Valley Boy


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, June 10, 2004 was originally posted on June 14, 2004.

DAY 236:  While modern Egyptian civilization seems to be occupied with one thing — making a living by any means necessary — ancient Egyptian civilization seemed to be obsessed with only one thing:  death.  With strong beliefs in the afterlife — and the preparation thereof — citizens of all classes prepared for life after the living.  Pharaohs were no stranger to this custom; in fact, they were the masters of preparing for the afterlife with all their goods, and no where in Egypt was this more concentrated than in Ancient Thebes, on the west bank of Luxor.

My guide Akmed came to me in the hotel restaurant ten minutes before our 7:30 meeting time as I was eating breakfast.  He had been assigned me for a tour of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens and other sites on the west bank of the Nile.  Since he was a little under the weather, his friend and fellow guide Mohammed (another one) came to help him out.

I wasn’t alone either this time; the agency had me pooled yet again with other backpackers that had booked on their own from their respective hotels.  Not that I minded; this was how I got to meet new people.  I met Shanna, a South African living in England and her English friend Alex, and Chiu, one of the six Korean backpackers that filled out the rest of the minivan.  The driver took all of us across the bridge to the former Thebes on the west bank to our first site, the Valley of the Kings which, even in the early morning, was more like the Valley of the Tourists.  Hundreds lined up to enter three of the six publicly open tombs of their choice — the entrance ticket allowed for three.  Guide Mohammed lectured and led us on the three most noteworthy ones — the Tomb of Tuthmosis I, the Tomb of Ramses IX and the Tomb of Ramses V, which was completed by Ramses VI — all of which were noteworthy because they were built to house some dead guy, a dead guy with power.  Each tomb was ornately painted with hieroglyphic stories of the pharaohs’ relationship with the gods, stories from the sacred books of ancient Egyptian religion:  the Book of the Dead, the Book of Days and the Book of Gates to name a few.  (That last one had nothing to do with Microsoft.) 

It was forbidden to take photos of the brightly painted etchings and hieroglyphics (with or without flash), despite the fact that mostly everything was behind a protective glass.  A couple of us tried to be sneaky anyway; my plan was to hang my little spy camera around my neck and set the timer so I wouldn’t have to push the button.  However, when I was setting up the timer, my plan was foiled by a guard.  “No photos allowed,” he scolded, waving his finger.  “Give me the camera.”

Busted.  He took my camera as well as the cameras of others who weren’t so sneaky after all, including the one Korean guy who blatantly ignored the rule and had his friend take a photo of him smiling with the painted corridor behind him. 

“Wait, what are you doing?” I pleaded.  “I didn’t take any photos.”  I closed the lens lid before the timer went off.

“Show me.”

I put the camera on playback and he shuffled through the recent photos.  “See, that’s outside the tomb,” I told him.  He went through the rotation of the photos until it looped back to photos of Ethiopia and gave the camera back to me.  Another guy proved his innocence the same way, but the Smiling Korean had digital photographic evidence against him. 

“I can delete it,” he begged.

“No.  Too late.  I keep it,” the guard said.  “You delete it with the police outside.”

I kept my camera away after that, although I was jealous of the couple of people I saw that show some photos and got away with it.  On the way out of that tomb, the guard had six cameras with him, including a big heavy SLR.

OF THE SIXTY-TWO TOMBS DISCOVERED in the Valley of the Kings, the most famous was the Tomb of Tutankhamen (picture above), discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.  It was open to the public, but at a price:  an additional entry for the small, single room tomb cost more than the three tomb deal, and for a disappointing experience too.  Every guide and guidebook advised against seeing it unless you wanted to feel ripped off, and so, we skipped out on it.  Most of what was to be seen inside was already on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

On the tramcar ride back to the parking lot, I asked the Smiling Korean if he got his camera back from the police.  He told me that an angry tourist called the “guard” out on pulling a scam to steal cameras the whole time, which was what it was after all, and returned all the cameras to their respective owners before the police really were involved.

