Posted by: 1000fish | September 22, 2017

Tut, Line, and Sinker

Dateline: May 6, 2017 – Luxor, Egypt

This vacation began, as many do, in the nightmares of an 11 year-old. My Mother was fascinated with Egypt her entire life, and devoted years of study and several trips to this passion. She had an extensive Egyptology library, and as my sister and I got older and gained familiarity with relevant highbrow fare, such as “The Mummy,” we began poking around these books in our spare time. Late one evening, by myself in our basement, I came across a photo of King Tut’s mummified face. I did not sleep for the next three nights. Naturally, the first thing I did was show the picture to my sister. She reacted badly, and somehow I got in trouble.

I hope I look this good in 3000 years.

I always knew I would go to Egypt someday. There are countless sites from antiquity to visit, and any bucket list that doesn’t include the Pyramids pails by comparison. Marta was very enthusiastic about the trip, as she had studied quite a bit about Egypt herself, and so off we went. Of course, I negotiated a few days fishing, at Aswan and the Red Sea, so I owed her big time. She flew directly from home, but I connected in from a business trip in Germany, so by the time I arrived in Egypt, Marta had been there 36 hours. In this time, she managed to find and befriend every jeweler in Cairo, (notably Azza Fahmy jewelers,) and had planned out our main tourist stops.

The first thing I noticed that that the Cairo Marriott was right next to the Nile. Perhaps because she wanted to butter me up before we visited the jewelry stores, Marta was accepting of this, and armed with a float rod and the same Berkeley Gulp bloodworms that had caught my sterlet, (sordid details HERE) I set up to try my luck. Moments later, to the astonishment of the locals, I got a small tilapia and added Egypt to my country list – #89. Note that this was done before I had visited a single pyramid or smelled a single camel.

And it was a new species – the redbelly tilapia.

We then spent a couple of days doing tourist stuff. I cannot emphasize two things enough – the pyramids are much, much bigger than you can imagine, and camels smell much, much worse than you can imagine. The pyramids were the first thing we visited. The Great Pyramid at Giza is over 4500 years old, and is the only extant wonder of the ancient world. It is visible for miles, and can be seen from almost any tall building in Cairo. It was humbling to see it, and we forgot that it was 100 degrees outside and that we were on camels that smelled so bad it could sterilize us both, and we just stared in awe. I couldn’t help but think of what FDR said when he visited here – “Man’s desire to be remembered is colossal.”

The pyramids are more than a mile behind us. As it turns out, so was the lens cap for my camera.

We had lamp Cheops for dinner.

Marta couldn’t help herself.

The Sphinx. Evidence of the first botched nose job in history.

And then there were the camels.

They smell worse than hockey gear, they burp, they spit, and they hate me.

They also make godawful noises – see video below.

 

Nikki the camel seemed to like Marta. I had no such luck with my ride.

I was also keenly aware that I was crossing historical paths with my mother, who visited the pyramids twice in her life.

From my Mother’s Egypt travel album.

We did a lot of walking in Cairo. For those of you who ask, we felt perfectly safe – there were police and soldiers on almost every corner, and the people were absolutely wonderful.

Steve hangs out with an Army Officer.

It didn’t hurt that Pope Francis visited the same week we did, but Cairo seems a lot less dangerous than Berkeley. I will say that the street vendors and tourist service hawkers can get a bit exhausting, but their business is down some 90% since the Arab Spring mess, so you kind of can’t blame them. Of course, with what I do for a living, I am comfortable saying “no” repeatedly, but Marta is a classic soft touch and ended up buying a duffel bag full of King Tut towels, small pyramids, and sphinx carvings. Stores could appear out of nowhere at a moment’s notice, so always be on your guard.

We made friends with a local guide named Yasser – let me know if you want his contact information – and he showed us quite a few insider spots in town, as well as the main attractions like the Egyptian Museum.

Yasser showing Marta a replica Rosetta Stone. The real one is somehow in London.

The figures on the right were in a tomb for 3000 years, and they were creepily realistic. Marta and Yasser thought they were being funny.

