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10 Days in Egypt & Israel – Day 5

By tam-admin | December 4, 2007

Monday
We leave at 5:15 am and travel to the West Bank for an amazing sunrise hot air balloon ride. As we drive through villages, locals stand on corners to sell their wares. During one stop, a person in our group attempted to buy cotton scarves from one of them. Apparently there was some miscommunication over who had actually made the sale. The dispute was over 10 Egyptian Pounds (about $1.65 US dollars). As an argument ensued, our group sat in the van watching with jaws dropped. Once again, the end result was someone getting slapped across the face.

Meanwhile, we finally arrive at our balloon location in time to observe the inflation process. Once fully inflated, approximately 20 people are lifted into the large 4-compartment basket (I mean that very literally – men and women are quickly lifted by workers and tossed into each basket quadrant). The wind picks up, and we are lifted off the ground. We drift slowly over canals, farms, villages, temples and tombs, floating along the distinct line where the green Nile valley turns to desert. As the balloon starts to land, children from surrounding villages come running towards us yelling “hello money” and “baksheesh” (Arabic for “tip” or “gratuity”).
View of the West Bank in Luxor from a hot air balloonPhoto: View of the West Bank in Luxor from a hot air balloon.

Local children running to greet the hot air balloon

Photo: Local children running to greet the hot air balloon.

Vans transport us back to the Colossi of Memnon where we meet Amol, our private tour guide for the day.

The West Bank is a tapestry of temples and elaborate underground tombs built here beginning with the New Kingdom in order to keep them hidden from robbers and looters. We tour the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut (we’re told the best way to pronounce it is to start by saying “hot chicken soup”), and a tour of one of the alabaster factories.

Alabaster factory in Luxor, Egypt
Photo: Alabaster factory in Luxor, Egypt.

Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor

Photo: Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor.

Ironically, generations after the pharaohs attempted to hide their tombs from robbers, the villagers in the area began using many of the tombs for homes. They loot them and sell their findings to tourists willing to cough up big dollars. The local government has recently started to combat this by constructing another village nearby with plans to migrate the villagers residing  on (or in) tombs to the  new location in order to protect and preserve this ancient burial ground.Houses built over ancient tombs in the West Bank of LuxorPhoto: Houses built over ancient tombs in the West Bank of Luxor.

While some of the tombs are closed to the public, there are many you can tour and view the remarkably well-preserved and colorful hieroglyphs. You would think the temperature would be cooler in an underground tomb away from direct sunlight. It’s not. It’s stifling and hotter than outside. Remember to bring lots of water and drink regularly. Also, keep your entry ticket in-hand – you’ll be asked to present it at every tomb. We finish with a late lunch and spend the rest of the day relaxing.Check back to find out what happens tomorrow for Day 6 in Egypt!

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