A divorce as a result of chick

a divorce as a result of chick

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The boxes

Remember those boxes which were couriered up a week before my departure to Egypt, and which were only supposed to take four days to arrive? Hah! Before I packed them I specifically asked DHL to email a copy of all prohibited or ‘problem’ items which could cause a delay at customs. They did so, and I made sure I didn’t pack in anything on the list. After the boxes had been delayed a month at customs in Cairo, we persuaded a representative of DHL to go and find out what the problem was and why the boxes still had not been delivered. They reported back that there were packets of beads in the boxes, which customs officials had decided I would make into jewellery and start up a commercial business in Egypt. We then asked a representative from the company my husband works for to investigate further. The same answer came back a few weeks later. They believed I was starting a business and it would ‘cost’ us to get the boxes released. We had already paid US$ 1200 to courier up seven medium size boxes, and customs officials now demanded an underhand ‘fee’ to release the one box containing the beads.
Let me explain why I had packed beads in the first place. Back in South Africa I had a normal day job, I also worked after hours doing the books for a construction company, have two sons who were still in school and needed to be fetched and carried, attend school meetings and board meetings, a home to run, meals to cook, and the list goes on. I left all that behind and had to find something to occupy myself with, and as I wished to learn beadwork, this was the opportunity to do so. But as with all new hobbies it wouldn’t be possible without a selection of beads in different sizes and colours, so I had about fifteen tiny bags of beads and a selection of various fancy ones.
As three months had now passed and our offer of US$ 200 in bribe money had been rejected, we informed the customs officials they could send the box containing the beads back to South Africa, and forward the other six on to us. All of a sudden there was a problem with all our boxes and the cost of the bribe we had to pay was now US$ 580. Everyone I talked to just shrugged their shoulders, smiled and said “welcome to Egypt”. Everyone knows this corruption exists and even Egyptians have to pay customs a bribe any time they need to bring anything into the country.
My clever husband then negotiated a cash payment on delivery of the boxes, and magically the very next day they arrived on our doorstep. I must mention however, that to my utter dismay, some of the fancy beads had been stolen out the box.

Scenes of Luxor

The modern railway station building
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Nothing better than taking a horse and carriage ride at sunset to see the sights
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Hot air ballooning over what we were told was Howard Carters house
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Loved the sign for crocodile restaurant “very cheap and snappy serves”
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Beautiful pink mimosa trees in full bloom around Karnak temple
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Luxor – Luxor temple

The Luxor Temple is on a very much smaller scale than Karnak, but also steeped in ancient history. Situated in the heart of the modern side of Luxor, this temple is at its most beautiful at sunset, when the stones look as though they are glowing. We however visited in the early morning before it became too crowded.
Entrance to Luxor temple
Built by Amenhotep III and Ramses II, the Luxor temple was added to over the years by, among others, Tutankhamun and Alexander the Great. The Romans built a military fort around the temple which the Arabs called Al-Uqsur, meaning Fortification, and which gave Luxor its name.
Evidence of Roman occupation of the temple
During the 14th century a local sheikh, Abu al-Haggag built a mosque inside one of the courtyards which still stands today.
Mosque of Abu al-Haggag
In the immediate area surrounding the temple excavations are ongoing on the ancient mudbrick houses and shops, which modern day Egyptians merely built on top of. As in the Avenue of Sphinxes, an entire civilisation has been buried beneath haphazard ramshackle buildings with no thought as to the value of this ancient buried city. Indeed a huge shame.
The great inner courtyard

Luxor – Karnak Temple

Our last day in Luxor was spent on the east bank at the temples. The Temple of Karnak is a vast sprawling site covering over two square kilometres. Dedicated to Theban gods and pharaohs, it is a sad ruin of what must have been one of the greatest structures in Lower Egypt between 1500 BC and 1100 BC. The entrance today is an avenue rams head sphinxes which used to be the link between the main temple and the Mut temple. It is believed the god Amun lived on earth with his wife Mut and son Khonsu.
Avenue of Rams at the entrance to Karnak temple
The most imposing part of the temple of Amun is the Apostle Hall which is one of the second largest ancient religious sites in the world. One hundred and thirty four massive papyrus shaped columns standing five stories high, covered in carvings depicting the life of the Pharaohs. The Apostle Hall has been the scene of many movies including the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.

