Feeling: TOMB RAIDER-ISH
And to the Valley of the Kings.
Now, I was looking forward to this visit. Very much so. The home to 63 – discovered, many more still potentially and probably encased in the area – great kings and pharaohs and such’s tombs including my main boy, King Tutankhamen.
It always (especially the past week) had me a bit, What the fuck have they been doing; hundreds of years and very slowly unearthing new (well very old, but newly found) tombs. You see, in my mind “Valley of the Kings” was sort of like a valley with tombs coming off each side, kind of like a big-scaled cemetery combined with a storage site.
No no no.
The Valley of the Kings is a vast, previously isolated area, deep in the heart of an arid, barren stretch of desert land. Rock and limestone and a high peak mean excavating the hidden underground mausoleums isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. For a period of almost 500 years (16th – 11th century BC) kings and powerful nobles (and sometimes their close fam and pets) were laid to rest deep inside among their jewels, gold, clothes, furniture, food, beer and wine.
Because of the huge numbers of people coming through in tourism, the tombs are now under a rotation system – a limited number are open to view at any one time with the others closed off. You buy a GA ticket which gives entrance to three tombs, with those of certain others costing a little extra.
(Again, very – stokingly – surprised at how non swarming with sight-seers these places are; while they do get busy-ish, they’re never bustling to the point of being bursting)
On going through security Michael asked who wanted to treat themselves to King Tut; about six of us were in. (An extra $25 or so, I’d a moment deliberating over it – then thought, What the fuck am I doing! No question about it). So the whole group visited two first (very beautiful and elaborately decorated all over the walls; with the detail and colour still present, it made you ponder over how perfect they must’ve been at their birth). One of the lads had bought a photo ticket, so he was in to take pics on the group’s behalf and share them later. (It was actually super lovely to not worry about pics and be fully present in what you were looking at). (Except for when I saw an owl hieroglyph and wanted to document him forever; the man at the entrance let me take a sly shot for a stealthy 20EGP note).
And then it was to see my main man.
So King Tut is fairly young in regards to his celebrity; his tomb – KV62 – only discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, was found underneath the remains of workmen’s huts from the finding of Rameses’ tomb a mere few metres away. Tut’s infamousy is so great as a result of the extensive media coverage surrounding his reveal. Before then, no one had actually heard of him. You see, Tut died at the age of 19 after a ten-year reign as king (rumour has it he was killed when being bucked off a camel, though it’s highly debated – many other theories claim he was born with a deformity that went on to take his life). Robbed and resealed twice in the period following its completion, his tomb was rather hurried in finish on account of his early exit.
First thing I noted was how tiny his tomb was – the others were quite long and lavish, while his was much more compact. (Michael told us later that the size of the tomb is in direct relation to how long they ruled; as soon as a king took the crown, their tomb started construction so there wasn’t much time to hustle his). I headed down the ladder length to the chamber, and suddenly there he was.
You see, I knew King Tut had been let to rest in his actual resting place (pretty much all the others had been uprooted to museums and such long ago). What I didn’t realise was that he isn’t actually in his golden sarcophagus – rather, his linen-wrapped mummified bod was undressed and laid in a climate-controlled glass box with but a mere sheet across him.
It made me sad. Sounds silly, but I felt really sorry for him. I mean, he was a real life person and here he is on display with people fawning over him.
He was a little lad – I know he’s obviously shrunk with time and such, but if you stood him up I’d say he’d come up to my upper chest. He looked so naked; King Tut’s tomb (say that fast 15 times) was renowned for the wealth of valuable antiquities it continued – most of which were actually on him in the form of jewellery and masks and what not – whereas he was just a little shrunken soul in a white sheet with nothing extra on him.
I was with a guy from my group called Andrew who had hustled the photo taking ticket from aforementioned lad earlier (he hadn’t opted to come see Tut), so he pulled out his phone and took two pics of the carcass. Suddenly a tomb man (right term?) came over and informed us no photos – only for the other three tombs, but not King Tut (until everyone had left the area and he let the photos keep kept for 50EGP which him and I halved). (Andrew and myself, not me and the tomb man). (He also let me take a photo of the baboon penis, which was nice of him). (What a hustler). (Tomb man, not baboon).
