The markets in Luxor are like any Middle Eastern market – mayhem. Of course it depends on the hour and the size of the town, but in the local markets (or Souks), you find an energy that exists in no other place. They are the heartbeat of the city and are lively little cosmoses where everything in life is played out to extremes, in very small spaces.
Often you will find separate markets.One for locals – vibrant, hyperactive and teeming with life. The other for tourists – oddly enough teeming with foreigners and tacky souvenir shops, that swarm with relentless tout’s desperate to charm you into parting with your cash.
As Luxor is a small town, without too much trouble I stumble upon where the locals go to shop, infinitely more interesting but hard work. As I hoped it’s pumping. The sites and sounds and smells are overwhelming. The reaction to my presence is peppered with a mixture of curiosity and nonchalance. I am the target of a few comments by younger boys (which I instantly recognise are not complementary in that universal language that says – you’re a Western female and you are trash). It makes me feel uneasy and irritated for a moment, but the excitement of my surroundings quickly dispels these thoughts.
The action is in full swing and I have to dodge cloaked men on horses or hurriedly pushing carts laden with produce down the narrow cobblestone paths. There are sad faced donkeys and mangy haired dogs, women in headscarfs busily stocking up on fresh market vegetables, with squealing children, laughing and running around their feet. Not that I am claustrophobic or timid, but when you are in enveloped in an environment like this, by yourself, in a strange land, it can be ever so slightly daunting. I confess though, I find myself doing it time and time again as the thrill, the education and the fascination is always worth it.
For the umpteenth time I try to squeeze past a horse and carriage forcing its way through the mêlée. A little boy with a cheeky smile beckons to help me. Feet faltering on the unsteady ground, I lurch forward and as I do, have to veer quickly to the right, to escape head-butting the frisky horse who is as keen as I am to get out of this pickle. Doing my best to contort my body, a dark robed lady somehow manages to push past us, holding a live chicken by the feet, that is wildly flapping its big feathery wings uncontrollably (perhaps knowing what fate is shortly in story for it).
Again I have to twist to get out of reach from its scratchy feathers, which are fanning my arm and squawking that is reverberating through my head. Reeling to the right again my head is forced directly into the path of a big table laden with shiny, plump grey intestines and toffee, orange pigs trotters. My face is inches from this buffet of dead, fleshy smelling meat and buzzing flies are landing on me. Aghhhh!!! I feel like a bubble desperately trying to escape to the surface of the water and be free.
Whirling around dazed I finally come up for air. It’s ok. I’m back in the throng and can I see the light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case – the end of the market. Regaining my composure I soak up the last sounds and smells before I hit freedom. An amazing and heady experience. I go back for seconds the next day, but this time protected in a small curtained cabin and by my half sighted caleches (horse and cart) driver. Again it is incredible and gives me a chance to take some photos, but the rush of being amongst the action, head first surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds, although at the time it may not seem that way, is always the best high and the ultimate feeling.
» For a tour of Luxor, check out Sharm El Sheikh tours and excursions