Friday, April 8, 2011

5 Star

 Scanning the passengers on the plane, I assess we're the only tourists on the flight from Cairo to Luxor. As the plane climbs we stray from the path of the Nile and into the red lands. Its inhospitable desert is void of any of the 20 million that overcrowd the capital. Peering out from the airplane window I only see ripples of dirt for miles. In an hour we will reduce our beleaguing populace by 19.5 million.

Unlike Cairo, where we stayed in a very practical apartment, in Luxor we'll be staying at a 5-star hotel. This is huge. We are not 5-star hotel stayers. Ever. But, because of the "deep revolution we-have-no-guests discount", this posh hotel is now within our budget. It even has 3 pools, a water slide and a mini-zoo.  Sky sees the plaque inside the lobby with  5 stars on it at the reception desk he eloquently utters what we all know to be true. "This is way above our class."  He said.  Thank god he realizes that.  
Then I started in.
  “See that plaque?  It’s a reminder to use your 5 star behavior. Which means, don’t wrestle your brother, don’t punch your sister.  And for god’s sake don’t whine, we’re in the Disney Land of Egypt, ok?  It’s the second happiest place on earth.  And don’t cop any 5 star attitudes!  I’m watching you.  The rest of your life is downhill from here on out. So enjoy it now.”  

The next day we took the hotel shuttle bus into town. We’re starting at Karnak Temple, the preeminent structure when this was the ancient city of Thebes, before it was destroyed in 335 BC.   When we get to our stop, they’re waiting for us. All of them. Apparently, the whole town knows the hotel shuttle bus schedule.  Even if there are less people begging and hassling, if there is always someone hassling you, it really doesn’t matter how many there are.  But Craig is amazing at this.  He’s heckling them and the kids start to make a game of it too.   I put on my big oversize sunglasses, I can’t even look at them.  Let alone talk to them, I feel so guilty.  I’m the snooty, privileged, unsmiling, Caucasian woman with a slew of cute kids. Oh my god, I’m Posh Spice.

The temple is beautiful surrounded by a cloudless sky.  And we could use a freakin' cloud right about now, cause it’s hot as hell. The kids are melting and have become a puddle at our feet and we're swimming those Beckham kids attitudes I warned them about. Of course the Beckhams have nannies who can deal with them. Us?  We’re drenched in sweat and exhausted so we head back to the hotel pool  for the rest of the afternoon. It's hard being the Beckhams.

The next morning we head to the Valley of the Kings where 62 pharaohs tombs lie and there are even more waiting to be discovered.  Sky is super excited.  Only, if yesterday was as hot as hell, today its actually hotter than hell.   The sign says we can't take pictures and must relinquish our cameras to the guards, but we’ve learned Egyptian rules were meant to be broken.  So we ignore it.   There is little relief from the stifling heat, except inside the dark sepulchers.  We’re at the last one that’s open for touring,  Merenptah's chamber.  A guard approaches us gesturing with his hands. He's speaking in Arabic, but we know what he means and what he wants.  And we know whatever it is, we’re so gonna do it.  Or see it.  Or whatever.
  We follow him past the barricade. He leads us down under the ancient coffin, until we are all cowering under the outer shell of a Pharaohs catafalque. Were we’re touching the underside of Merenptah’s ancient crypt!  Distant voices are becoming less distant and I hand him our camera and he snaps our picture.  We scramble back up and discreetly tip him. I probably should have asked if there was some ancient curse we should know about.   

That night for dinner we eat outside with a view of the Nile. The kids sit at a table next to ours. It’s one of those rare moments where they’ve called some kind of truce and they’re kind and polite to each other.  That one moment that makes up for a  hundred million other moments when you’d give them away on the street.  I looked at the kids, then at the huge buffet of food and started sobbing. Uncontrollably.  We’re in post revolution Egypt where many Egyptians are going to bed hungry.  And here we are in a 5 star hotel surrounded by more food than we could eat in a year. I feel completely guilty.  Maybe Merenptah’s curse is that 5 pounds I’m going to put on eating all this guilt food.

 We met Ashraf the day before. There was something different about him. He wasn't like the rest of the hagglers. He could sense our weariness.  I'm guessing he is probably very well educated and like most of the well educated Arabs there just aren't many jobs for professionals, or many jobs period. We took him on for our official guide for the last day and a half.  True to his word, he never pressured us or set a price and then asked for more. In fact, he never set a price at all.  He asked we pay him what we thought was fair. He took us around the city that day and told us he had a boat and could take us on a sunset cruise up the Nile.  

We arrived at the marina at precisely 4. Ashram was waiting with his son. He led us right to his boat. A sailboat at sunset. How romantic.  As romantic as it can be with 4 kids. And absolutely  no wind. Not a gust, not a breeze, not a draft, not a puff. Nothing. And Banana Island is upstream. Of course. Ashram and son paddled and steered and I'm sure they prayed for some wind. Anything. We all took turns helping to get that boat up the Nile River, the longest slowest crawl up the Nile River. 

Our cruise took longer than planned.  We’re in the middle of the crocodile infested Nile in the dark.  But, there is something much worse, mosquitos.  Swarms of them.  They are insidious and they’re out for blood. Finally we reach the far bank and pay Ashram.   His family will eat for a few more days.  

 The last day, we went into town one more time.  We spend the morning loading up on trinkets for the kids. We help the kids to bargain, but Sky has got it down. The feigned disinterest, the I don't think my parents will let me get that anyway innocent expression. He’s good.  Now, everyone's got their little piece of something to remember Egypt by. Not that any of us could really forget it.  It was the most powerful trip we’ve ever taken.  

In a taxi on the way to the airport we see hundreds of people with signs celebrating victorious revolution in Luxor.  Or so we thought, until we got home and a week after we left Egypt thousands of demonstrators barricaded themselves in Tahrir Square demanding the removal of the military council ruling in Egypt.  It turned violent and over 70 demonstrators were beaten and at least one was killed.

The thing about revolutions is things always get worse before they get better. 


Haila Bullets said...

I am glad that you finally got to go to Egypt. I love how you actually took the time to know whose tomb you were in, even if you didn't know who he actually was. I would have cried at dinner too...only I would have eaten the cake...after drinking all the wine. I was wondering if you could feel the revolt in the air? Like animals that instinctively run to high ground during a flood, or out of the forest during a fire? My friend lives in Egypt and had been commenting that the 'air feels strange, and alive' the week before Tahir. I am just curious if others could feel what she was feeling. Take care! I will keep sending happy adventure thoughts your way!

The Loerzels said...

There was a feeling of optimism mixed with restlessness and anticipation. I have never felt anything quite like it. A man in Luxor told us that the revolt was planned months in advance and that he travelled to Cairo to be part of it. He is one of those in the mass of educated Egyptians who are underemployed. What an incredible reminder that freedom isn't free.


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