Hustlin’ Hard: The Story of the Valley of the Kings

Entrace to the Valley of the Kings

Entrace to the Valley of the Kings

Luxor is home to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple and the funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut (just to name a few). It used to be called “Thebes” in ancient times (which was the capital of Egypt when King Tut & Ramses II ruled). It is believed that Ramses II was the pharaoh when Moses came along asking for him to let his people go. Rams apparently didn’t know Moses (aka Charlton Heston) was an active member of the NRA and thus should’ve taken him seriously.

We arrive in Luxor about an hour and 15 minutes later then board a bus to drive to the Valley of the Kings (“VOK”)…the necropolis of the New Kingdom pharaohs. The VOK (which is home to King Tut’s tomb) is located on the West Bank of the Nile River. The Nile is beautiful (much more so in the country than in the city).

The VOK is purposefully built on the West Bank because the ancient Egyptians believed that since the sun sets in the west, so should their remains. I was unable to take pictures inside VOK because, unfortunately, the people at VOK are like Kanye and Sean Penn as they absolutely forbade cameras. In fact, if you tried to bring a camera in, they said it would be confiscated. And if you tried to be slick and take a picture with a camera phone…they took your phone and fined you $400. So, y’all are just going to have to use your imagination as I describe VOK. I have included a few pictures I sourced via the internet from renegade photographers braver than me (ha!).

Valley of the Kings (source: http://nurdinsembelit.files.wordpress.com)

Valley of the Kings (source: http://nurdinsembelit.files.wordpress.com)

It ends up being 104 degrees (which apparently is cool since a few days before it was 120). I think I saw the devil when I was walking toward the tombs. He was selling bottled water like, “Welcome to Egypt, y’all.” Anyway, we end up seeing 3 tombs (the tombs of Ramses IX, Ramses I and Ramose). I think Egypt may be the birthplace of hustling. Because, after you paid the fee to get in to see the tombs, there was an additional fee if you wanted to go into King Tut or Ramses VI tombs. Hustlers. You have to show your ticket to the guy at the entrance of each tomb who uses a hole puncher to validate it. This system ensures you don’t see more than 3 tombs without paying extra. Hustlers.

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The tombs are built into the desert Theban Hills and they are incredible. It’s hard to believe that such wonderful & intricate artwork was done so many thousands of years ago! So far, 62 tombs have been found. Tombs (before they were discovered and open to the public) held almost everything that the pharaoh owned (including his bed, jewelry, statues of servants who would serve him, etc.)…basically anything they felt the pharaoh would need in the afterlife. Since the tombs contained such valuable items, it’s said that the slaves who built the tombs were killed afterwards so they wouldn’t reveal its location. Too bad they didn’t have Confidentiality Agreements back then. That has got to suck.

To enter most tombs, you have to walk down into the opening of the mountain and while you’d think it would be cool since it’s dark…it’s just hot and stuffy. However, you don’t focus on that too much as you quickly get caught up in the hieroglyphics. The sarcophagus (coffin) of one of the pharaohs was still in the tomb. You know they had a guy standing right by it. Probably to charge you if you touched it. Hustlers.

Egyptian Afterlife (source: http://www.photo2013.com)

Egyptian Afterlife (source: http://www.photo2013.com)

Each tomb contained funerary hieroglyphics. Ancient Egyptians believed in eternal afterlife and they had a complex funeral tradition. Bodies of the pharaohs were mummified so that their soul could live on in its embalmed corpse. They took 4 organs (liver, intestines, stomach & lungs) and placed them in beautiful marble jars. The only organ left in the body was the heart which would be weighed in the afterlife. The entire mummification process took 70 days! What I found the most fascinating was the weighing of the heart. That was the final stage in the journey to the afterlife. The god, Anubis (which has the body of a man but the head of a jackal), would weigh the deceased pharaoh’s heart against a feather on a set of scales. If the heart weighed more than the feather (because of living a sinned life) then this beast named, Ammut, devoured it and the pharaoh’s soul would die and they would not live on in eternity. I’m pretty sure that Ammut kept a full belly because a lot of these pharaohs were killing their brothers and fathers and basically doing a lot of dirty stuff to get the throne. You can read a detailed description of the funeral customs here. It was so fascinating that I bought a papyrus painting of the Egyptian Funerary Scene.

