The High Life

There is a tourist activity in Luxor that doesn’t involve dragging your unwilling carcass through dusty archaeological sites, lamenting the fact you didn’t bring enough water whilst you try to stop your devices from heating up and the sun claims the top layer of your skin as its very own. Hot air ballooning, guys! It’s so fucking good! I mean, the 4am start can fuck right off, especially as you spend about 90 minutes waiting whilst calculating exactly how much longer you could have slept for and still made it on time.

Noisier than you think.

Most people come over from the East Bank by motor boat so we waited at the river with a sea of white minivans, all waiting for their tourists to show up. Yeah it would suck to be staying in a hotel around here with the noise and the car horns and the beep beep beep vehicle reversing going on. Then one by one the vans peel away, laden with bleary eyed foreigners, and we all head to the launch site where there’s actually a little café available for those who can be classed as legally brain dead before their morning caffeine.

Flying over the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

Actually just being here wakes you right up. The huge baskets are turned on their side as the men work to get everything set up, unfolding massive balloons and attaching shit to other shit. You have to hide cameras here, government orders, but they weren’t stopping people from taking photos with mobile phones. Everything and nothing seems to be happening, then suddenly a shout goes up and the roar of a hundred gas fires blasting simultaneously drowns out everything else and the balloons are inflated. It’s so fucking exciting!

The baskets are divided into compartments, perhaps to stop excitable tourists from running around and disrupting the balance. We were all loaded in and off we fucked and oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh, how cool is this? This isn’t even my first balloon ride but I’d forgotten the exhilaration as you leave the ground. The flame is so fucking hot, I could swear I smelt burning hair. The captain took us higher than all the other balloons for the most insanely fantastic views across Luxor, the Nile and the desert.

I reckon our balloon was perfectly timed. We meandered slowly across the sky, the captain pointing out landmarks as we went. The basket does sort of turn so everyone can get good photos but we definitely had the better side, purely by luck rather than judgement, because when the fiery skyball finally showed up we were facing it. It’s probably one of the best ways to watch day break I reckon, several hundred feet up in a wicker basket suspended from a piece of cloth kept in the air by actual fire.

We watched a couple of other balloons land before we found our spot, they’re followed by the ground crew in a pick up truck who then have to leg it through farmland to help the balloon stay on the ground. We watched as one captain seemed to contemplate landing in a field currently being ploughed by a tractor, the crew running across the field to assist, before changing his mind and the poor bastards had to run back to the truck.

Our landing was flawless. You’re told how to assume the landing position, we all did so, our captain gently set us down and our crew jumped on the side of the basket to keep it down. Ropes are pulled to open a big hole in the top to help collapse the balloon then they have to deflate it bit by bit so it can be unattached and we can all safely get out. They work so fucking hard. We were already intending to tip but weren’t sure how to make sure all ten of them got something, then the captain announced he’d be sending a box around for tips for the crew. That solves that then.

There wasn’t anywhere open to eat by the time the minibus dropped us back by the river because any sane person would still be in bed so we headed home for much needed naps then woke up absolutely fucking ravenous. There are loads of places to get food on the West Bank provided it’s not some utterly ungodly hour of a morning. The stretch of the Nile we have to walk along is packed with tourist restaurants if you’re happy with less food for more money but want to drink beer with your meal, but if you head up to Al Qarnh Road you can get good Egyptian food for excellent prices.

Shovelling some breakfast into our chops at El Hussein. Fuul, falafel, bread, sets you up for the day.

This is where we get most of our meals. We chose the places that were crowded with Egyptians and now we just keep going back because we don’t feel ripped off and the food is delicious and filling. Sure, maybe we’re paying more than the locals but the prices are still so reasonable we really don’t give a fuck. There’s also the wonderful Pure Coffee where you can just chill out, drink a coffee or shay and watch Luxor go by.

All the tourist restaurants line the Nile. Food is more expensive but you can buy alcohol here.

It was at this coffee shop we met Silke, a German woman who has lived in Egypt for 30 years and she is a legend. We ended up just hanging out with her for the rest of the day. She took us on a minibus to a restaurant up near the tombs and we just chilled and drank beer. Though Egyptian beer isn’t exactly lovely. It’s kind of like a gassy piss water. That didn’t stop us putting a couple of them away with our new mate though. She’s hilarious and gave us some interesting insights into Egyptian culture.

Silke, if you’re reading this, hi! 👋

We love Luxor and because we’ve spent a few days here we’ve started chatting to the same people. Egypt is really struggling at the moment. People are staying away in droves since the revolution, there are too many businessmen and not enough tourists resulting in a near constant onslaught of hassle as you make your way between your accommodation and your food source. Taxis, feluccas, motorboats, camels, restaurants, shops, and no isn’t always taken for an answer. Maybe later? How about tomorrow? Very cheap, do you know how much? They’ve started recognising us and asking if we want a helicopter or a submarine. Tarrant was offered a spaceship and an air-conditioned camel the other day.

I cannot stress enough how much I wanted to adopt this little girl.

It must be as exhausting for them as it is for us, perhaps more so because we’re not relying on these interactions to feed our family or pay rent on a shop. In a few days we’ll leave Luxor and these people behind, it won’t be a problem for us in our comfortable Western lives, but they’ll still have to hussle for business all day every day. I wish we could give business to everyone but we have to keep reminding ourselves that it’s not up to us to pick up the slack.

Sunset from the roof of our accommodation. Luxor’s West Bank is a proper respite from the chaos.

I do hope people start coming back to Egypt, I hope there comes a time when there’s too many tourists and everyone wants a camel/taxi/motorboat and they have more business than they know what to do with. A couple of guys were asking us why the English don’t come to Luxor anymore and honestly, I don’t know why. Egypt hasn’t been as hard work as we were led to believe. Okay, it’s not been as easy as, say, South East Asia, and we’ve definitely been ripped off a few times, but the overwhelming majority of people we’ve met have been so friendly and helpful. I would 100% come here again.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt

الأقصر ، محافظة الأقصر ، مصر

Stayed at: Adam & Eve House, Luxor

Adam & Eve House. This is our living room. Our bedroom is just as lovely and we can choose between AC and a very effective ceiling fan. There’s even a mozzie net. We’ve got a fridge and a kitchen, not that we’ll be doing any cooking. Bathroom is good with hot water and we can chill on our own balcony or up on the rooftop terrace. Yousef and his family are so lovely and he’s helped us with loads of stuff. Probably our favourite place we’ve stayed in Egypt so far.

Useful shit to know…

  • It seems it’s cheaper to book a hot air balloon flight once you’re in Luxor rather than online, especially if you have the time and are flexible with dates. Perhaps during high season this is a risky business in case it gets booked up.
  • We went with Magic Horizon. Their website offers flights for GB£100 but we paid LE1300 each by booking through our guesthouse, and I’m assuming that includes a bit of commission so you might even be able to get it cheaper by going to the office in Luxor but this is mere speculation, not fact.
  • If we’d done it a day earlier it would only have cost LE1000 each (we were offered this but we’d arranged a car to take us to the tombs and we didn’t want to mess him around). The price changes with the season.
  • With the exception of the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, tickets for the monuments on the West Bank are purchased at the Antiquities Office.
  • Few minibuses go there, you have to ask the driver.
  • It’s meant to cost LE2, he’ll want to charge you more if you’re foreign but I’m not sure how much as Salke argued with him about it.

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