Tombs, Scarabs and Negotiating in Egypt!

In ancient Egyptian religion, Egyptians viewed the humble dung beetle as a symbol of renewal and rebirth, they used scarab amulets to protect the living during daily tasks and the dead as they journeyed to the afterlife. The scarab (kheper) beetle was one of the most popular amulets in ancient Egypt because the insect was a symbol of the sun god Re.

Since my first African Journey, I’ve been fascinated and somewhat infatuated with dung beetles. Their lifestyle is not particularly attractive, Scarabaeus sacer are known for their peculiar habit of rolling balls of dung even larger than their actual size and depositing them in their burrows. Once there, the females lay their eggs inside the dung balls that would serve as nourishment for the larvae. Once totally consumed, young beetles would emerge from the ground suggesting they came from nowhere. In Africa, they are enormous bugs with striking iridescent bodies, awfully intent on rolling the dung ball up and down hills and through fields.

In Egypt, the beetle was associated with the divine manifestation of the early morning sun, Khepri, whose name was written with the scarab hieroglyph and who was believed to roll the disk of the morning sun over the eastern horizon at daybreak. 

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62)

The ancient Egyptians believed that these beetles came from a spontaneous birth from the burrows. This made the populations worship them as the Khepera or “He who came forth” – an aspect and function associated with creation god, Atum. One needs a degree in Egyptology or a detailed spread sheet to keep track of all the Egyptian gods. I’m certain our very informed guide, Haytham, frequently detected glassy gazes when he enthusiastically inquired ‘do you remember this God, Horus who…?’ Tracking the deity, Kings, Queens, mothers of, is mind boggling, particularly on 8-hour tour days in the hot Egyptian sun.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Beetle hieroglyph in left panel

Oddly enough, these critters do indeed have impressive celestial powers. Dung beetles, like the scarab, are astonishing navigators that actually use the sun as guidance when moving their dung balls. Rolling the dung ball along, the beetle will periodically stop, scramble atop its prize, look around to orient itself, and climb back down and start pushing the ball once more. Part of my fascination in watching them in the bush. They are frankly proud creatures which is evident if you observe them.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Beetle hieroglyph in upper left panel

I knew the tombs in the Valley of the Kings would have an abundance of scarab hieroglyphs. While touring the museums and temples, I was on the prowl for scarabs and ultimately when ascending into the important tombs, we spotted many. I hoped to find an extraordinary scarab memento. In an alabaster factory near the Valley of the Kings, appropriately named Hapi Alabaster, it was chock a block with objects, some rare, some not so much. Egyptian shop owners are slightly assertive; however, I take my time, contemplate and evaluate. Wandering with our group, the shop owner asked if I would like to visit the room of antiquities – at this point in conversation, any seasoned traveler should depart! A guide will always negotiate, and one understands the guide will also profit for delivering a customer. The firms we work with are particular about tourist shopping, I tell our teams – we want authentic items, and for most trips, never a rug shop! In the ‘antiquities’ room behind a closed door, I discovered an exquisite bronze Anubis canopic box, the sides adorned with vivid lapis scarabs, a jackal sits regally on the sliding top; uncover the lid to discover four small urns with animal heads used to hold body remains in mummification. Frequently seen in the tombs and museums, canopic jars were used by the ancient Egyptians during the mummification process to store and preserve the viscera of their owner for the afterlife.

The canopic jars were identified and protected by four different gods who were the sons of Horus. The names of the Sons of Horus were Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef and Qebehsenuef. The canopic jars were four in number, each for the safekeeping of particular human organs: the stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver, all of which, it was believed, would be needed in the afterlife. There was no jar for the heart: the Egyptians believed it to be the seat of the soul, and so it was left inside the body. It’s important to remember that the Egyptians understood their cosmos in terms of cycles, so death was necessary for regeneration and life to continue.