I don’t know how I feel about tomb trooping and traipsing through. (Kind of like how I felt after safari). I felt a little disrespectful; even though these guys are long gone, I felt quite discourteous and disregarding and all other “D” words. I mean, it was incredible; I just felt a little wrong.
As a full group we visited the third tomb, then it was onto an Alabaster factory, yet another temple (last one! Temple of Hatshepsut, the first ever female king) (if you’re impressed by my remembrance of all these temple names, I must confess; location services on my phone label where I am in all my pics so I can revisit and know), lunch and then the long, long haul back to Cairo.
First stop – the museum. And most definitely the most busiest place I’ve visited so far in Egypt. With a group over eight, it’s now a rule that each must wear a headset with their guide under a mike (hah, funny because our one’s name is Mike) as they move through the rooms of riches.
Because my word, is there stuff in there or what. They government are currently under the process of constructing a new museum, scheduled for opening next year; when I heard this I felt sad for the current one (as always, personifying things and giving them feelings) but when I got there I understood – it’s literally a whole lot of shit shoved in all the rooms. It reminded me a lot of Kathmandu airport – it felt like a big warehouse space with things just put here and there with no real uniformity (though apparently it was in sections, and upstairs was a bit better).
I think potentially because I was still a bit templed out, but I was not initially impressed with all the items. Bits of ruins and shards of special things didn’t instil that sense of wonder it may have done if I had visited there first. (Almost got in a brawl in front of one of the first wooden statues though – as I was taking a pic, an Asian woman literally shunted me aside so I shunted her back, we had a bit of a glare and everyone moved along. Phew – didn’t feel like a night incarcerated in the Cairo cells for assault; I bet release wouldn’t be quite straight forward as say, Hamilton).
Upstairs piqued more pleasure; Tutankhamen’s OG headdress (is that what it’s called?) on display in a “no photo” room with all the jewels and what not from his tomb (actually abided this time and didn’t take any pics of it, apologies). I felt sad thinking of the tiny Tut naked in his tomb while all his beautiful belongings sat on shelves a ten-hour drive away. A full on room of mummies, some with very interesting portraits painted on, then rows and rows of sarcophaguses.
After Mike on the mike, we had an hour to roam at will then met at the cafe for the next lined-up of the day; the Markets!
Two twindly streets of little stores and bazaars, we arrived when they were first opening up shop. Extremely excited the whole week about this stop off, I found I was a lot more sensible than I usually am in such situations; I stuck to the list of what I wanted to get (camels, camels, camels) and kept away from too much frivolous trinketing.
Usually I’m a rather good barterer – not to toot myself or anything, but my Dutch genealogy comes out and I’m pretty talented at whittling someone down from 500 to 50. But I found a lot of these shop stockists wouldn’t budge; even my usually fail proof walk-away didn’t always yield success. There was one thing I really, really, REALLY wanted and the man just knew – it was probably painted all over my face, which I’m usually quite good at masking – so I paid over the odds for it (100 EGP – about $7.50) – but when I give it to the person I bought it for, I know I’ll get the reaction that I would’ve paid 1000.
I had to rate it – one young man came out and said to me, “How can I take your money?”. Had to give him ups for honesty. Another young boy was quite taken with my blond hair and white skin and was dithering around trying to find the courage to ask if he could take a photo; I noticed and gestured to him over, and he was so overjoyed that he ran back to gift me a bracelette. (Part of me worries where said photo will go – hopefully just an FB profile pic).
After markets we went to the Citadel mosque – feeling a tad tired I couldn’t really be fucked, but as soon as I walked in and heard the wind-chime-like sounding of the chandelier, it instilled a deep sense of peace all through me. The rest of the group sat in a circle as Michael explained the story of the place, while I sort of sat off to the side and gazed up at the ceiling splendour thinking about my life. (Conclusion: shit I’m seriously fortunate).
