Monday 19 January 2015
I’ve wanted to write about our Egyptian experience for a while but abandoned several attempts while they were still in my head as I couldn’t figure out what direction to take with it. Judy has already written some lovely blogs which are rich in detail and symbolism and are grounded in actual, proper knowledge of Egypt. I thought it was fairly pointless trying to write something similar as I can’t remember all the names of the places we went to – except the Winter Solstice at Karnak of course! – and I also can’t remember the relevance of the gods and goddesses whose temples we visited, except I do know it was all an awesome experience. Not being great on detail I would have to refer to her blogs to find out where I had been, which sort of defeats the object. I also didn’t think about writing a diary every day; something I later discovered Terrie did and really wish I had. So we are back to my default of writing about how it all felt, and what happened for me along the way; I will try to include at least a few locations and details to put it in context.
In booking this cruise down the Nile both Stephen and I were very aware that it was a chance to present ourselves, in person, to the sacred temples we had been lovingly carted around to in photographic form by Judy and Terrie in 2013. We would have our own personal guides in those two lovely ladies (who actually wanted to do it all AGAIN for us) and it would all be a lovely dreamy waft down the most famous river in the world in gorgeous sunshine. However, it is a well-known fact that when we go on holiday we take ourselves along. Yes, all the things we think about at home, all those habits we are trying to break, all those insecurities, they come along too and don’t even take up any baggage allowance. In fact they sneak along and then choose their moment to leap out in your face when you least expect it. In my case it was the “Ha! You are frightened to speak your mind, yes? You will have many chances to speak your mind on this trip!” ogre that kept popping up. Those of you who have read from the beginning of the blogs may remember that the cancer was first picked up in my throat and the symbolism of that was immense. It is a theme I have worked on countless times both in past life regressions and also during the opportunities for deep introspection that presented themselves while I was in chemo as I really want to get to the bottom of it. Despite my best efforts thus far, there is still an energetic blockage in my throat that takes two forms: either I pick up the emotion of whatever is going on around me and want to have a really loud sobbing session about something that isn’t really anything to do with me, or there is the feeling that in both the current and past lives I have suffered from putting my head above the parapet and saying what I think. The latter is an ongoing lesson that I still haven’t worked out, as when I do have the courage to open my mouth things can often go horribly wrong. Now when I am safely in my own, controlled little world there obviously aren’t so many opportunities to open mouth and insert foot, and any hearty sobbing due to adverts or news items is hidden away from public view, but a holiday in a totally different culture is a whole new proposition. I really should have known this. You also can’t expect to go on holiday with friends who are extremely spiritually and energetically aware and expect to get off lightly.
It is absolutely no secret that Stephen and I love cruising. My especially favourite cruise of all time was flying to Barbados then sailing back to Malaga. Apart from a day each in St Lucia and Antigua, it was a lovely long period of crossing a very calm Atlantic and just reading and gazing out to sea for what felt like a glorious eternity. I realised that the Nile was a different proposition, but as it still involved water I was happy. After a good flight of about 5 hours it was just a short coach ride from Luxor airport to where the boat was moored up, during which time our guide entertained us with various exciting local facts as well as the sobering reality that although the boat could take 160 people there were only 44 of us on the cruise as tourism was so bad. That was a shock. The part of the Nile we were cruising is a long way from any trouble spots, but it is presumably enough to put off less intrepid explorers – which I would certainly be if I wasn’t going with Judy. As we had landed close to midnight we were starting to feel a bit snackish and our guide told us that the staff knew we would be hungry so had obligingly provided club sandwiches in our cabins. Wow. That was a nice surprise. The real surprise – and something that had never occurred to me before – was that ‘club sandwich’ obviously has a whole range of definitions depending on the culture, and this definition was right down the ‘stale white rolls with a teeny scraping of cream cheese’ end of the spectrum. But at least there was also a huge orange, and, hey, we weren’t there for the food. Just as well. Breakfast was ‘interesting’ then at about 6.00am we joined our coach for the trip to the Valley of the Kings. The trips all start excruciatingly early to avoid the heat of the sun, so from that point of view it became quite a tiring holiday. However, it did mean that we got going nice and early and could pack a lot into each day. Which we certainly did. There was a surreal moment in the Valley of the Kings where I realised we had ‘done’ three tombs and it was still only 9.00 in the morning. It was a very strange alternate reality, made more so by what we were actually looking at.
