Friday 16 January 2009 – Luxor, Egypt
We were all up before the sparrows today on our supposed day of rest (and Muslim holy day, being Friday) to head off on our optional balloon ride. This proved to be quite a well run (by Egyptian standards, and even by Australian) tourism operation; our pickup was on time at 5.15, we were bussed to the waterfront where we boarded boats to cross the Nile (and were served breakfast of a sort on the way – instant coffee and packaged pastries), then mini-bussed to a field adjacent to the Ramesseum to board our balloon.
Roma our pilot gave us a short safety demonstration, which consisted of practising the landing position. A couple of Frenchmen complained loudly that they did not speak English. We soon were in the basket, which we were told could accommodate six persons in each of the four sections of each basket. Fortunately, our section, which was well-full with me, Chris, Adam and Ellen, avoided the crammers.
A few puffs from the burner and we rose gently over the field. No one felt any sense of vertigo or discomfort as the ascent was so gentle. Soon we were drifting across the various temples – Ramesseum, Seti I, Merenptah, Medinet Habu, with the rising sun setting off the limestone hills beautifully against the green of the fields – sugar cane, rice, chick peas and other vegetable crops.
Our flight reached a maximum height of 1200 feet and lasted 43 minutes before we landed in a field at the village of Quena, to be mobbed by local kids. Ellen did nothing to alleviate the mob by chucking a fist full of stylos (biro pens) out of the basket, causing the mob to clamour for more.
My only moments of slight concern during the flight came as we passed quite low over some power lines just before landing, but all in all a well-run operation and a great experience.
Back to the Emilio for breakfast – their very good omelettes plus ful, the staple bean dish of Egypt. Then a visit to the Mummification Museum on the Corniche – well laid out but not very extensive and not especially informative at LE50 per head. But I did discover that the baboon canopic jars are for the lungs.
A stroll through the souk (there seems to be an air of resignation among the stall holders; there really don’t seem to be many tourists around to buy their tatt and I certainly didn’t help much. Chris and I headed to McDonald’s to email (news of the hotel change and its dramatic cause – today the Mina Palace is still standing, but we’re not sure for how much longer). Then next door to Snack Time for lunch, before heading back to the hotel for a snooze.
Chris and I adjourned to the rooftop deck of the Emilio to watch a magnificent sunset and enjoy a beer; eventually Adam and Ellen joined us and we ordered pizza and chatted for a couple of hours before Chris and I retired for one of the last sips of his Tia Maria with decaf.