Having travelled extensively I am often asked which country is my favourite. The answer is immediate: Egypt has won my heart.
A two hour flight from Cairo takes you to the Valley of the Kings, the burial place for many of Egypt’s Pharaohs, including Tutankhamen. King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922 fully in tact, having escaped encounters with looters.
Egypt’s dry climate is responsible for the preservation of its ancient architecture, paralleled by no other sites on the planet. I was greeted by two colossal statues, which marked the entrance to the valley. It was here I experienced a different side of Egypt.
Being a photographer I am always challenged to find the ‘perfect shot’. During my trek I learned the Egyptian Government imposes a fee on anyone who wishes to take photos. The money is well used; however, a different permit is required for each archeological site. I had bought several, but did not have time to get one for here. I had never been asked to present previous permits and decided it would not be a problem, besides, I saw very few security guards.
I covered my camera and discretely began shooting. I was doing well when I heard someone shouting. I turned and saw two men running toward me. They were dressed in typical Egyptian cotton smocks and shouted “Photo, Photo!”
They were security guards, dressed as civilians, a practice which seemed unfair. I debated confrontation, but my Arabic is limited to the word ‘shokran’, which means thank you (probably not of much help in this situation). I feared if caught without a permit my equipment would be seized and that was just not going to happen. I considered offering them money, but recalled a similar act in China where I nearly found myself arrested. I had but one choice – run like the wind.
For those of you who have never been to Egypt, the temperature in summer reaches 46 degrees. Locals tell you it’s a dry heat, which you do not feel, but trust me, 46 degrees is hot; dry or not!
I started my sprint up a hill with the guards shouting behind me. Visions of Midnight Express raced through my mind and I dared not stop. After thirty minutes of running I was relieved the guards had given up the chase.
I took a deep breath, glanced around and found myself on one of the higher hills surrounding the Valley of the Kings. The views were amazing and my camera went into overdrive. With a rich blue sky framing golden rocky sand the lighting conditions were superb for photography.
I continued my adventure and came upon a small entrance to a tomb. Hundreds of Royals were buried in this area, but most of their tombs had been looted and abandoned. Cautiously I entered the small opening using my hands as guides in the near darkness. The coolness of the tomb was a nice change from the excruciating heat outside.
Surrounded by darkness I suddenly heard a noise. It took me a split second to realise I was not alone, and although I am brave (in my mind), I turned and ran faster than I ever had before. I stumbled twice and was glad to see the brightness of the desert outside.
I sat in the sand wondering what the source of the noise had been. Visions of Boris Karloff, dressed as ‘The Mummy’ raced through my mind. I heard the noise again and backed away thinking it might be a wild animal - although I am not certain what wild animals Egypt is home to.
A moment later a man and woman appeared from the tomb. Several children followed and they all stared at me in bewilderment. I smiled and they returned the greeting. It turned out most of the deserted tombs are now used by homeless families as shelters.
Using hand motions I explained I was a little lost. Kindly the man offered to show me an easy way down. I gladly offered him a token of appreciation and upon arrival in the valley immediately went to the entrance to purchase a photography permit.
Unfortunately by now the sun was setting and the entrance to the Tomb of Tutankhamen, a sight I wish I could have seen, was closed and would have to wait until the next day. I did however, have an adventure most visitors do not get to witness.
The rest of my visit to Egypt was problem free and, as I mentioned at the beginning, is still one of the best destinations I have ever experienced.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com