I need to say here that I wouldn’t normally describe myself as claustrophobic, but you certainly couldn’t tempt me to go on a potholing holiday. One of my big concerns about the whole Egyptian proposition was that I didn’t fancy in the slightest the prospect of going down into the burial chambers, but I was prepared to at least give it a go, especially as our ticket included entry into three of the most popular; it would have been churlish to refuse and I was convinced that I could do it. I am so glad I did. It was absolutely nothing like I expected. I was stunned to see firstly the size of the decorations in the chambers, and to witness first-hand the hieroglyphs themselves. I didn’t realise they would be coloured and I was fascinated by the stories depicted. The tombs were spacious with wide walkways decorated on all sides and the ceilings, and I very quickly began to feel that they served as a celebration of both a life lived and the joyful anticipation of the life that was yet to come.
I also quite unwittingly started to consider the various alien theories surrounding the Egyptians, and I have to say, they make a lot of sense. In fact they prompted a lot of discussion with Judy as she mostly knew the symbolism behind the hieroglyphs and what they represented whereas I was just a newbie, seeing them in the flesh for the first time. A fascinating fact that emerged was that the stars depicted in the background on some of them are actually proper constellations as they would have appeared at the time the picture was carved into the stone. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photographs in the tombs – I really wish I had been able to as one depiction in particular summed up the alien possibility perfectly for me. By that I mean I thought it was blazingly obvious that we were dealing with aliens from another planet, but you can imagine one has to pick one’s audience carefully for such subject matter. I am hoping to post a question and answer session with Judy shortly on the blog so we can go into some of this in depth – as an Egyptologist and astrologer she is uniquely placed to answer some of my more bizarre questions. Imagine three bodies shown as being laid side by side, each with a tube coming out of their mouths. The tubes were guided by an upright being in weird headgear into what looked like a huge cylinder which – given my passion for speculative sci-fi (both books and films) – was quite clearly three bodies being kept on a life support system to get them through a deep space voyage. I mean, how could it be anything else? To my untutored eye the pictures became ever more fascinating as I found more and more that backed up my theories. Strange animals that were hybrids of humans and Something Else. Humans with big bowls around their heads that could easily have been space helmets. Zig zag lines coming from the sky to the heads of some of the figures. Now I know there will be a lot of you laughing your socks off at my naivety but I am trying to be honest here, and yes, say what I think. Go back a paragraph or two to remind yourselves that I sometimes find it hard to do. I was transfixed and eager to see more. Which was just as well as we quickly moved on to the Valley of the Queens, the Colossi of Memnon and the temple of Hatshepsut and still ended up back at the boat before lunch was served.
This was our first proper look, in daylight, at both the boat and the surrounding scenery as we made our way upstream to Edfu, where we were to spend the night; it was a beautifully sunny day and we enjoyed sitting up on deck just watching the river bank pass by. The swimming pool was more of a plunge pool really, but a welcome spot to cool off when the sun got a bit too much. In fact it was whilst having a bit of a paddle I got talking to a fellow passenger about the whole cancer thang. He was such a lovely guy and he seemed very relieved to be able to talk to someone about it as I gather several members of his family are facing their own struggles with the disease. Funny how these conversations happen in the most unlikely places. There was a massage therapist on board who came round touting for business and Judy immediately booked her session; I wanted a massage too but decided to wait to see how Judy got on. Very tempting though.
