Monday, February 28, 2000

TR Cyprus

PAFOS Marathon
CYPRUS 2/24 – 2/28/00

Before I even start out on this trip I must take a minute to comment that for probably the first time in Europe I had a relatively easy time setting up this trip. The travel agency in Cyprus that worked with the marathon was professional and efficient and we only needed to exchange a few emails and faxes to set up the hotel, car and marathon entry. A few more calls and faxes to Cyprus Air and the trip was booked!

Why Cyprus? In case you hadn’t noticed I have been following the European Marathon Circuit and it moved south in the fall and has stayed south for the winter which is OK by me! But I have learned that the Mediterranean is not all that warm in the winter. It was cool in November and it was still cool last week in Cyprus; cool being high temperatures anywhere from the mid-40s to low 60s throughout that period. Many of the Mediterranean islands and resort areas are used as winter refuges by the Europeans but in my opinion I would go further south-to the Canary Islands, Madeira, etc. The weather is just not warm enough for my blood. Lido Key, Florida is looking really good to me now! It has as nice or nicer beaches that any I have seen in the Mediterranean, the water is just as blue and clear, it is a lot warmer and I can watch more than one TV channel in English. And most importantly I can follow the stock market in real time!

But the Mediterranean sure has lots of different cultures and interesting history! And Cyprus is no exception. Cyprus is the third largest of the Mediterranean islands (behind Sicily and Sardinia) and is considered to be at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa since it is a short distance to all three. Geographically it is in Asia but politically it is aligned with Europe and has applied for membership into the EU. (More about this tidbit later).
It’s history goes back to the Neolithic Period, 5800 –3000 BC and it has been conquered and ruled by every major empire throughout history and there are remains of each of those empires still spread around the island. The British administered the island from 1878 to 1960 when it gained independence. The Turks invaded the island in 1974 and still occupy the northern one-third of the island. There is a buffer or neutral zone occupied by UN forces that runs right through the middle of Nicosia. We did not visit the Turkish-occupied territory because of the difficulties crossing over the border.

Cyprus has two major airports but due to limited flight schedules in the low season we had to fly into the Larnaka airport which is the northeast and drive over 100 miles to our resort hotel in Pafos which is in the southwest. Fortunately the road system was built by the British and the major roads are in good shape and of course you drive on the left side! And we did get to see a lot of the country and landscape during our drive. It looks like a typical Mediterranean Island. Rocky, rugged, hilly with sparse vegetation except where it is cultivated and irrigated. The mountains are quite high, over 6000 feet and there is even a ski resort at the top of Mount Olympus. There are many banana plantations, orange and lemon orchards along the coastal plains and hundreds of vineyards and wineries on the mountain slopes.
The high tourist season is May through September but many Brits and other Europeans spend the winter in Cyprus because of the weather. In the resort and tourist areas you almost feel like you are in England. Everyone speaks English, the menus, etc are in English, and you drive on the left side-etc! But when you go inland and up into the mountains the English quickly disappears and only Greek is spoken and all the signs are in Greek. The road maps are very poor –the local excuse is that they don’t want to publish good maps for fear that the Turks will use them in another invasion? So when you get lost which is often you have to ask a local whom doesn’t speak English for directions. It’s lots of fun.
The marathon host hotel was a 5-star resort hotel in Coral Bay –and it truly was a 5-star destination resort with spa, etc. We had a great room with a patio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with breakfast for two for $75/night. But that rate quadruples in the high season along with the number of tourists. Cyprus is not cheap! The prices are equivalent to US prices which are cheap compared to England or France but 50% higher than comparable resorts in Spain or Portugal. Nicole kept comparing Cyprus to Mallorca and said that she preferred Cyprus because it wasn’t quite as overrun with British tourists and there was much more local culture evident. But if you were only interested in a warm (or less cold) place to spend the winter I would go to Mallorca since it is much cheaper.