After you leave the tombs, you have to wait in the heat (next to Beelzebub) for the little train to come get you and take you back to the entrance. In the meantime, you have to just sit in Hustle City. Those folks were trying to sell you EVERYTHING! They are relentless. It’s like their mantra is “Hustle or Die”. Seriously. I’m gonna see about getting them a record deal because this is just plain ridiculous. You know the package of fold out postcards? Well, they had those (which had seen a better day) and would whip them out and let them fall down all dramatically like they are David Copperfield getting ready to show you a magic card trick. If you refused to buy it, they wanted to know why. It didn’t matter if you had already bought one from Muhammed. Ali Babba doesn’t care about that. He wants you to buy his 1970 postcards with the coffee stains. You can get it for $1! What? You still don’t want it? What about a book on the VOK? You can’t read? No problem. It’s got pictures. It can be yours for $5! Why are you walking away? Oh, they will just follow you and worry the mess out of you (while smoking their cigarettes). They were determined that you were going to do a customer feedback survey. You would think you are saved when the little trolly/train shows up to take you back to the entrance. Surprise! Foodoo gets out of the driver’s seat and brings his postcards and books to sell them to you BEFORE HE WILL TAKE YOU BACK TO THE ENTRANCE. Stop the madness, Egypt. It’s 104 degrees in the hot desert…and I left my water on the bus, people are stinking and the hustlers are swarming around you like mosquitoes with the West Nile virus.

But for the heat (and really, that is my fault because I should’ve known better than to visit the desert in the summer) and the hustling, the Valley of the Kings is absolutely fascinating! I was so amazed & enthralled by the ancient Egyptian traditions. The VOK is a “must see” during your visit to Egypt!

Walk Like an Egyptian…

“Naharak Saeed” (“Good Day”) from Egypt!  I struggled with how I would blog about my visit.  Egypt is complex, a bit schizophrenic & absolutely breathtaking.  I’ve been waiting my entire life to visit this magnificent place.  In one day, I found myself in awe of the great works that were achieved thousands of years ago…and then repulsed by current conditions.  As always, I’m planning to keep it real so you are going to get Egypt straight with no chaser.  I hope you are ready!

I read several books on Egypt in order to educate myself on the history & culture of the country.  The history of the pharaohs can get a bit complicated so I’ll try to simplify it as best I can.  I am going to give you a quick background so that you will understand my reaction to certain situations I recount later.

BACKGROUND

Religion

Islam is the official religion of Egypt (with about 90% of the people being Sunni Muslim) which means that it’s a pretty conservative country.  Women must cover up (long sleeves and pants even in the HOT sun) and drinking and gambling in public are frowned upon.  That already puts me out of the mix as I don’t like to be wearing a lot of clothes when it’s hot and how am I supposed to hit the jackpot without a cool alcoholic beverage to clear my mind?   However, I believe in trying to live like a local so I wore long pants and a long sleeved shirt (and reserved my drinking for home).

Gender Issues

I read an article a couple of years ago which focused on Egypt having a high rate of sexual harassment.  The article stated that Egyptian men think western women are “loose” (since we drink and wear tank tops).  If you expose a lot of skin, the men think this is an “invitation” and may expose their genitalia as an offer for sex.  Recently, I read an article on “Using social media tools to battle sexual harassment in Egypt by Rima Abdelkader, NBC News which said “The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in Cairo called harassment in Egypt a dangerous social cancer in a survey in 2008. The survey reported that 98 percent of foreign women were sexually harassed and 83 percent of Egyptian women experienced harassment throughout Egypt.”   I don’t know why the men just don’t import some of those erotic calendars from Pompeii.  They may not have access to the internet but they can certainly carry those calendars around to satisfy their lust.  I found them in a pocket-size version.  A little something for freaks on the go.