Lunch, the “Hanging Church” (lit a candle for my Nanna) and then back to the hotel for a swim.
One of the optionals for the tour was the Sound and Light Show at the Sphinx, that night at 7.30pm for $26USD. I hadn’t signed up saying I’d decide on the day, and I was sort of to-ing and fro-ing over whether I should go or not. Lots of the others who had originally paid pulled out, saying they wanted to have beers by the pool. I was about to waive it too but then I thought, I’m in fucking Egypt; I’m not lying by a pool when I can go say bye to the pyramids. So I quickly got changed, paid my fee and joined the only other four still keen.
I’m really, really glad I went. The pyramids at sunset were phenomenal and I was really happy my last experience of Cairo was with the things I actually came to see. The Light and Sound show itself was a tad questionable – about 50 minutes with booming voiceovers relaying Egyptian history as lights beamed about the three pyramids and lit up the Sphinx. The performance hasn’t been updated since about the 1970s and had a rather Star Wars-esque feel to it. One of the other girls and I pondered as to why they used the voices of posh people from like Eton rather than Egyptians themselves. And my favourite part was when lights not meant to be part of the light show came through – planes flying above and headlights on full beaming out from the road that runs between two of the triangular constructions. I’m pretty sure I zoned out for about 20 (ok, 40) minutes of the show and as the final sounding of triumphant music announced the end, I was ready to go.
Late dinner by the hotel pool, a goodbye to the people not carrying on with us, then bed for a 3am wake up for the 10-hour drive on to Dahab.
Tit bits (oh so necessary):
⁃ Valley of the Kings: carbon dioxide, friction and the humidity produced by the average 2.8g of sweat left by each visitor have affected the reliefs and the stability of paintings in the tombs – reasoning as to why some are “rested” while others are open at given times.
⁃ On our goodbyes Michael (doesn’t come with us any further – we are passed into the palms of another guide) told the whole group how he would miss my “Poppy positivity” and my smile that makes the sun shine and everything feel all right. I hadn’t realised I’d had this effect with my frizzy hair and sweaty skin, so was quite nice to be told.
⁃ I’ve never received so many proposals of marriage; good way to make a girl feel good about herself, until you realise anyone with blonde hair and white skin will be asked for her hand a few hundred times a day.
⁃ Was hilarious; in one of the temples, Michael was showing us how the depictions of the pharaohs were extremely unrealistic in the way they stood – feet facing one way, torso perfectly to the front then head to the side as well. He used me as an example to show how anatomically, it “couldn’t be done”; however I have quite a swivelley torso on account of being a yoga teacher so could actually take on the form quite easily. (Not the best person to demonstrate I don’t think). Though I couldn’t do one aspect; they were all depicted with two left hands, while I most definitely have a right and left.
⁃ The carvings in the pillars and walls and what not in temples and tombs always make think of my Opa; not because he’s necessarily into them or a hieroglyphics man himself, but because the imprints remind me so much of the Dutch biscuits he always has on hand to have with tea.
Egypt, Egypt. I was saying to Stacey before we fell to slumber last night – I love it. I do. I just think having heard about pyramids and mummys and camels and tombs and Tut ever since I was a young girl, expectations were extremely high. Apart from the tingles on seeing the Sphinx and my first hieroglyphics, that sense of heightened awe never really got me. Don’t get me wrong; it’s incredible. It just didn’t evoke that emotion that I thought it might.
I think as well doing this leg in a tour has kept us a lot from the real Egypt. Friends who have travelled around here have told me of the hassling of men, the chaoticness, while I’ve never really felt it; I think we’ve been a bit moddey coddled, which in ways has been lovely, but also doesn’t give a true perception. The market was the first time I busted off on my own and roamed around and I have to say, I felt free – and I love freedom. I don’t like being too coddled in a pillow case.
Travelling, I most definitely love my mountains and landscapes. A couple of days cavorting round a city, then it’s to the hills and outskirts for me.
Egypt over and out. (Well not really; I head to Dahab for two days, which is in Egypt. But it’s beachy and sea-y and such, so I feel like out).