What century are we in today?
Day 110/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Safaga to Luxor, Egypt (excluding ancient Egypt)
I’m sorry I’ve been slow with the blogs lately but we haven’t enough sea days in between ports for me to catch up! Going from Petra, Jordan on Day 109, to Luxor, Egypt on Day 110 was just mind blowing! I’m so confused now on what century of ruins and tombs we were visiting today vs what we saw yesterday in Petra that I had to look it up!
What I am finding from travelling the world on this world cruise, is that my knowledge of ancient history is lacking. The history I took in High School, and the one history course I took in 1st year University never covered ancient history, instead focusing on Canadian and American history. I said to Richard I really need a timeline of World History to help me put the sights we have seen into some kind of semblance of order in my brain. So of course with the help of the internet I was able to find a fantastic reference chart.
Voila! Just what I needed to help me understand my ancient history. With 5,000 years of history to remember, this colourful chart really helps put each Empire’s history into perspective.
We had such a long day in Egypt. I cannot even being to explain how long the day was other than to say that we left our cabin at 6:30am and did not get back to our cabin until 8:40pm, with a back on board time of 9:00pm. In between that time we drove 4 hours to Luxor, and 3.5 hours back from Luxor to the port city of Safaga. Luckily we had a private tour though, with our own driver in a comfortable Toyota Camry, with Mustapha, our driver who spoke very little English! Mustapha believed that the lanes and the lines on the road, were only a suggestion and he lived in Luxor. The tour was organized through Memphis Tours Adam Abdelrahman, Tour Consultant, Memphis Tours, 24 Murad St. Giza, Egypt Tel # 202 357 16050 and email email@example.com I had heard about Memphis Tours through a former Viking World Cruiser who had used them in 2019 and recommended them. I would recommend them to anyone looking to do a private tour of Luxor. The cost was $598USD and that included transportation from Safaga, to Luxor, all Ticket entrances to Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, a visit to Memnon, Karnak Temple, a Nile cruise, lunch and a private guided tour of all of the places we visited in Luxor. The cost was again well worth it, considering what the Viking excursion was charging, and the fact we had a private guide and a private driver. I am very happy we paid for private guided tours in Petra and Luxor to be able to have very in depth discussions with our guides on the sites we were seeing.
Speaking of our private tour guide in Luxor, we had the absolutely best guide possible for a day in Luxor. Our tour guide has two masters degrees in Egyptology and is writing his Phd which I will write about in the other blog on Luxor. If you want an amazing guide who was also a great story teller, you have to book Ahmed.
He can be reached by email or through What’s App. We cannot say enough about Ahmed and how amazing it was to have a PhD level private guide to see ancient Luxor’s treasures with!
As I write this blog on Egypt, I am so behind on blogs! I really want to do Luxor justice though so I thought I would split Luxor into two blogs. The first blog I will write today will be on the people and sights of Egypt and what we saw from our car window as we drove for 7.5 hours. The blog on Luxor and what we saw there will take me more time to write since I want to be accurate and need to get my facts straight before I write it. I may even skip Luxor and write that blog at some point on a sea day coming up, so don’t worry Luxor will be coming but there may be other blogs in between.
Our driver Mustapha was following the Memphis Tours minivans to exit the port and it seemed like we kept going around in circles trying different port exits. We could not understand why there was one exit for the buses, and yet a different exit for the private tours.
You can see how early it was as we were trying to leave the port.
I finally had Mustapha call his boss Adam, who was on one of the minivans going with a small group of passengers from our ship, to find out which exit we were supposed to take. We had wasted about 13 minutes driving around in circles in the port of Safaga, Egypt and with a 3.5 hour drive to Luxor, there was no time to waste.
Finally! A gate that opened for us!
Leaving Safaga we had to go through an inspection station
Mustapha our driver had a piece of paper with our tour information on it that he had to show at the inspection station. He had to mention we were two Canadians that he was driving us to Luxor.
This vehicle got pulled over and got the full inspection process. We were glad we did not have any inspection, at least at this stop.
After passing through the inspection station leaving Safaga, Egypt we were straight into the desert.
Miles and miles of nothing but desert on our way to Luxor.
Scrub and desert in Egypt.
