Karnak temple sits on the east bank of Luxor so we had to catch the ferry across the Nile to reach it. The east side was a complete contrast to the tranquil west, it was chaotic, noisy and full of pestering touts. Before we visited the temple I wanted to stop at the local animal hospital called ACE to see the great work the charity does and meet some of the animals. We needed a taxi to get there so we hailed one and the chap actually got out of his car to speak to us about where we wanted to go. I whispered to Craig that he clearly (foolishly) thought we would be ignorant tourists paying any price. He quoted 100EGP to which we choked a little and said “la la la” (no no no) and we gave our price of 20. My god did he get angry. He shouted at us saying we had offended him, we had no clue what the price should be and then he stormed back to his car and slammed the door. We continued walking and of course he slowly drove alongside us, opened the window and said “ok ok 30!”. We didn’t mind paying that much but we were so pissed off by his aggressive response that we said no and got the next taxi for 30. We knew what was a good price from the journeys we’d already taken in Egypt but the locals are used to tourists who compare the prices to their home country “ah it’s only $5” which makes our life very difficult as we have to barter so much harder.
So, we eventually made it to the animal hospital which is run by an English lady and totally nonprofit. We timed our visit quite badly as the staff were on lunch break so all of the treatment had stopped for the hour we were there but we were still given a tour of the facilities and a few donkeys and horses. Locals can bring any animal to the hospital where they are treated for free and staff are also trying to educate them about caring for their animals and trying to prevent abuse as there are many working horses pulling carts around the city who are underweight and baring injuries. There were some really sad photos on the walls showing wounds caused by humans so hopefully the educational classes they hold will teach the new generations to do better. We left a donation and headed off just as the gates opened and locals ushered their animals in for medical attention.
Our journey back was a lot easier as we could get any mini van heading towards the city. A group of ladies also hopped in after visiting the local market. They each had a crate filled with live pigeons, ready to be killed and plucked for dinner – stuffed pigeon is a delicacy in Egypt. There were feathers flying everywhere as the birds frantically flapped and squeaked in the crates. When we were back in the city we searched for a van to take us to Karnak temple but the one-way system made it really tricky to find one going our direction. After walking around aimlessly and getting hassled by all the men riding the horse and carts, we eventually got into the correct van. Sadly, the cheeky bugger of a driver, knowing full well that we’d asked to go to Karnak drove right past it and by the time we asked we found out he’d taken us 2km too far. So then we needed another van back the way we’d come – as you can imagine our tolerance for Egypt was dwindling.
Finally, we arrived and after two thorough bag searches and numerous offers for guides we were on our way. Karnak is considered to be the largest ancient religious site in the world at over 200 acres, which is more than 150 football pitches! They say it took a whopping 2000 years of building and expanding to finish the temple. Can you imagine living in the neighbourhood and there being loud building noises for generations!!
It was still fairly busy in the late afternoon when we arrived so we followed the crowds to the highlight of the temple – the huge towering columns. Each pillar had pharaohs and stories carved into the peach coloured stone. At around 100ft tall they totally dwarfed us as we wondered amongst them, like little ants beneath skyscrapers. It seemed like most of the temple had crumbled and was slowly being reconstructed. Pieces of statues laid on the floor, numbered and waiting to be put back together, it actually felt more like a museum of artefacts rather than a temple and it certainly didn’t feel like the biggest religious site we’ve ever visited.
Towards the back of the complex the crowds dwindled until it was just us and a wild jackal roaming amongst the ruins. There were a few more giant columns which featured colour in the detailing but a lot of the area was still being reconstructed. To be honest, except for the impressive columns we didn’t rate Karnak much, preferring Abu Simbel and the Pyramids.
After a couple of hours we needed to head back to the city to meet our Australian friend Liam for a catch up. All we needed was a minivan to take us 3km straight down the road…but suddenly the van we were in turned left and we took the most convoluted route. We kept asking the passengers by pointing the direction we wanted to go or saying ‘Luxor temple’ and they nodded their heads so we just had to hope we were going the right way. Then we literally drove straight through a bazaar. It was ridiculous, we were now fifteen minutes behind our meet up time and we were driving snail pace past shops and market stalls sprawling into the narrow road.
We did eventually meet Liam who said it was a horrendous twenty minutes as everyone was pestering him so he just had to put his headphones in while he waited for us. We decided to head out for Shisha, Liam had had a few since being in Egypt but Craig and I had avoided them after the last time we took part in Bangkok when we smoked for too long and it seemed to have a strange laxative effect, causing us both to run back to the hotel before shitting ourselves.
