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EGYPT: A look behind the railing

By on October 29, 2018 in Travel with 0 Comments

Descending underground into the multilevel tombs was a breathtaking experience.

By Susan Weber

Three years ago, my husband Dave and I looked across the desert into Egypt from Israel and hugged the border for miles as we drove through the Negev desert but we didn’t get to go there.

Then a new chance arose when we knew we were going to Lebanon to work with Syrian and Iraqi war refugees on a medical mission trip. It is only about an hour’s flight from Beirut to Cairo so we grabbed the opportunity to go where we’d always wanted to spend some time.

When friends were told that we were going to Egypt the first question asked was, “Is it safe?”

I suppose the answer to that depends on your definition of “safe.”

Egypt is very safe from the perspective of getting robbed or mugged. On the other hand, from the perspective of sitting in the back of an aging car flying across the desert at 90-plus miles per hour… maybe not.

Of course everyone is concerned about the instability of Egypt since the 2011 uprising they refer to as “The Revolution” with the possibility of bombs and demonstrations, and the like.

Two massive statues greet visitors to Luxor Temple

The answer to those concerns is not as clear and pretty much depends on when and where in Egypt you go. We felt perfectly safe the whole time except when we were in wild Cairo traffic.

The feature Egypt is most known for is probably the pyramids but the landmark that has had the most impact over the past 5,000 years is really the Nile River. This is what has and still gives life to Egypt.

Thus we thought it would be appropriate to see Egypt from the Nile and we couldn’t have made a better choice.

We spent our first arrival day in Cairo seeing the superb and hugely informative Egyptian Museum and then browsed through the Bazaar. That evening we checked into a beautiful hotel overlooking the Nile and then flew to Luxor the next day to begin our five-day riverboat tour.

Having just worked for two weeks in Lebanon on our mission trip we were more than ready for the relaxation that being on the boat offered us. We enjoyed all our meals on the boat and joined our Egyptologist guide daily to go to the ancient sites of Egypt where he gave us the background and history of everything.

The Webers — both retired doctors — didn’t expect to see medical instruments carved into the walls of the temples.

The first day we went to the massive Karnak Temple and historical Luxor Temple. Names like: Ptolemy, and Kings Senusret I, Amenhotep III, Ramses II, Thutmosis III and Alexander the Great are all connected to just these two sites.

Karnak Temple is an enormous site with 124 massive carved columns that are overwhelming in their sheer size and number.

The next day, going to the Valley of the Kings, we were again amazed at the numerous well-preserved tombs with beautiful scenes on the walls depicting Queen Hatshepsut’s life. The temple is dedicated to worship of the supreme god, Amun-Ra, the sun god.

When visiting the various tombs and temples there are always men stationed to watch over the 3,000-5,000 year old artifacts. These would seem to be “guards” but often take on the role of “photography guide.” This service is always followed by an expectant, out-stretched hand.

These “photography experts” were very engaging and even willing to take you to places off limits to normal traffic.

Inside one of the temples was a tomb of King Ramses II’s beloved son, King Merenptah. The tomb was blocked off with railings and was in an area too deep to get into and obviously not meant to be entered.

The “guard,” who spoke no English, motioned for me to give him my camera and he would go in and take some pictures. I somewhat reluctantly handed over my camera. Then, surprisingly, he motioned for us to follow him in.

Dave and the man had to help me down into about a six-foot-deep sub room. He kept showing us the “keep this a secret” sign with a finger up to his lips. It was all very clandestine and he was obviously taking us where no man had ever gone except for maybe the previous tourist couple.

Dave and Susan Weber: “We were not disappointed seeing the three great pyramids and the rock-cut statue of the Sphinx.”

We actually went into the empty sarcophagus itself, which had interesting carvings and was one of the largest we had seen. We had fun with our little private adventure and he received a generous tip. And… no one came to lock us up.

We sailed on to Edfu the next day visiting the temple there and then sailed to Kom Ombo to tour the double temple dedicated to the Falcon god, Haroeris, and the crocodile god, Sobek.

Egypt has a lot of gods and kings and thus there is no shortage of temples and reliefs covering the walls, columns, and doorways to depict their adventures and lives. All of these are amazingly beautiful and I couldn’t not take pictures of nearly everything.

There was one especially interesting to us.

The Sobek temple was built during the Ptolemaic era and there is a hieroglyphics scene on the face of the rear wall depicting a set of surgical instruments. You can make out tweezer-like shapes, knives, loops, scoops, forceps, a scale, flasks, and containers probably for medicines. Given our medical background we were quite amazed.

The next stop was Aswan where we saw, you guessed it, more temples, statues and tombs.

It is here we took our three-hour high-speed trip across the hot (117 degrees) barren desert to Abu Simbel.

Set in the solid rock above the banks of the Nile River on Lake Nasser are two gigantic and very famous temples to King Ramses II and his wife Queen Nefertari.

The tombs in the Valley of the Kings contain beautiful, well preserved carvings and paintings on most of the walls.

The main temple was placed so that the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall on Oct. 22 and Feb. 22 (allegedly the king’s birthday and coronation day). But the rays never came over the adjacent statue of Ptah, the god of god of craftsmen and architects.

One of the most interesting things about Abu Simbel is that it had to be moved. Yes, moved!

Both massive temples were completely deconstructed and then reconstructed in a new, man-made, mountain to preserve it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser when the Aswan dam was built. It was an unbelievable engineering feat that took eight years to complete.

After our ride back we had a lovely evening boat ride on the Nile.

The next day we flew to Cairo and the following day we saw what everyone comes to Egypt for, the Great Pyramids.

We felt like Indiana Jones as we descended into the hot humid air of the pyramid itself. And of course we took our pictures of the Sphinx and finished our tour in the ancient city of Memphis.

The depth of history, as well as the people, and culture of Egypt made for one of the most memorable, interesting and intriguing trips we have ever taken.

Most reviews ask, “Would you recommend this to a friend?” Our answer is, YES! Most definitely!

Dave and Susan Weber are retired Wenatchee physicians who regularly go on Christian Medical Mission trips and often connect those with experiencing the culture of the area or countries nearby.

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