A rack of mummies.

Statue of Akhenaten – “The Heretic King.” He declared that Egypt would change from a popular polytheism to worshiping only the Sun God. Imagine if we only cheer for the Detroit Lions. There would be chaos.

After Cairo, our next stop was Aswan, the far south of the country, but “Upper Egypt” in the ancient parlance. (Because the Nile flows south to north.) This location is full of temples, statues, and contains many relics from civilizations that eventually merged with the Egyptian kingdoms, such as the Nubians. It also has possibly the best hotel in the world – the Old Cataract.

The view from our room. Marta wants to live here.

Dinner at the Old Cataract. It was worth bringing a suit.

Of course, with the Aswan High Dam nearby, I wasn’t going to miss a chance at a Nile Perch. These legendarily large barramundi cousins inhabit the Nile and many world records have come out of the Nasser reservoir above the dam. Through Tim Bailey at African Angler, I set up an overnight trip on the lake, knowing the odds were against any huge fish, but hoping that I could at least add it and perhaps a tigerfish or vundu catfish to the list.

Early the next day, the guide service picked me up and we headed off for 36 hours on the lake. Marta headed for the Abu Simbel temples, considered some of the finest in Egypt, but this isn’t the first major antiquity site I’ve missed to go fishing. (See “Venus Visits the Temple of Diana; Mars Goes Fishing.”)

They moved this entire temple, piece by piece, so it wouldn’t be underwater when they filled Nasser reservoir.

African Angler was outstanding – I had Hani as my expert guide in a fast fishing boat, and a crew followed us around in a houseboat that had a full kitchen, an air-conditioned salon, and bath facilities.

Hani, professional fisherman and all-around good guy.

The fishing boat.

The houseboat. This was a very comfortable base of operations.

The scenery was stark but amazing. I didn’t expect to see this much water in the middle of a desert.

We ran for about an hour, then set to trolling with impossibly big lures, hoping to get into one of the monster perch that still inhabit the lake. Most of the big fish are caught on longer trips that head further south, but I had to make do with what was available in my schedule. We gave it a game try all morning and into the afternoon, but the fish were not cooperative. We took a break and began casting lures for tigerfish.

These tigerfish are not the monstrous Congo species, but, like the Kardashian sisters, they are numerous and none too bright. Any shiny lure retrieved at wahoo speeds was going to get hit, and we had constant action for a couple of hours. The tigerfish hit hard, jump like tarpon, and best of all, were a new species.

My first tigerfish.

Wire leaders were a must.

We then trolled again, but to no avail. Still, just being able to use some of my Rapala 26 collection was satisfying. As the sun went down, I put out a catfish rod and also started fishing for the small stuff in the weeds. Apart from tilapia, there was one other small species in the weedbed, but I didn’t recognize it. These were much more skittish than the tilapia, and shied away from both my offerings and especially from my headlamp. I finally just left a small bait in the dark, and went about eating the very nice dinner the cook had whipped up for me. When I lifted up my light rod, I was surprised to find a small fish on it. I pulled it over the rail and into the light to have a look, and instantly, I was overcome by dual emotions of joy and shame. It was a Nile Perch, but was so small that it would be classed somewhere between “juvenile” and “fry.” I had the species, but if the trip finished with this as my only one, there was no going to be no way even I could put a dignified spin on it.

This is about as small as they get.

I actually slept fairly well that night, despite the risk of scorpions and fennecs crawling onto the boat. We had one hit from a catfish, which I missed, and then it was time for breakfast. I was facing the unfortunate fact that while I had caught a Nile Perch, I would likely go down as the only person in history who had caught a Nile Perch and a Pile Perch and had somehow managed to have the Pile Perch be the biggest of the two.

Breakfast was fit for a king, or two or three.

Like Marta’s Mother, these guys couldn’t stop feeding me. 