We found a local shisha style cafe with walls covered in smoking pipes. Before ordering we checked the price for tea and shisha, which was a good thing as they quoted us too much so we had to barter. Finally, we nestled down on some cushioned seats and our mango flavoured shisha was brought over to us. Craig was given the pipe to start toking which was weird as normally the staff gets it going for the customer. After a couple of tokes the worker took the pipe off him, apologised about something or the other and took the whole shisha away as if there was something wrong with it. Then he returned with a very strange looking alternative. It was basically a homemade shisha made from a sort of wine bottle and pipe – it literally looked like a bong made by a kid in his bedroom back in England. We were so confused, there were about 10 other customers, all lone men smoking a proper 3ft tall shisha to themselves but us three plebs shared a table-top bong. We must’ve been the joke of the tea shop, the worker assured us it was a “traditional shisha” but it obviously wasn’t. Anyway, we had little choice so we toked away and my god was I a coughing mess. In fact, we all were and that’s thanks to it being such a tiny shisha that the smoke didn’t really cool down enough before it hit the back of our throats, so if the locals weren’t already laughing at us they certainly were when they saw us all chocking. We did laugh a lot ourselves too as we must’ve looked quite the sight!
After our shisha session we headed out for some dinner and Liam found a place on tripadvisor with great reviews. As we walked up the road leading to it a local called out the name of the restaurant and said “I take you there!” We told him we were fine and he shouted at us saying “YOU ARE RUBBISH PEOPLE!”. So graceful in this country.
We stepped into the restaurant foyer and it looked pretty fancy so of course us backpackers asked to look at the menu beforehand to check the prices. It was a lot more than our usual street eats but we all decided we deserved a treat. Before we asked for a table an Asian couple came in and had a really rude attitude with the staff. The worker sat them downstairs and when they pointed up the stairs to see if they could sit in the main restaurant the worker said they were full. When we finally asked for a table we were surprised to be taken upstairs! We ran up, giggling like kids because we were invited to sit in the much fancier area…but in reality we later realised downstairs tables only had Asian guests whereas upstairs was all white tourists. It was quite a shock and sad to see the staff treating people differently.
We were sat on a huge round table with a rim around the edge like a humongous tray. There was a sofa and big armchairs to sit on so we felt like royalty but it was rather impractical for eating as the table was only a couple of feet tall. Liam popped down to the toilet and was beaming when he returned. He couldn’t stop raving about how fancy the toilets were, especially for Egypt! He said “there’s fresh towels to dry you hands on and even a bottle of aftershave!” while shoving his wrist towards our noses to give it a sniff. We both told him it smelt of lemon and I questioned if he was sure if it was aftershave and not air fresher. Then he panicked as he revealed he had a condition where he can’t smell so we were all in absolute hysterics that he thought he’d covered himself in a lovely cologne that turned out to be bathroom spray!
Craig decided to splash out on the local delicacy of stuffed pigeon while Liam and I picked a vegetarian moussaka. The pigeon was an utter disappointment, totally dry with very little meat amongst the fiddly bones. But we had a nice time and on our walk back to our hotels we stopped at a dessert shop. The signs were all written in Arabic so we were trying to suss out what the desserts were. The staff got us behind the counter to peer at the products and I opted for a traditional Egyptian dish consisting of pastry layers soaked in milk while the boys got rice pudding. We got the desserts takeaway and soon after we left the shop we realised my milky pudding had leaked and was dripping down my leg. I wasn’t going to make it back to our hotel with that mess so we stopped outside the Luxor Temple, whose pillars were all lit up on the dark evening and we ate our puddings with the lovely view. It was a nice balmy night and we realised we forgot to ask the waiter for a photo in the fancy restaurant so Liam stopped a local family who captured the moment and before they could get their own family photo the temple lights were switched off for the night! Oops.
The following day we spent relaxing in hammocks on our roof terrace and then popping across the Nile for some falafels at a street-side shack. We did attempt to do some souvenir shopping in the little bazaar but the shop owners were driving us mad, they were demanding we look inside their shops and to be honest nothing appealed to me. In Morocco I wanted to buy everything, the beautiful leather bags, ceramics, jewellery etc but everything looked tacky and mass produced in Egypt.
After four nights in Luxor it was time for us to head back to the Red Sea for our last few days of sun in Egypt.