Augustine's Luxor Photo Journal - January 5-12, 2005
photos and text ©copyright Natalie d'Arbeloff 2005
MY KINGDOM FOR A HORSE, A BOAT, AND ANOTHER DAY LIKE THIS IN LUXOR
Needing a break from the past, I booked a horseback ride on the West Bank. A barefoot boatman came to fetch me at my hotel and took me to the dock along the Corniche where all manner of Nile craft are moored, from slender feluccas to gigantic floating cruisers. Down the steep bank and over shaky planks we went and with one leap I was lolling on cushions aboard The New Titanic. This small motor launch was the most delicious and exhilarating form of water transport I have had the good fortune to experience. Give me a calèche and a New Titanic and I could be happy forever. A boy steered the boat while the barefoot boatman chatted with me - he was not, in fact, the boatman but the man in charge of taking me to my horse. I could not concentrate on answering the usual questionnaire relating to marital status and so on because I was wholly absorbed by the colours of the Nile and the boats floating past. We landed on the West Bank in about twenty minutes, maybe less. It's another world on that side of the Nile. The past is there in its ruined magnificence while the present is almost untouched by modernity. Climbing the muddy slope leading to the village street, my non-boatman disappeared and two tall young men announced they were my guides to the stable. I was not worried, having realised that in Egypt everything is done in teams - probably family members - and changing horses in midstream is de rigueur. Again I got the same jokey interrogation from my guides who were holding hands and singing as they walked. I was itching to take pictures of the village life but did not want to appear the intrusive staring tourist that I was. I asked, "How far to the stable?" "Two minutes" they said. Much later I asked again and the reply was, "Two minutes, Egyptian time". Eventually we got to the stable.
A cheerful brown-robed man, the stable boss, came out to welcome me and said I had to wear a hat. I thought he meant a sun hat and I had one in my bag but no, it was the obligatory heavy round helmet (the "bombe" in the above sign?). I objected to it until I noticed it was not unlike the Pharaonic headgear I wore in ancient days. So on with the helmet and up on my horse, a red-headed mare well past her prime. But that was fine because the last time I was on a horse was bareback in Paraguay, donkey's years ago.
My guide (for there was yet another guide) sat on a donkey and trotted alongside, keeping my horse docile. This guide was a serious, quiet man who spoke good English and told me, when I asked, about life on the West Bank, the low wages (his salary about £10 a month) the long hours, his family, his love for the horses he trains and feeds. The love was obviously mutual because every time I lagged behind, Redhead would trot trot trot ahead so as to stay near her master. I'd forgotten just how spine-crunching, pelvis-thumping the trotting motion is. But never mind, I was in paradise. Riding through mud-brick villages and fields of sugar-cane, bananas, mangoes, oranges, the ubiquitous palm trees rising tall against the sky, reminiscent of temple pillars but more beautiful, I was at home, at ease, at peace.
Redhead and I pause to admire the decoration of a crumbling wall. There are many beautiful impromptu murals in villages, sometimes outside shops calling attention to their wares, sometimes outside homes. They are lovingly, carefully painted onto impermanent surfaces and are a far cry from the repetitious, banal, unimaginative graffiti sprayed everywhere in our "developed world's" concrete jungles.