The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Wonders of Egypt

The following takes place on Day 187, June 2, 2011

Lets face it. The number one reason the majority of  people go to Egypt in the first place is to see the pyramids. And, like it or not, the tourism industry in Egypt knows this all too well as well. A quick search on getting to the Pyramids ourselves and dealing with haggling for taxi rides or manoeuvring on the Cairo bus system showed Mick, the Australian I met that morning, and myself that taking the offer from the hostel of a free guide was a huge savings. Though, mind you, the free tour and guide came because we had ended up booking a tour with the hostel down to the Luxor/Aswan area.

But with our tour booked, we woke up early this morning to meet our guide for the day, Our guide for the day turned out to be a lovely young lady named Israa. She met us at the hostel, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and led us to our car and driver. The tour that we were getting involved not just the Pyramids, but also the Memphis area and the Saqqara Pyramid.

Cairo is a huge city so the drive to Memphis took a bit. Along the way, we chatted with Israa about the revolution and some of her experiences with it. She told many interesting stories about lying to her mother so she could go to Tahrir Square, being the Square during the so-called “Camel Battle,” and hiding from the rare bought of violence behind a tank. It was fascinating to listen to someone who had been in the middle of the revolution.

IMG_7333The stop in Memphis was mainly a chance to visit the museum which consisted of many items found in the area. We got to see the first of many images of Ramses II who, we learned, reigned for so long that he just felt entitled to throw his name onto any statue and claim it was him. A bit egotistical I say. That’s why there is no exact idea as to what Ramses II actually looks like.

Our guide was immensely informative. She had studied hieroglyphics in university and showed us an example as to why it’s such a difficult language to read. It can be read in any direction. IMG_7352Up, down, left to right, right to left. And in the middle of sentences, you can switch direction to meet in the middle. She also explained one theory as to the significance of the sphinx, the lions body and the human head mix match. The lions body is thought to represent strength while the human head is to represent wisdom and intelligence. The one sphinx in Memphis has the head of the first Queen of Egypt, Hepshetsut(I think that’s how you spell it) who had statues of her done up as though it were a man as many in Egypt could not fathom taking orders from a woman.

IMG_7368From Memphis, we drove to Saqqara which is home to one of the oldest pyramids still standing. Unlike the pyramids in Giza, this pyramid is stepped like the ones in Mexico. There was a lot of restoration work being done on it to keep it from collapsing. It’s already too dangerous for anyone to go inside. And for those that have not heard this before, the pyramids, all of them in Egypt, are nothing more than enormous tombs for pharaohs. Not only to show their power and grandeur in life, it was a way to connect to the gods by creating something that reached up to the heavens themselves. The Saqqara pyramid was one of the first attempts at this.

IMG_7390After a quick detour to a papyrus shop, we were finally on our way to the Pyramids. Seeing the Great Pyramid reveal itself from behind some tall buildings was an amazing experience. It was one of those moments when you suddenly realize, once again, that you’re doing something spectacular, something that few people get a chance to do, or allow themselves to do.

Israa explained to us that we had an option of getting a ticket to go into the Great Pyramid but that we would have to skip back to the ticket counter to buy it early as they only sold them at a certain time of the day and then they only had a limited amount available per day. Mick and I rarely thought twice. When else would we have this opportunity? It took us all of five seconds to decide we would pay the extra amount to go into the pyramid.

IMG_7401As we had a little time to spare, we went into the Giza Plateau and walked up to the Great Pyramid to take some photos and marvel at just how amazing it is. You come to Egypt knowing the pyramids are immense, but when you stand beside them and see stone blocks taller than you, it hits you just a little bit more as to how tall it really is. And just how immense of an undertaking it must’ve been for the ancient Egyptians to build something so grand.

When we wandered back to the ticket counter, there were only a few people in front of us. Getting the tickets was easy and before we knew it, we were walking back up to the entrance to the pyramid.Israa split from us as it is not allowed to go in with a guide. She was going to go in on her own(her tourist guide badge got her in for free as long as she wasn’t “guiding” at the time) and we would go in on our own as well. She would just meet us inside.

As we were walking up to the entrance though, Mick and I were blocked by two men who were adamant that we wanted a ride on a camel or horse around the pyramids. Mick, being all of 6’5 or so, managed to skirt by while I had my scarf grabbed by one of the men and began to be pulled to the horses. My scarf tightened around my neck. I’m not sure I panicked, but I definitely got angry. This was a massive, and dangerous, invasion of my space. I scared myself even when I grabbed the man’s wrist and spoke in a low voice “I don’t want to ride a horse, now let go of my scarf.” I’m sure a novelist would say something about my eyes “flashing with anger" or something to that effect.

Once my adrenaline wore down, we finally got to the pyramid. Our cameras were promptly confiscated by the man at the door and I was confident that we would be asked for a tip to get them back. The tunnel into the pyramid started off tall but slowly got to the point that even I had to duck down. Israa met us in the tunnel but informed us that there were too many people in the pyramid for her to guide us without getting caught so she let us explore on our own while she went to get the car.

I’m not exactly sure how far up we had to climb the ladder to get to the King’s Chamber but it was a fair ways. It was at a pretty decent angle, about 40 degrees or so, with an extremely low IMG_7409ceiling. If I had to duck the whole way up, I can’t imagine how uncomfortable Mick felt.

The King’s Chamber, where the sarcophagus would have been housed, was a small room with only a small amount of artificial light coming from the electric lights that were in the corners. There were no hieroglyphics on the walls, not pictures. It was a blank room. The most fascinating thing about it was being able to see the precision that the stones were laid together and realizing how many tons of rock were suspended over our heads.

We left the pyramid and, surprisingly enough, got our cameras back without having to pay anything. Israa and our driver took us to a lookout point where we got to see all three pyramids and the city of Cairo beyond it. It was a quick visit. Long enoIMG_7415ugh to take some group photos and to do some silly photos involving the pyramids.

The last stop was at the Sphinx which, I must say, is actually smaller in person than I expected. Regardless, it’s still an imposing structure and was probably a wondrous thing of beauty back in the day. Hell, it still is.

IMG_7424With the heat of the day finally starting to get to us, we all went to a nearby restaurant where we learned one more thing about our amazing guide. Not only is she pretty, intelligent, funny, and approachable, she is also a deeply devout and open Muslim. She went off before eating for afternoon prayer and spent a good part of the lunch explaining to Mick and I some of the things of the Muslim faith, including the praying five times a day. It was very cool.

And with that, the day was over. We were dropped off back at the hostel where we said goodbye to Israa and exchanged Facebook accounts. Having been out in the sun pretty much all day, Mick and I crashed for a few hours before IMG_7444heading out for supper at an amazing place recommended to us by the hostel. We also took some time to wander along the Nile boardwalk. It was a great day. Long, but great.

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