The following day we got our first real experience of retail therapy, Egyptian style. We soon realised the boat was a magnet for all kinds of trader, and every time it moored up there was a general stampede amongst the locals to see who could get closest to hawk their wares. It became something of a trial for us – as first timers – to ignore the very aggressive attempts made to sell us stuff and Stephen in particular would want to respond to their overtures, giving them his name on request and shaking hands. Neither of us realised that such an apparently innocent exchange meant some kind of a purchase was a done deal. We were shepherded off the boat and into a queue of caleche (horse drawn carriages) to take us to Edfu temple; this was managed by our fabulous guides but we were left alone to run the gauntlet of the street sellers on our way into the temple. Stephen smiled, shook hands with them and said, “Yes, later, later – when we come out!” and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward an hour or so and we emerged blinking into the shopping street that you cannot avoid on the way back to the waiting caleche. I kid you not, in a scene worthy of Monty Python, a solid body of at least 20 men turned, as one, and started running down the street to us. ‘Stephen, Stephen! You come to my shop! You promise, yes?” Fortunately Terrie and Judy formed a gauntlet around us and we made it back to our driver relatively unscathed but somewhat shaken. Exactly the same thing happened when we got back to the boat, as Stephen was spotted and remembered from his friendly exchange several hours previously as we had got into our carriages. The sad thing was that there were actually some nice things on those stalls, and I would willingly have browsed and quite possibly bought some of the items, but the slightest sign of interest is taken up very aggressively and it is impossible to just wander along. It really affected Stephen too; he is a naturally trusting and open guy who enjoys chatting with people, and he found it extremely difficult to curb his natural friendliness to the point of what he considered rudeness.
It was certainly an interesting experience being on a river boat rather than an ocean going cruiser. Food quite clearly wasn’t a priority and neither was service. It often took several attempts to get something (often after a long wait) and I got the distinct impression that this was way above the usual standards of the average Egyptian hostelry so the staff didn’t really care that it was a long way from European standards. On one notable occasion I went to the bar for a bottle of white wine. When I finally got served the waiter tried to give me a bottle that had obviously already been opened and had a glass poured out of it. “No – I’d like a new bottle please,” I countered despite the growing queue behind me. He searched the cupboards under the bar but couldn’t find another one. I smiled patiently as he disappeared through the door, presumably to raid other store cupboards, and tried to ignore the growing mob on my side of the bar. Eventually he came back clutching said bottle of warm wine. Yuk. “Can I have an ice bucket please?” Not an unreasonable request really. We jointly agreed that he would bring it over to the table in a minute and I gratefully left the bar area. Five minutes later wine, ice bucket and glasses materialised at our table. Result.
There was a perfunctory safety demonstration on the second day, which was conducted over the general background of chatting and drinking in the main bar. I laughingly said afterwards that I was pleased they had done the demonstration because at least a couple of the staff were there and would know what to do should the occasion arise :-). Don’t forget, I am used to safety demonstrations imposed with terrifying efficiency on P&O and Cunard, where you can actually be thrown off the ship if you don’t attend. I would obviously much rather be up by the pool than sitting in a hot, crowded theatre learning the safety drill, but I have picked up a thing or two along the way, and one of those was about the dangers of smoking on board. Our cabin was on the upper deck just up the passageway from the suites. Every time we went through the door to our passageway there was a really strong smell of cigar smoke, which I objected to on several levels. Firstly, obviously, it was incredibly dangerous, but secondly, it permeated through into our cabin and stank the place out. Someone was quite clearly smoking in their cabin. Was this one of those golden opportunities to speak my mind? I thought so. I went down to Reception and asked whether smoking was allowed on the boat. “Absolutely not,” the desk clerk replied. I then relayed the sorry tale of our smelly corridor and cabin to which he replied that they would investigate. “Good! Well done me,” I thought. Nothing happened. Same smelly passageway for the next few days and I got cross all over again, but I discovered in the meantime that the owner of the boat was on board and that he enjoyed great big fat smelly cigars. I mean, who is going to tell the owner not to smoke in his cabin? Frustrating, but at least I said my piece. The problem was solved however when the owner disembarked, and – oh look – the smell disembarked too.