FROM ONE PLOY TO THE NEXT, Mohammed brought us next to an unscheduled stop to an alabaster “factory.”  Like “museum” in “papyrus museum,” I put the term “factory” in quotes because they are not factories or museums in the traditional sense; they are words to feign legitimacy for something else.  “Wow, this ‘factory’ looks a lot like a gift store,” I said to Shanna and Alex.  Most likely for a quick commission, Mohammed brought us there — one of the several “alabaster factories” in the vicinity — where a “guide” rushed us through an alabaster sculpting demonstration before trying to sell us alabaster vases and pots, and even some phallic statues with incredibly disproportionate girth.  None of us fell for the alabastards’ sly sales strategy, but they did corner us in on buying sodas.

QUEEN HATSHEPSUT, THE WIDOW OF TUTHMOSIS II, became the first and only female ruler of Egypt when her husband died.  During her 18th Dynasty 22-year reign, she had a three-tiered temple carved for her out of a dramatic limestone cliff, complete with hieroglyphics and statues of herself with a false beard to up her status as a true pharaoh in the eyes of some.  One guy in particular, Tuthmosis III (Tuthmosis II’s son from a different woman) thought he should be ruler, and in his contempt for Queen Hatshepsut, defaced the temple’s images of the queen.

Nowadays, the only thing that takes away from the grandeur of an otherwise awesome site is the crowd of tourists on its grounds, pointing camera in every direction of its three tiers.  (Guards couldn’t care less about cameras there.)  Our group added to this crowd, but only briefly; Mohammed and Akmed rushed us in and out in a matter of twenty short minutes.

FROM THE TEMPLE OF A QUEEN, we went to the Valley of the Queens, the resting place for the deceased wives and family of pharaohs.  The valley is somewhat misnamed because most of the tombs we visited were not of queens, but of princes — most queens decided to be buried alongside their husbands in the Valley of the Kings.  Of the 72 tombs in the Valley of the Queens, we only visited three:  the Tomb of Prince Kha-Em Waset, the Tomb of Queen Titi, and the Tomb of Prince Amenkhopshef, which housed the mummy of a baby believed to be the prince’s younger brother.  All three tombs were brightly painted with hieroglyphics, but again, photography wasn’t allowed.  The staff enforced this by collecting our cameras up front to return to us after our visit. 

After a quick photo stop at the remains of the Temple of Amenhotep III — only the entrance statues remained after an earthquake — we rode back to town on the east bank.  I only had a couple of hours to kill before my overnight bus to the Sinai Peninsula, and I used the time to take care of the things I couldn’t do outside a major city like Luxor, i.e. confirm my flight out of Egypt at Egypt Air’s office, and get a Chicken Big Mac at the McDonald’s across the street from the Temple of Luxor.  (It was the Friday Muslim holy day, and most of the local restaurants were closed, leaving me no choice but to find refuge in “the American embassy.”)  Before sundown, an agent named Isham picked me up at my hotel with a random taxi driver from Luxor, Egypt and brought me to the bus stop. 

The 17-hour bus ride took me through the night, away from the Valley of the Kings (and all its shady “guards”) and across the Suez Canal to the Sinai Peninsula.  There were movies on the way, but they were in Arabic, so I tried to get some sleep, but there wasn’t much legroom.  On the bright side, at least I still had my camera with me after the incident that morning.

Next entry: My New Paradise

Previous entry: Follow That Shawl!

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Comments for “Valley Boy”

  • Yippee! First!  All the monuments are just so cool!  Hopefully they’ll convince my husband that Egypt is a worthwhile stop on the RTW!

