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In which I learn a lesson in baksheesh, and the nice men with guns provide me with a story to terrorize my mother with for years to come.

After arriving in Luxor the morning after two continuous days of travel, I expected to collapse into a heap for most of that first day. However, as is often the case with me, once we had checked in to our hotel and dropped our bags, I was revived and ready to conquer the city. We arranged to join a group that afternoon for a tour of Karnak and Luxor temples, but in the meantime, we set off in search of the local museum.

Due to a mislabeled map, we easily found the post office but realized we had gone the opposite direction of the museum. The smells and sights of the town were overwhelming, as were the constant offers of “taxi? boat? scarab?”, but we eventually made our way along the Nile to discover the under-rated Luxor Museum. After some confusion at the ticket gate (we only had large bills, and a guard had to make change for us out of his pocket), we crossed through beeping metal detectors (no one stopped us, now or ever on the trip, and I wonder how much of the security is just for form) and into the peaceful world of the museum.

I hadn’t expected such an extensive collection: I though everything worth seeing was housed in the jumbled collection in Cairo, but we happily passed an hour exploring the well designed museum. It was a good introduction to the land we were about to explore, and a cool and peaceful way to find our bearings.

We returned to the Nefertiti Hotel in time for a short afternoon nap, and set out for Karnak Temple feeling refreshed.

The temple of Karnak is tremendous, having been added on to by twelve dynasties worth of Egyptian leaders. I was not prepared for the dramatic scale or the labyrinthine design once we passed the initial courtyard. I believe this temple was the largest that we saw on the trip, and I spent a good deal of time craning my neck at all angles to see EVERYTHING.

Luxor temple, which used to connect to Karnak with a partially existing avenue of sphinxes that the government evidently wants to restore, was also epic in size. While we wandered around, a guard motioned us to follow him into the area labeled “no entry”, and he excitedly pointed out the beautiful back view of the temple under the setting sun. We dutifully took pictures when he told us to, even posing with him when another guard came along.

This became our first lesson in baksheesh, or tipping. The friendly guard, with his semi automatic strapped to his back, demanded in gestures that we pay up for the experience we had just had. We gave him our last two coins, having no small bills at this point, and there was a tense moment when he asked for more. Convinced that we didn’t have any more, he graciously allowed us to return to the well lit and highly populated areas of the temple, which we exited in a nervous rush.