6/13/10: Cairo, Egypt
Off the top of my head, I can think of three things we’ve seen during our trip that on paper make you go, “Man made that?? I’ll need to see it to believe it.” (To be fair, three is a low estimate – I could make a case for sites such as Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu but I won’t.) First there was the Great Wall of China: a 5,500-mile long fortress built mostly about 550 years ago. Then there were the moai: 887 gigantic statues erected over 500 years ago on the most remote island in the world. Now, the pyramids: 138 structures in Egypt built further back before Christ than I can count, and standing up to 455 feet high while weighing up to 6 million tons.
Just a teaser of the Great Pyramid's full size.
Being perfectly honest, I absolutely loved the moai, but the Great Wall didn’t blow me away in person like I expected it to. Sure, when I stood on it and thought about its history and all the effort it took to build it, I was in awe. But I think I had maybe built up to much anticipation before seeing it. I wasn’t sure going into today which of the above categories the pyramids would fall under.
The verdict? Somewhere in the middle. But I’m pretty sure there are three reasons for this:
- My mind cannot comprehend the ridiculousness (and I use this word in the nicest of ways) of a king’s request to have thousands of workers work round the clock for 20 years just to build his tomb
- My mind cannot comprehend the ingenuity of the building process and the incredible accuracy of the architecture
- My mind cannot comprehend the time (up to 2,500 BC) when these were built
Because of these reasons, I stood in front of many pyramids today and it was hard not to look at them as anything other than gigantic triangles. Then I’d read about them on the wikipedia article I saved and just be blown away. It’s a bit hard for me to describe though, that’s why instead I’ll make a list of the positives and negatives of the day. (A good list always saves the day!) And of course, I’ll post lots of pictures.
Negative #1: Are we in Bangkok? Being driven around on our tour today felt like something straight out of “Lucky Buddha Day” in Bangkok. Our driver took us to two over-priced stores – at the first we were showed how to make papyrus, then pressured into buying a painting on sale for $150 (we didn’t buy it); at the second we watched a one-hour demonstration on perfume before politely saying no to buying anything. Then we were taken to an over-priced camel ride stall, and after we escaped, our driver rolled down his window so that one more guy could peddle the ride to us. (And after we escaped that, the driver told us that those were the over-priced camel rides – he’d then take us to some better ones.)
The worst part of the day though was lunch. We have been eating at fairly touristy places in Cairo, and always spending 25 – 50 EGP (no more than $10) on our meals for the two of us. Here though, after a long speech about how he knew a great place (“the cheapest, best food in town”), our driver proceeded to take us to a fancy buffet that cost 60 EGP… each! We asked him if we could go elsewhere, but he replied that this was the cheapest food in all of Giza, so our hungry stomachs were stuck.
The first of many demonstrations at the perfume store.
Negative #2: Zhou’s almost panic attack. Our first pyramid of the day was Dahshur, where you could go inside for free. After a climb up the stairs about 1/3 of the way to the top, we were greeted by a tiny shaft that sloped at a 40 degree angle back down into the pyramid. Neither of us could stand up straight, so we hunched over and worked our way down. About halfway Zhou couldn’t go any further due to a combination of claustrophobia and bigthingsfallingonher-ophobia. I went on ahead and yelled at her from the bottom that I thought she could make it. When she got down she was breathing heavy and nearly in tears. Sorry Zhou, I won’t let that happen again. On the positive side, we made it out safely.
It was hot even in the morning, but there's not much shade around for the dogs. You can see the entrance midway up the face of the pyramid.
After the long climb down, there unfortunately wasn't much to see.
Negative #3: Governmental camel rides. I mentioned some of them earlier, but one in particular annoyed me. We were trying to show our tickets to the security guy, but another casually-dressed local took them and immediately started leading us away. “I’ll take you to the museum and the statue and then we’ll go see about a camel ride!” I told him we were ok on our own, but he insisted that we wanted no money and that he was just being helpful. I maintained my position and tried to get our tickets back, but he wouldn’t give them up. After a long back-and-forth, I had to call our driver over (he was watching from a little ways a way – I’m sure he was in on it) and tell him to get our tickets back. Later we found out the museum was closed and there was no statue.
In general, the negatives of seeing the pyramids are all the touts. Some walk up and put their arm around you while you’re trying to take a picture, then they charge you for it. Some kids recommend pictures that you should take, and if you do it, they want money. (“Stand here, in front of the Sphinx – good photo!” Nuts, I was just trying to get a picture here but now I can’t because he’ll say it was his idea.) Zhou and I are experts at saying no, but it’s still annoying while you’re trying to enjoy yourself.
Shoot, the camels are coming to get us.
Positive #1: Seeing the Great Pyramid. After our ridiculously over-priced lunch, our driver pulled open the window curtain to show that we were actually very close to the Great Pyramid. I looked out and was quite excited to see it for the first time in real life. It was so big!
Then he took us up to the roof for a better view. It turned out the one we had seen from inside was actually the tiny little one next to the Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Khafre. I felt like Homer Simpson looking outside to see the Murderhorn for the first time.
We first saw that little guy way on the left.
Then, once we arrived at the base of the pyramid, it was even bigger that I would have guessed from afar.
It's even bigger than Zhou!
I'm actually in this picture on the pyramid.
Positive #2: Relative lack of other tourists. There’s a reason tourists don’t come to Egypt in the summer: it’s almost as hot as Jennifer Aniston. On the plus side though, no one’s here! When we arrived at Dahshur, we were literally the only ones there. We were able to take pictures of the Great Pyramid without anyone else in them. If we wanted a camel ride, there were plenty around.
I’m sure that I didn’t fully appreciate everything today, but I definitely appreciated it much more while not fighting a pack of other tourists for the best views.
Positive #3: Taking lots of pictures. Here, why don’t you have a look at some?
Crossing the Nile on our way to Giza.
The classic shot of the Sphinx.
The classic shot of the Sphinx, plus Zhou.
I was supposed to be riding the Sphinx, but it didn't work out.
You call this a pyramid?
Wow, I wasn't even close pointing to the pyramid.
Fortunately Zhou wasn't much better.
Zhou said I couldn't jump the big one, but I beg to differ.
Ohio Picture: After all this time, I still don’t have the ‘H’ down quite right.
Picture of the Day: Security guards trying to keep cool on the Great Pyramid.
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