I was besotted with the bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs, however, I didn’t want to reveal my enthusiasm, I made a small mound of chosen objects to ponder. The owner asked, would you like to see the secret room, my late father’s private collection? Did I mention depart when one hears certain phrases?  I exclaimed: you are selling your father’s treasures? Calling to one of my travel friends, come to the secret room!  We entered another closed-door storeroom; poking through a cardboard box, I unearthed a small scarab. A hand carved bone scarab wrapped in silver, with carvings on the back. I’m ready to depart, time to negotiate!

Anubis canopic box with lapis scarab

Our brilliant guide, Haytham, began the negotiations– i.e. shouting at the shop owner to gift me the scarab and lower the price of the box – she owns a high-end travel firm, she will send her clients – that’s all I deciphered from the negotiations – in the end, I received the little bone scarab as a gift and paid for the Anubis with blue lapis scarab canopic box. Our small group of agency owners stood agape at the ‘transaction’ some were also purchasing and Haytham again shouted, they own agencies! When exploring Cairo a few days later, a local guide told me the scarab was a fine piece of jewelry, she had never seen such a lovely scarab… I love it and was thrilled to have a professional endorse my diminutive scarab.

Bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs

The beetle itself was a favorite form used for amulets in all periods of Egyptian history. Scarabs may be made from a variety of materials including carnelian, steatite, lapis lazuli, basalt, faience, limestone, schist, turquoise, ivory, resin, turquoise, amethyst and bronze. Hundreds of thousands of these artifacts have been excavated in Egypt.

A winged scarab might also be placed on the breast of the mummy, and later a number of other scarabs were placed about the body. Perhaps my little scarab will be entombed with me, not certain if the Canopic jars are practical though, I will leave that up to my son!

Bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs – the canopic jars from inside the box

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Anubis Black Dog Jackal Egyptian God of Underworld 

Anubis is known as the god of death and is the oldest and most popular of ancient Egyptian deities. The ancient Egyptians revered Anubis highly because they believed he had tremendous power over both their physical and spiritual selves when they died.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Anubis Black Dog Jackal Egyptian God of Underworld

Ana Palza – Bolivian Haute Couture

Pandemic Travel Activities, in all the travel webinars I’ve appreciated, I never expected a webinar on Bolivian Haute Couture. When one thinks of Bolivia, movie buffs may remember the masked bandits Butch Cassidy and his partner The Sundance Kid who robbed banks and had their final shoot out and are buried in the cemetery in San Vicente. Another action hero, James Bond, finds himself in Bolivia in Quantum of Solace, the quintessentially suave British spy confronts his arch nemesis, who planned to take control of the country’s water supply.

I’ve always wanted to visit Bolivia, a country brimming with diverse travel options: The Amazon, the soaring Andean peaks, and stay in a hotel made entirely from salt at Uyuni, in the incredible bright white salt flats of Bolivia. In spite of a relatively small population, Bolivia is culturally diverse with three official languages: Spanish, Quechua and Aymara.

With over 50% of the population indigenous, Bolivia has the least changing population on the continent. As such, it offers an excellent opportunity to view the remnants of ancient civilization embodied in life today as well as in the old Colonial cities, traditional villages and occasional ruins scattered across the landscape. Bespoke travel Bolivia will enable you to take the best of Bolivia’s highlights. A land of extremes, the country is an adventurers dream – but you needn’t be a hardened adventurer to enjoy luxury travel Bolivia.

We have a cracker jack team to create a bespoke Journey when you are ready to escape!

But back to Bolivian Haute Couture, the webinar was an interview with renowned Bolivian jewelry & clothing designer, Ana Palza. She designs beautiful jewelry and traditional outfits for cholitas, Andean women who have maintained their ancestry through culture and tradition.  Creating haute couture in Paris.

Cholita fashion, Bolivia

Ana Palza was born in La Paz and raised by an American mother who taught her to cherish and celebrate all that is unique about Bolivia. As a child, she would accompany her mother to the market; where she learned to see beauty in the mountains of ají in their brilliant reds and yellows, as well as to appreciate the fragrant Bolivian herbs like quirquiña. To this day, Ana’s biggest inspiration comes from walking through the streets of La Paz.

