We woke to the sound of our alarm call. The sun was just barely breaking over the hills in the distance as I pulled back the curtains. All was deafly calm outside, the Nile had the stillness of a pond and not a boat or fish or person stirred. I dressed and went outside to experience the calm of a new Egyptian day one last time, and shared it with an inquisitive Magpie looking among the deckchairs for discarded treats.
It was early in the morning, so our skipper skipped the mandatory wearing of lifejackets, presumably because our lifeless corpses would have floated downstream and be someone else's problem should we all perish at this ungodly hour.
When we reached the other side, the weathered little pleasure boat bumped and scraped it's way into a gap between several others, just a few inches too narrow to be comfortable. We got off, but we weren't there yet. Some decidedly shabby-looking low-loading estate cars were on hand to take us the rest of the way. The skies in the distance began to fill up with little balloons.
We bumped through the back roads of the west bank, the drivers explaining through the medium of cornering how these cars managed to get as worn out as they were, until we rejoined the main highway. A faintly familiar sight made stronger in our minds when we passed the Collossi of Memnon statues from the first day. A few minutes later, the cars pulled off the road and made their way uncomfortably into a bumpy field where they eventually came to rest.
With little direction, our group stood and took pictures waiting for their turn. Eventually part of our group containing us both were beckoned over to a newly righted basket, into which the apparent big boss of the group, an aging but spirited man with a mischievous smile and enough English under his belt to supply a range of anecdotes climbed in. Then we were beckoned to follow.
The basket was split into eight containers, and people continued to get in long after we thought it would be comfortable (or safe) to fit in any more. Trying to stay as a pair failed miserably as we ended up at opposite ends of the basket, but at least we were in the same one and would be able to compare views when we landed.
Eventually we lifted off the ground. The assigned workers below us scrambled to pull us left and right so our path didn't get too close to the other balloons, and we ascended.
As our host made light of his loose interpretations of health and safety, and our little group did their best to laugh through his well-rehearsed smalltalk, we rode the wind with a small convoy of cars and vans following us as best they could through the dusty back-roads. The tundra below was surprisingly varied, ranging from barren sand and rock one minute, to neat, cultivated fields of green the next, and both interspersed with box-like houses seemingly forever in a state of construction, providing a modern progression from the exclusive kingdoms of the ancients just over the road.
We bid goodbye to the ballooners and the small assemblage of children who had made their way over on pushbike and donkey, and waited expectantly for someone to point a camera at them, (at which point out came the hand for tips). The return journey back to the bank took us through some lesser-seen back-streets of several interconnecting villages, winding between houses and down the sides of fields, the occasional local working through the dust raised by our vehicles and getting on with their morning duties.
Once returned to the boat and pleasantly filled with our final main meal, we had a few hours to kill before setting off for home. After the previous nights' fiasco with the photo album, and my Ibis statue hunt still unfulfilled, we decided to spend a little time braving the vendors for a second time in the bazaar.
Since we had been once already, we took the opportunity to head out in another direction and try a few alternate shops to the main hub, according to our map. However, due to the massive overhaul Luxor was getting (and the dip in tourists), many of these were now run-down and boarded up, leaving only a few tired examples containing nothing much at all and a smattering of political graffiti.
Similar skills came into effect as she deftly brought the price of a leather pouffe down to less than half the asking price in another shop, and I was duly helped to get a small obelisk statue with a few remaining quid from a stall full of dusty relics (my favourite haunt).
The insides were palatial and the Christmas decor was just starting to go up; the entrance hall dominated by a large tree currently being hung with tasteful ornaments. Coming in from the hot sun and blue skies this felt pretty weird, especially as we had just been given a clean pass through some pretty big security at the start as if we were visiting dignitaries.