I began casting a squidgee swimbait off the back of the boat, working along a weedline about 100 feet behind us. I had a couple of taps I presumed were from ambitious tigerfish, then a solid hit that hooked up, held in place, and shook its head. I knew right away it wasn’t a tigerfish, so I fought it carefully. Hani came forward to help me land it, and as I got the fish to the surface, I was thrilled to see it was a bigger Nile Perch. Note I said “bigger,” not “big,” but at 5 pounds, this was at least not a microfish and was certainly larger than my pile perch, so I was ecstatic.

Some measure of dignity restored.

We trolled a couple more hours on the way back toward Aswan, with one small hit, possibly a catfish. We then spent the rest of the day casting for tigerfish, because, well, it’s a lot of action. I got at least 20 more, and a couple of ambitious tilapia in the mix.

One of my larger tigerfish. I need to go to the Congo.

Do not put this in your pants.

Speaking of tilapia, if any of you out there can reliably discern between a Nile Tilapia and a Blue Tilapia, please, please email me. If you can reliably differentiate the species AND I have both, you get a steak dinner on me.

Tim Baily had cautioned me that the odds of a big fish go up substantially on longer trips, so I was thrilled to at least get the species in a 36 hour venture. If you are going to do this yourself, I would suggest doing at least a five day trip – the big fish are there.

Marta met me back at the hotel, where we had a driver waiting to take us to Luxor, some 100 miles to the north. (I thought this meant two hours driving, but it was more like four. Traffic in Egypt, even in rural areas, is formidable.) I figured that the freshwater fishing portion of the trip was over, but when we got the Luxor Hilton, I was thrilled to see that it was right on the Nile. But we had a say of playing tourist ahead of us, so we enjoyed a marvelous meal at a local restaurant, and it was quite a relief to sleep someplace where there were no wild animals.

The following day was one of the most important of the trip – the Valley of the Kings. This desolate canyon became the royal burial place during most of the New Kingdom period. It was in use for more than 500 years, and it sprung into world headlines in 1922 with the the first-ever discovery of an undisturbed royal tomb. The tomb, that of a minor king who had taken the throne as a child and had died at age 18, gave modern society their first glance at the riches of a royal burial. This was the tomb of Tutankhamen – King Tut – and it is arguably the most famous archaeological find of all time. My Mother did not consider her life complete until she had seen this place.

We drove west across the Nile. In ancient times, the area west of the river was reserved for the dead, who were often referred to as “westerners.” The hills are dotted with tombs, temples, and historical sites.

At the temple of Hapshepsut, one of the great landmarks of ancient Egypt.

Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh, kept her stepson Thutmosis III off the throne for many years, and when he finally took over, he was mad enough to try to have her face chiseled off of all statues and monuments. Sure, I’ve taken photos of my stepmonster out of a few albums, but this pretty much sets the standard.

Succeeding pharaohs tended to make carvings very deep reliefs to prevent this sort of editing.

Of course, they got lost and did their excavating in Memphis, Tennessee, but it was a noble idea.

Then we drove in to the actual valley. It is a remote, arid place, but it has only one entrance so it was easier to guard from tomb robbers.

The Valley of The Kings.

We finally reached it, so I could deal with my childhood trauma.

Tut’s tomb was fairly plain, a relatively short shaft down into the hill, and several small chambers. In one of those chambers, he is still on display, resting there for eternity. He didn’t freak me out so badly this time, but if the lights had gone out down there, I’d have wet myself and everyone standing near me. But I had finally seen King Tut in person. I have never felt closer to my Mom, even six years after she went west.

That evening, we had a couple of hours to kill, and we were right on the Nile, so Marta gamely permitted me to cast a line while we enjoyed some cold drinks on the bank of the Nile.

The Hilton. Marta noticed the pool. I noticed the river.

Looking across the Nile at the Valley of the Kings.

A couple of local cats came out of the bushes to watch us. It’s a rough life being a cat in Egypt. In ancient times, these animals were considered sacred, and they have never gotten over the fact that this hasn’t lasted. The resident felines at the Luxor Hilton were a scrappy bunch, and as soon as they discovered I was catching small fish, they were very interested in my every move. Naturally, Marta insisted that I feed them, and we soon had a squad of furry friends. The fish were a new species – a type of barb.

