“At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flames to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold – everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’ ” Howard Carter
Howard Carter’s words after opening Tutankhamun’s Tomb in 1922 could well be spoken by any tourist on their first visit to Egypt, with a myriad of wonderful things to see. In Cairo, there is the awe-inspiring pyramids and sphinx, the heady atmosphere of the colourful bazaar, and, in the museum, the astonishing treasures that were taken from Tutankhamun’s Tomb. Further south, between Luxor and Aswan, there are the fascinating ruins to explore – temples, monuments and tombs built by the slaves to immortalize the pharaohs – and hieroglyphics telling the stories of an ancient civilisation.
But, once again, it’s photographs of people that make me smile the most. I remember some enterprising locals, who took the opportunity to sell cotton gowns (galabayya) and costumes to passengers aboard a cruise ship. A carnival-like atmosphere developed when the bartering began and it was a lot of fun to watch and photograph. These guys knew they had a captive audience, as the cruise ship had to wait at Esna Lock for a couple of hours, and they also knew about the upcoming fancy dress party on the boat.
It was also easy to be charmed by the con artist who guided us through the twisting back alleys of the ‘real’ Cairo bazaar, only to end up at his friend’s perfume store. Or to watch the sunset from a felucca while a young man named Mandela explained how this ancient sailboat is the most common means of transport on the Nile. Or to gaze up at yet another ruin as our guide expresses, for the hundredth time that day, the profound knowledge that “nothing is new under the sun”.