The talk was an exception to the historic world we spent ten days inhabiting, learning that Egyptian cotton, for example, became popular during the Civil War when the Union sought a new, non-Confederate source for the material. That drawings of the eye of Horus, the great protector god, possibly inspired the modern Rx symbol for medical prescriptions. That the Seat of Isis pose I practice in yoga – on my toes, knees bent, and arms out in offering – appears in depictions of the mother goddess from Luxor all the way down to Abu Simbel, on the border with Sudan, where we flew to see two cliff-face temples fronted by colossal 65-foot-high sculptures of the great pharaoh Ramses II, warning invaders away.
By then, I could identify Horus; Isis; the crocodile Sobek, god of fertility; and the jackal god Anubis, usher of souls to the afterlife. Days earlier, inside the elaborate tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings, the walls screamed with symbols, paintings and larger-than-life reliefs in a clearly ordered message I couldn’t decipher. Now the watchful eyes, spitfire cobras, and baboons animated a code I began to understand as vigilance, defense, and an anthropomorphic calendar, respectively – an ordering of the universe revealed 43 centuries after it was entombed. Similar signs can be found on obelisks – beacons believed to channel energy into the earth – in Rome, London, Paris, and beyond. In its afterlife, ancient Egypt still speaks. It’s just a matter of learning the language.
- Cooler temperatures prevail between October and April, the most popular time to visit.
- EgyptAir offers service to Cairo daily from New York’s JFK Airport and thrice weekly from Washington Dulles.
- Abercrombie & Kent’s ten-day land-and-river trip described in this story is limited to 18 guests and bookends a four-night Nile cruise with stays in Cairo, including lunch overlooking the Great Sphinx and visits to early Coptic Christian churches. The river portion runs between Luxor and Aswan, with daily temple stops en route. During summer vacations and holiday breaks, A&K has added new ten-day family departures, limited to 24 guests, that follow a similar itinerary but include activities such as henna painting, bread making, and a treasure hunt in Cairo’s mazelike Khan el-Khalili Bazaar.
Departures: Weekly, September 2019 through May 2020.
- Kensington Tours’ 14-day river-and-resort tour starts in Cairo, then cruises the Nile northward from Aswan to Luxor, allowing overnights in each before and after sailing. Travelers continue to the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada for two nights. Departures: Multiple dates through December 2020.
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offers 12-day trips that leisurely sail the Nile from Luxor to Aswan and back, including sailboat and bird-watching excursions. Back in Cairo, attend the sound and light show at the Pyramids of Giza. Departures: Multiple dates, September 28, 2019, through December 19, 2020.
- The 54-passenger Oberoi Zahra plies the river between Luxor and Aswan with a spa, lap pool, restaurant, and two lounges aboard. Five- and seven-night itineraries visit the riverfront Kom Ombo Temple and spend a full day in Edfu, home to the imposing Temple of Horus. Departures vary; Virtuoso travelers receive a bottle of wine on arrival, breakfast daily, one 50-minute massage for two, and private round-trip airport transfers.