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Zoser's Step Pyramid

I don't know where to even begin for this entry.  So much has happened in the last few days - lots of sensory overload.  If you prefer order over chaos, you may not dig this place, but for some reason I am fascinated by everything from the sights and sounds (lots of car horns) to the sure insanity of everything.   I am sure there is some sort of order to it all but I am not privy to it, so I have just surrendered any desire to understand everything/anything and have enjoyed the mayhem.  I have also felt comfortable here walking around for the most part.  Sure there are stares but most comments I hear are Welcome to Egypt!  I think part of this is due to the ever present police on every corner and at every major sight.

Inside a tomb at Saqqara
 

So Margaret made it here just fine and as I suspected, we sat up and talked and caught up.  Day one we hit the Egyptian Museum, first floor, which houses King Tut and the Royal Mummies along with about another million artifacts.  Now I did catch the traveling King Tut exhibit last year in Chicago but the Death Mask and sarcophagi are still here and absolutely stunning.  The Royal Mummies were fascinating.  Ramses II had amazing fingernails and hair, not bad for having been dead since about 1213 BC.  On the plane ride I read Horus magazine in which Dr. Hawass wrote an article about a recent identification of Hatshepsut, a female pharoah that ruled during the 18th Dynasty, and she was in there as well.  Apparently she was considered "obese" but we could not tell how that determination was made.

Our tour guide at Saqqara taking us for a forbidden photo
  After about four hours we decided to come back for the ground floor and as it turned out they were closing early for Ramadan.

After that we set off to buy our train ticket to Aswan. On the walk over there we made friends with a local guy who was very nice and ended up walking us to the station and up to the counter for tickets.  The tourist overnight train is about $60 and the regular train, first class, less than $20, so we opted for the latter.  At the counter the guy told our friend that we could just show up Thurs. before it leaves and get tickets.  We were skeptical but had no reason to disbelieve.  Then our friend walked us all the way back to our hotel, taking us out of our way which got me a little frustrated, but he stopped and bought us fresh juice on the way (mostly because he could finally eat and was starving by then).

Step Pyramid - see where the desert meets oasis courtesy of the Nile
  Back at the hotel we parted ways and chilled.  We eventually met up with the travel guy at the hotel who started in on his talk about tours.  I immediatley shut down and doubted every word.  He was certain there was no way we could get a train ticket to Aswan as this weekend Ramadan ends and everyone is heading out to visit family.  He even made us go back to the station to ask again to prove his point.   That was an adventure.  This time the place was swarming with people.  There were about 12 men behind the counter and people trying to buy tickets butting in line and forcing themselves to the front.  There are police everywhere and one encouraged us to get in a different line - mostly so men would not get in front of us.
Giza Sphinx and 2nd Pyramid we went inside
  I've never seen such disorganization.  We finally got to the head of the line and the guy sent us to another one where the guy spoke English and sure enough no tickets.  Defeated we went back to the hotel for bed as we had an early start the next day.

That was just day one.  Day two we got up about 5:30 a.m. and set off for Saqqara, Dahshur and the Pyramids of Giza.  We hired a taxi for the day to save the hassle of finding a cabbie at each sight and haggling over price.  First stop was Saqqara, which was nice because we got there when it opened so we were literally the only people there, but on the flip side, that meant all the attention of those trying to make money off tourists were on us.

Pyramids of Giza
  It is interesting that the pyramids were basically a means of giving the people something to work for and live for, spending their lives building it for their pharoah.  In some senses today they still provide the same as the locals make a living at these sights by offering tours and camel rides and selling souvenirs.  Good if you are interested in this sort of thing, but it can get in the way of enjoying the history of the place.

Anyway, we had a guy that just immediately started showing us around Saqqara, but any gesture they make, such as pointing out something obvious or showing you the way, they expect baksheesh or money for.  You are not supposed to take pics inside tombs either, but they took us inside and told us to take photos and then expected money for it.

Camels and donkeys and tourists, oh my!
  We paid about 10 to the first guy (2 bucks) which was probably too high but we were trapped in this tomb with three of them demanding money.  I had to just get over this annoyance so I could take in the sheer power of these places.  At Saqqara is the oldest pyramid, the Step Pyramid.  We did not go in there but took pictures outside and went in tombs.  I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Egypt because it seemed like a dream!  At Dahshur we went inside the pyramid, which involves walking in tight spaces and descending into the unknown.  You get inside these things and you can really feel the weight of the pyramid on you in a sense.  It rendered me speechless.  The Bent Pyramid is also at Dahshur but you can only admire it from a distance.
Climbing is not allowed but a tourist police let us over a rope to take a pic but wanted baksheesh of course
 

Between stop one and two our driver pulled over to pick up a hefty bag of fresh dates off some farmers.  We sat in the grass and were fed dates by this young gal who laughed when I bit into one that was not quite ready.  Oh well.  It was fun and neat to see them harvest them and how they dry them out.  The drives to the sites were also fun because you go through these crazy streets with lots of cars that share the road with goats and donkeys and camels and geese and bikes/motorbikes and any other transport possible.  I could not drive here that is for sure.