    Posted by Liz  on  06/14  at  04:38 PM

  • mc’d's is evil…..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  05:12 PM

  • i likes me some apple pie!

    btw, all those pics brings back high school memories where i would draw all over my history book…..ah, to be young again.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  05:31 PM

  • man, that sucks that you can’t trust most of the people in egypt. i know they need to make a living, but they are just making it harder for themselves. tourists will be wary and avoid them at all costs.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  07:20 PM

  • mykekgotgirth…..LOL

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  07:29 PM

  • hey alice, it’s sad that when you run into a bad experience, that can be the one you remember most vividly, but don’t generalize all egyptians based on a few bad apples. 

    you could just as easily say that all american soldiers are sick and depraved cowards.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  07:38 PM

  • Great pic of Mcky D’s & the area .. HEY !!! (light bulb)you can start your own picture book that includes American Embassies (McD’s) in different countries… I want half for the idea !!! hahaha

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  07:40 PM

  • It sounds like more than a “few” bad apples.  At the tourist sites anyway.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  09:17 PM

  • .... you can trust me, i am not shady!  hahaha.  queen hatshepshut is foine!  shady but foine!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  11:07 PM

  • So I just realized it’s been just over 11 months for you. Still thinking you’ll make it 16 or should we plan for The Global Trip 2005/6? Aren’t you exhausted?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  11:40 PM

  • opps, clearly it seems much longer than it’s been. 8 months, 11 whatever. I can count, really. You’re half way there…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  11:46 PM

  • opps, clearly it seems much longer than it’s been. 8 months, 11 whatever. I can count, really. You’re half way there…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  11:46 PM

  • Hey Erik - I hope you’re enjoying diving… this photo: “and statues of herself with a false beard to” didn’t work…

    Those statues from Amenhotep 3 are GIANT - thanks for the picture of perspective.

    I think that if I go to Egypt, I will take your advice and do a tour like yours - it still gives you the opp to meet cool people, but also keeps you (somewhat at least) away from the super-duper scammers!
    Thansk for the post!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/15  at  10:31 AM

  • hey wicked, if you read my post more clearly, you would have realized i said MOST, not ALL. if i said all egyptians were greedy, then you can say i was stereotyping. and so far, on erik’s trip through egypt, most of them were out to make a buck. which, i even stated that it is understandable due to their need to survive, but in reality, their tactics are hurting them in the long run. their aggressive strategies are going to make tourists avoid them at all cost, which in turn will make their way of earning a living even more difficult and more aggressive. it’s a bad cycle.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/15  at  05:36 PM

  • ALICE:  I think that they know that as long as Egyptian civilization is taught in Western schools, there will ALWAYS be an influx of tourism, with or without their shady tactics…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/15  at  06:05 PM

  • NOELLE:  The picture thing has been fixed… thanks for the tip!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/15  at  06:09 PM

  • ROBIN:  Yes, we’re almost halfway there… don’t worry, on the actual halfway day I’ll be quoting the chorus to Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer.” 

    (What can I say, I grew up in Jersey.)

    Exhausted, yes…  but I got this far so far, it’d be a shame to quit now!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/15  at  06:13 PM

  • BLOG SPONSORS:  The latest batch of postcards (from Egypt) have been sent!  Look out for them.

    WOW… Cairo airport has FREE internet!  I guess you CAN get things in Egypt without having to pay for it!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/15  at  06:21 PM

  • fyi…

    Tin Alley Grill is gonna be Hooters of Hackensack!  woo hooo!!!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/15  at  11:35 PM

  • Yo Bee,

      I am quite surprised at how many people in Eygpt are trying to take all the tourists for everything they got. It seems more prevailent in North Africa than Eastern and Southern Africa, no? I would expect it to be everywhere on the continent.

      Keep up the good work dude.

      Word Life!!


    Posted by Moman  on  06/16  at  01:09 AM

  • Hey y’all - I just returned from the cheesy movie Day After Tomorrow - it was fun, and the effects were pretty darn cool!! But, the point to this post is this: In a preview for The Clearning with Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe, they use the song that you use, Erik, in your “Would You?” slideshow… I was like, hey - copycats!!
    Hee hee…
    Do you have pictures from diving and the water, like you did from Zanzibar?
    You rock.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/16  at  11:22 AM

  • I see the deal with the pictures - makes more sense now!

    And sing Bon Jovi - I’ll sing along!! I’m not even from Jersey!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/16  at  11:23 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
My New Paradise

Previous entry:
Follow That Shawl!


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