As I enter the tomb of Ramses II in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, I think about what I’ve done to get this far: braved donkey rides, food poisoning, hustlers trying to sell me “the best hash in Egypt”, serpent smiles of wannabe Casanovas trying to steal my girlfriend Leanne while telling me I’m a “lucky man”, a bus breakdown in a remote village where the local police arrived carrying machine guns, and men trying to shake me down for tips because they knew a good angle for a photo.
Some snakes and a few Nazis – Indiana Jones had it easy.
Where the dead slept
I’m keen to dive straight in to see where old Ramses II lay, but am stopped by questions from one of the less intrepid in our group: “Are there booby traps? Is there a curse?”
Tomy, our Egyptian guide, cracks his trademark Cheshire Cat grin and reassures us there are no booby traps and the supposed curse only affected those who were first to enter the tombs.
Slightly disappointed I start my descent into the belly of the hill in which the tomb lies.
Being 30m underground where a dead man lay under the protection of a curse for thousands of years is slightly eerie, but thrilling at the same time.
Apart from being a welcome reprieve from the scorching sun, it’s a chance to admire the colours of the tomb paintings, which depict the pharaoh’s path to the afterlife, and were created by mixing water colours with a binder of either glue or egg yolk.
They remain remarkably vibrant after 2000 years, and I wonder how they would have looked when freshly painted.
Tomy salivates and his Egyptologist eyes mist up: “I can only imagine in my mind how they would look. I can only get so far … they would have been so beautiful.”
As I stare at the hieroglyphics, trying to conjure up their long-faded splendour, my train of thought is broken by a couple of noisy tourists pretending to read them.
I mentally add other tourists to my list of modern-day Egyptian pitfalls.
The Cross-dressing Queen
Over the hill lies the temple of Hatshepsut, who was one of few women to take the title of pharaoh.
Tomy tells us she used to act like a man, talk like a man, dress like a man and even wore a fake beard.
Despite being successful in war, she started a long era of peace and was in love with the architect of the temple, a man named Senmut.
The temple is breathtaking – a huge structure carved into the side of a hill – and has views for miles.
It’s amazing such perfection could be achieved so many hundreds of years ago.
We look up at the caves which were used as hideouts by Islamic militants until 1997, when inexplicably a group of them came out and massacred 58 tourists and guides with submachine guns.
Thankfully, the area has not seen another major attack since.
A hard one
Later that night at the magnificently lit Luxor temple we learn of Amun-Min, the one-armed, one-legged god of fertility.
Legend has it that while the other gods were off fighting, they left him in charge of the tombs, temples and, of course, the young ladies, who all ended up pregnant.
When the gods returned they cut off one leg and arm as punishment.
He’s portrayed in a large hieroglyph in a state of arousal.
For decades women have travelled to Luxor to touch the fertility organ – so many have touched it, it’s now black – in the hope it will help them conceive.
Before I can slap her hand away, Leanne reaches out to touch the hieroglyphic hard-on.
Tomy cackles while I mutter my own silent prayers to the gods.
Indiana Jones never had to put up with this sort of trouble.
» Jahn Vannisselroy travelled with GoBus (020 7471 6400). Group tours start from £199
Walk Like An Egyptian
A quick tip
Egypt has a firmly ingrained tipping culture. It’s 1 EGP to use the toilet just about anywhere. Don’t try to stiff the locals on tips.
Tales of the flesh
It’s respectful for both men and women to cover up, and a good idea if women don’t want to be hassled.
Bag a bargain
When shopping don’t be shy to haggle. It’s respected and most initial prices are inflated for tourists.
Be careful if invited into a shop for a beverage. Horror stories abound of hosts aggressively demanding large sums of money for their “hospitality”.
Land of Plenty
You won’t be stuck for things to do in Egypt – where to start is the only problem.
Pyramids of Giza
See the Sphinx and the Pyramids. Take a ride on a camel for a great photo opportunity. Ignore the hawkers or you’ll regret it.
Visit Abu Simbel
This awe-inspiring temple features four giant statues of Ramses II, which have been cut out of rock. The drive to the temple is an experience itself as you ride through the harsh desert.
Go Hot-Air ballooning
See the west bank of Luxor from a different angle as you float over the Valley of the Kings – a sight not to be missed.
Explore Aswan’s Markets
A great way to see Egyptian daily life.
Bring your best haggling game if you plan to buy, and stick to the shops that are advertised as “hassle-free” if you prefer to browse in peace.
Sail on a felucca
Possibly the most peaceful thing you’ll ever do. It’s warm, smooth, and you only have to move for another beer.
Have a Nubian Dinner
In Aswan, sit down to a traditional dinner with the locals, which means singing, dancing and great food – the Nile perch is a must.
Smoke a Shisha
A great way to unwind and the tobacco comes in all the usual flavours. Keep the substance legal though, to avoid trouble.