One of the most important stone sanctuaries in Luxor is the one dedicated to Sekhmet. It is accessed by following a narrow track that winds between date palms bowing under the weight of amber fruit, at the back of the huge Karnak temple complex.
Sekhmet the Lioness Goddess, known as the 'third eye of the sun god Ra', is directly related to both the creative and destructive powers of the sun. She is renowned for the attainment of healing through uprooting and destruction - the need to experience turmoil before achieving peace. On this day, we are each allowed 10 minutes alone inside her crypt. For one of our group members, it will be the highlight of the trip. Bronwyn is particularly interested in the ancient White Magic of Egypt and Sekhmet is her favourite goddess. The group has affectionately nicknamed Bronwyn 'The Magician'.
When it is my turn to enter Sekhmet's sanctuary, I step inside and the temple guard closes the thick wooden door behind me. It is pitch dark, the only source of light coming from a tiny hole in the roof. As I gaze at the black granite statue, I swear her eyes move and am overcome with a profound feeling of being in the presence of something or someone truly divine. Sitting on the stone floor at her feet, I absorb her energy, battling unidentified emotions that well from deep within.
Ten minutes or an aeon later, I hear the temple guard rattling the door bolt. Time's up. Blinded by the sun, I stumble back out into the 20th century.
We have been granted a few hours of free time. Some of the group decide to explore the temple complex further, some return to the hotel. Others go shopping.
I decide to explore the alleyways not far from the temple and discover a shop selling second hand books. They are mostly copies of the Koran and other religious missives but among Prohibited Articles there is a booklet that was published in the 1920s offering advice to British tourists. It also contains maps, the cost of donkey hire, advertisements for 'tea rooms playing American jazz' and Arabic phrases the tourist may wish to utilise such as, 'I want a dragoman', 'I wish to visit pyramids at moonlight', 'Have you to change me a pound?' and 'By God, I am too much contented of it'.
It also contains a list of allowed and forbidden articles to take into the country:
'Hasheesh, opium, cocaeen(sic), hiroeen(sic), tobacco and tobacco seeds, foreign coins, obscene pictures and printed matter, living insects and their eggs.
Allowed Articles: One telescope per person, one small camera, 25 cigars in open boxes, typewriters and gramophones if their value is less than ten pounds, rifles, pistols and rivolvers(sic). But rivolvers should be declared.'
It seems odd to me that foreign coins were prohibited while revolvers, rifles and pistols were permitted. Times have certainly changed since the 1920s.
It's now late afternoon and we have a bit of drama happening. While shopping at one of the more upmarket shopping bazaars, Bronwyn was unexpectedly accosted by a young man working at one of the more upmarket shops. While she and her girlfriend were browsing a section that contained antique weaponry, the man grabbed Bronwyn from behind, holding her back against his body, thrusting a sabre knife to her throat, demonstrating how easy it would be to slit her throat. He was apparently only joking but it frightened Bronwyn and her friend. They reported the man's action to the manager of the shop before returning to the ship where they have just related the incident to the rest of us. Furious, Hazem high-tailed it to the shop, to check that the perpetrator was fired immediately.
He has just returned in an agitated state. The culprit is still working in the shop. "I insist you ring the police immediately," he demands. Bronwyn refuses, explaining she doesn't want to waste hours inside a poky police office dealing with red tape.
"But he could target another innocent tourist," protests Hazem. "He must be stopped!"
Although small in stature and still shaky from her experience, Bronwyn remains resolute.
"I don't want to call the police," she repeats quietly but firmly. She tells Hazem she believes the man will get his karmic comeuppance in due course.
"I could be tied up for hours at the police station and miss out on the belly dancers and whirling dervishes tonight. Forget it!"
Hazem continues to protest and Bronwyn rises to her feet, eyeballing him intently. "I'm not going to the police. I'll deal with this my own way!"
As if to underline her point, there is a sudden, deafening clap of thunder. Lightning rents the sky and the heavens open up to release a deluge of rain. Responding to cries of help from outside, we rush on deck to join bar stewards chasing plastic chairs and tables somersaulting everywhere, propelled by monsoon-like winds.
On the streets below, people are dancing and laughing in the rain. We are told it is the first decent downpour Egypt has had in 10 years.
It's now late in the evening. The owner of the shop, a softly spoken gentleman who Hazem contacted about the incident, arrives to apologise to Bronwyn personally and to let her know he'd sacked the offender. Deeply grateful that she didn't place the affair into the hands of the police, he explains that his reputation and honour would have been seriously flawed had the incident been reported in the newspaper. Not to mention the damage it would have done to their already flagging tourist industry.
It becomes obvious that in the greater scheme of things, Bronwyn had made the right decision. "I asked Sekhmet to take care of it," she laughed, as we trooped off to bed. And we all get a good laugh at the idea of Nut the Sky Goddess opening her heart in torrents of approval.
The rain has been all over the television news tonight. No doubt it will be headlines in tomorrow's Egyptian Gazette. Egypt is the birthplace of ancient magic. I think we had a wee taste of it today.
Jo Buchanan is a writer and great friend of Egypt