Donkeys at dawn! The early start was worth it and I wondered whether having just a few hours' sleep was worth it - Kali had stayed at the party, skipped sleep, yet she looked the most awake out of all of us! We caught a ferry across to the west bank at 4am where we were met by Mohammed (a different Mohammed) and his donkeys.
In ancient times, the west bank was where tombs and mortuary temples were built. Just as the sun sets in the west, so too did the lives of the royals and other important get layed to rest there. This was reflected in the very few settlements on the west bank and even more so by the lack of light at dawn; the east bank glittered, the west did not.
We trotted along the road that led out of the village for a while before turning off on to a rough track which then turned into more mountainous terrain. The view was fantastic as the sun rose behind us in the east while we made our way up the ridge in single file. Even better, from a completely selfish point of view, was the fact that I was leading the group on my donkey. Explore are the only group to offer such a unique way to visit the Valley of the Kings (to my knowledge) and I think we were all grateful for it, despite the sore bums and heavy eyes. Geoff fell off his donkey on to the hard stones and, while it looked painful, he's not the kind of person to inspire sympathy. I had to stifle a laugh.
The Valley was ours and ours alone. We left the donkeys at a point where it became too steep for them then clambered down the hill to the tombs to meet Mohammed (the first one, Mohammed the Great as he's now known). I opted not to go into Tut Ankh Amun's tomb - anything worth viewing from there is now in the Egyptian Museum - and instead chose another which is extremely deep, with an impressive sarcophagus. The name of it escapes me though.
We saw three tombs in all, and given that we were there so early, were able to take photos without flash (not allowed in case it discolours the ancient colouring on the reliefs) on slow exposures without being jostled by other groups of tourists. We left the site just as the first coach-load of tourists started arriving and walked back up the hills from whence we came, down the other side to the temple of Queen Hat Shep Sut. Once again, the views etc ... From above, the temple looked very unreal, like a little model version but then we were looking down at it from quite a height. From there the columns looked like matchstick contructions. Andy called me mountain goat man on account of my speedy but sure-footed descent. Ewa wasn't so lucky as she stumbled on a rock, twisting her ankle.
After visiting the temple, we got back on our donkeys and took a more level route back to the ferry. Along the way we went past a school just as all the children were on a break and spilling out on the road. We gave the children high fives as we trotted past. A quick bite to eat at a restaurant called 'Africa' and then back to the east bank, back to the bank of the living.
I visited Hamdi's and collected my jewellery but had a bit of a panic when I realised that the lettering I'd given him was not the same as what he had written on the card. Thankfully, on comparing the hieroglyphics with the alphabet, it proved to be alright. Walking back through the bazaar, I put on my mirror shades, bagesh and stomped like a man on a mission straight through without a single street vendor trying to stop me to buy something. I must have looked like I knew what I was doing and where I was going!
At 5pm we took a group walk through the bazaar with Kali. While waiting in the hotel reception for all the group to meet up, we bumped into Ahmed (the skipper from our boat) who obviously hadn't planned on meeting us - he was there to see the quiet space cadet we all know as Jane (although neither Jane or Ahmed would confirm this). She had earlier told us that she would not be joining the group for the meal later as she already had 'a date', but she wouldn't let on as to who her mystery man was. Surely Ahmed's surprise arrival was no coincidence?
I had no intention of buying anything in the bazaar but came back with a £270 (that's English money) rug under my arm. It started at £350, so I didn't do too badly, I guess, and both Edna and Carol were saying that it would fetch at least £900 in England if sold privately. not sure if I entirely believe that, on reflection. The biggest problem was how I'd fit it in my case to take home ...
Back at the hotel, me, Andy, John, Martin and Paul had another round of cards in the hotel reception which we continued later in mine and Andy's room with the added bonus of a snifter of whiskey or two.