I’ve been inside a Pyramid, on a camel in the desert, rubbed down with scented oils and watched the sunset in Giza..
Sunday, May 2nd 2010: Cairo & Giza, Egypt
Nevermind about getting up to a wake-up call. I jerked out of my sleep to the sudden sound of low horns coming through the open window. Disoriented from being woken up so suddenly I lay completely still in the bed, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room. I could only see the white curtains billowing as if the eerie sound of the horns were moving them. Then, as if over an intercom system, a man started singing in arabic with the horns. It was slightly disconcerting at first, then I heard people singing and slowly realized it wasn’t so much that they were singing, but they were praying. And I lay there listening and watching as the sunrise slowly lit the room. It had an amazingly calming effect and the 5 Prayer Times a day instantly became one of my favourite things.
Breakfast was quick, everyone signed up and paid for their optional activities, and we were on our way. The motto of our tour, “Yalla Yalla Habebi! Let’s Go Contiki!” quickly caught on. Our first stop was the Egyptian Museum. Sherif guided us through a condensed history lesson starting in the Old Kingdom and ending the New, mentioning familiar names like Thutmose III, Nefertiti and Akhenaten. Cameras were not allowed inside, so unfortunately I was unable to get shots of King Tut’s Golden Mask and the surrounding glass cases of some of his gold and ivory jewellery. Perhaps not so unfortunately, I was also unable to get pictures in the Royal Mummies Room. It costed extra to get in here, but was totally worth it to see the unwrapped mummies, including that of Ramesses II and the recently discovered Queen Hatshepsut. (think ‘hot-chicken-soup’ – that tidbit was brought to you by Sherif, lol).
One of the notable highlights for me was next: Giza. The chatter on the bus quieted down just a bit as our attention was diverted to the pyramids once they came into sight over the horizon. Surprisingly, we were up pretty high and were able to over look the city of Cairo to the west with the pyramids as a backdrop to the east. Words fail to describe the true wonder of these massive buildings, inside and out. Of course, countless numbers of pictures were taken and some of us paid a little extra for the opportunity to actually go inside one of the pyramids. We were not allowed to bring cameras in with us, and for me that was probably a good thing since I ended up needing both hands to hold on the whole time. The opening hallway went down a path to a small tunnel winding upward with barely enough space for two people to pass and where I was forced to squat and bend forward a full 90° angle to make it through. That tunnel expanded further up to allow for a little more room and, only a third of the way up, my knees and legs were already burning. The passage opened up into a space large enough for me to stand straight and I found myself staring up (almost literally) at an extremely steep flight of ladder-like steps, and I nearly succumbed to a huge wave of intimidation. Once in the room at the top, I felt a great sense of accomplishment but didn’t stay up there long since the air was hot and musty. Looking below, anyone could tell the traverse back down would be just as much a challenge as the climb up – knees bent, leaning back as if sitting in an imaginary chair with my arms braced on the guard rails the entire way. As exhausted and hot as I was after, I would still say that this is definitely a must-do unless you’re claustrophobic.
After our close-up with the pyramids, we were shuttled over to the camels for our rides. The initial nervousness I had about this part disappeared once my camel was on his feet. He was a little rocky on the get up, and I wobbled as we made our way down the first hill, but it didn’t take long to for us to get used to each other… or more like just me to him. Our caravan of camels trekked across the sand, and our personal camel guides stopped in all the picture perfect spots for photo ops. Mine came over, took my camera to take the picture and the nervous feeling instantly came back when I realized my camel guide handed me the rope for my own camel. Thank goodness I did not need to find out if ‘Whoa camel!’ would have worked. I think it was due to the fact that my very confident camel was quite photogenic and he knew it and worked the camera. I was on a camel in the middle of the desert looking out at the pyramids. And it was amazing.
Back on the four-wheeled mode of transport, we bussed it a couple of minutes over to the Sphinx. We stopped for the group photo and were almost immediately greeted by men, women and even children trying to sell all kinds of paraphernalia . It was like this at all the tourist sites and by now we were, for the most part, accustomed to the in-your-face sales pitches. Note well, this would have been the best place to get scarves, which I didn’t realize until after the fact when I couldn’t get/bargain down scarves for the same price anywhere else. Through the gates and inside, it was an opportune time to sit and shake the sand out of my shoes before more picture-taking time. By early afternoon, I had a couple snapshots of a hug and a kiss for the magnificent stone statue, and it was time for lunch. It was the best grilled chicken kebabs, falafel, pita and tahini I’ve had yet. We were welcomed into the home of the Bedouin family soon after and, over a cup of tea, treated to scents of various extracts from plants used in designer fragrances from Chanel No.5 to Yves Saint Laurent. It was a lengthy presentation but entertaining, and I quickly ran out of places for them to apply the samples. Next, we were being led upstairs to the roof of the building to watch the sunset. We’d gone from seeing King Tut’s mask, to the Pyramids and the Sphinx, to walking through a building of local everyday life. There were families whose front doors were open and children looked out at us smiling, laughing and waving, knowing we were foreign. On the rooftop, we had a 360° view of the town around us. We watched as the sun moved slowly and perfectly between two pyramids, with the Sphinx off centre to the left. Every moment here seems like a perfect picture opportunity. To add to the view, the same low horns I heard that morning started to bellow across the rooftops. It was prayer time at sunset. I was at a good vantage point to notice, for the first time, the speakerphones mounted on some of the building tops. Listening to the singing and prayer coupled with watching the sunset over Giza was mesmerizing. I envied the people who live in these surrounding residences for their day-to-day backdrop.
Our day of touring was over. Weary from a full day (and smelling like a concotion of sweet perfumes, lol), we jumped on a train to overnight it down to Aswan. After the long, but awesome, day I don’t think anyone was really prepared for our sleeping arrangements. Without enough room to have both my arms fully outstretched, I don’t need to elaborate on how small and cramped the cabin was. The train ride was bumpy, noisy and made several sudden stops in the middle of the night. Trying to get any sleep was hard and if there is a next time, I will be sure to have an ample supply of Dramamine, a sleeping mask and ear plugs.