An amazing highlight of her career, one of Ana’s recent collections of haute couture was presented by eight cholitas at the Cartier Foundation for Modern Art in Paris, France. For the first time, indigenous Bolivian women from the Aymara community modeled their traditional Bolivian attire in Paris, in the capital of haute couture. Ana, who makes jewelry and clothes for mujeres de pollera, accompanied the cholita models to Paris for the three-day event. In an event space designed by famed Bolivian architect Freddy Mamani – whose cholets in El Alto have gained worldwide acclaim as of late. The cholita, or the mujer de pollera, is an iconic representation of Bolivia and La Paz. For Ana, her work is not only about designing jewelry and clothing, but also empowering the very women she designs for.

She has presented her designs in fashion shows across Bolivia and has sold her collection internationally. Her work has also been featured in German documentaries.

Cholita fashion, Bolivia

In a time of great social discord in Bolivia, Ana Palza pioneered the creation of jewelry meant for the Bolivian woman – regardless of class, race or background. Her work draws on rich historical and ancestral motifs, integrating the past with the present to create a product that is both dynamic and authentically Bolivian. She bridges two cultures, honoring the past while creating haute couture for the indigenous woman of today.

Palza, who has created jewelry for 19 years, began to focus on cholita fashion about five years ago. She noted that most jewelry was too expensive to be worn by participants in La Paz’s extravagant Gran Poder – pieces were frequently stolen during the wildly chaotic celebration. Palza wanted to create a line of affordable but elegant jewelry. So instead of using gold or silver, she created pieces using pearls, finding inspiration from the style of the cholitas. Palza then started making clothes after realizing that there were no traditional cholita wedding gowns.

The first thing you notice in Ana Palza’s design studio, Disenos Ana Palza, are the mannequins adorned in colorful cholita dress, outfitted with the iconic bowler hat, plush petticoats, shawl and huge decorative jewelry.

“It wasn’t too long ago when Cholitas would have been shamed for the way they dressed. They were discriminated against in their education, job opportunities and were even banned from certain parts of the city. Now, Cholita fashion is huge and even non-indigenous Bolivians are taking part, like me.” Ana participates regularly with the numerous fashion shows in La Paz, featuring solely Cholita dress. But, the most significant event in Cholita Fashion is Gran Poder, a two week long Christian religious celebration observed by the indigenous community in La Paz.

Traditional Bolivian Women

An important reason why Cholita fashion has become a movement in Bolivia, was the presidential election in 2005 when Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president was elected for the first time. His two terms have ushered in pride for Bolivian roots and reduced social injustice. The president was elected for a third term on January 22, 2016 (historically only two, five-year terms have been legal).

The firm we work with is proud to collaborate with these inspiring cholitas and can organize visits to Ana´s atelier providing a unique and memorable experience.

Cholita fashion, Bolivia

Highlights of Bolivia – Seven days
Marvel at the mesmerizing white expanse of the Salt flats of Uyuni, a photographer’s paradise.
Cruise to the Sun Island on Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of the Incas.
Ride La Paz’s cable car network for a unique perspective on the burgeoning capital.
The landscapes and vistas in Bolivia are truly matchless. This landlocked Andean nation boasts some of the most extreme, diverse topographies on the planet. At a dizzying 11,975 feet above sea level, snow-capped mountains frame La Paz. Pristine Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, is so grand it almost looks like an ocean from its shores. The Salar de Uyuni is iconic in its otherworldly splendor. Bolivia’s rusticity makes it a destination best suited to seasoned travelers, but the rewards are plentiful for those with a sense of adventure. Highlights of Bolivia, takes you through Bolivia’s most incredible sights and is designed to take your breath away. Visit the lush Yungas, descending from snow-capped mountains to tropical climes in a day trip from La Paz.

Ana Palza dancing

Two years ago, Ana started Disenos Ana Palza. “We are the only option available in Cholita fashion in the mid-tier price range. But, I know that because we have been successful people will soon start to copy our model. Our competitive advantage is our styles. We mix today’s Cholita fashion with older indigenous styles and modern western flairs. For example, this year our fish and coin jewelry has been very popular.”

Ana Palza, Bolivia