Adventure in Egypt

Category: Africa | Egypt

How My Guide Helped Me Expand My Comfort Zones

I came home from my first trip to Egypt brimming with joy – I had started to appreciate how I was a part of the great river of humanity, and that the hopes and dreams of people from thousands of years ago still resonate today, and I still feel a sense of wonder at how the ancient and the modern co-exist.

We started our visit in Luxor. Mohamed, our guide, took us to our hotel, and came in with us to talk about what we hoped to see and do over our two days. Mohamed was very skillful in finding out that I was afraid of heights, confined spaces, and being underground… He was quite calm about all that, and we arranged to visit the Valley of the Kings the following day.

Into the Valley of the Kings

We drove across to the west bank and visited the Colossus of Memnon, and then the Temple of Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was one of a handful of women who was Pharaoh, and she was the first to wield its power. She was often depicted as a male Pharoah, in full regalia including the beard, while other times she was depicted as a female. After her rule, many of her images were erased, although there is one at her temple, and another at the Temple of Karnak.

Temple of Hatshepsut

It was after we’d visited Hatshepsut’s Temple and set off for the Valley of the Kings that Mohamed started to work his magic. Guides aren’t allowed to enter the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, to reduce the number of people visiting, the amount of speaking (as the humidity and CO2 in exhaled air are damaging to the fabric of the tombs, and all of the paintings), and to help keep to the 15 minute time limit. So, he gave us a preview of what we would see in the tombs we were to visit.

Frieze at the Temple of Hatshepsut

For the first tomb, with me fretting about whether I would manage it (he explained that yes, I would be able to stand upright, and no, it wasn’t going to be all dark), he told us about how in early Christian times, the Coptic Christians had been forced to hide in the tombs, so we would see some of their artwork just inside the entrance.

Mohamed’s Technique to Expand My Comfort Zones

Fear of Going Underground

He explained about the Book of the Dead, and how all of the hieroglyphics we would see as we went further into the tomb would be the questions and answers that Pharaoh would need when their life was being judged to determine whether they would progress to the afterlife. He talked about what some of the hieroglyphs meant, and asked us to really take a good look to see if we could find them.

Then he told us about the goddess Nut, and how she would stretch across the ceiling of the tomb, swallowing the sun in the west (the direction of death), and giving birth to it the next morning in the east (the direction of life). Thus armed, off we went – and being a goal-oriented type of person, I busily worked my way through the tomb, looking at and checking all the things I had been told to. I only just made it out again before my 15 minutes were up.

And so it went – for each tomb we were about to visit, Mohamed explained what we would see, and what we needed to look for carefully. I didn’t even think to notice that the entrances to the tombs were getting steeper and longer as we went – I was just too motivated to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photographs inside the tombs, so you’ll just have to take my word that by the time we got to Tutankhamen’s tomb, I totally took it in stride that his mummy was in there with us (thankfully in a climate-controlled glass case).

Mohamed at the Artisan’s Village

After the Valley of the Kings, we visited the remains of the artisans’ village(s). The artisans worked for around 10 days for Pharoah and two for themselves, and on those days, they built their own tombs – some of which are open to visit. By now, with my four Valley of the Kings tombs under my belt, I was totally confident about taking the tiny steep entrance and going into the earth to see the beautiful artwork.

By now, with my four Valley of the Kings tombs under my belt, I was totally confident about taking the tiny steep entrance and going into the earth to see the beautiful artwork.

Crossing the Nile

Fear of Heights

That was the end of Day 1, and now that I was brimming with confidence, I agreed that I did, after all, want to take a dawn balloon ride. The next morning, we crossed the Nile by boat, and met up with our balloon pilot and team in the fields on the west bank. It was magical, with a great view of the Temple of Hatshepsut and the sugar cane fields below us, where the harvest was taking place.

West Bank of the Nile with a Balloon in the Background
Harvested Sugar Cane Fields Viewed from the Balloon

We came down near the Ramesseum, the Mortuary Temple of Ramses II (Ramses the Great) with the fallen statue that inspired Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias.


On our descent, we could see an archaeological dig – all of that area is filled with tombs, and so there are usually teams digging. Many of the discoveries that have been announced from Luxor over the past couple of years have been from digs that were conducted in the Valley of the Nobles, which isn’t far from this area.

Dig in the Valley of the Nobles
Farms and Desert Encircling the Temple of Horus

The Temple of Karnak

After the adrenaline high of the balloon ride, we visited the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor. It’s probably safe to say that if you think of ancient Egyptian buildings, the second image (after the Pyramids) is the Hypostyle Hall in the Temple of Karnak, with its row after row of carved pillars, all of which would have been highly coloured. You can still see some of the paint preserved here and there, as the whole temple was covered by the desert sands for centuries.

The Hypostyle Hall in The Temple of Karnak
Crossbeam in the Temple of Karnak with Some of the Original Colour Still Visible

After our Luxor visit, we flew to Cairo. It was quite a contrast, as Cairo is a city of around 20 million people, all of whom, it seems, would like to be travelling in the same direction as you, at the same time…

There are so many things to see and do in Cairo, but the highlights for me were the Egyptian Museum, which is currently on Tahrir Square, the Mohamed Ali mosque (the Green Mosque) at the Citadel, and, of course, the Pyramids of Giza. While I found the Green Mosque to be a peaceful haven amongst all the hustle and bustle of the city, the next part of my “personal journey” happened at Giza.

Ancient and Modern Giza

Fear of Confined Spaces

Our guide asked if we wanted to pay extra to go into the Great Pyramid. Of course, I said “no”, because I was afraid of dark, enclosed spaces, but then I was talked around by how many fears I’d conquered already, so off I went. It was certainly an experience.

The Great Pyramid of Giza

You enter the pyramid via a tunnel, and then you have to go up a stone ramp with a very low ceiling that means you have to be bent over. Then, you can stand, but you have to climb up the great gallery to reach the antechamber of the burial chamber. Once there, you have to duck under two huge stones to enter the burial chamber.

…that’s when I realized that my heart rate was the highest it had ever been, and that I could choose to dissolve in panic, or not.

There were a lot of people in there, in that small, dark, and very hot space in the centre of this truly gigantic stone monument – and that’s when I realized that my heart rate was the highest it had ever been, and that I could choose to dissolve in panic, or not. I chose not, and managed to work my way back out – very quickly. On the final stretch, that long ramp with the low ceiling, I decided to go down backwards. All was fine until I started hearing people in line laughing, and realized that I was just about to back into the guard’s lap.

Street Scene Entering Cairo

I have been lucky enough to return to Egypt a few times since then, and every time I learn more about the land and the people, and feel some of that magic again. It wasn’t until months after that first trip that I finally appreciated the gift that Mohamed had given me – understanding that dealing with fear is a choice, and that having the courage to keep on going can bring its own rewards.

About the Author


Sharon Mortimer was born in Australia and now lives in Canada. She is a scientist, an avid knitter, and an enthusiastic traveller who thoroughly believes that “a mind expanded by travel never returns to its original size”.

Photo Credits by Author

You Might Also Like

FrenchRidge Hut-NewZealand

Seeking Leopards on Safari in Kenya

Casa-Buena-with-View of the Studio Terrace

Roadtrip to Bella Coola and Beyond


Dinosaur Hunting in Drumheller Alberta

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This