DRAGONFLIES IN THE DESERT
By Sarah Wint
Few places can beat Egypt for sun-starved Brits at this time of year. Being in the UK tourism trade February is the best time of year for me to leave home and emboldened by a well-travelled husband I happily ignore the Foreign Office warnings not to travel to Egypt and head off for some warmth. And warmth is what I get – not least from the Egyptians themselves. A more welcoming race I think I have not yet met, though the Turks come very close. (Indeed this must be a friendly neighbourhood)
Fourteen days on the shores of the beautiful Red Sea and three days in Luxor to end with a mind-boggling tour of 4000 year old temples and tombs. At the beginning of our second week, my sister rings to check we have not altered our programme and found ourselves on the doomed air balloon flight in Luxor. We are safely sitting on the beach at Dahab, but my heart lurches at the fate of those poor people and our own proximity to a similar one. A hot air balloon flight over the Valley of the Kings comes highly recommended and is perhaps something I would have eagerly undertaken.
When we arrive in Luxor the place is unbelievably quiet. We walk to the Museum of Luxor along the new promenade by the side of the Nile – a new area planned and started before the revolution ready for the perennial masses of tourists. Since the revolution work has stopped on the promenade and as we are three of maybe a dozen people using it, there seems little point in it continuing for now. Tourism is down 80% and the horrible accident in Luxor is not going to help, not to mention stories of kidnappings, however brief.
As we’re travelling with my 14 year old nephew we’ve decided to avoid Cairo on this trip – more for the peace of mind of his parents than our own – but we meet other travellers who report it being entirely peaceful. It saddens us more and more as we tour this country that people are being warned against travel, seriously hampering the high hopes of a new democratic prosperity. On a personal level however, I feel bold and intrepid - like a proper traveller, not just a tourist. I feel quite pleased with myself and then immediately ashamed.
To my eyes this is a tough and chaotic place to live, but apparent poverty here is actually just normal life. The difference between the residents of Tenbury and the people of Luxor is mirrored in the difference between my fat spoilt donkeys and the working animals in these streets.
In Luxor I have found us a nice little B&B La Maison Pythagore – I like to support other BnBers - and from the website the Pythagore looks authentic and pretty. The owner kindly arranges a pick up from the airport and after speeding through the outskirts we eventually bump down the broken back streets of Luxor to a point where the driver can go no further, so we drag our cases down the narrow bumpy sandy back alley towards our temporary home. Children are playing and shouting hello to us as we pass donkeys and carts laden with vegetables or building supplies. Luckily we stop at a door just before a vast hole in the ground where several builders are working and our guide rings a doorbell. At this point, even after our experiences in Bedouin desert camps and make-shift mountain ‘cafes’ (with make-shift lavatories), I think I may finally have to say “I’m sorry – I can’t stay here”. I am a fish out of water – I actually feel a little scared but I give myself a notional slap and the door opens and a short man with a friendly face says welcome so we step in. Inside I immediately relax. The vibrant colours of the walls the welcoming sofas and cushions and a garden! A garden! At last some green! Now I feel at home. A lovely patio garden with bougainvillea and frangipane and lemons and bananas, more sofas….and a cat. Our host Mosin (who turns out not to be so short –it’s just that there’s a big step down from the alley into the house) brings us tea. A garden, a sofa, some tea, a cat. I’ll stay….
End of Part One
(I don't like long blogs!)