My hooks were not barbless.

I believe this to be in the genus Enteromius, (thank you Dr. Carvalho) but if any of you have more specific ID information, please contact me.

One particular animal, who we christened “Scrappy Cat,” dominated the proceedings and got most of the fish, but Marta hand fed the less aggressive ones. (Which I suggested was anti-Darwin, but this fell on deaf ears.)

Scrappy Cat.

The next day, we covered the eastern bank of the Nile – the town of Luxor itself. This is home to two gigantic temple complexes that were centers of religion and culture in their prime, some 3000 years ago. Whatever else drove these people, they wanted to be remembered. Ramses III, one of the great military leaders of the time, had a 90 foot tall likeness of himself installed at the city gates. Even in ruins, it is awe-inspiring.

The statue, long since collapsed, provided Shelly the inspiration to write the poem “Ozymandias.”

Paint on a temple ceiling. 3500 years old without so much as a retouch. We’ve been in our place four years, and Marta wants me to paint the bathrooms. 

By incredible coincidence, we again had a few more hours to kill before dinner, so I set up to fish the bank by the hotel. I started catching the barbs again, but I also saw some bigger fish wandering in and out of sight. I put out a bigger bait and let it soak. Perhaps half an hour later, something crushed it and took off for the other shore. I stopped it after a couple of runs, and as I worked it back toward the bank, I was stunned to see it was a huge freshwater pufferfish. I had caught related species in Asia (as immortalized in “The French Correction,” but those fish were tennis ball size. This was gargantuan, like a tennis ball the size of a housecat, and it now occurred to me that I would need to crawl down the steep concrete bank to land it. If I slipped, there was a trip to the hospital and many antibiotics in my future, but I was going to get this fish.

I do not like swimming with microbes.

With Marta giving helpful advice like “Throw me your wallet,” I edged down, grabbed the fish by the gill, and pulled it up to the bank. It wasn’t just a puffer, it was a five and a half pound puffer – my biggest fish in Egypt so far, and a new world record. I was ecstatic.

The beast.

Yes, he was safely released.

The cats reappeared as soon as I caught small fish. Before we went to dinner, I got a catfish that was both a new species and dinner for the felines.

The golden Nile catfish. I was hoping for a Vundu, but a species is a species.

When we moved to the outdoor cafe for dinner, the cats, sensing that Marta was an easy touch, followed us. Naturally, Marta ordered an extra plate of chicken so we could feed them. If they had been selling little Sphinx statues, she would have bought all of them.

That’s Scrappy Cat at the top of the photo and his friend Orange Kitty below. They could eat a lot of chicken.

The next day, we would be heading southeast for three days fishing on the Red Sea. We spent the evening by the riverside, and I was in what passes for deep thought in my case. We had seen a week of ever more fantastic monuments – temples, statues, tombs. As we all do, these people wanted to be remembered, so badly that they spent their entire lives and fortunes in that pursuit. Here we were, 5000 years later in some cases, still remembering these people, learning about them, admiring them, trying to connect with some shred of commonality that has survived the millennia. I looked at my own life, and the obsessive quest that has filled up so much of it, and never being able to fully answer why I do it. It hit me then, that there is something deep in humans that wants to leave something behind that future generations will learn about, and that perhaps, in my own small way, the great species hunt is mine. Because it’s unlikely Marta will let me build a pyramid in the back yard, especially before the bathrooms are painted.

The sun goes west, as we all must someday.

Steve

 

 


Responses

  1. Hilarious, great stories.

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Fantastic Story Steve.. a dream of mine to visit Egypt.. looking forward to the next installment.. the red sea should be full of newbies for you..

  3. Looks like you had fun… records and all. Oh by the way, I know English Majors don’t like to use spell check but might want to check your first attempt at spelling tilapia vs tilpia. 🙂

    • Well spotted. Corrected and I owe you a beer.

      Woz


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