Living in Luxor
We had planned to be in Luxor for the boys to attend a term at a Worldschool Hub. I want to write a separate post about what that is and how it works but first I'm going to share all about our first week in Luxor.
We arrived a week before the hub was due to start because we wanted time to settle into the area and find our bearings a little. After the fast pace and loudness of Cairo our new home was bliss.
Luxor is cut in two by the mighty river Nile. On one side is the East bank where you find the big named hotels, the bustling markets and shopping districts, the airport and the train stations. The other side is the West bank, this is primarily the farming community and home to the famous Valley of the Kings (and Valley of the Queens).
Most people I know who have visited Luxor have only ever stayed for one or two days, arriving as part of a tour, seeing the big ticket tourist spots (Tutankhamuns tomb, Karnak Temple etc) and then rushing out again. But, like the time we spent in Kefalonia, we were lucky enough to be able to stay longer and really wanted to get a feel for life in this part of the world.
Our first job was to stock the kitchen and we would soon learn that grocery shopping here would be a very different affair to what we were used to in the UK. Firstly, there are no supermarkets or hypermarkets on the West bank. Instead there are plenty of little kiosk type shops selling canned goods, packet foods, snacks etc and then speciality shops. You want herbs and oils? Go to the spice shop. Want fresh produce, go to the Vegetable shop. Need medicine, off to the pharmacy. You get the picture. The main street on the West bank runs from the Nile up towards the Valley of the Kings and that's where you find most of the shops.
We soon learned where to find things and came to love cooking with whatever was in season, looked good and was cheap.
One of our best finds food wise came on our second day. We were all at home when we heard loud shouting noises coming through what sounded like a speaker outside. Running out to take a look Kris found a pick up truck full of fruit and veg. They were driving around selling their fresh produce. We bought tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, bananas, chillis, aubergines and much more. It was all super fresh, super delicious and super cheap. "The Veg Man" would become a cornerstone of our weeks and we would base our meal planning around whatever we bought from him. (Dexter particular liked them coming while he was home as they'd always give him a free bunch of bananas or bag of strawberries!).
(A note to say we did find larger supermarkets over on the East bank as our stay in Luxor went by, and we did occasionally head over there to stock up on vegan chocolate, cereals and plant milks but we mostly got by just fine with our little, local shops).
As well as getting our head around shopping we also had to get used to the people. As in Cairo, in fact even more so, everyone was super friendly and super helpful. But they were very intense and every walk along the Nile during that first week was met with a barrage of people offering us their goods and services.
Boat across the Nile sir?
No thank you / La Shukrun
Do you know how much I charge? How about a taxi to the temples?
No thank you / La Shukrun
Maybe tomorrow? Do you want to come and see the spices from this shop?
No thank you / La Shukrun
We felt like we were going to go mad. Dexter would eventually learn to skip along singing "la la la la" to the amusement of all around.
I had to remind the boys, and myself, on a regular basis that these people rely on tourists. Especially off of the back of hugely reduced visitors because of the pandemic. Tourists are how they make their money here. If they ask us for a boat or taxi ride and we say yes it's much needed cash in their pockets so, as frustrating as it may be to repeat yourself over and over, none of them are doing it to be mean, they really need our trade. As the days and weeks went by the people along this stretch would get to know us and recognise our faces and the offers of buying things would slow down and turn into "hello, how are you" instead which I must admit was much nicer.
Let's talk about transport now. We didn't want to hire a car here, and seeing the dirt roads and watching how the locals drive I was pleased we didn't! We mostly walked around the local area. The shopkeepers would say we "walked like the Egyptians". But we did need transport sometimes and there were plenty of options.
Firstly for short rides around town you could jump in a tuk tuk. Often pimped up with flashing lights and loud music they always appear whenever you need one and would cost about 20 EGP (Egyptian Pounds) for a short ride (that's less than £1 GBP or just over $1 USD)
You could also grab a taxi for a little bit extra, and they were good for longer trips. We found it was always nice to go with someone trusted and recommended and doing this we never had an issue.
We never used them in the end but there are also minibuses that drive up and down the main roads that you jump on and off as you need and they cost very little. They can get busy but there's somehow always room for one or two more people ;-)
If you need to cross the Nile and don't want the 40 minute taxi drive you can grab a water taxi instead. These are small motorised boats that cost about 25EGP per trip. You simply rock up to the dock, say Yes to the first person who asks, tell them you'll pay EGP 25 and away you go! (some drivers will try to ask for more but simply say "no thanks" then and they'll soon drop the price for you).
You can also use the larger public ferry which costs EGP 5 per person. There are two that continually go back and forth across the river. You turn up, pay your money and get on and the boat leaves once it's full up.
For longer trips or days when you want to go to a few places, e.g. temple exploring you can hire private minibuses. These range in price depending on where you're going and how you long you want them for and can be booked with guides too if you want. Again, using recommended drivers is always a good idea.
I want to share an example of Egyptian friendliness and hospitality now, and it comes from a trip to a shop looking for a guitar. Kris didn't bring a guitar on our travels with us because of space and weight and convenience but had really been missing playing and so decided that he'd try and source one once we arrived in Luxor. During that first week I had been scrolling online and noticed a photo from a shop very close to us that had a guitar hanging on the wall outside. We dutifully set off to see what we could find.
Shop Sandouk is a craft and souvenir shop tucked away on a back street near the Nile. It's owner, Khalid, prides himself on the fact he has up front, fixed prices and that he sources as much as possible from local producers. His shop is a treasure trove of fabrics, pottery and other treasures.
We arrived and Kris found a couple of guitars propped up to one side, seeing this Khalid immediately invited him to sit down and play and promptly got out his own guitar so they could have a little jamming session right there and then on the comfy sofas in front of his shop. He made us all fruit teas and we spent a lovely half an hour chatting and listening to the music.
Khalid was always a friendly face to us during our time in Luxor, always happy to make us tea or gift us a new set of incense he'd just got in stock and he is a perfect example of the good spirit of the people who live here.
We really enjoyed our first week settling in. We ate the first of many falafel from the numerous stalls lining the roads. We drank fresh orange juice from the juice bar in town. I cooked delicious feasts from the fresh fruit and veg delivered directly to our door. We walked along the Nile, exploring the shops and meeting the locals. We crossed that same river to tentatively explore the bigger, louder East Bank (Jake even having a go at driving our boat!). We heard the call to prayer ring out 5 times a day, learning to find it soothing rather than an interruption and we enjoyed the beautiful sunshine while watched the flowers in our garden bloom with more and more colours each day.
Next week the hub would start and we'd meet new friends and explore further afield but the Sigstons were firmly in Egypt and loving every minute.