The upper deck was a lovely place to sit as we cruised along and it offered plenty of time to immerse myself in some of the many books on my reading pile. Yup. Old fashioned books. Or even ‘bookbooks’ as per that fantastic IKEA advert, rather than EBooks. One such ‘bookbook’ that had come to my attention was Eye Yoga by Dr Jane Rigney Battenburg and Martha M. Rigney. Stephen and I have a totally brilliant relationship in that I am short sighted and he is long sighted, so together we have 20/20 vision. However, neither of us are happy with having to wear glasses when the other one isn’t around (obviously I’m joking) and long periods of staring at computer screens do nothing to improve the health of our eyes. I have considered eye exercises like the Bates method on and off through the years, but what interested me about this book was the authors’ interest in how what you see affects how you think. I had never thought about it that way before; they say that we usually have a weaker eye and that the corresponding side of the brain will be weaker as a result. Could this help me to understand why I am sometimes swamped by emotion? One of the authors tried using an eye patch to help strengthen her weaker eye and she discovered she was having very different conversations with her husband from when she was using both eyes – in fact they argued more because she was being uncharacteristically logical and factual. This was fascinating and I spent some very happy moments experimenting with the exercises they suggested, trying to ascertain which eye is stronger. It must have looked very funny to anyone watching me.
The authors went on to discuss some aspects of NLP and this is where I had a great discussion with Terrie as we basked in the sun. My experience of NLP had been limited to learning that it was apparently a way of coercing and manipulating people to get them to do something you wanted them to do – like nodding as you ask someone a question to get them to say “Yes”. Or getting the subscript of their thoughts by watching their eye movements. However erroneous or unfair that view may be, I had discounted NLP a long time ago. Terrie’s experience, on the other hand, had been extremely positive, so I was all ears and eyes to learn more. I realised that when I am upset I naturally look downwards, usually to avert my gaze so that other people can’t see I have welled up (again). In doing so I am unwittingly accessing previous emotions, which just makes it all much worse. No wonder I am overwhelmed! Terrie suggested I try to look up more into the visual range to move away from the emotional charge, and it was only in experimenting with this that I discovered that I hardly ever look up. You should try it. Keep your head still and look downwards, then to each side, then upwards for a while. Which direction is more comfortable? And how many people would expect to have such an amazing conversation as the Egyptian scenery slides by? Thank you, Terrie, for making such an apparently simple suggestion which quite literally has changed my life. Because I am happy to report that I have used that technique ever since we came back, and IT WORKS.
Anyway, back to the cruise and more opportunities for speaking out, with varying degrees of success. By this stage we had reached Aswan and Judy was insistent that we go to the Old Cataract Hotel for coffee and cocktails, just as she and Terrie had done with our photograph while I was having chemo. It is a stunningly beautiful hotel which clings to the side of the river bank and is steeped in old world charm. I had been looking forward to a decent cup of coffee as so far it had been headache inducing instant Nescafé all the way. Big swanky hotel, high standards, even higher prices… bound to be good coffee, I thought. Sadly not. It seems that Egypt really is owned by Nestle no matter where you are or how much the coffee costs. Anyway, part of getting to the Old Cataract Hotel involved taking a caleche from where the boat was moored up. I had remarked to Judy after the last ride that I hated the way the drivers raced their horses on the concrete roads. It was clearly a really macho thing to do, but being a lover of horses from about the time I learnt to crawl it offended me greatly that these lovely beasts were being whipped to race on roads which would hurt their legs. Judy gave me a long look and said that maybe now was the time to speak up and tell our driver not to race if I didn’t want him to. Soooo, we set off at a decent pace, Terrie and Judy in one carriage and me and Stephen in another. Everything was fine until we came to a long curve in the road; our driver had the advantage and from my point of view he couldn’t resist catching up the other driver and undertaking him. He was urging the horse ever faster on the concrete so I took my courage in my hands and leant forward to tap the driver on the arm. “No! Don’t race the horse! Slow down!” He paused a moment then realised what I meant. He slowed the horse down and we ground to a halt. At which point I realised that the reason they raced the horses along that particular bit was that it was a very slow incline and the momentum gained from the initial burst of speed got them up the hill. So now, having ground to a halt, our poor horse couldn’t get the carriage moving again, and my heartfelt plea had in fact made everything an awful lot worse for him. Judy’s driver came running back when he realised something was wrong and between the two of them got the carriage moving again. I felt horrible. Not one of my better decisions… Some time later we returned to our boat via a small craft moored at the jetty of the hotel. Its name? Life’s Journey. Someone has an extreme sense of irony.