So the Great Pyramids of Giza!  Wow.  That is all.  Just wow.  All I can come up with.  We chilled by the Sphinx and gazed at the pyramids.  Their size is overwhelming and I cannot get over the design and how they perfectly constructed them.

Bent Pyramid
  We did go into the second pyramid.  I just stood in there with my jaw dropped not believing I was inside this amazing structure.  Afterwards we grabbed photos up top along with every other tourist in the area.  Actually the crowds were not that bad for the day.  If you gaze off from the pyramids though, you will see on the edge of the plateau modern suburbs.  It is a truly bizarre sight in itself.

We made it back to our hotel, took showers and were out for a nap at that point.  Egyptian Museum, Saqqare, Dahshur and the Great Pyramids all in just two days!  After we got up we had to figure out how we were going to get out of Cairo on our way to Aswan.

Pyramids at Giza
  We chatted with our friendly travel agent again who assured us he could get us a ticket and as it turns out, it is only going to cost us an additional 35 pounds ($7) to "encourage" the train manager to giving us one for tonight's train.  It is interesting to see the system at work here. 

Today we took it easy and walked around Islamic Cairo and then Coptic Cairo.  The main bazaar is located in the Islamic part but since Ramadan ends today and the festivities start tomorrow, most of the shops were closed.  It will be interesting to see this place after Ramadan.  During the day lots of restaurants are closed, and we lucked out running into an American studying at AUC who pointed us in the right direction as far as finding a bar that is serving alcohol during this time.

Inside second pyramid - you take the stairway up and into a tomb
  So we tried the local brew last night.  Incidentally this student just arrived in August and will be here a year.  Hearing her say that she will be here for a year, she was almost on the verge of tears.  She said she was having a bad day but she seems overwhelmed here.  She is frustrated with the stares and the segregation between men and women.  I keep forgetting about that until something happens like the bus incident in Turkey when the man would not sit next to me.  Here it is much worse.  We rode in the first two cars on the Metro today where all of the women sit.  I also was in line to buy the tickets and men kept jumping in front of me.  At first I did not get it but I finally just got angry and pushed my way in.
Giza
  Margaret said she saw a woman go in a different line and up to the front.  Women are also more observant here and conservatively dressed.  We try our best to cover up and that may be why we have not had as much difficulty as we anticipated. 

So what more can I say.  This place is like none other.  I am literally exhausted between the gang buster sight seeing of places I've been longing to see all of my life and taking in this city and its 21 million people and 2 million cars.  The streets are so alive and busy, and you must always be on guard as a pedestrian as it can be life-threatening here.  I have already seen two people hit by cars but luckily they only suffered scrapes.  The rules of the road seem to be if you are in front, you have the right of way and the lines on the road do not matter nor are there speed limits.

Drying dates in the sun
  There is so much going on that you cannot take it all in.  People are friendly and have helped us along the way.  The frustrations have been few -  the stares, the corruption, the constant requests for baksheesh - but my shell has hardened enough by now.  We met a gal who was traveling here solo from Peru and she was longing for travel buddies. I think I could do it here alone, but I am so glad I have Margaret to share this with and to unwind with after the day.  Sometimes it is nice just to have a witness to what you are seeing and that is definitely true for the chaos that is Egypt. 

    

chrisrae says:
Jensclass - you are not supposed to climb the pyramids. A few have died trying, but for enough money, anything can be done in Egypt. And the dates were tasty but only when ripe.
Posted on: Oct 18, 2007
mamadee2001 says:
OMG Chris, I so wish I was there with you. Just reading about your experience makes my imagineation run wild. I expect extensive details when you get home!! All my love
Posted on: Oct 14, 2007
sheffey3 says:
Cris, Your trip is insane. I have all different feelings while reading your blogs. Inspired, jealous and the occasional lump in the throat (and I am not even your sister). Absolutely amazing.
Posted on: Oct 14, 2007
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Zosers Step Pyramid
Zoser's Step Pyramid
Inside a tomb at Saqqara
Inside a tomb at Saqqara
Our tour guide at Saqqara taking u…
Our tour guide at Saqqara taking …
Step Pyramid - see where the deser…
Step Pyramid - see where the dese…
Giza Sphinx and 2nd Pyramid we wen…
Giza Sphinx and 2nd Pyramid we we…
Pyramids of Giza
Pyramids of Giza
Camels and donkeys and tourists, o…
Camels and donkeys and tourists, …
Climbing is not allowed but a tour…
Climbing is not allowed but a tou…
Bent Pyramid
Bent Pyramid
Pyramids at Giza
Pyramids at Giza
Inside second pyramid - you take t…
Inside second pyramid - you take …
Giza
Giza
Drying dates in the sun
Drying dates in the sun
Snack time
Snack time
The Nile - the pollution is so bad…
The Nile - the pollution is so ba…
Harvesting dates
Harvesting dates
Sphinx with Great Pyramid behind
Sphinx with Great Pyramid behind
Cairo
photo by: vulindlela