Thursday, July 9, 2009

Adrift on the Nile

     Since my last post I have had the opportunity to experience the many wonders and wonderousness (sp?) of Luxor Egypt, which used to be known as Thebes, the ancient capital of Lower Egypt.  We're talking seriously ancient.  And seriously hot as well.  Like 115' F hot!  But we braved the heat and set out to walk the footsteps of Pharoahs past.  After arriving in Luxor on a less than sanitary and staunchly segregated train (we weren't allowed to sit with the Egyptians in second class, but were instead told we had to be in first class with the other "tourists", but if what we had was first class, I don't want to see second class) we rested for the day and then set out on a sunset felugga ride on the Nile.  This felugga ride would single handedly determine the rest of our experience in Luxor.  Our guide, Captain Es, as he liked to be called, was a character of the highest order.  Jovial, loving, and good natured to the core our relationship with Es would more than cross the line from "tourists" to "habibi" (family in Arabic).  After our felugga ride, Es invited us back to his very modest home with his mother, father, sister, and many nieces and nephews for dinner.  By most Western standards they live in pretty drastic poverty, but relative to the West Bank in Luxor they were doing pretty well for themselves.  As I mentioned in the last post, this was the evening of beard "threading", an experience I won't soon forget.  So after our tour of the West Bank the following day, which included the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and several other ruins all of which date to around about 2500 BCE, which means they are about four and a half thousand years old.  Ancient!  And inspiring.  And also a bit disturbing as well.  Anyone who takes in these wonders is instantly struck by the magnitude and incredible decadence and thus effort required to erect these places.  But I started to think of all the strife that went into building these colossal buildings.  Slaves' strife.  Blood.  Sweat.  Tears.  Certain death, there can be no doubt.  Working in this heat to build something that the Pharoah believes his immortality is riding on.  The agony and pain that must have been inflicted upon those that actually built these temples with their bare hands... suddenly the walls look a little different.  They're still magnificent in their craftmanship and historical value, but they begin to seem trivial and extremely egomanical.  I don't want to deter anyone from seeing these ruins.  They are quite simply incredible and there is nothing else like it.  But it's bizarre when you realize all this was done to essentially "buy" immortality and in doing so their cost to people's lives is immeasurable.  Just a random thought from a plebian passing through.  
       The next day... more ruins.  Karnack Temple, the oldest temple in Egypt and one of the most incredible sites I have ever beheld, a massive temple that many different Pharoahs added to in an effort to one up the previous Pharoah to demonstrate their greatness.  We're talking "jaw-dropping-can't-believe-this-actually-exists-and-people-are-the-source-of-it" big.  After Karnack we headed over to Luxor Temple, it's smaller and just as impressive cousin.  They are actually connected by a 3 km road that used to play host to a huge procession in ancient times when priests would drink and be merry and carry the statue of the Sun God, Amun-Ra, and his wife from Karnack to Luxor for a 24 day "honeymoon".  Apparently on one of these visits the Moon God was conceived.  Yeah for the moon god! 

     After a day of exploring temples and ruins and only hours before catching an all night train back to Cairo as we now begin to make our way back to Israel (oh how sweet it will be), we met back up with our faithful captain Es for a final ride, brought to us courtesy of his hospitality.  After sailing to the West bank for dinner, we set out for our final sunset on the Nile.  We parked the boat in some marsh, got out and bathed/waded in the Nile.  After watching the sun set from within the Nile, we all laid together on the front bow of the sailboat and watched the stars grow brighter and brighter.  Here Es started singing some of the Arabic songs he had taught us and we in turn sang the responses he had taught us.  He sang another song that he translated for us as being thankful for the many brothers and sisters Allah brings into our lives.  He then asked us, in his broken English, to teach him some songs.  We decided to share with him several of the incredibly beautiful Hebrew songs that we sang with the Livnot trip.  Strikingly they meant the very same thing.  Arabic & Hebrew.  Muslim & Jewish.  Both so beautiful and so similar in so many ways.  Es just stared off as we sang him our songs.  As we finished and silence decended, I looked across the river and a sliver of the brightest, reddest, fullest moon I have ever seen began to rise steadily over the water.  When I saw this I unconsciously let out an "Oh my God!"  As Es turned to see what I was talking about, in a strikingly similar tone he said "Sapon Allah", the exact same sentence in Arabic.  We were collectively humbled and unmistakably aware of how beautiful this experience we were sharing was.   There we sat, after having just shared unprecedented intimacy, and watched the full moon rise over the Nile in silence.  It was an experience without comparison.
     As the moon cast her light onto the river, Es and I began to row our sailboat back across the river to the East bank so we could catch our night train.  We said goodbye to our newly acquired friend, vowing to send pictures when we get back to America, and set off to Cairo.  And that is where we are now.  I lucked out with a really great find on a website called Couch Surfing and am being hosted by an amazing guy here in Cairo with an amazing penthouse apartment that overlooks the entire city.  He's a photographer (bit of a kindred spirit) and has been an amazing help to us as we now prepare to head to Nuweiba Sinai for a few days of being in the middle of nowhere with local Bedouins on the Red Sea.  Apparently the norm is to sleep in huts on the sand, hang out with local Bedouins who will go out and catch your dinner for you for a fair price.  Should be lots of interesting travelers, some music around the campfire, the quintessential bright stars of the Sinai and then back to Israel.  

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