When I found out I was going to be working for a British tour company, I anticipated traveling to a typical European holiday resort. Images of basic hotels and groups of out-of-control youngsters filled my mind. Let’s face it, this was my first assignment, my plane ticket wasn’t going to say, “Destination: Barbados”. When the job description arrived in the post, I knew my fate for the next six months was sealed. As I nervously opened the letter and read my appointed location, I was unable to be instantly delighted or disappointed; I’d never even heard of the place.
I soon discovered that Luxor was a city in Egypt. However, I still had many unanswered questions. What was there to see in Luxor? What were the locals like? Will I be able to see the pyramids from my bedroom window? With further pre-flight investigating, I learned that Luxor was situated in southern Egypt; about an hour flight from Cairo, and no, the pyramids would not be part of the deal.
On my arrival in Luxor I wondered if my plane was in fact a time machine transporting me back one hundred years. Horse-drawn carriages sped down dusty, uneven streets whilst locals clothed in the traditional galabaya dress smoked lazily on a sheesha-pipe by the side of the road. I was yet to learn that Luxor stands as one of the most significant tourist destinations of our time. Not only displaying the largest open-air museum known to man, but reigning as the archaeological centre of the world.
I was surprised to find Luxor wasn’t an all-round-pleaser kind of holiday; it had looked so nice in the brochure. Anyone expecting tanned, exotic waiters carrying chilled Piña Coladas whilst ‘The Beach Boys - Kokomo’ played in the background were in for a shock. After discovering there was no beach, I learnt that Luxor primarily accommodated those who wish to walk upon the great temples, re-trace the foot-steps of the famous Pharaohs, and for some, fulfil that once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation.
My trusty guidebook told me that Luxor had a population of over 440,000 people and was spilt into three main areas. It wasn’t long before I had mastered my way around. The city of Luxor was where I could find the train station, cruise departures, and airport - just in case I needed to make a quick escape. Luxor city also housed the major hotels, restaurants, bazaars, and was my new home. Karnak, a couple miles north was dominated by Karnak Temple, a city in itself. Lastly, across the river, the West Bank was mostly occupied by locals living amongst the famous archaeological sites. Dividing the East and West Bank stood the River Nile, what I had been longing to see. The world’s longest river was obviously a precious and limited resource for the locals. Providing fertility in a desert landscape, it is essential for survival.
I experienced quite a culture shock upon my arrival. I was being rudely awoken at six in the morning by the drone of the chanting mosques, having three cold showers a day to combat the August heat, and just discovered I wouldn’t see a single pork sausage for six months. Things didn’t get any better when I left the hotel. Egyptians seemed to have no qualms about hassling me in the street. I felt like I was their main target. I was bombarded with ‘special offers’ and ‘good prices’ on tacky ornaments of King Tutankhamen. I couldn’t work it out. Surely if they just left people alone they would profit more.