But now it is time to tour the island! There are literally hundreds of historical sites spread around the island so we could only hit the main ones. And we also wanted to enjoy some of the local culture. So we headed first into Pafos. Nea or New Pafos consists of the old town center of Ktima, 3km up the hill and Kato Pafos, -the harbor, archeological zone and hotel strip along the sea. The old town center has the market where we quickly picked up the necessary souvenirs and then headed down to the harbor. The harbor is the same one used by all the past civilizations and a very large archeological zone has been established in this area to prevent development over the sites of many ancient civilizations. They are still uncovering ancient Greek and Roman settlements. There are several Roman houses (built in the late 2nd century AD) that have been unearthed that contain very beautiful mosaics that are in good condition and still have their original colors and designs. Close by are the Tombs of the Kings, tombs carved into limestone outcrops in the 3rd century BC. Since there were no kings in Cyprus during that period they speculate that the tombs were for the rich and privileged classes of that time. They are similar to the tombs in Egypt but not as spectacular. Also in the same area are the Pafos Castle (1391) and the Saranda Kolones fortress (1222).

Then it was time to head further west towards the Akamas Peninsula, a natural and still undeveloped part of the island. After passing through the small fishing village of Latchi we parked and walked to the Loutra tis Afrodhitis –‘The Baths of Aphrodite’. In legend the goddess retired here to bathe before (and after) entertaining assorted lovers. Another legend states that if you are ‘pure and innocent’ and are splashed by the water from the Baths you will be transformed into a beautiful young nymph! I scooped up several handfuls of water and splashed Nicole but for some reason the magic spell didn’t work! But I’m telling you that I am now very popular with the boys in the changing room at the clubhouse. And Nicole is having fun teaching me how to coordinate my silk and lace underwear with my mini-skirts and see-through blouses. But I do have one question for the female readers of this newsletter. How the hell do I fasten this damn bra at the back???

But now it was time to explore the mountains of Cyprus and “Go where no tourist has gone before”. So we set off to find an old abandoned monastery on top of a mountain that had no paved roads to it! When we got to the end of the paved roads we got lost quickly and asked a farmer for directions and paid attention to the first 2 or 3 hand motions indicating turns, etc. We quickly found ourselves at the end of the good dirt road and on a 4x4 track going up the mountain –and we only had a Honda Civic! We made it over the first mountain and down the other side (after almost taking the bottom out of the car several times) before we came to a stream. At that point we wisely decided that the only course open was to retreat from whence we came! On the way back Nicole had to get out several times to move boulders of the track so we could make it back to civilization safely. Having got the ‘back-country exploration bug’ out of our system we then followed the paved roads around the mountain and up the Troodhos Mountains to the small mountain village of Panayai. We stopped at a café and enjoyed a wonderful local meal of stewed lamb washed down with a great red wine from the local winery. All-in-all it was a good day! But it was time to head back to Pafos and carbo-load for the race the next day.

Sunday. M-day! The race started in front of the Pafos castle at the harbor, ran north past the Catacombs of Ayia Solomoni, then turned west and ran up and down the hills along the coastal road to the Sea Caves at the start of the Akamas Peninsula where we had to climb a very steep hill. A few more miles, then turn around and retrace the route. The ‘gentle rolling hills’ described in the race brochure seemed like ‘big-ass mountains’ on the way back. Also race morning was the warmest day we had with temps hitting the mid-60s but fortunately they had water every two miles, which is unusual for a European race. I ran a much smarter race and kept the pace smooth and easy and did not really have any trouble but still hurt like hell the last 6 km. But I was much happier with my performance and time (3:48:37) and believe that my injury problems with the right hamstring are now behind me. Now I start the slow painful process of getting back in race-shape. It always amazes me how quickly and easy the conditioning goes and how hard and slowly it comes back? But nobody said life was fair?

We had planned to do some more touring after the race but the weather turned cool and started to drizzle in the afternoon so we found a nice café overlooking the harbor and sipped wine for the afternoon. I realized that I had made reservations and prepaid for the ‘Gala Celebration Dinner’ at the hotel. What a mistake! I won’t do that again and recommend that you pass also if you are offered such an opportunity. The meal was the typical bland buffet followed by some local musicians and dancers. Yuk! We could have had a great steak dinner for the same price!

