Early morning came. I was impatient to get back up onto the deck and taste the sweet morning air and for some reason the boat had dropped it's speed to a crawl. We were back at the Edfu Locks, following another cruise ship and waiting our turn.
Hani gathered us up and we headed up the gangway and past the sellers who seemed to have been waiting for us since the last time we were here. Coaches were waiting to take us across the city to Karnak Temple, the first of the two great temples we would be visiting. Our coach passed Luxor temple along the seafront and then headed inland, winding it's way through what must have been every back street through some semi-acknowledged one-way system before finally hitting a stride along the straights and heading to it's destination, deftly sweeping through chicane barriers and losing as little time as possible on the speed bumps. Every now and then, a house or wall would flash by with graffiti or stencil art, invariably telling Mubarak where he could stick his regime.
When we hit Karnak temple, the politics disappeared and was replaced with carefree tourism for a while. The sun was at it's height but the open areas were fresh and a little breezy. We moved as a group through the mini-museum and out across the pleasantly tiled west entrance court as the giant pylons of Karnak rose from the ground ahead of us.
Hani gestured towards the south side of the complex and pointed into the distance. Past the trees, roads, churches, mosques and assorted dusty buildings that lay beyond was the tip of the ruins at Luxor pointing out of the haze. From the ruined south entrance, back a mile or so to that other temple, the Sphynx Avenue once extended, linking the two. And below the dusty roads and layer upon layer of earth, rubbish and stone, it is thought to still stand, largely intact. Work is progressing to uncover the avenue and restore the hundreds of statues to their ruined best and this has been largely completed, although there remains a tricky issue about the remaining sections. Several churches and mosques are situated on top of the avenue, and Egyptian policy is that they cannot be destroyed, and any movement must be universally agreed by all parties. This is the main reason (other than regime change and a general lack of money) that the work is still not complete.
Our cameras were filled with geometric structures singed by the hot sun, and as Ms. Plants had had enough, she beckoned me back to the coach. As usual, Hani's whistle-stop touring meant we couldn't dawdle too much. As she quickened her pace I took a few final snaps and, on the way back across the entrance, passed a handful of tourist shops. Always wanting a nosey but with a hurried sense of not wanting to walk back, I perused the wares of one whose owner assured me of no pressure to buy. An assorted collection of polished black figurines covered a carpet under the shade of an erected canopy. Pharaonic Gods mixed with sacred animals, pyramids and miniature obelisks were creatively mixed together, carefully arranged with the smallest at the front. An Ibis statue, jet black and delicately carved, it's stick thin legs and slender beak threatening to break off at the slightest touch took my eye in particular, but the widening eyes of the attentive assistant and the thought of the revving coach engine and an impatient Hani (not to mention the other half) wrenched me away from any potential buying opportunity.
For the small coach ride to Luxor Temple, the thought of that statue on my mantelpiece simmered away, but any regrets on not shelling out there and then were tempered with the knowledge that these statues were ten a penny and for sale everywhere we had been up until now. Another one was sure to surface.
We had a bit of a think after the food and decided that it was too early just to kip on some full stomachs. The paper map of Luxor we had lying around since day one mentioned a tourist area full of places to see and shop, and since I still had a bit of Ibis-searching left in me, we headed off by foot.
As is usual, we were mobbed as we rounded the side of Luxor Temple. Young men in charge of horse and carts in varying states of repair shouted over, asking us where we wanted to go, in the hope of getting us to board. It was annoying but these were desperate times and the tourism had almost dried up. We carried on as the map suggested it was just around the corner.
The middle of Luxor was alive with lights and cars and noises, and the call to prayer of the nearby mosques had begun. You might expect everyone to drop what they were doing and pray, but the roads stayed busy, and the market bazaar, when we got to it, was heaving.
Ah, a proper market street, and for the first time we had let ourselves of Hani's leash and were walking amongst the locals on our own. And boy did we know it. The market bazaar is a long, narrow covered street, branching off every now and again, and stuffed to the gills with shops on both sides, the wares spilling out of the shops and into the street. And our western faces and clothes did not go unnoticed. The other half was wearing a 'Canada' sweater, and our language was tested at every turn with calls of 'Hey, Canada Dry'. If we turned around to the caller without thinking, they knew they had an English speaker amongst them, and would be in with a shot of taking our money.
Making our way through the street was actually pretty tough going with this happening every five seconds or so. At one point, we exchanged understanding glances with an equally harangued pair of tourists coming the other way. We were actually glad of the odd time when we were invited in by a shop owner, containing his enthusiasm enough to assure us of 'no hassle', which bought us a few moments of peace, due to the unspoken agreement between the shopkeepers that they don't nick each others' custom. To my surprise, my searches in this most bountiful of places didn't turn up a single Ibis statue of any merit, being only the (in my mind) ugly looking flattened ones, despite having perused a good dozen shops and stalls groaning with figures of all shapes and sizes.
Eventually, we took a chance in a spice shop; we both wanted to get some authentic Egyptian herbs and spices to bring back to the west for cooking. If you go shopping in Egypt, this is certainly one of the places to go - the colourful sights and smells of the many exotic spices mix well with the hospitality, and I made sure to get some of the sweet tea that arrived on a tray carried by an enthusiastic young lad shortly after we entered. The shelves were groaning with ready-packed spices, but we knew better than to go for those, as they could have been there a lifetime. Instead we bought cumin, coriander, chilli and paprika pods from the bulk bins, and Ms. Plants, who was in her element, bartered the price down from an initially hefty number down to something more manageable by the use of stern talking and a withering stare. I was in awe.
Striding out into the meleé once more we turned back and made our way slowly through and back to the boat.