PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Into Egypt, Day 8

After beginning the day, predawn, with the balloon ride that was truly spectacular, we headed out to see the places that we saw from the air on the ground. I have to say it was quite nice to have a perspective of what we were seeing and their mass of nature before we toured them.

Our first very brief stop was to see the colossi of Memnon. These two massive statues of  Pharaoh Amenhoteb, carved 3,400 years ago out of quartzite sandstone, are all that remains of a temple that was destroyed by an earthquake.

From there, we headed to the Valley of the Queens, where we had a chance to see some of the tombs of the queens. The cost of the general tombs was about $3. However, there was an add-on cost for the real queen of the valley, and I am glad we opted to pay 15 times that to see the astounding color and beauty of Nefertari’s tomb. It was far and away the most expensive site we had visited. (Egypt is very affordable.) The tomb gave us the best indication of what it might’ve looked like when it was built around 1330 BC. The colors were vibrant, and it was much easier to see the story that was being told in these visions of what people wanted the afterlife to look like for themselves.

I was very excited about our next stop, the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. I remember learning about her when I managed Ian‘s destination imagination team that placed sixth in the world back when he was in eighth grade. So it was fun to see this space.

I don’t know if Queen Hatshepsut was the first feminist or a truly evil queen, but because of kingdoms coming through male lineage, she could never be queen nor could her daughter. So when her husband died — he was also her half-brother — she put his son by another wife, Thutmose III (he was not only her stepson, but also her nephew), in prison so that she could rule. Things were very weird in Egyptian times.

After she died, Thutmose III, who obviously was not a fan, went to her temple and erased all of the carvings of her, changed all the name placards to his name and stole her body and hid it so that she would not have a mummified body prepared to go into the afterlife. I tell you, modern soap operas have nothing on ancient Egypt.

Before heading to our last stop, we went to another of those “retail museums” where we learned how items are made out of alabaster. Before I came to Egypt, I was told that alabaster makes a nice gift, so I was prepared to buy some. This was the first time I negotiated a bargain without the aid of our guide. And to be honest, it was a much more pleasant experience, and I got the best deal. Next time I’m not going have someone working for me.

The Valley of the Kings was a series of tombs, as well, and we could chose which ones to enter. I ended up opting for a very deep one that took us down into the ground and one we were told had the best color that remained in the wall etching.

If you’ve read the chronicles of Narnia, you may appreciate that I’ve had flashbacks to some of the chapters. There is a scene in the “Magician’s Nephew” that takes place in an ancient statuary, and going deep into the ground, reminded me of “The Silver Chair.” I’m betting C.S .Lewis visited Egypt.

We had the afternoon to enjoy sailing down the Nile River in our cruise ship. I have to admit it felt surreal, one of those magical travel experiences you dream of taking place.

Our journey down the Nile culminated in entering the locks that brought us down to the lower river area above the Aswan Dam. As our ship approached, small boats circled out and surrounded us, trying to hawk wears just like they do around all of the temples. But there was something profoundly different about having men in boats tossing things up and trying to get you to purchase them. It was quite amusing. These are very persistent men.

As I write this, I am getting ready for bed after a long day. I am hoping I get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow  I will have to get up in the middle of the night and figure out a way to watch the UConn Huskies in the national championship.

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