half an hour late. The rest of the day entailed a long tiring drive down the motorways. Home eventually with all my memories of another fantastic trip until the next time.
Journal: Wednesday 31 April 2002
Our flight home today wasn’t until this evening and Mary and I had paid extra to keep our room until 4.00pm. This means that we didn’t have to be packed up and out of the room early and left wondering what to do with our last day. I was up at dawn and sitting out on the balcony before going down to breakfast. The Nile below was sparkling in the early sun and two hawks were as ever circling overhead. I’d seen them every day from here, their long powerful wings with patches of white feathers catching the light as they circled around and around with incredible grace above the trees. They like to keep an eye on their territory to see what’s going on and I could understand why the ancient Egyptians revered this majestic bird as Horus, magical protector of the King, who sees and knows everything.
Back on Earth, Mary went off to the pool and I went to do some last minute shopping. I’d had my eye on a new Mohammed Mounir CD and stopped in a music shop near the Old Winter Palace to buy it. The CD was expensive at LE50 but it is a new release and this isn’t a pirate copy as many are. Aboudi’s bookshop was my next stop, just to check that there wasn’t anything I’d missed. I’ve only bought a couple of books on this trip – very restrained for me. The truth is that there was nothing much new on Egyptology that I didn’t already have. I like to buy publications from the AUC Press, because they are often half the price of English versions of the same book, or else new titles that aren’t published in the West. I wandered through the little shopping mall and around the corner to Sharia el-Mahatta (Station Street) where I walked the length of the street almost to the railway station and Twinkies. Twinkies is wonderful, a bakery/pattiserie that sells the most tempting of cakes and sweets. I wanted to take some home as a gift for Tony, my regularly-abandoned husband, and I found it quite hard to make a selection from all the amazing sticky cakes on display. Then back down the road and over to the Amoun restaurant where I stopped for a drink and to say goodbye to the always friendly staff. I spent another half hour in the internet place to send some emails – the guy who runs it seems to always be just logging off his dodgy porn site as a tourist walks in. Then I went into the shop next door. The owner, a stone-carver who lives on the West Bank, makes some of the best copies of shabtis I’ve seen anywhere in Egypt and today I was tempted by a couple of small ones that I just couldn’t resist.
Pleased with my purchases I made my way back to the Novotel where I joined Mary by the pool for some lunch. It’s been very hot again today and we were both feeling very lethargic but eventually it was time to go up to our room, have a shower and do the dreaded packing that we couldn’t put off any longer. Getting to the airport was easy this time as we had a transfer coach provided by the tour company, but it’s the moment I hate most and I always seem to make the last journey through Luxor with tears in my eyes, no matter how many times I’ve done it. The new airport building is now finished I’m pleased to say and the check-in was very smooth. I even found that my luggage wasn’t overweight and that has to be a first. Our flight left at 7.00pm, right on time for once. As we took off, circling over the mountains of the West Bank, we could see the Nile below us reflecting the remnants of a beautiful deep red sunset and the clouds seemed lit from within as we headed up towards them and out across the desert leaving Luxor far behind.
Journal: Monday 16 October 2000
After our midnight ramblings last night Jenny and I eventually managed a couple of brief hours sleep before Ramadan was banging on the door at 4.00am, the engine of his blue and white taxi still running for a quick getaway to the airport. All was dark and silent at Kom Lolla, even the locals, usually very early risers, were still asleep. Trying not to make too much noise loading our bags into the back of the car we were soon speeding off down the empty road towards the bridge.
I’ve never returned home from Egypt yet without some sort of problem and today the problem started when we arrived at the checkpoint on the bridge. Neither we nor Ramadan had known that the police would not allow any foreigners across the bridge before 6.00am. Our flight was due to leave at 6.55am and it was at least a half hour’s drive to the airport from where we were. Ramadan tried to reason with the police. Jenny and I both tried to reason with the police. Ramadan got extremely angry with the police and even tried to bribe them. They would not relent. We all sat quietly fuming in the taxi while the police sat in their little hut smoking and drinking tea and smirking at us. We passed the time by telling Ramadan the children’s story of the ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff’ and the troll who lives under the bridge, refusing to let the billy goats cross over. We made a game of thinking up silly questions we were supposed to answer so that we could go over the bridge. Ramadan, whose English is very basic, didn’t get the joke.
