Egypt: Live From the Longchamps: Day Four

Live From the Longchamps
Day Four

by Jimmy Dunn

Tomb of the brothers at Saqqara

Past vegetable stands, carpet schools, sometimes strange and sometimes wonderful villas, I made my way to Saqqara today to do some research, take some pictures and pay some baksheesh. Its true, one can probably still climb the great pyramid if enough money is handed to the right person, and one can certainly take a few photos in tombs in the shadows of great big signs saying 'no photos'. The Mastaba of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep was discovered in 1964.

A False door in one of the tombs

I am told that this tomb is unique, being the burial of two men, who officially were brothers, and possibly twins. They were Prophets of Ra in the Sun Temple of Niuserre and Heads of the Manicurists of the Great House. The colors in this tomb were particularly vibrant, and some are quite unusual, such as depictions of messages. Another tomb I visited was the Butcher's Tomb, that of Irukaptah (among a number of others). Here, a series of statues near the entrance represent family members who were buried in the tomb. Which brings me to an interesting point. I took a guide to these tombs, actually so I could locate the ones I wished to see. However, I don't much rely on guides unless I specifically know their credentials, and then I am often suspicious. For example, the guide openly speculated that Niamkhkhnum and Khnumhotep were perhaps gay, and he explained that the statues in the Butchers Tomb were of the same man as he grew older. Of course, I had read up on the two tombs and knew better, that is, if Zahi Hawass's explanations can be trusted over that of the guide. I personally prefer the opinion of the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Entrance on the Nile Crystal

The visit to Saqqara was, however, productive, though uneventful. Otherwise, climbing about the rocks only reminded me how old I am getting. Did I mention that yesterday, when photographing the fire in Cairo, that a cheer went up among the school children when I finally made it to the top of the ladder (see yesterday's story)? Of course, this really isn't the place for a complete description of the newly opened tombs. I will, in the typical Tour Egypt fashion, provide comprehensive explanations of these tombs once I arrive back home. But for now, I will say that they are, of course, small but interesting and at least one is very unique. As I say, more on these tombs when I return from Egypt.

The band for Hend, the belly dancer on baord the Nile Crystal

A stick dancer on the Nile Crystal

Now climbing around in Saqqara is interesting and fruitful work, but I actually enjoyed the evening much more. Mr. Habib from Champion Tours invited me to a dinner cruise, which I accepted, even though I have been on a number of these. By the way, I am very impressed with the work of Mr. Habib. We have worked with Champion Tours for some years now, with no complaints, and I think I understand why now. He's a retired general who apparently keeps a pretty firm hand on his organization. I also like getting to know personally the operators to whom we entrust tourists. However, back to the dinner cruise. Dinner cruises always provide good entertainment for the evening, and frankly, anyone who comes to Egypt without taking one will miss some good fun. Of course, it is also my intent while in Egypt to review such facilities, and he took me aboard a cruiser that I had not yet visited. For the novice traveler to Egypt, keep in mind that there are stationary dinner boats and cruise dinner boats. The Nile Crystal, owned by Misr Travel, the government owned tour company, is one of the latter, located at the beginning of Maadi road Cornish El Nile.

Deserts on the Nile Crystal

This dinner cruiser has two dining rooms, on the upper and lower decks, along with a small private area. I would have to say that it is not as grand as, for example, the Nile Maxim and a few other dinner cruisers. Dinner was a standard but very tasty buffet. There was a good selection of typical Egyptian food as well as desserts and the service was fine, but nothing exceptional. What was exceptional was the entertainment, and that is certainly one of the reasons people take these short cruises up and down the Nile. Essentially, they are floating night clubs. Over a several hour period, they provided just about every type of performance one might expect to see in Egypt.

Friends, the band on the Nile Crystal

First came a nice band named Friends singing mostly American music but mixing in some nice Arabic music. This was probably the longest segment of the entertainment, mostly performed while the guests ate their dinner. This was a small band featuring both a male and female singer. Next came the belly dance, a woman by the name of Hend who was very good, though her performance was typical, consisting of a few songs on stage followed by "photo opportunities" as she enticed various patrons to the stage to dance with her. She took a stab at me, but "la, la, la" I have been there and done that before.

Hend, the belly dance on the Nile Crystal

At the next table over, there were several American men visiting Egypt for the first time and they seemed to be very impressed with Hend's fine dancing skills. I had already spoken to these gentlemen, and about this time I suggested that they might also wish to catch a whirling dervish performance. However, the entertainment tonight was a package deal, for no sooner had I made this suggestion then the belly dancer fled the stage and in came the dervish. Though I have seen these performances many times in the past, it still amazes me that someone can whirl about for so long without completely losing their balance. No sooner had he left the stage than the stick dancers arrived. There is probably a formal name for this type of performance, but even my host was at a loss for its rightful name. There was not a single break between any of these acts, and after the male dancers, the belly dancer once more appeared in a different costume for a final set that would take us back to the dock. Waite. I forgot one thing. Did I mention the horse that ran around and kissed everyone's head? That was more of a comedy routine.

The horse

Whirling Dervish on the Nile Crystal

Now there is one thing I should add about dinner cruises. Not all of the entertainment is found within the confines of the boat. These cruises all offer excellent views of Cairo at night along the banks of the Nile and this is also a sight not to be missed. Most boats, including this one, offer upper terraces where, if the noise of the performances becomes too much, one may enjoy the fresh air. All in all, it was a pleasant day, really completely absent of any type of trouble. Tomorrow, after warning tourists for years not to drive in Cairo, I'm thinking of renting a moped. Its probably been far too long since I've broken any bones. Before I end today's report, I would like to talk about the trouble that some other tourists experienced.

View from the upper deck of the Nile Crystal

I recently received a letter from an individual who traveled with a company named RVoyage Tours. I am naming this company because I consider it their fault that the incident occurred, as I look to the tour operator to be primarily responsible for their clients, and particularly while on tour at major monuments. Apparently, a guard who was with the group suggested that one of the ladies have her picture taken on a camel while visiting Giza. She was given a reasonable price for this of a few L.E., and handed the camera to the camel owner (bad move, but she trusted the guard). Afterwards, she paid the camel owner who suddenly demanded much more money (still holding her camera). She began peeling off fifty pound notes until at last, he returned her camera.

On the one hand, I hate reporting incidences such as this, but on the other hand, I want people to have a good Egyptian experience. I have to say that people who "work" the tourists at such major monuments are radically different than all other Egyptians. I don't know why this is so, but I also suspect that the guard was certainly not a tourist policeman. However, the guide with this group should not only have been looking after his charges, but should have probably warned the group about such misadventures in advance. Also, trust the tour guide, not the guards. Tour Operators in Egypt are licensed and have control over their tour guides, though perhaps not so much over the guards, who even talked her into remaining silent on this incident until later in the tour. At the time this happened, a tourist policeman should have been immediately notified.

On a positive note, thank you very much Dr. Hawass. He's not in the tourism business, but he has cleaned up much of this sort of problem as the head of the SCA, removing most of the vendors who once stalked tourists at Giza and elsewhere.

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