A donkey ride in the Valley of the Kings helped sell Mom and I on the tour we booked to see Egypt. We both grew up riding horses on the family ranch, but neither of us has ridden much in the last 40 years or so. Also, donkeys are small and quick and can easily turn out from under a rider. Between those issues and that fact that Mom is under doctor’s orders not to re-break the collar-bone she shattered last year, I couldn’t help being leery about this ride.
Our bus delivered us to New Gourna Village where we mounted up on the street with traffic passing by. The donkeys were tall enough that I couldn’t just toss a leg over. No worries, the wranglers had polished their boosting technique to an art. Once in the saddle, I found it way more wobbly than I was used to which further shook my confidence. I assured myself that someone was looking after Mom and concentrated on balancing dead-center, so my saddle would stay upright. When my little mount’s short legs went into action, the choppy ride added more insecurity. If any of this bothered Mom, she hasn’t admitted it.
I suspect the wranglers gave the harder-to-handle donkeys to the young men in the group. One of those bolted and scurried to the other side of the road. The head wrangler jumped off his own donkey to chase the runaway down on foot. I can’t say whether the rider managed to get the donkey’s attention with the reins or if his weight made it too tough for the little fella to maintain a sprint, but they stopped before the wrangler got to them.
Most of our helpers were kids. The little guy holding Mom’s donkey was cuter than most teddy bears. His brother Hussein came hurrying along about ten minutes into the trip–just as I was settling in and feeling like this was going to work fine. He grabbed my donkey’s bridle along with another rider’s and set about earning a tip: asking periodically if we were okay, pointing out crops and trees, a school and advising, “Relax, relax.”
I guessed, from Hussein’s height, that he was about 9, but he said he was 14. His ancestors must have been tomb builders. The workers employed by the pharaohs to build the tombs were isolated with their families on the east side of the Nile in hopes that the location of the tombs (and their treasures) could be kept secret. If the tomb builders’ gene pool had any height in it to begin with, it faded, leaving a race of people who fit comfortably in airplane seats.
Our tour took us down a semi-rural back road with backyards on one side and crops: onions, sugar cane, alfalfa, mango, orange and lemon trees on the other. Darling tots waved enthusiastically. One woman had laid out a batch of round bread rising or cooling there in the yard. I imagine she was baking it in an outdoor oven, but the air was so smoky from burning sugar cane, I couldn’t say whether any was coming from her yard. It would be interesting to know what she used for fuel since wood is hard to come by in the Sahara Desert. According to our guide, the best Egyptian bread is baked over a camel dung fire.