3rd March 2008
Today was my trek out to Amarna and when I say trek, I mean trek. My tour company arrived to collect me at 7am and I saw the nice little minibus with EOL tours on the side of it and was actually momentarily relieved that it was now someone else’s turn to deal with the chaos of organizing things. That didn’t last long, I got in and the driver immediately demanded $180 USD, double what I had been quoted. I after much fussing around on the phone they told me they only did the tour for two people and I would have to pay for both spots, this was after I repeatedly told them I was coming on my own. I briefly asked at the hotel if they could do things cheaper and then begrudgingly paid the $180. If it had been any other tour, I wouldn’t have. This one was kind of like a life’s pursuit.
We drove out of Cairo through the Monday morning traffic and waited in a petrol station for about half an hour attempting to fill up. Now I’m no expert and I don’t own a tour company, but if I knew I had to take someone 275km out of Cairo, I would have a full tank before I picked them up.
Anyhow, we drove out onto the highway, passing many military check points along the way, the guide barely spoke to me and when he did it was only to tell me something completely obvious about the Amarna Period. I ended up putting on my Mp3 player, which was nice listening to music, driving down the deserted desert road first thing in the morning. It just stretched out in front of us into the horizon, and looked never ending, it was kind of peaceful.
We finally approached the last military check point before the town on al Minya and the guards took my name and nationality, I was told this was for my safety. We also picked up a policeman and took him with us. Also, for my safety. We drove through dusty Minya, the town that time forgot. The roads were dust and children were playing in makeshift doorways only inches from the busy street, on which trucks, cars and donkeys rode on chaotically. Meat hung from hooks outside the houses, and everyone stared in at me.
We reached the river Nile and put the minibus on a makeshift boat that looked most unsafe and crossed over to el Amarna, Akhetaten “City of the Sun”. We stopped to get a ticket and two more people got into the car. The key keeper, to open the tombs of the nobles, and a guy with an M-16. We hiked up the cliffs and I went into the tomb of Mery-Ra and it was beautiful, I had only seen line drawings of it in books and seeing it now, even in its vandalized state, the colours were beautiful. I also went into the tomb of Ahmose and saw his statue sitting there staring out into the rare light that was on his face now that the tomb was open. I looked out from the top of the cliffs and saw nothing, literally, just miles and miles of desert.
We then headed for the Royal Tomb of Akhenaten, it was a long way from where we were and in a deep ravine. This time there were a total of eight people in the car. The guide from Cairo, the driver, a new guide, the key keeper, the electricity keeper, two guys with M-16’s and me. The royal tomb was unlocked, and I was amazed at its size. It was wonderful to be there, except for the new guide who insisted I follow him around and listen to him, even though I told him I didn’t need it and just wanted to explore, by the end of it I kind of wanted to kill him. Lonely Planet sure had it right when they said it was one of the most annoying sites to try and explore, there was only me there and seven people who were just in my way!
We drove away from the tomb, and I saw the two hills that met in the middle making the Egyptian sign “Akhet” meaning horizon, where the sun rises, this is where Akhenaten’s tomb was. The guide just looked at me and said, “That’s it”. I was furious we had driven all the way from Cairo (7 hours) and I had paid $180 and we had spent more time sitting about in petrol stations than at Amarna, and what was worse I didn’t even get to go to the city! I don’t think he thought I knew that. On the way out of Minya before we got on the boat, the town children surrounded me with homemade baskets, they were really cute, so I opened the window and bought one.
We drove back to Cairo, and I saw one of my favorite sites in the whole world, a desert sunset. We made it out of al Minya and dropped off the copper and they yelled out the window “Australia”, to let the guards know I could be checked off the list. I made it back to the hotel, but not before another hour of sitting in a petrol station just outside downtown. I told the hotel what had happened, and they were furious. They called up the tour agency and brought the guys over. They told me I had to be strong and demand part of my money back, oh god, I thought, I’m too tired for this. If I’m going to work here eventually, I thought, I’ve got to learn to stand up to these people. I ended up arguing with them with the help on one of the guys at the hotel and managed to get $40 back at least.
Amarna is another spot in Egypt crossed off my list but the price, financial, physical and emotional was almost too much to bear, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but the avid Amarna enthusiast.