Friday, April 12, 2013

Giza and the Pyramids


 Visiting the Pyramids in a sandstorm, as one does.


We had arranged to meet our guide at 8:00 on our first morning in Cairo. I was already awake when our alarm went off at 7:00. After a shower, I opened the curtain to peek out at my first view of the city in daylight. A brownish-grey haze hung over Zamalek, reducing visibility to only a few blocks in any direction. I'd read about khamseen, the 50 days in which the weather can change constantly and sandstorms are common. This was it.

Pollution or sandstorm?  Both.

We met Nibal downstairs and headed out toward Giza in a white van. Lis and Nibal chatted about Egypt's current economic and political woes while we crawled down roads lined in colorful graffiti. Finally, we caught our first glimpse of the pyramids, ghost-like and enormous against the pale grey sky. Nibal bought our tickets and started to tell us about Khufu and the Great Pyramid as we strolled into the complex. At this point, we'd seen fewer than a dozen people.


We immediately headed for the Great Pyramid. Nibal held our cameras while we trekked inside. I'd read that it was hot, and I'd read that it was claustrophobic, but for some reason, I hadn't expected the climb to be so steep. Instead of stairs, for the most part, the path was a wooden ramp with cross-ties nailed down every foot or so. My worn-down sneaker treads slipped against the surface. Where the path leveled off at the first landing, I took a nice long break.  After the second climb (not as bad as the first), I did the same.  Sitting on the stone shelf, I had a pretty cool view back down the grand gallery.

60 L.E. = about $10 USD

After our break, Lis and I ducked the last few stones to reach the burial chamber. We were totally alone - no guard, no other tourists. There's not much to see in the room, aside from a massive stone sarcophagus, but it was pretty cool, realizing you were inside a 4,500 year old structure. We also managed to spot some 19th century graffiti - as Lis would later say, "Who bothers to add serifs nowadays?"

Inside the Mastaba of Idu, Scribe

Following the Great Pyramid, we went inside a few of the other tombs. The first was a Queen's Pyramid, where the guard offered to take pictures of us and where I had my first offer of baksheesh rejected (he wanted more, which Lis gave him). Next were a few small but well-decorated tombs. In one, I recognized the Obama hieroglyphic.

3,500 year old boat

We wandered over to the Solar Barque museum, which looks like some sort of grain silo you'd see on a farm in the Midwest. Inside, we slipped on our protective shoe coverings and stepped into the museum... blessed AC. The boat was gorgeous - though the Pyramids are obviously what you come to Giza to see, it was neat to have the more humanizing elements, like the painted tombs and the boat, to keep it all in context.

My pushy camel.

Next, it was time for our camel ride. Lis and I clambered onto our camels, which were led by a bored kid who probably should have been in the Egyptian equivalent of middle school instead of working for tips in the desert. My camel wanted to go first, even though it was roped in back of the other. I successfully clutched my camera, water bottle, and the saddle in front of me - I could see where others had been less lucky, as the sand was scattered with loads of empty plastic bottles. It was not the most comfortable experience, but by the time we got the the viewpoint overlooking all three pyramids, we were into it.


We continued our ride over to Khafre's pyramid complex. Our poor young camel wrangler kept asking, "You happy? You happy?", but we had promised Nibal we would let her take care of payment and tips. We hopped off our camels with relative ease and headed over to the adjoining temple. I hadn't realized it would be so large, but it was a great lead up to the Sphinx. We took our goofy pictures with the Sphinx before walking up and down its one side. It has a tail!

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