The next day gave us more free time in Aswan, and one of the things we really wanted to do was go to the Papyrus Institute. During the time I was undergoing chemo Judy had gone through the Weighing of the Heart ceremony with Imhotep on my behalf. She was adamant that I should go through the process myself before the stem cell transplant in order to be cleansed and in the best condition, both physically and psychically, to recover from the procedure and have the best chance of survival. I was extremely apprehensive but it turned out to be a beautiful experience (see blog #31) and one that is well documented in Egyptian art. Our mission at the Papyrus Institute was to buy a copy of the Weighing of the Heart ceremony so I would have a permanent reminder of the ritual I had undertaken. I’m happy to report we were successful. Here is one version of it:
Our time on the boat was drawing to a close and we were about to make our return journey back to Luxor, and home. Food on the boat had taken a mysterious turn for the better when a new manager embarked, and as Judy had had two successful massages Stephen and I decided to take the plunge and book a back massage each. When the appointed hour arrived Stephen went first and I wandered down near the end of his time and waited patiently outside what looked very much like a broom cupboard until he was finished. He came out and we agreed he would go and pay while I was in my session. The first thing that occurred to me when I went in was that there was no white paper on the couch. Call me precious but I think cleanliness is pretty important in these situations. The therapist told me to strip to my knickers and hurried me on to the bench so I could bury my face in the slightly grubby towel; she sloshed huge amounts of oil over my back and before I could protest commenced an extremely rough and painful massage. I was shocked. So shocked in fact at the total lack of sensitivity or empathy that I couldn’t string a sentence together to protest. The main reason for wanting the massage was that my neck was really sore and I was still suffering the after effects of a frozen shoulder, but her fingers seemed to find every painful spot and raw nerve, and not in a good way. Her English was very limited and when I tried to explain that I couldn’t rest my arm where she had moved it to she just grunted “It must be there” and carried on pummelling. I lay there wishing the half an hour was over, which was ridiculous; this was definitely a time when I should have spoken up. The session eventually came to an end and she lobbed a heavy, dirty towel over my dripping back and left the room. I presumed this was my cue to get up and get dressed which I did only too willingly. I emerged, blinking, into the daylight of the reception to find her next client was waiting. I asked whether she had had a massage with this therapist before and she replied that she had. She was booked for a full body massage. “But I don’t much enjoy the foot part,” she confided. I bet she didn’t! And the increasingly dirty towel wouldn’t add a lot to the experience either. Stephen had appeared by this time so I grabbed his hand and belted back to our cabin. I felt completely violated and I was shaking from the shock of it. I was furious with myself for not just getting up and walking out – conversation with the therapist obviously wasn’t possible so I should have voted with my feet. It was a horrible experience, but I won’t fall into that trap again.
