Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis, etc.
Yesterday (Oct. 16) we started early in the morning (8 AM) with a visit to the Giza Pyramids. We saw all three of the great pyramids, rode a camel (I think I got my holiday card photo for 2010 ; > ), climbed down INSIDE Chefren’s pyramid Indiana Jones-style, visited the Solar Boat museum, and then went to see the great Sphinx. It was just amazing and our guide was pretty patient with us (we are training him to let us spend more time taking photos/video, etc.) — he let us stay there 4 hours (instead of 3) which was really necessary. I cannot imagine going on an organized tour where they only let you stay a couple of hours usually. That would have been really rushed and we would not have been able to do all that we did I think. By the way, on the camel ride, my camel’s name was Michael Jackson and Barbara’s was named Mickey Mouse. : > MJ was a nice camel and I had a good (but very rocky) ride. Got my photo on the camel with Chefren’s pyramid in the background (that’s the one with the outer coating on the top of it still remaining). I think it is the most recognizable pyramid and my favorite.
After our pyramids visit, we visited two obligatory shops (no matter how you try to escape this on even customized tours, the tour operators always take tourists to these shops because they get a commission from any purchases tourists make). So, we were taken to a papyrus shop (where a guy there talked to us about how papyrus is made without ever making eye contact with us from what I could tell). Then, we went to a shop where they sell Egyptian cotton garments. Both shops were WAAAAY over-priced. Barbara and I will shop on our own in our free time because then we can haggle with the sellers more (on the streets), and I don’t plan to really do this until the end of my trip anyway (don’t want to carry the stuff with me all the way). But it was somewhat interesting seeing the items for sale and learning something about how papyrus is made.
We then returned from the pyramids to our hotel, took showers (because it was rather sweltering yesterday at about 38 degrees C or just over 100 degrees F) because we were DRENCHED with perspiration from the day. Cairo has had a bit of a “heat wave” this week they say — yah, right… I think they just tell people that because they don’t want them to cancel their trips — the reality is that it’s bloody hot here no matter WHEN you come outside the months of December-February which is high season and you’d pay top dollar then. Egypt could not afford to have a tourist season of just 3 months a year, so they tell people that they have a “spring” and “fall” and it’s cooler then. Sure — instead of 120 degrees F, it’s 100 degrees F. Right. But I knew this all along. Just go on http://www.weather.com or http://www.wunderground.com and check out Egypt’s temps in years past and currently and you’ll see this has been a going pattern for quite a while. So, you just have to suck it up and deal with the heat if you want to come here. I have been drinking at least 2 liters of water during the day and more at night… and I’m still ALWAYS thirsty. It’s pretty incredible. Fortunately, bottled water is pretty cheap — about EGP 2-2.5 (about US$ 0.50) for 1.5 liters — which surprises me considering this country is just a big desert. However, they do have oases and my current 1.5 L bottle says the water in it comes from the Siwa oasis (which I will visit later in my trip) out in the Western Desert. I also plan to try out my Steripen Classic soon as it will allow me to sterilize the tap water from my hotel room (and I won’t have to use bottled water to brush my teeth anymore). Today, our guide actually told us not to believe what people say about Egyptian water being bad for you and that it is OK to drink it. Umm… NO. That’s not safe and I don’t know anyone else who would advise that to travelers. I have no idea why he would say this, but I think that someone needs to explain to him the risks of hepatitis A and various bacterial problems one can catch from water in this country… especially if one is a foreigner and has no resistance to it. Anyway, I have NOT taken his advice and I AM sticking to my program of using ONLY treated, bottled, or boiled water. Period.
