Day Fifteen: Birthday! (Luxor and Aswan)

We started our day at 4am by catching a hot air balloon from the other side of the Nile. On the boat across, we were unexpectadly supplied with coffee and Twinkys. We shared the balloon with Japanese tourists and a pilot with a sense of humour. I hadn't expected the fire part of the balloon to be so close to our heads, nor so loud.

The wind took us away from the Valley of the Kings and across the Nile. We upped and downed a bit, with the pilot explaining that flying close to things (the Nile, tops of trees...) is more fun. We saw the sunrise, and lots of Luxor from above. We almost landed in someone's field but a disgruntled looking chap on a donkey waved us away. So we landed in the next field, with a ground crew of local kids, who had been chasing the balloon's progress for the past ten minutes. The pilot warned us not to tip the kids or we'd have to pay them all, and to keep hold of our bags. We stayed in the basket whilst the balloon was haphazardly bundled away before traipsing through mud to the waiting minibus. An experience of a lifetime. I got some cool photos.

Back at the hotel we slept for an hour before digging in to the remaining birthday cake and heading out to Karnak Temple by horse and carriage. Karnak is huuuuge. Afterwards we went back to bed again before lunch.

Al and I set out on a hunt for the kushari shop, which should have been a couple of minutes walk from where everyone else went for lunch. En route we encountered a young man desperate to sell his shoe cleaning services to Al, who had jut stepped in something disgusting. This proved to be at a crucial point in the journey as the distraction meant we missed the turning we were looking for. Next we met the infamous Christian Mike, a toothless carriage driver wwho misdirected us and we walked for a further forty minutes or so into a distinctly tourist free area. Fortunately we didn't get charged for this pleasure.

Eventually we circled back and found an enormous tourist information centre. The friendly staff directed us around the corner where finally! Kushari. A big takeaway tub for 10LE. That's about a quid. As expected, finding our way back to the cafe where the girls' were took two minutes and we all returned to the truck.

Cue: four hour drive to Aswan.

We checked into the Orchida St George Hotel, where they welcomed us with cold karkarde. Score.

That evening we ventured into Aswan town. The tourist stuff is mixed in with the locals' stuff and veryone is much more laid back. We still got about the smae number of 'hello!', 'where from?', 'welcome!', 'spice girls!', and Al got plenty of 'lucky man, five wives!', but people seemed marginally less desperate to sell us things.

We did struggle to find somewhere to eat though. Eventually we went into a dogy looking cafe which we decided was definitely a front for a secret mafia related organisation. It was run by a stoney-faced fellow who didn't seem as thrilld about having customers as other places have been. The food arrived incredibly fast and there was definitely evidence of it being fetched from down the street. It was hella cheap too though, and by the end the guy running the joint seemed to have cheered up. Out of nowhere his mate arrived with something sweet on a fork and inserted it into Lizzie's mouth. He had a small selection of apparently complimentary sweet coconutty things which he insisted we finish off. They were tasty.

And thus ended the longest birthday ever. I was starting to get depressed about the impending end to the trip, especially with all of the UK riots news that was trickling through. Everyone we had encountered in Egypt was friendly and welcoming, providing contrast to what at the time felt like the country full of thugs to which I belonged. But let's not dwell. We went to bed early for yet another 4am wake up.

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