I spent a very thoughtful afternoon on deck, then eventually plucked up the courage to talk to Terrie about it. Neither Judy nor Stephen appeared to have had such a problem, although Stephen did say it was a rigorous massage; certainly neither of them were as traumatised as I was. For my own peace of mind and in the interests of freeing my throat chakra energy I decided I needed to talk to the manager about it. And also in the interests of hygiene! I felt I needed an ally who could speak both languages; our guides Yasser and Fouad had been with us every moment of the journey and they had become like friends so I thought one of them would be a good bet. Yasser was very concerned and took me to see the manager where I recited the whole sorry story and said that I wanted a refund and for the therapist to be told that her hygiene standards were disgusting and not acceptable. The upshot of it all was apparent concern at my unhappiness (only skin deep I suspect), and the therapist got a bit of a talking to in the office. I was told the only way I would get a refund would be to deal with it direct with the company when I got home. Not an apparently great result but I did feel better for finally voicing my upset. And it did make me wonder how many people in the extremely disadvantaged state of being semi-naked and dripping with oil would actually have the strength of character to just get up and go. So maybe I’m not such a wimp after all – I’m just practising at getting stronger :-).
The next day was our last and we had asked the guides to organise a taxi to get us to Karnak temple in time for the Winter Solstice. We were so excited when we realised the absolutely perfect timing of the cruise. Karnak had recently been voted by the Smithsonian Institute as the number one place in the world to see the Solstice and the governor of the city decided to make it into a massive event to attract tourists, which didn’t turn out to be as horrible as we suspected. There were drummers, dancers, tribesmen and the odd film crew, but everyone was deeply respectful. As the sun aligned with the viewing window everyone fell quiet in total awe. It was beautiful and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. After the main event a lot of people left, but we stayed and wandered around until the rest of our party arrived from the boat. The temple was nearly deserted and we were able to enjoy its peace and tranquillity as our feet slowly defrosted from their pre-dawn vigil. In fact, I think this was my favourite day. I loved the increasing warmth and the tranquillity of the temple grounds. Karnak is huge, and it was a fitting finish – a grand finale – to our holiday. It also provided my most spiritual experience of the whole week. Yes, it was incredible visiting all the places where our photograph had been so lovingly presented but I hadn’t connected as closely with them as I had expected. Until Karnak. In our post-solstice wanderings we came upon the statue of Khepera, the dung beetle that represents the sun-god that the Egyptians believed pushed the sun through the darkness of the night out into the light. Scarab beetles roll dung up into a ball then push it along – fascinating symbolism methinks considering my earlier comments about clearing my throat chakra. To petition for healing it is customary to walk around the statue seven times in an anti-clockwise direction. Bar a couple of other people trying to get a photograph once I had started, I managed to have a peaceful and exceedingly thoughtful circumambulation. I was deeply touched that Judy and her party had done the same for me, and I felt as though I was connecting to that same healing energy. By the end of the seventh circuit I felt clear and cleansed – and incredibly grateful for having been returned to health. It was a beautiful experience. I was busy taking a photograph of my new best friend when we all realised that the position of the sun was casting a shadow on the statue of me taking the photo. Judy and Terrie moved into place and this is the result:
How amazing was that? We left the temple for some sightseeing elsewhere, but came back to Karnak that evening for a Sound and Light display, which was equally special. What a lovely way to finish our holiday.
Our departure very early the following day was a muted affair. We had a lot to think about and we were all tired from the early mornings. I had just about given up hope of bringing back any souvenirs – although I had managed to buy a couple of scarves with only a small amount of trauma – so imagine our delight when we discovered a new Duty Free shop at the airport. From the outside we suspected it would contain expensive rubbish, but actually it was a treasure trove and we came back with some lovely things at really good prices – no bartering involved! It is sad that those street sellers missed out – we would much prefer to have given them our money than have it go to the shop.
And now it is a month on and I am still processing the experience; I will certainly never forget it. In hindsight I feel that a whole two year cycle has now been completed; a deeply spiritual process that started in January 2013 came to a beautiful culmination in December 2014 as we made our pilgrimage to personally thank the gods and goddesses for the gift of their healing. Our deepest thanks also go to Judy and Terrie for being our guides and companions on such an amazing expedition.