By 5.30am, we were all becoming anxious and wondered whether we should try for the ferry, which only runs about every half hour at this time of the morning. We didn’t relish the idea of getting all our heavy bags and belongings on and off the rickety boat and up the steps at the Luxor dock and would we find a taxi on the other side? Just then one of the policemen sauntered over to us and said ‘OK, you can cross now…’ It was still before the designated time, so why now and not an hour ago? They were obviously playing with us, it’s a dull life being a policeman in Egypt and they have to find entertainment where they can.
This trip has had its ups and downs. Our first few days in Cairo, which for us seems like months ago, was not a total success, though we can now look back and laugh at our mistakes and frustrations and chalk it up to experience. I’m not sure whether the West Bank apartment was such a great idea either but it did enable us to live cheaply even though I was ill for almost a week and felt cheated out of my time here. But most importantly, we were staying right in the middle of the monument area with all of those fantastic tombs and temples within walking distance and many good Egyptian friends both old and new who looked after us. What more could I ask?
It was the fastest trip through Luxor to the airport I have ever made and though we were last to check in (nothing unusual there), we still had a short wait before boarding. For the first time ever, the flight left on time! The sun was just waking up as we flew out over the Valley of the Kings, the hills and wadis bathed in their soft golden mantle of light and shadow. We were both damp-eyed at having to leave it all behind. An hour later we were changing aircraft in Cairo (for some undisclosed reason) but all went smoothly and before long we were flying over the north coast. It can be frustrating, funny, sad and wonderful and I’m missing Egypt already!
Journal: Monday 16 March 1998
I had arranged for a taxi to come to collect me from the Gezira Hotel at 6.00am to catch my flight back to England which was scheduled to leave Luxor airport at 8.30am. It was still quite dark when I left for the long journey over the bridge to the East Bank, so I really didn’t notice the ominous clouds that covered the sky. By the time I reached the airport however, the weather was even worse and a dense blanket of yellow-grey dusty fog obscured everything. Checking in is always the worst part of the journey for me as I know my bags (usually full of books) are likely to be overweight, but a pleasant smile, a smattering of Arabic and playing the helpless female often works on the desk staff. I was relieved that I had got my bags through with no trouble and went off to the departure lounge to wait for my flight. And I waited. And waited.
By lunchtime we managed to find out what was going on. The airport was being renovated at the time and there was no view from the windows so we passengers didn’t realise that the weather had worsened and nobody would tell us for several hours what the hold-up was about. At about 12.00pm a large basket of rolls was brought in and I wiled away an hour helping the overwrought staff to butter them and make sandwiches for the starving hoards (well, there weren’t really very many but they were not happy!). It wasn’t the fault of the airport staff but they were taking the brunt of passengers’ angry shouting about the delay and I felt sorry for them. Communications could have been improved, but there was nothing the staff could do about the Khamsin dust storm centred over Luxor. At 2.00pm an airport official came at last to the departure lounge and announced that the airport was closing and we would all have to return to our hotels as there would be no flight today. As I had been staying on the West Bank this was not as easy for me as it was for other passengers from hotels in Luxor. We were told that we would have to collect our luggage and take it with us and we would be contacted about flight times for next day. I got a lift to the Corniche on one of the coaches provided and with two heavy bags, struggled onto the passenger ferry back across the river to Geziret. Now I could understand why the aircraft couldn’t take off. The air was so full of dust that I couldn’t see even half way across the Nile – there was just a blank greyness from the river to the sky as far as I could see.
