Today, we traveled by bus from Safaga to the Valley of Kings. Because we were up at dark o’clock, I had hoped to catch some sleep on the 3 ½ hour bus ride, but that wasn’t going to happen. Our guide wanted to give us a very full picture of Egyptian history, culture, and politics, and since she would not be able to enter the tombs at the Valley of Kings with us, she wanted to talk about what we’d see inside the tombs.
We went through Qena and Luxor, and I was surprised by the lack of infrastructure. There are canals that channel the Nile out to water the small-scale agriculture that looked like about half of it was commercial, and the other half the household gardens of the people who lived there.
Other than the main road we were on, there were very few paved roads. While there were a few private cars, most people were on motorcycles, donkey carts, or bicycles. In fact, donkey carts were about half the traffic.
About two-thirds of the houses were concrete blocks or bricks, but a third were mud bricks with porches shaded with what looked like chaff from sugar cane, which is the largest commercial crop in the area. A lot of the houses looked as though they had been built as one-story structures, then later they added a second story while still living on the first floor, and then later added another floor. In the picture below, you can see rebar sticking up from the roof where they will add another floor. About half the concrete structures were like that.
The banks of the canal were full of garbage in a way that made it clear that it was the main method of waste disposal. I was surprised that I didn’t see a single large shop of any kind on the way there. I saw the kind of tiny stalls that sold a little of everything, but no large shops offering clothing, pharmaceuticals, hardware, or anything else one might expect to see in such a large population center. Mosques are the tallest buildings in the landscape. The minarets of these mosques can be seen from anywhere in the town, and all had loudspeakers on them.
On the way back, the town looked entirely different. It was dark by the time we drove back through Qena, although it was only about 6pm. Now the road seemed to be lined with small shops and restaurants. There were lots of people in the streets shopping, talking, walking home or waiting or a bus. The neighborhoods we’d seen during the day that had no paved roads also seemed to be largely without electricity, with one notable exception: the tall tower on every mosque bore several rings of bright-green neon. In neighborhoods with many mosques, it looked almost like Las Vegas.
I’ll post about Valley of Kings and Karnak Temple separately.