My guidebook also recommended that women not look a man directly in the eye as it is seen as an “invitation”.  That was hard for me because I am used to looking people in the eye as a show of respect (plus it shows that I’m listening to you).  If my eyes drift…so has my mind.  I’m not saying it’s right, it’s just how it is.  I think I suffer from adult ADD.  Anyway, I made sure to wear sunglasses the majority of the time because I didn’t want men thinking I’m soliciting them for sex.  But, um…there were some really good-looking men in Egypt 🙂

I also observed a man offer 5 camels to buy a woman from the man that she was with.  Apparently, in Egypt, camels are currency & women are commodities.  So, you could be walking along the Nile River and Ahkbar could just come up and be like, “I’ll give you 7 camels for Betty.”  It happens.  Better hope your boo doesn’t owe too much to Bank of America because you may be making papyrus on the Nile.

Environmental, Health & Safety Issues

We were told COUNTLESS times not to drink the water or eat any uncooked food.  While this is what you hear whenever you go to Mexico, it’s on a whole new level in Egypt.  I will cover this in more detail in the next post on Cairo (as that is when it really hit home).  This was the most shocking and disappointing aspect to the trip.

Poverty

Egypt has a 50% unemployment rate.  I will touch upon this issue in the next blog post since it has not only a rural impact but a major urban one as well.  This is where “hustlin’” was born.  I thought it was bad in the Dominican Republic.  They are amateurs compared to the Egyptians.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  There has been a lot of governmental corruption so be prepared for me to get on my soap box. 

What is Egypt like?  I think the answer is different for each person.  It’s all in what you make of it.  If you love history (like me) then you will be able to see past the crazy, absurd and disappointing to focus on the beauty of this African country.  So, let’s get started! 

ALEXANDRIA

We arrived in Alexandria around 6am…just in time to see the sun rise.  I could hardly sleep the night before in anticipation for what I’d get to see.  The first thing I notice as we pull into port is that the water in the harbor is dirty and there are sunken ships (which were actually pretty cool).  

Alexandria is the capital where Cleopatra ruled from 51-30 BC.  The city was named for Alexander the Great when he conquered Egypt from the Persians.   The story of Cleopatra is fascinating.  One thing I did not realize is that she was a descendant of Greeks (Ptolemy, who was a general of Alexander the Great).  Cleo was highly educated (she spoke 8 languages) and hard core (she killed her sister in order to have the throne).  A big thing back in the day was for sisters and brothers to marry each other and procreate in order to keep the royal bloodline going.  Of course, this resulted in genetic deformities and poor health for the offspring (see the latest article on the DNA testing of King Tut) as well as a touch of the crazy.  Anyway, Cleo was married off to her brother (Ptolemy XIII aka “P13”) but she was like, “this is gross and I’m out.” So, she ended up falling out with him and Julius Caesar had to resolve the conflict of who should rule Egypt.  P13 thought he could outsmart his sister and keep her from using her charms to get Caesar to rule in her favor.  But, he underestimated her.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  Cleo had herself rolled up in a carpet and was taken right past her brother’s guards in the palace to Caesar.   She put her charms on, was granted the right to rule Egypt and made Caesar her first baby-daddy.

After Caesar was killed (“et tu, Brutus?” is one of my favorite lines), Cleo put her charms on Marc Antony and had 3 kids by him.  Marc ended up living in Alexandria and boozing it up.  When he was defeated by Octavian (Caesar’s heir to the Roman throne and his rival), he was told that Cleo was dead.  So, he killed himself.  Cleo actually wasn’t dead and when she found out Marc had committed suicide and she had lost the throne to Egypt, she killed herself by having a deadly snake, an asp, bite her.  It’s so tragic.  Her kids ended up being taken to Rome where the boys were killed so they wouldn’t pose a threat to Octavian but her daughter, Cleopatra Selene, was allowed to live and ended up becoming the Queen of Mauretania.