I had said to hotel staff that I hoped to be back soon, but they hadn’t expected it to be this soon! All I could do was to sit on the hotel roof terrace and wait to hear about my flight but the fog was not moving. At 5.00pm I went down to reception intending to telephone the Egyptair office in Luxor and I was greeted by a tour guide I vaguely knew. He asked what I was doing there as he knew I should have left today and when I explained, he told me that my flight had left at 4.30pm – a small window in the weather just over Luxor airport had allowed the flight to take off. So much for being contacted. Hmm… here I was, stuck in Luxor with no money left and a husband at home expecting me back later today. The fog was just as thick as ever here and so I decided to go back to Luxor to the Egyptair office to see what could be done. Nothing could be done – Egyptair only flies out of Luxor once a week on a Monday, but they agreed to transfer my ticket to the following week, which I suppose was better than nothing. Secretly I was quite happy to stay another week, but I had spent virtually all of my money and didn’t have a credit card either. It was with mixed feelings that I phoned my husband at home and explained what had happened and in a cowardly moment asked him to telephone work next day, when I should have been back. It was the busiest time of the year at work and they were not happy. Oh well, I could think of worse places to be marooned.
Journal: Sunday 24 November 1996
I was sad. This was my last day in Egypt. I had been in the country for two weeks and it felt like months. Time in Egypt has a strange quality, the days rush by in a flurry of activity but seem at the same time to stretch on for eternity. I could not imagine leaving behind these endlessly bright sunny days (well – apart from the rain) and going back to a cold, wet, English winter and to work. I sat by the edge of the river looking across to the West Bank, a scene which will forever be etched in my heart, and thought about this trip. I had so enjoyed the cruise, lazy days watching the timeless countryside as we drifted by, interspersed with exciting visits to the Nile temples between Luxor and Aswan. I had learned a lot. This time I had known more about the monuments I was seeing, I could remember at least some of the names of the powerful gods and kings who once populated this land and I could recognise some of the recurring themes of architecture and hieroglyphic writing. I had been introduced to the god Seth and his violent storms, to Isis, Sekhmet and all their families. I had witnessed the horrors that storms in Egypt can bring with the sinking of the cruise boat at Esna. I had watched the rising waters of the Nile, still a red-brown muddy torrent the colour of blood. I had sailed peacefully a couple of times in a felucca on the river. They say that anyone who drinks Nile water will always return. Well, the closest I came was to cup my hands and wash my face in it, but maybe I drank it too, as the purified tap water must originally come from the Nile.
Most of all, this trip introduced me to the marvellous Egyptian people, always full of kindness and generosity and I had made several friends, who I would miss when I got home. I would miss the beautiful sound of the Arabic language, a few more words of which I had learned. I would miss the chattering children who magically appeared wherever we went, shouting ‘Hello, what’s your name?’ ‘Where you from?’. I would even miss the touts and felucca guys on Luxor or Aswan Corniche, with their twinkling eyes shouting, ‘Very beautiful, I love your smile, come for a sail on my boat?. I tried to imagine these felucca captains standing on the sea-front at home trying the same line of patter with the tourists. It made me laugh.
I had finished my packing and said goodbye to my hotel room at the Isis which had been a superbly comfortable home for the past week. I wished I could take the balcony home with me so that I could continue to wake up at dawn to a view of the Theban Hills and the sonorous sound of the early morning muzzein’s call to prayer from minarets all across town. It was time for my airport pick-up. What made it worse was that I was leaving, but my two friends who had come a week later, were staying on. I hated Luxor departure lounge which had not been modernised at that time. The waiting was endless on the rows of hard red plastic chairs, hundreds of tourists enclosed in the hall like cattle with no fresh air. I could see that the sun was setting but could not be out there to bid it goodnight. The plane was late and I knew that I had to spend the night at Gatwick Airport at the other end before I could continue my journey on to Cornwall next day. I wondered why we who love Egypt put ourselves through this. But I knew the answer – that every second of my trip had been worth it – and I knew I would do it again.