So, last night after our showers, we hopped in the car and drove to the Mena House Oberoi hotel (very posh; originally established as a hunting lodge by an Indian moghul of some kind). We had a look around and took some photos, and then continued on to the Giza pyramids to see the Sound and Light show. Narrated by the “voice of the Sphinx”, this rather cheesy show hits the highlights of Egypt’s ancient history, pharaohs, and pyramids while laser-like beams hit the pyramids themselves, projecting images and symbols on them. However, did I mention that the haze in Cairo is rather thick? Well, it was particularly thick yesterday and so the illumination did not show up all that well from what I could tell. The colored lights on the Sphinx, however, were beautiful and I’d say that people mainly attend this show in order to photograph the Sphinx and pyramids at night as they are colorfully lit up. Personally, I took a few photos (trying to hold my camera perfectly still so as not to get blurry night photos), and then nearly fell asleep during the rest of the show. The narrator’s voice was so monotonous — picture the old British voices used in various Star Trek episodes in the 70s — really kinda hysterical but also very sedating for me. At times I had to catch myself from falling over asleep on Barbara or the guy sitting to my left. Reminds me of the time I fell asleep during an evening performance at the Sydney Opera House after a full day of sightseeing. Sigh. : /
Anyway, after the Sound and Light show we just came back to the hotel and fell into bed. I went to sleep at about 8:45 PM — not sure if it was the emotion of the day seeing the great pyramids and Sphinx, or residual tiredness from my flights a few days ago, or just the slow-paced, droning Sound and Light show that exhausted me, but I slept soundly until 5:45 AM this morning!
Today, we met our guide at 8 AM again and drove off to see Dashur, Memphis, and Saqqara! At Dashur, we visited the Bent and Red pyramids. We climbed down inside the Red pyramid Indian Jones-style again and it was a rather challenging climb on the way back up and out. However, it was well worth it as we were able to access three inner chambers/tombs. At Memphis we saw sites where Ramses erected many statues featuring himself (of course) and other symbols of his reign in Lower Egypt (although he actually ruled from Upper Egypt). At one time, Memphis was the main capitol of Egypt. Then, at Saqqara we saw the very first pyramid-LIKE structure in the world — the Step Pyramid! They say this is the first stone building ever built. It’s a series of mastabas (square-shaped structures placed one on top of the other much like a wedding cake). It was built by the great architect Imhotep to house King Zoser’s tomb (Old Kingdom) and it was built over the course of about 10 years (completed in about 2650 BC). The Step Pyramid is being restored on two sides, so there was some scaffolding, but the structure was still quite impressive and I was just thrilled to see this building which later led to the famous pyramids seen at Giza.
We stopped at a Persian rug weaving factory on our way to lunch, but I didn’t buy anything. All the carpets were incredibly expensive. I mean, a little 10 in. x10 in. square bit of woven wool was US$ 60. And what am I going to do with that? I mean, I guess my cat could curl up on it, but seriously…. It was kinda useless. Still, we did get to watch them weaving the silk carpets and the wool carpets. But they were not even 100% — but blends of silk and cotton or wool and cotton. So, the place was pretty overpriced I think. But that’s the deal with the obligatory shopping stops tour operators make — they just want a nice commission. I will get much better deals later on the streets if I want to buy anything.
So, we had lunch at what our guide said was a more traditional Egyptian restaurant. In truth, it was just a tourist restaurant just like the others we’ve stopped at so far. The only difference was that we sat outside and we arrived there at 2 PM AFTER all the tourists had already left. So, by then the buffet was closed (which may have been a good thing) and we were served a selected variety of dishes at the table. Many were vegetarian items — so, no problem there. But I look over across the lawn and spotted a fellow sitting with a rather strange looking dog in his lap. Then, I looked a little closer and saw that it was actually a LION CUB. The guy caught my eye and gestured to me as if to say, “Would you like to come and see?” I quickly turned away, however because I do not support that sort of thing. I won’t get on my soap box here, but suffice it to say that as much as I LOVE lion cubs in particular, I won’t encourage the taking of those animals from the wild in order to make money from tourists petting or photographing them. Ok, there… I’m done.
After lunch, we returned to our hotel in the Doqqi district of Cairo and so here I am catching up on my writing and e-mail. Tomorrow we’ll drive out from Cairo about 2 hours to the east to see the Suez Canal which should be interesting. The next day, we’ll tour Coptic Cairo, the Citadel, etc. Then, on Oct. 20, we go to the west of Cairo near Al-Fayoum oasis to visit Wadi Hitan (Valley of the Whales) where we’ll see whale fossils out in the Western Desert since that area was once all under water thousands of years ago. So, stay tuned for more reports on that later. Signing off for now — Laurel — OUT.