Great Hypostle Hall

During the New Kingdom Karnak was called Ipet-Sut, meaning ‘Most esteemed of places’ and in Arabic it means “fortified settlement’. Over the course of almost 1500 years Karnak was built, added to, broken down, enlarged and decorated. The oldest part of the complex is the centre, with the outer areas having been built on by pharaohs eager to leave behind a record of their existence.
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The tallest obelisk in Egypt stands in Karnak, and is the Obelisk of Hatshepsut erected by her to honour her father. Standing thirty metres high and carved from a single piece of pink granite, it forms a focal point in the centre of the temple.
Obelisk of Hatshepsut
To write about each section of this enchanting ruin would take weeks as the history is lengthy and diverse. But I must make mention of the sacred lake where apparently the priests of Amun bathed four times daily for ritual purity.
Sacred lake
Next to the lake is the Fallen Obelisk of Hatshepsut showing carvings of her coronation, and a giant carved scarab beetle, which our Egyptologist told us if one circles the scarab seven times anti-clockwise and makes a wish, the wish will come true. Did I circle it seven times anti-clockwise and make a wish? Of course! Did it come true? I don’t know yet, as my wish is for my two sons to live long healthy happy lives.
Scarab beetle

Luxor – Valley of the Kings

One of the saddest parts of our trip to Luxor was that we were not allowed to take a camera into the Valley of the Kings. Over the years the huge influx of tourists has meant this historical site now has to be protected from the carbon emissions of camera flashes and only certain tombs are open to view at any given time, as they are rotated in an effort to preserve them.
Sixty three royal tombs have so far been uncovered in the Valley of Kings, and they range from small, shallow and boring like Tutankhamun’s, to large, deep and spectacular like Ramses IX. The reason the tombs are so different is largely due to the length of the reign of the king and how long the artisans had to work on them. Tutankhamun died at a very young age hence his incomplete tomb.
The visitors centre at the entrance to the valley has a large model of the location of the tombs, their depth into the rock and the names of the royal king whose tomb it was. A ticket only allows visitors to view three of the tombs, so it’s best to chose carefully before going in. Any of the Ramses tombs are well worth a visit as the walls descending into the burial chamber are filled with colourful reliefs of the kings life. All the tombs are empty having been either looted over the years, or the artefacts moved to museums.
The only photos I have of the valley are from the hot air balloon, which unfortunately don’t show the beauty and colour of the reliefs the artisans must have worked so long and hard on.

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Valley of the kings in Luxor

Luxor – hot air ballooning

Our hotel room had the most amazing view over the Nile with the Valley of the Kings as a backdrop, and I was delighted when I stepped outside to see the hot air balloons rising against the mountain. Needless to say we booked a trip for the next day, but it meant being there before dawn.
Hot air balloon rising in front of the Valley of the Kings
We were collected from the hotel at 03h00 and taken down to the ferry to cross over to the west bank. We were collected from the ferry landing point and driven in the semi darkness to the take off point, or should I say rising point, where teams were already laying the huge canvass out on the flat earth.

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As soon as our balloon was inflated it was up and away in the pre-dawn, on a warm windless morning. As we rose up and looked out over the Nile, the first glimpse of the morning sun made a breathtaking view.
Sunrise over Luxor
To get a complete picture I spent some time looking down, and was amazed at no matter the condition of the residential buildings, there was a satellite dish on the roof and an enclosure around the outside for goats. Imagine my surprise when we sailed over an enclosure containing camels!

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It was an experience I will treasure always, and gives one of the best views of Luxor. The Nile, historical sites, lush agricultural fields, and that complete silence which fills your soul with peace.
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Luxor – Temple of Hatshepsut

