Cairo Christmas Day 2010
It saddens me that as I post this entry on Egypt the country and its people are in turmoil. Our trip experience was enhanced by the gracious people we met throughout our journey who had great pride in showcasing their country. I hope they are all safe and that the political issues resolve peacefully.
We arrived in Cairo on Christmas Eve after a short 4.5 hour flight to find our dedicated guides awaiting us. It was luxury from moment one to the last as our new host whisked away with our passports to obtain our visas and our luggage while we stood around and people watched. Much more relaxing than standing in line ourselves!
Our driver whisked his way through the chaotic freeway system, jam packed with other cars of all sizes, shapes and makes to our hotel in the center of the city. The traffic was dense on this holiest of nights which is not surprising for a Muslim country. Not a one of them at Christmas eve services! We were deposited at the hotel and informed of our 7 am pick up. The first of many early mornings….ug…was
Since we were up early, G managed to snap some photos at dawn of the Nile river outside our hotel. The photos are stunning capturing the calm coolness of the early morning in Cairo. A quick breakfast and we were then on our way to Memphis with our tour guide, Dahlia. We made our way through the somewhat quiet streets towards this former center of Egyptian life passing farms, villages and mansions along the route.
We were one of the first to arrive and we hurried in to see the colossal statue of Rames II which is lying on its back in a viewing pavilion. The statue is said to have been the height of a 5 story building when it was in place. Afterward we viewed the antiquities in the surrounding courtyard which included a 80 ton alabaster Sphinx. It was our first taste of the magnificent sites to come and we were already in awe of the workmanship abilities some 4000 years ago.
Sensibly the next site on the itinerary was the "step" pyramid at Saqqara which founded as the burial city for Memphis. It is surrounded by tombs of the upper class that have been excavated and mere tourists are allowed to enter uninhibited. Dahlia spent a short time explaining some of the hieroglyphics on the walls of these tombs which was very interesting. She left us to explore the grounds and exterior of the pyramid suggesting that we have a peak through a small viewing hole at the pharaoh statue enclosed in a small stone building. After spending 15 minutes trying to find it we had a lucky break as one of the guards, learning that we were Canadian, directed us to it (for a small fee).
Saqqara pyramid is the precursor design for the Great Pyramids of Giza, so our next logical stop would be Giza. There are three pyramids at Giza, the Great Pyramid of Khufu the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaura. It is hard to comprehend how massive these structures are imagine the hundreds of thousands of laborers that would have been necessary to build these tombs for the Pharaohs. Delia told us that most all Egyptians would participate in the building of tombs voluntarily to secure their own future in the afterlife. Given how hard they had to work I certainly hope they achieved their goal!
We were able to descend down into the smallest of the 3 pyramids, Menkaura, to view the burial chamber which I was a bit nervous about. I imagined crawling on all fours to get inside into a claustrophobic little space. However, it required simply crouching a little (for me!) and walking down a wooden planked floor into the center of the pyramid. Once inside it was large enough to hold quite a number of visitors. It was suffocatingly hot in the center of the pyramid which surprised me as I had actually expected it to be cool. The original stone sarcophagus was still in place as the pyramid was built around it and the entrance is not large enough for looters to make off with it!
On the same plain of land is the glorious Sphinx, which is a very mysterious creature. With the ill proportioned head of a Pharaoh and the body of the lion, it is one of the most recognizable monuments in all of Egypt. I had been fortunate enough to see a controversial National Geographic program that suggested the Sphinx predated the pyramids and the head was originally that of a lion. The theory is one of the Pharaoh had the head remade into his father's image to scare the masses into helping with his burial pyramid. I proposed this to Dalhia who had no interest in this what so ever and wouldn't even consider any other historic conclusion than the original. I don't blame her for not discussing with me - I didn't even show up with a tour book to Egypt as G arranged everything!
After our visit we had lunch at the fabulous hotel of Mena House Oberoi which was stunningly beautiful. It really felt very exotic with a the romantic British colonial air and we wished we'd known to stay there. We then agreed to shop at a jewelry store where I bought a silver cartoosh which has my name in hieroglyphics.
Our afternoon was completed with a camel ride into the dessert and a meal at a Bedouin camp (aka tourist trap) behind the pyramids of Giza. You climb onto the camel while it is seated then the camel stands by rising to its front knees then it will stand straight up on its back legs. You have to lean back and hang on or you could go head first into the sand! It was kitschy to ride out on this ancient mode of transport with the view of the pyramids ahead of you but at the same time utterly fantastic!
We capped the day off with a laser light show at the pyramids then returned to the hotel for to review the day over a glass of Egyptian wine. The verdict - a fascinating day!