The following day was time to leave but we still had lots to see. Fortunately most of the remaining tourist attractions were between Pafos and Lanarka. So we left early and planned our route to stop at Aphrodite’s Birthplace, The Tombs of the Kings, and several Graeco-Roman ruins in the Limassol area. One of the more interesting sites is a Graeco-Roman Theatre originally built in the 2nd century BC that is now fully restored and used for musical and theatrical performances. We also visited the Sanctuary of ApolloYlatis, the God of the Woodland, built circa 800 BC. Then it was time for a lunch break in Limassol, a large tourist resort area (yuk! too big, too much concrete, too many tourists).
But we did get to experience a Meze meal. This consists of 20 to 30 plates of appetizers or Greek finger food served with various dips. It just keeps coming and coming! Be forewarned and be hungry because it tastes great!
Our final stops were at the Kolssi Castle (13th century) and then the Neolithic ruins at Choirokoitia. The latter is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a settlement of inhabitants from the Neolithic Age (5800 –3000 BC). The foundations and walls of their round stone huts are unearthed and a few replicas have be built to show what they looked like. I found it very interesting since I was able to compare it to the Neolithic Temples that I had visited in Malta.

To summarize, Cyprus has many interesting things to offer a visitor. Five days were not enough to explore it in detail. One to two weeks is needed. If you want beach weather you have to go in the high season but I would recommend early or late to beat the crowds and prices. It is clean, safe and friendly!

Before I close I want to revisit the tidbit I left you with in the opening paragraphs. Is Cyprus in Europe or Asia? The answer is Asia. But what brought the question up to me was the bigger question “how many countries are there in Europe”? This is not an easy question. I have asked several Europeans and none know off the top of their head. And when they start to figure it out it becomes complex because of countries like Cyprus. When I researched the question I found that some World Atlases showed Cyprus in Europe while others showed it in Asia? And there are many other countries in similar question.
I believe after extensive research that I now have a correct answer. But I wish to present a similar challenge to my readers. And I am offering a prize or reward for your efforts. The first person to provide the correct answer to the question “how many countries are there in Europe” will win a bottle of European wine (probably French).
If nobody gets the correct answer then the closest (and first if there is a tie) will win!
What’s the deadline? I am leaving on Thursday for another trip to Southern Europe and Africa (still too damn cold, windy and rainy here!). I tentatively return on March 10th and will publish the correct answer and winner in that trip report.

Good luck to all!

Wednesday, February 16, 2000

TR Egypt Part 2

2/7 –2/15/00

Now where was I? Oh yeah –getting ready to leave Luxor.

But I forgot to mention in the marathon section that the Egyptian Marathon was the 20th marathon/country that I had completed since moving to England. This brings my total country-marathons to 30 which is starting to be respectable numbers even in the 50+DC Club.

Now back to the current story. We arrived at the airport one hour in advance of our 3:45 pm departure on Egypt Air. Egypt Air has a monopoly on air travel within Egypt and their customer attitude and performance (or lack of) reflects it. We stood in line for almost an hour during which time several Egyptians butted into line in front of us until we realized that it is their nature and attitude to be rude and arrogant and to defend oneself you must be rude and arrogant back! Finally Egypt air admitted that the plane would be an hour or more late after a fiery redheaded American lass charged across the ticket counter and demanded information. She also put a few very shocked Egyptian men in their place when they tried to butt in front of her. She told them off in not-very-kind words. I thought they might find her later with her throat slit because women are supposed to know their place in Egypt and do not talk back to men!

When we arrived in Cairo, Gary’s driver was waiting to take us to their apartment that is located in Maadi. Maadi is an exclusive subdivision where most expats, oil company and embassy employees live. Carey took us out for dinner and gave us the lowdown on Cairo and a language lesson. Oh how I wish we had learned those few so-important words and phrases when we were in Luxor! Are you ready? Record these for future use. ‘La = No’.
‘Yella imshe (phonetically spelled) = Get lost’. Very, very useful. When we used this training later at the pyramids and other sites usually a harsh ‘La’ would stop the hawkers. In one case Nicole had to resort to the phrase and the hawker looked at her like he was hurt and said ”that wasn’t nice” – but left!
I also confirmed a suspicion that I had. The Italians must have taught the Egyptians how to drive because the first thing that you notice is that there are no rules! Every car in Egypt is dented. But the Egyptians throw a few more challenges into the game. In two days of driving around Cairo, a city of 18 million people, I saw a maximum of 18 traffic lights of which only two worked and everyone ignored those! And at night the Egyptians drive with their headlights off! They believe that using their lights will kill the battery so they do not turn them on but will flash them to warn another vehicle or pedestrian to get out of the way! It was quite unnerving at first to be driving down a dark road and nobody has their lights on. But they seem to handle it well?

