Tourist Ghost Town
We headed to the Cairo airport today bright and early and arrived in Luxor around lunchtime. Domestic service on Egypt Air was convenient and uneventful. Luxor definitely is a change of pace from Cairo, with a much more small town feel to the place. It’s clear that the economy of Luxor relies far more heavily on tourism than Cairo, and the upheaval in recent years has hit the place really, really hard. Huge cruise boats sit parallel parked many rows deep on the banks of the Nile. We visited a couple of temples sites in town today (Karnak and Luxor Temples) and the places were quite barren.
In Karnak in particular, there are massive open spaces to shuttle tourists in and out that are just completely empty. Many of the shops and stalls nearby are closed. The souvenir shops that are open didn’t even try to hustle us. I almost felt a little sad that I didn’t get pressured to buy any made in China “Egyptian sand” or fake banana leaf papyrus. That’s not to say there aren’t a few touts to be found, but they’re a different variety than the shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and tour guides you usually encounter. What you do encounter are kind of post-revolutionary bureaucrats trying to scam a little baksheesh
(bribes) by coming up with ad hoc rules or fake permits (like for a camera or whatever). Our guide Abdul chased one of these guys off at Luxor Temple and there was some lively discussion about new rules with the new government. (FWIW though, I would describe most Arabic conversations as lively, and sometimes I can’t tell friendly banter from arguments.) Anyhow, for a place that has no official travel advisories, as opposed to Cairo, Luxor is certainly not untouched by the politics in recent years.
I tread lightly into conversations about politics here, and it was fascinating to hear the immediate change in tone and passion when we got our guide on the subject. I hadn’t heard reference to the “First Revolution” (Mubarek) and “Second Revolution” (Morsi), but that makes perfect sense when stated that way. Western news has covered Egypt more like one continuous, nonstop mess, so it was interesting to hear the way locals frame the changes. Everyone we’ve talked to seems very pleased with the election of General Sisi and the atmosphere has seemed optimistic everywhere we’ve been. I’m sure that’s greatly oversimplifying things… graffiti here in Luxor that says “anti coup” would seem to make reference to the current administration. For the city of Luxor though, the past few years have been very, very, lean… and it really shows.
The temples we saw today were in Luxor itself. We had a pretty relaxed day, finishing with dinner at a little hole in the wall place with a huge grill out front and (well fed) cats roaming everywhere. I had kebob and kofta again and Martha had a dish called Tajine, which was beef, white beans, and tomatoes in an earthenware pot. Good all around. We enjoyed some tea afterwards at a local café and picked up some Egyptian sweets. Tomorrow we’ll be visiting some of the outlying temples.
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