Mostapha was as spirited a person as they come. He enthusiastically greeted my wife and me at the cruise ship dock and immediately whisked us off to the Temple of Edfu in his horse carriage. From the seat, sitting or standing, he bellowed at people along the way but in fact was greeting or acknowledging acquaintances, his volume necessary to be heard over the clattering of hundreds of other carriages taking passengers to and from the temple.
He kept turning around toward us, “Good!?” I understood his question to ask if we were enjoying the ride. “Good!” I yelled back.
The horse carriage ride is a unique experience in Egypt, matched by one in Luxor. Each carriage comfortably fits two adult passengers, but there were plenty others lined up at the dock to take all the Nile cruise ship passengers. When we got to the temple drop-off area, there was an unbelievable jam of vehicles, including carriages, cars, buses and tuk-tuks, so much so that we had to wend our way through countless horses to get to curbside. “I find you,” Mostapha guaranteed. I figured he’d done this many times before. “OK.”
After visiting the temple, we stood at curbside wondering how Mostapha would find us. We walked aimlessly toward a mass of carriages. They all looked alike.
Within a minute, he emerged. “Good?” “Good,” I answered, relieved he found us. The word had taken on a different meaning, a sort of asking if we enjoyed the temple visit, I imagine. I wished I could communicate with him more than with just a few words.
Mostapha took us back to the cruise ship dock and asked for baksheesh, even though Waleed had taken care of it beforehand. Even so, I gave him a tip anyway, figuring he could use it. After all, the ride was good.
Another tour group on our cruise vessel chose not to take the carriages. Why? we asked at dinnertime. Their position was that the horses are being mistreated, often whipped and malnourished. Then, I recalled how Mostapha would whirl a knotted rope in the air and strike the side of his horse, after which it would pick up speed. It seemed at the time more like a cue to the animal than a forceful strike. Or was I mistaken? When I got back home, I did a search on the internet and found many tourist voices with the same concern. Animal mistreatment is a vexing problem for tourism. The elephants of Thailand are another example, even the camels of the Giza Plateau rides. Is a special experience worth an animal’s suffering?
Zep Tepi and the Temple of Horus at Edfu
One of the distinctive features of the temple, as Andrew pointed out, is an inscription on an outer wall called the Edfu Building Texts that represent the most complete description of Zep Tepi, the First Time, deep in the past before pharaonic Egypt when the world re-emerged after a catastrophic flood drowned the previous one.