Carey had booked a private tour guide for us during our stay. With a private driver and guide we were able to visit all of the major tourist sites in and around Cairo in the two days. And the tour guide only cost $100 for the two days and that included the $60 of entrance fees into all the sites. But that price is only available to locals –a tourist would never be able to book a guide for that price. Like everything else in Egypt it was half-price or more for a local!

So on Sunday morning we were off! First stop was the Cairo Museum. Our guide took us to all the major exhibits and explained the history and culture of Egypt while showing us statues of the Kings and artifacts from the different periods of history. I would definitely recommend that anyone start their Egypt trip with a visit to the museum. We also visited King Tut’s treasures. The gold mask and headdress fashioned in his likeness is a spectacular piece of craftsmanship considering it was made 3000 years ago. The coffin that contained his mommy was built of solid gold. When you consider that King Tut was only a minor king in Egyptian history it is sad to think of what treasures were buried with the other kings and has been lost forever to the tomb robbers. Our last stop was at a special room that housed many of the mommies of the kings and queens. They were interesting but kind of ugly and disgusting!

Then it was time to visit the pyramids at Giza. I always thought that the pyramids were far out in the desert and they were when they were built –but now the city has been built right out to them! The three pyramids of Cheops, Chepren and Micerinus and the Sphinx as well as other smaller pyramids can all be viewed from the comfort of a bar from across the street if you prefer. But we of course strolled around the pyramids and learned about their history from our guide –and practiced our Egyptian on the hawkers. I visited the burial chamber in one of the pyramids. They warn you not to go in if you are claustrophobic since the tunnels are very narrow and short and you must descend a few hundred feet through these tunnels. The sheer size of these monuments is difficult to describe – you must visit them sometime!
The next and last day we set out for the pyramids at Sakkarah. The largest pyramid is the step-pyramid of Zoser. It has six levels and is the oldest pyramid in the world, circa 2700 BC. The necropolis or burial grounds at Sakkarah are the largest in Egypt. On the way to Sakkarah our driver got lost and drove through the village of Sakkarah. I thought we had stepped back 1000 years in time! The village had no paved roads, only a rough dirt path down the middle of the village with an open ditch on one side that served as sewer, garbage dump, etc! On each side of the path were mud and mud-brick houses with roofs of straw or palm fronds. No electricity or water except for a central well. The village women were carrying water, stacks of vegetables and sugar cane on their heads and the men were riding donkeys. And this village is only twenty miles from the outskirts of Cairo! I told Nicole that we should move there for a month to understand what the priorities in life are!

In the afternoon we proceeded to the Citadelle, an old fort and mosque built by the Turks about 700 years ago. Tourists were permitted to visit the mosque and our guide whom was Muslim explained the Muslim religion to us. The fort is built on a hill overlooking Cairo so afforded a great panoramic view of the city. Our next visit was to ‘Old Cairo’, a section of Cairo built by the Romans during their rule. This area contains the original cobbled streets and several old churches. Of special interest was an old synagogue built on the site (as legend states) where Charleston Heston, er, Moses was supposedly washed ashore into the reeds of the Nile. (Read you Bible again!) Moses made this site into a religious site where he prayed each day and after he left Egypt the first synagogue was built on the site. Legend further states that this is the site to which Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to for refuge from King Herrod (I don’t recall that in my Bible studies). The crypt or tomb where they hid is still open for viewing as the current synagogue was built over the original site. How much is fact and how much is fiction or rumor- not for me to say?

