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November 17, 2004

Touchdown in Cairo.


After a couple of nights on couches, catching up with friends, we made a move into the world of the tourist. We booked our first ever tour over the internet, an 11 day adventure up and down the Nile. This was a bold step, organised tours are, almost the complete opposite of what independent travelling is about. Shuffled about in air-conditioned buses, taxied to and from pre-booked hotels and lazing about on catered cruises........... hang on, that doesn't sound half bad does it?

After landing, we find our contact and make our way through the customs formalities. After the obligatory mad dash from the airport (honk swerve brake) we are dropped off at our hotel and given a rundown on our itinerary. At this stage we're just happy that someone was waiting for us, so we smile and nod then turn in for the night. In the morning we're meet by our Cairo guide and the tour begins. We go out to Saqqara home of the first step pyramid (built nearly 4700 years old) and learn that before pyramids, the dead kings were buried beneath a large rock slab in the desert (called a mastaba), but were frequently dug up and eaten by jackals. The Egyptians were obsessed with the afterlife - according to their beliefs the body had to remain in pristine condition to rejoin the soul in the hereafter, so having your corpse eaten by a jackal was sort of like death after life after death. So began the cult of the pyramid, a phase that only lasted a couple of hundred years until it occurred to someone that a pyramid was a huge neon sign for grave robbers and a bit of discretion might not go astray. Next we go to Memphis where there is a massive statue of Ramses II in immaculate condition and a few other treasures, before heading to the great pyramids at Giza for the remainder of the afternoon. The approach to the Pyramids is unforgettable, two things strike you straight away. (1) They are big; We met someone who was disappointed, thinking the pyramids were going to be bigger. My questions is, how bloody big did you think they would be? (2) They are right on the edge of town, not in the middle of the dessert as you might imagine. It's strange to see men in jeans and trainers, talking on mobile phones while someone else thumps a donkey in front of the Sphinx, who's cool stone gaze falls on a KFC over the road, like all the ages of human civilisation struggling for coexistence in one moment. There is perhaps no other place that can remind us of not only what we've achieved as a species but also what we've lost. No one really know how or why the Great Pyramids were built, of course there is the official version of events, (great big tombs) but no bodies, hieroglyphics or treasures were ever found in the sealed Great Pyramid and like Stone Henge, no written records exist, meaning our versions of events are still nothing more than well-educated guesswork. Documents detailing the building methods, which reputedly once resided in the Great Library of Alexandria, perished long ago at the hands of torch-bearing early Christians. Egypt oozes old, this ancient culture peaked thousands of years ago while the rest of the world was still slumbering in pre-history and has shaped the course of the world, these are people the Ancient Greeks called ancient. But I digress, back to the tour. After going inside a pyramid (hot, sweaty and claustrophobic), we jump on a camel for a quick trip out into the dunes behind and a different point of view. We say Salaam (arabic for hello and good-bye) to the Sphinx and return to our hotel for a night filled with dreams of the distant past.

Posted by Zach & Emily on November 17, 2004 02:48 AM
Category: Egypt
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