…maybe about 15 minutes into my trip from Cairo International, heading towards the hotel. It was already dark as my tour guide prolifically rattled off landmarks, proudly, welcoming me to Egypt. But I was there to see the pyramids. He pointed out Saladin’s castle, the president’s living quarters, the tombs, the museum then matter-of-factly he said, “if you look out to the right, you can faintly see the pyramids.” I strained, as they weren’t lit, to see and after a few moments, I did. Wow, I thought. I’m really in Egypt, looking at the *#&$! pyramids!!
The view only lasted maybe half a minute then they were re-hidden by the rest of the landmarks and buildings as we continued. My ultimate sight, done. I could’ve literally turned around and headed back home.
Around 7:00PM, I arrived at the hotel, pyramids are now in full view as I’m residing less than a quarter mile from them and the Sphinx!
“Are you hungry?”
“Dinner will be ready in about half an hour. Is chicken, beef and lamb kebabs ok?”
Without even knowing what that was, I replied, “yes.”
Enough time to unpack (and turn on the AC) before grub, I headed to my room. What no TV!? But wait a minute I thought, I don’t even have a tv at home. Perfect. I’m in freakin’ Egypt… I’m only there for 5 days so I packed lightly. Done, I just stared out the window. Where’s the Sphinx, I thought. Oh, it must be on the other side. There’s a light show beginning that they have EVERY night at 7:30 so I take pictures (the ones below). I look closely, what’s that in the front!? The sphinx! I didn’t even notice it! Wow, it’s right there! So I eat my dinner on the terrace. 3 floors up on the roof, staring straight at Egypt’s, the world’s, most iconic treasure…
Still lagging from the trip and the time difference (-6hrs EST), I just want to chill all day. But I do want to get out and explore Giza a little, the neighborhood, and maybe buy a few souvenirs. As soon as I hit the street, looking like a tourist, I’m swarmed! Statues, postcards, papyrus prints, jewelry, taxis, Korans, etc. I declined them all but one local did take it upon himself to show me around which I accepted. I needed a tour guide even though I had my ‘map app’ just in case I got lost. So we walk. I enjoy walking and he was surprised because he said most tourist don’t. Saying hello, taking in the scenery, the smells – which were horrible with horses common like Hondas, camels like Lexus’ and donkeys like Hyundais all with no “clean up in aisle 7!” After a few blocks, we head to the papyrus museum. Throughout, I’ve been greeted with affection by everyone. Shaking hands, high fiving kids, I’m loving it. At first I’m skeptic, Egypt is struggling economically with over 50% unemployment rate combined with tourism being at an all time low. They’re just looking for tips I’m thinking but I soon felt it was genuine as they said they weren’t used to tourists being ‘on foot’ and actually interacting with them. Handshakes is what I do ( I keep my hand sanitizer close though). I’m now at the papyrus shop, drinking a complimentary and off the hook Egyptian green tea and being shown some beautiful papyrus prints and how they’re made. Mind you they don’t have talls, grandes and ventis. Just one size, 6oz. so I’m struggling wanting more. I soon find out, as we walked again, many shops offered me a drink so soon, I’m loaded with 6oz. of coffees and teas – I’m good. Now upon entering, I see the prices of these prints. 800LEs, 1100LEs, etc. I did little research on Egypt’s currency because I knew they took American but these prices do seem a little high. “I’m just looking,” I said but one print caught my eye. “Only 800 Egyptian,” I was told, “but for you…700.” Now I’m thinking this print is about $350. I might, but i’m not spending that much, it’s not even framed. But I like it. “How much is that in American currency,” I questioned. He brought out the calculator, did his thing and looked up, “About $60.” I’m thinking, ‘what!’ – as I quickly pull out a hundred. Seeing this, now the party’s on! “More green tea,” he beckons as I see he wants that extra $40.
I left with 2 bottles of Egyptian oils, 3 prints and a tip for my guide.
The pyramids of Giza, up close and personal. While my guide was rattling off pyramid etiquette including how to properly dismiss souvenir hawkers, I was marveling at the fact that you can actually climb, touch and enter these tombs. I saw the casings, the outer layer of the pyramids that have eroded over time, while thinking how majestic they must’ve seemed, sparkling white and powerful being seen from a distance. They say the tips may have been layered in gold. There’s no adhesive in between the rocks, each layer is just stacked upon the previous. Precariously of course but to survive numerous earthquakes over thousands of years? Incredible. Did you know that each pyramid, like homes, has a foundation that extends ups to 50 meters below the surface? I didn’t…
Now the entrance. How about climbing through a 3×3 hole at a 52 degree angle that’s about 30 meters deep? Not easy but who travels thousands of miles from CT, USA and doesn’t do it? So I did it – witnessing hieroglyphs designed thousands of years ago and marveled by thousands of individuals ever since. There are over 100 (discovered) pyramids in Egypt. All designed differently to reflect the designer’s taste. Imhotep was the architect who perfected the pyramid design, the specific angles, the coordination towards the heavens, the sturdiness and the beauty. There are actually unfinished pyramids left abandoned, trial and error-ed, before Imhotep stepped in. I visited 9, including the step pyramid, the oldest and designed with 5 plateaus, originally 1 but Imhotep asked if he could add an additional 4.
Cameras aren’t allowed in the Egyptian Museum, unfortunately, but the snapshots in my mind are incredible. It’s 2 levels and guess who occupies the entire second floor? The boy king. His sarcophagus’, his bows, arrows, underwear, jewelry, chairs, step stools, statues are all on display and of course, his gold mask. There were mummies, actual mummies. Did you know that no one knows how the Egyptians performed mummification? Mummified humans, animals, trees, organs, seeds, leaves and plants.
On the first floor, there were mainly statues of kings, priests and slaves. Each were replicates of actual persons and their facial features were evident but there was one, I remember, that stood out. He was the only one with a mustache and he had a small afro. It was just amazing because this dude looked like he could have just as easily been comfortable in the 1970’s!!
I visit Memphis, Saggara and Dahsure. Towns about an hour away from Giza that are enriched with more Egyptian treasures. Ironically, there weren’t many tourists, I actually encountered only 1 couple the entire day, so I had the sites all to myself. I was able to enter another pyramid and this one was no joke. The entrance was longer and narrower than the one in Giza but the hieroglyphs were even more beautiful.
The open air museum in Memphis is amazing simply from the fact that all the statues and finds are in their original discovered place. They decided to build the museum around the items instead of moving them. They’ve actually just discovered more treasures, tombs actually, blocking off that area, waiting for excavation.
I must add that I’m thankful that my tour guide had me visit these towns last because I was done! It felt like leg day!
My last. Since I was hurting, I decided to take a carriage ride around town again and also visit the Sahara away from the tourists. Peaceful and restful, a perfect ending to a perfect trip.
Tourism is Egypt’s moneymaker but unfortunately the Middle East is ripe with terror. Even when I went and took a photo in Tahrir Square, the site of Egypt’s 2013 uprising, 2014 car bombing and recent subway attack, I was a little bit nervous but that’s just catering to the media hysteria (I actually felt more uneasy in that carriage ride). Even my camel ride, normally there’d be nearly a 100 camels lined up for tourists, that day there were barely 20. They’re building a new Egyptian Museum because the old one is too small to house all the treasures being unearthed weekly and just a week before my arrival, they found the grave of King Cheops mother. But unfortunately, they don’t have the funds to excavate and until the new museum is built (2 years), there’s nowhere to house these treasures, so for now they just block off the newly discovered sites and hope robbers don’t come and loot, which is impossible to deter.
Trip of a life time: Done.