Our final visit was back to the pyramids of Giza for another sound and light show. But this one was much better. The sphinx narrated a story while multi-colored floodlights played on the pyramids and Sphinx in synch with the music and story. And this time there were laser lights that displayed images on the walls of a temple and the pyramids themselves. It was very interesting and exciting to watch. But now it was time to go home! Back to the apartment for a short 3-hour nap before leaving for the airport to catch our 04:15 KLM flight back to merry England.

In summary the trip was very interesting and in spite of the hawkers and constant haggling, enjoyable. I would recommend that you visit Cairo first because the culture shock will be more gradual and you can learn more about the history and culture of Egypt with an initial trip to the Cairo Museum. But you should definitely proceed on to Upper Egypt or the South. An alternative to consider would be to take one of the many cruise boats that sail from Cairo to Aswan. They stop at all the historical sites along the way.
But definitely do take a trip to Egypt at least once in your lifetime to experience the history and culture that you learned about as a child!

Tuesday, February 15, 2000

TR Egypt Part 1

EGYPT 2/7 –2/15/00

Ahhhh! Another trip and lesson in the history of civilization. I am really beginning to tie together all the information and knowledge that I learned as a youth in school and even from Sunday school! But they never did explain how difficult it can be to arrange the trips to expand and confirm that knowledge.
And believe me, this trip is firmly at the top of my list for difficulty and frustration in setting up. Travel agencies (and in fact most companies in Egypt) are very inefficient and incompetent and when you try to explain to them that their service is such and recommend some solutions to improve their service and business, they just simply ignore you. My only travel tip in this regard is to arrange as much of the trip as possible with your travel agent in N America.

But after months of frustration, unanswered phone calls and emails, I finally got everything arranged and confirmed and Nicole and I were off to Cairo on KLM via Amsterdam. We arrived in Cairo at 01:20am, purchased our two visa stamps for $15 and proceeded through customs. We were surprised to find my cousin Gary Troke and his wife Sheila waiting for us in the Arrivals Hall. They have a business in Cairo and have lived there for the past six years. The plan was to visit them on our way home but an unexpected business issue required that they go to the US later that week and they explained that they would not be back in time to host us. However their son Carey would be at home and would host us and they offered us the use of their home and car and driver during our visit. They felt bad about the change in plans so wanted to spend some time with us. They drove us to our hotel at the airport where we had hoped to get about four hours sleep before catching a connecting Egypt Air flight to Luxor. But after a few drinks and lots of conversation we ended up getting only two hours sleep. If I had known they would meet us at the airport I would have cancelled the hotel and saved $140 for two hours of sleep.

So finally at 07:30am we arrived in Luxor! On our drive from the airport to the hotel we noticed that at least half the vehicles on the roads were pulled by donkeys or horses! Donkey carts are the main transport for cargo and horse carriages are as plentiful as taxis for carrying people. And the taxis are all at least 20 –30 years old, completely dented front to rear and held together with wire and rope! The only modern and well-constructed buildings in Luxor are the international hotels and a few government buildings. Even new apartment buildings look like slums and like they are ready to fall down. Poverty and filth are everywhere. But there are no beggars. The Egyptians prefer to work and hustle tourists rather than beg. After two days of relentless hustling by every taxi and carriage driver and every street hawker I was thinking that I might prefer begging! The upside was that everyone was very friendly and eager to provide service (and take some of your money in return). We quickly learned not to make any eye contact, show no interest in anything and firmly reject even innocent (?) offers of assistance or help. Egyptians expect payment for any service provided. If you take a picture of an Egyptian or his donkey he will demand payment. If he takes your picture with your camera he will demand payment! Payment may be 1 or 2 Egyptian pounds (LE --1 LE = $.30). But believe me you can get 1 LE’d to death very quickly if you are not careful! And they have more scams than you have ever seen to suck you in for that important 1 LE tip!