Soon the road narrowed and we could see a few buildings off to the side of the road ahead of us. Mustapha slowed down and I asked “What was going on?” He said
The inspection station in the middle of the desert somewhere between Safaga and Qena, Egypt. The drive from Safaga to Qena is 2 hours and there must have been 10 inspection stations just like this one, that we had to go through.
Inspection station in Egypt.
Yes. That is a tower for an armed guard. And the tower did have a guard in it, with a rifle.
Another guardhouse with a gun pointing out of it in Egypt.
The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is a retired military officer and has been in power since 2014. He rules an authoritarian regime and believes in a strong military presence in Egypt, as evidenced by the many police, traffic stops and armed guards everywhere.
Our driver Mustapha had the ‘Hamsa’ symbol hanging from his mirror. The sign of the Hamsa was first seen in ancient Mesopotamia, long before any organized religion. It was initially worn as an amulet to ward off evil. The Hamsa hand is a universal sign of protection and in some religions and cultures it is meant to bring fortune and fertility. The eye on the Hamsa is not the evil eye, but rather an eye that guards the wearer against the malevolent force of the evil eye it is looking out for. Its kind of like an ‘anti evil eye’ that brings positivity while also shielding the wearer from negative energy. If the hand if facing downwards the owner is open to the universe’s goodness and is welcoming in good fortune and prosperity.
After driving for close to 2 hours in the desert, we started to see some greenery finally after we got closer to Qena City.
From Safaga to the city of Qena was a 2 hour drive. Egypt has 27 ‘governorate’ or we would call them ‘counties’ in total and in the GOVERNORATE of Qena, located along the southern part of the country, on a stretch of the Nile Valley there are 9 cities or towns that have populations that exceed 15,000 with the entire Qena governorate having a population of over 3 million people. Qena City is the capital of the Qena governorate.
We turned off the main highway in Qena and started driving down a two lane road, with the Nile River Valley all along the side of the road we were on. We saw a lot of different crops being grown around the very small towns we were quickly passing through.
Watermelons for sale.
And more watermelons with some good marketing techniques. Stacked watermelons with pieces of juicy watermelon sitting on top of the watermelon stacks!
A local fruit and vegetable market
And another fresh vegetable and fruit stand.
We almost got taken out by this sugar cane truck that turned right in front of our speeding vehicle!
I am a keen observer of how people live and as we drove to Luxor I was fascinated by the various styles of homes that people had in Qena governorate.
Solid brick buildings, tarpaulin roofs, thatched roofs and no roofs, there was a lot of different styles of homes that these villagers lived in, who were mostly employed in agriculture, along the Nile Valley delta.
When I have a lot of time just sitting in a car I get bored. I am not a good passenger. So with a 4 hour drive to Luxor, I was keenly snapping photos whenever I could see people in the small towns we were passing through every few minutes to keep myself busy. As we were driving I tryed to understand what must these people be doing? What do they do for a living? How do they survive? What does daily life look like for them, and then try and capture that in the photos I was snapping from the car window. Here are some of the shots from our drive from Qena City to Luxor of every day, small town life in Egypt along the Nile River Delta.
The locals talking about the state of affairs in the town.
Friends hanging together outside in the fresh air.
Someone hitchhiking perhaps?
Sharing a smile with someone.
Donkey cart driver.
Local moving truck. Notice how the lines are only a ‘suggestion’ on this roadway.
Waiting for the bus to come.
I couldn’t figure out what the vendor was selling here, but it looked different.
Cleaning the street for Ramadan.
Just me and my trusty donkey going about our business.
We had a fabulous day in Luxor, and I will write a separate blog as I said about that. Our driver Mustapha picked us up from Karnak Temple, dropped our guide off at the ferry terminal to take the ferry back to his home on the West Bank of Luxor, gassed up the car because he was not sure if there would be any gas at other stations on his way to Safaga, and we left Luxor at 5:15pm for our drive back to Safaga. We were worried that we would not make it back in time for the 9pm back on board time, since the drive to Luxor that morning had taken us 4 hours. Our guide Ahmed and Mustapha both told us that the number of checkpoints on the way back to Safaga would be less and there would be less traffic so the drive should only take about 3 hours.