Our next stop on the West Bank was the Temple of Hatshepsut also known as Djeser-djeseru, which means the “Holy of Holies”. Set at the base of a U shape majestic limestone cliff known as Deir el Bahari, the temple is a monument to the most famous of Egypt’s female pharaohs, Hatshepsut. When her husband Thutmose II died in 1479 BC, Hatshepsut became regent for her stepson Thutmose III, but when he became of age instead of declaring him king, she proclaimed herself as pharaoh. Needless to say it made her very unpopular with her stepson, but during her rule between 1473 – 1458 BC, Egypt prospered and was a land of peace.
Temple of Hatshepsut
The long causeway leading to the temple used to be lined with sphinxes as well as statues of Hatshepsut either standing or sitting. Sadly the sphinxes and statues are no longer there, having been destroyed after her death by Thutmose III. Beside the causeway courtyards of lush gardens filled with exotic fragranced plants and trees such as frankincense and myrrh have been reduced to nothing more than small marked spots today. The façade of this magnificent structure must have looked immensely beautiful during her reign, and not the stark and perhaps sad structure it is now.
Remnant of an exotic tree lining the causeway to the temple
Behind the colonnades on the first level, or lower terrace, are many reliefs of Hatshepsut where her face has either been destroyed or replaced by the face Thutmose III. The ramp up to the second level is flanked by two crouching lions and the colonnades on this level are square instead of round. Reliefs behind the right hand colonnade show Hatshepsut’s father, Amun-Ra, her mother, queen Ahmose, as well as Hatshepsut’s birth. The left side has reliefs showing the expedition to the land of Punt (not too sure where that is) for the exotic plants and trees to be planted in the courtyard, as well as some cattle, and even baboons.
Queen Hatshepsut
Two statues of Horus stand guard at the ramp leading to the third level. A central doorway takes you into an enclosed courtyard, where directly in front of you is the Sanctuary of Amun which has been carved directly out of the cliff. The pink granite doorway has been set so that it points directly to Hatshepsut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. To the left of the Sanctuary of Amun is the chapel dedicated to the Royal Cult, and to the right is the chapel dedicated to the Solar Cult. Each year, the winter solstice sunrise on 22 December shines directly through onto the rear wall of the chapel. As the sun moves it illuminates the statue of Amun-Ra, moving along to illuminate the kneeling figure of Thutmose III before finally shining on Hapi, the Nile God.
Pink granite doorway leading to the Sanctuary of Amun.
The Temple of Hatshepsut has the most amazing architecture, and was designed by one of her royal viziers Senenmut. It is believed Senenmut was Hatshepsut’s lover, so perhaps the architecture of this temple was testimony to his love for her.

Luxor – Colossi of Memnon

Luxor is divided by the Nile into the West bank and the East bank. The East bank has the city of Luxor, hotels, museums and temples. The West bank is where all the good stuff is, and where you’ll find the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Nobles, temple of Deir al-Bahri and many, many more. We started our day with a trip to the West bank and our first stop was the Colossi of Memnon. These are two massive statues each carved from a single block of sandstone. They depict king Amenhotep III sitting on his throne with his hands on his knees, facing east towards the Nile and wearing the royal headdress, or Nemes, with a cobra protecting his forehead. The Colossi were apparently originally situated in front of his mortuary temple, once the largest temple built in Egypt. Nothing remains today of the temple, as the annual floods destroyed the foundations and the remaining stone was dismantled and reused by other rulers. Each colossus from the ground to the top of the crown is approximately twenty metres tall. Carvings on the side panels depict the Nile God Hapi holding lotus and papyrus plants, which symbolise Upper and Lower Egypt.

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The Colossi of Memnon were famous during Roman times, and many poems were written about them. The reason for this was because it is believed the statues sung. One theory is that during the day the suns heat expanded the stone and at night the cool air made them contract, making the statues sing at dawn. The other theory is the wind reverberates through the cracks in the statues. The Colossi of Memnon got their name from the Trojan, Agha Memnon, and whose name means “Ruler of the Dawn” which may be why there is the theory the statues sung at dawn. Sadly we didn’t hear the statues sing, but then we didn’t visit them at dawn.

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Luxor – sailing a Felucca on the Nile

My first experience of the Nile was sailing late in the afternoon on a felucca from the hotel jetty. These small sailing boats rely on the wind for power, and their large sails catch even the slightest breeze.

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Surprisingly the water was relatively clear and we could see the water reeds in shallower water. However as we sailed along, the downturn in the Egyptian economy became evident with hundreds of large river boats tied up along the shore. Some lashed together five deep with no sign of passengers or crew aboard.

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As soon as we came close to the landing jetty our boat captain swiftly climbed up the main mast and tied down the large sail. As it was summer the river was high with a good current, so our felucca was able to glide on without wind or the sail.

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The banks of the Nile are lush and green filled with bird life and the occasional donkey. On our way back downriver as our little craft was carried along on the current, we were treated to the most spectacular sunset.

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Sailing in a felucca is very cheap and a wonderful way to experience the Nile up close. Highly recommended. Feluccas are also available to cruise from Luxor to Aswan and take roughly 4 days, but don’t expect any luxuries on board!