Our hotel was the Luxor Hilton, a supposedly 5-star hotel located on the East Bank of the Nile, but I have stayed in 30-year old Holiday Inns that were in better shape. Thirty years was also the approximate age of our TV set and the telephone system in the hotel. We foolishly dragged Nicole’s computer along thinking that she could stay in touch with the office and I could monitor the stock market – after all we were staying at a 5-star international hotel! Wrong! She couldn’t even reach her office using her MCI/NT calling card and had to make calls using the hotel’s long distance network @ $6/minute! I took taxis to an internet café and kept current on the stock market for 4 LE/15 minutes. The hotel was selected by the travel agency managing the Egyptian Marathon and our rate was very inexpensive -$80/day including breakfast and dinner for two!
Upon arrival we met up with a friend from NJ who is a member of the 50+ DC Club. The three of us ventured out by foot to visit the Karnak Temple that was only a mile from the hotel-but a gauntlet of dozens of hustlers wanting to drive us there by horse carriage or taxi. And our history lesson on Egypt began.
Luxor is part of the ancient city of Thebes. It contains two temples. The Karnak temple that was dedicated to the God Amon is the largest temple supported by columns in the world and is so vast that it could cover half of Manhattan. The Great Hall contains 134 columns 75 feet tall with a top circumference of 45 feet. When you look at the architecture you wonder how they built this structure 3600 years ago. The Karnak Temple is linked to the Luxor temple via an avenue about one mile long that is lined on both sides with sphinxes. The entrance to the Luxor temple is flanked by a giant statue of Ramses II and a tall obelisk. There used to be two obelisks but the second one is now in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. We spent the first afternoon just wondering around the Karnak temple and listening to various tour guides explain the history of the temple and period.

The next morning we took a guided tour along with some other marathoners to the West Bank of the Nile. The Bible’s description of the Nile and the Nile Valley are pretty accurate. The Nile runs from Southern Egypt-called Upper Egypt in ancient times to the Mediterranean Sea in Northern or Upper Egypt. The Nile Valley is very fertile due to the annual flooding of the Nile and both banks support lush vegetation and agricultural crops for about two to three miles inland all along the river. Once you get past that point it changes immediately to desert. On both sides of Luxor there are small limestone mountain ranges that rise about 800 feet above the Nile Valley.
Our bus joined a second bus to form a convoy that was escorted by an armed police vehicle to the tourist sites on the West Bank. On the trip we passed through armed police barricades about every two miles on the road and at the only bridge over the Nile in the area there are gun towers at both ends armed with machine guns. This very visible security is the Egyptian response to the terrorist attack two years ago in Luxor where 57 tourists were killed! Our first stop was the Colossi of Memnon, two giant statues of a Pharaoh. Then we traveled on through Medinet Habu and past the Temple of Ramses III to the Valley of the Kings. After I got over the surprise of seeing an armored troop carrier with a machine gun turret guarding the entrance to the valley (this is the location where the terrorist attack occurred) we proceeded with some more history lessons.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the East where the sun rises represented birth and the West where the sun sets represented death. Thus all their burial tombs were always located on the West Bank. In the ‘Old Kingdom’ which had its beginnings around 2700 BC the burial tombs were in the Pyramids that are located on the West Bank around Cairo. During the ‘Middle and New Kingdom’ periods, from 2060 to 900 BC, the kings realized that the Pyramids made great monuments but were easy to find and loot. So they decided to move their tombs to the limestone mountains on the West Bank opposite Thebes. Here they dug huge tombs into the solid limestone mountains and then tried to hide them. It should have worked because the area is very rugged and desolate (reminds me of Utah or AZ) but the legend is that the workers and their descendants went back and looted the tombs in later years. This also killed the legends/stories that they always killed the workers to keep the location secret!
Because women could not be buried with the men, they chose one valley to bury the kings-The Valley of the Kings and another for the queens –The Valley of the Queens. A third valley was chosen to bury the Nobles and workers. In the Valley of the Kings they have discovered 67 tombs to date. All had been looted of their treasures except for the actual mummies. Only one, that of King Tut, remained intact and unlooted until it was discovered in 1922. The treasures are now housed in the Cairo Museum. But the tombs themselves contain many chambers that are covered in hieroglyphics and paintings. And because of the depth that they were buried inside the mountains and the dry climate they are in excellent condition. Even the colors are virtually unchanged from when they were finished 3000 years ago! It is quite spectacular. And some are very difficult to get to since you must climb up or down a small tunnel for several hundred feet inside the mountain. We only had time to visit 4 or 5 tombs.
Then it was on to Deir El-Bahari with our police escort to visit the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This temple is built into the cliffs of the limestone mountains between the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens and faces due east towards Karnak Temple. At one time a road connected them on both sides of the Nile. Since it was not acceptable for a queen or woman to rule Egypt by herself at that time, Queen Hatshepsut used to dress as a man and even wore the false beard used by the kings- and she ruled for 23 years!
After we returned to the hotel we decided to attend the sound and light show at the Karnak Temple that evening. It is a one-hour show in which you visit various parts of the temple while music and the history of the Temple is narrated over loudspeakers and spotlights are used to highlight the features of the temple in synch with the story and music. It was OK but we had heard that they used laser lights to reflect beams and images off the Sacred Lake within the Temple and none of that happened?