We headed back through all of the small towns in Qena on the way to the capital city of Qena and we noticed that there were a lot of people milling around at the intersection of each Main Street in the town. It looked like there were tables and chairs being set up and for the townspeople to gather and enjoy a meal.
Setting up for the Ramadan feast at sundown after the last call to prayer. Mustapha in his broken english kept telling me ‘free meal’, so I understood that the meal did have something to do with Ramadan and the nightly celebrations when everyone gathers to eat together. We had seen the cafes in Jeddah, with the chairs on top of the tables in the parks and knew that these were gathering places after dark for Muslims.
Another small town setting up for their feast.
The next town we came to, the traffic stopped in front of us. Our driver Mustapha rolled down his window and the people from the town offered us fresh dates and a juice box.
This was what we got from the first town.
The next town offered us freshly squeezed orange juice and containers of dates!
The offerings from the second town.
And it went on and on. Every town we stopped at wanted to offer every one who was passing through their town, a small snack to take along our way. Dates are traditionally eaten each evening at ‘Iftar’ or break fast in Arabic, to break the day’s fast and the prophet Muhammad said that eating 7 dates a day protected one from poison and witchcraft. The food offered for free in each town is a part of the Muslim custom to break the day’s fast and to give unto others by offering snacks to break the fast. I was overwhelmed with the generosity of people who seemingly did not have much, that they would offer complete strangers fresh squeezed juices and containers of dates. One town we went through would not let Mustapha leave the town until he had taken some pomegranate juice through the window, and handed them back the plastic, reusable cup. To avoid having to stop in every town we would raise our juice to the window and offer a hand over our heart, and bow our heads to thank these very generous townsfolk who wanted to feed and hydrate us.
As the sun set over Egypt, I had a very contented smile on my face thinking about the fascinating day we had in this country so very rich in ancient history, but also seeing such happy, generous people celebrating their religion so festively at Ramadan.
The sunset from the car photo does not do this sunset much justice. It was a beautiful sunset as we drove towards Qena knowing we still had a further 2+ hours to get back to Safaga to our waiting ship.
Qena City had Ramadan lights up to celebrate the month long Ramadan celebration.
I think I fell asleep somewhere between Qena and when our driver Mustapha said he wanted to stop to use the washroom and to get a coffee at a local roadside coffee spot. He asked us if we wanted anything, but we were too tired to get out of the car or drink anything more for the night. We saw that the small coffee shop place that Mustapha was stopping at had a small mosque attached to it. We had just passed the Viking buses on the other side of the road, where they had stopped around the same time as us, so we knew that we would make it back to the ship near the same time as the buses. Mustapha left us for about 15 minutes and we couldn’t understand where he was.
As I looked out the window as we were waiting for Mustapha to return from his coffee break, I saw this woman in her hijab and her two children were going from car to car asking for money.
Women at the coffee shop about an hour outside of Safaga.
Finally Mustapha made it back from his rest and we realized that the final ‘Call to Prayer’ for the day had just occurred and Mustapha must have wanted to attend the Call to Prayer and that is what had taken so long for him to get back to the car. It was difficult to understand Mustapha, but he was very friendly and assured us that we would still make it back to the ship with time to spare.
We arrived back to the ship at 8:40pm, with a full 20 minutes to spare for our back on board time. We had left the port of Safaga at 6:45am so our day was a full 14 hours! Thank goodness we have the stamina for these long days because that was one heck of a long day! Even though all tips were included with Memphis Tours Richard still tipped Mustapha $30USD because he was just relieved he got us back on time to the ship and had been a good driver, despite the crazy traffic and road conditions.
Egypt was so very, very fascinating! I have not even processed all of the wonderful things that we saw and did on our very long day, but I know when we look back on our time in Egypt we will be so glad we spent the time to do the long day trip to Luxor. Now of course I want to see the Pyramids of Giza near Cairo. There are Viking Nile cruises so who knows? It would sure cut out the long day travelling if we arrived via the Nile to see the sights. Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt also has some wonderful beach resorts and hotels, so perhaps we will come back for another trip, to spend more quality time in Luxor as well as see some of the other places in Egypt we could not visit on our one day whirlwind tour of such a fascinating place!