Since Madrid is a horribly busy airport, apparently 5:00 is the right time to schedule a charter – and take off late anyway. The paperwork insisted on arriving at the airport with a three hour’s margin, and I did precisely that, reaching Terminal one at 2:06. I was slightly worried that the charter would not be shown on the screen, but it was there, literally the first flight. A number of tour operators had come together to charter around 200 people to Luxor, and as it was not a regular flight, there was no way to obtain boarding passes online.
I had to queue for about an hour in order to get my pass, and just as I was leaving the check-in counter, I heard that 90 people had been checked in, and the line was about even longer than when I had joined. There were three check-in counters and the process was really slow – there were problems with the conveyor belt for starters, then people would not have their passports ready or had weight issues with their luggage. I… handed over my passport, put my suitcase up, received my pass, and was out in less than two minutes… So I have no idea what all the issues were…
Security was also pretty fast even if I got stuck behind a family who didn’t take their electronics out, tried to get big liquids in, and couldn’t get their boarding passes sorted out to go through passport control. I found my gate and I sat down to snooze. We were the only plane leaving from the airport, and we were late by 20 minutes…
I slept for a couple of hours until we got breakfast, then slept again until we landed in Luxor | Al-ʾuqṣur [الأقصر ]. As my visa had a already been processed, I got a sticker and filled in the immigration card. Then I went through immigration, picked up my bag, and we were waived through customs. It was a bit of a chaos as different guys yelled up the names of different operators until we found our groups. A guide told me I’d be riding the bus with him as I was the only one heading for the motorboat “M/S Opera”, I’d be getting off first in 15-20 minutes.
Luxor is located on the east bank of the Nile, covering part of the ancient site of Thebes, which comprised an area for the living (eastern bank of the river) and another for the dead (western bank, the current necropolis). Thebes was the capital of Egypt during the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, and today the site of Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis is recognised as Unesco World Heritage Site. The bus drove off and we got to see Karnak [الكرنك], the Avenue of Sphinxes and the Temple of Luxor [معبد الأقصر]. The guide laid out the plans for his group to have lunch and then go off to visit both the temples of Karnak and Luxor to make the most of the time in the city. I thought this was a fantastic idea (I’d be sorely disappointed later when I realised I was not part of those plans).
About 40 minutes later, way out of the city, the guide informed me that the bus driver had been unable to find my boat, but that he would drive me there now. They were leaving because they had reached their pier. Thus, I was driven back to Luxor, alone in the bus, to a shady alley that eventually got to my motorboat. I was worried that I was keeping the rest of my group back… It turned out that the 17 other people from my group arrived at night! I was not alone on the motorboat, of course, but my tour guide said I should “just relax”.
I entertained the idea of going out to explore, but I’d heard a few horror stories about travelling Egypt alone, and the dock was in a bit of (read: very) shady place; besides, I was pretty much out. It was colder than I expected (apparently, I managed to arrive through a cold wave in Egypt, go figure), so I divided my time between the sun deck and the cabin, reading and dozing off from time to time. Though my cabin didn’t have views, the sun deck had some nice ones of the West Bank of the Nile, where the tombs of the most powerful pharaohs are. The motorboat looked right out of a Mummy film if not for the fact that it was in colour. However it looked charmingly garish – though the cabin was a bit chilly, and the heating wouldn’t work. Since I had two beds, I planned to use both covers to stay warm.
At some point during the evening I looked up and saw that the light had shifted, so I climbed up to the sun deck and caught some amazing sunset views over River Nile [نهر النيل].
To be honest, by 20:00 I just wished dinner time would come and I could grab a bite to eat, a bottle of water, and then take a shower and go sleep for real. I tried to buy Wi-Fi access, the receptionist understood me, but decided to play dumb, so I decided to forgo that altogether. Furthermore, I was growing antsy because I wanted to know the plan for the following day – for waking up purposes – and where I could exchange some money for tips and so on.
I caught the tour guide at dinner and at least managed to secure a time to leave the following day, which was the most important thing. I was not too keen on him by this point – I think he was just miffed he had to start working 12 hours earlier just for one person, and not bothering to hide it, so communicating with him was hard, since he did not seem to have straight answers to my questions – well, at least I knew what time to get going. After dinner, I went to the sun deck again. I was not going to get to see Karnak lit up for the evening, but at least I saw the West Bank.