The next day turned out to be cloudy with some rain showers even though everyone assured us that it never rains in Luxor. We canceled a planned lunch on a felucca –a small working sail boat that carries cargo and passengers on the Nile- and instead just strolled along the streets of Luxor. By then we were completely fed up with the street hawkers and also the fact that you have to negotiate for everything you buy. Only restaurants and tourist sites had fixed prices- everything else had to be negotiated. Even in the fancy shops within the hotel –you had to negotiate. Egyptians negotiate price on everything they buy and consider anyone foolish who does not! But it does get tiring.
Finally it was M-day (marathon day)! It was held on a Friday which is their main religious day. They bussed about 1000 runners –200 marathoners, the rest 10K’rs- in a large convoy escorted by several police vehicles to Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple on the West Bank. Since there were many foreigners and Egyptian dignitaries at the race there were more police and machine guns visible than I had ever seen in my life! The course started and finished at the temple and consisted of a 10K loop past most of the tourist sites I described earlier. So YES, we had to do it four times and it got very boring. Plus we had to endure fumes from the tourist buses, dodge donkeys, donkey carts and an occasional camel and the worst obstacle was the peasant kids who ran beside us begging for money or gifts. But I felt very protected since there were armed police at every intersection and two armored pick-up trucks with six police armed with machine guns continually cruising up and down the course!
Unfortunately I started too fast and my right leg (hamstring) began to hurt about 10K. So I slowed down a bit but not enough because by twenty miles I was a ‘hurting puppy’- my right leg hurt, my left leg hurt-my whole damn body hurt! I went into survival mode; e.g. just try to finish without dying. But it was difficult to focus on willing the pain away when you have peasant kids still running along begging for your headband, your watch and even your running shorts! During the first three loops I could put on a burst of speed and leave then but now there were no bursts left and I had to listen to their constant begging and almost tripped on them several times! But finally the finish line was in sight and I struggled over in 3:49:38 –a very disappointing time!
Nicole had hired our favorite taxi driver, Allie, to bring her to the finish so that she could take some pictures and we could go back to the hotel immediately and not have to wait for the buses. That turned out to be a wise plan since I was totally beat and in no mood to wait around.

After a good sports massage and hot bath I was ready to face the world again. We hired a felucca for a private sail and lunch on the Nile. We had a crew of two, a captain and a cook/waiter who grilled us an excellent lunch that was served with wine and beer as we cruised along the Nile for two hours. This was a most pleasant and memorable activity.

The next day, Saturday, was time to leave Luxor and return to Cairo for the final leg of our trip. Since our flight did not leave until 3pm we hired Allie to drive us into the Luxor Museum . We toured the museum and then did a final stroll around the city before Allie took us to the airport. We had developed a friendship with Allie because we soon trusted him to charge a reasonable rate for a ride without having to haggle. He would drive us anywhere we wanted to go and wait for several hours to take us on to another place or back to the hotel –for the same price as one-way trips! When I asked him why he insisted on waiting he explained that he was at least assured of another fare for that day. He looked about 60 years old but told Nicole that he had just turned 35 – a pretty tough life!
When he dropped us off at the airport I tipped him 30LE- about three day’s wages for him!

I am going to close this off for now and write a second section for Cairo so that y’all have time to rest.