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The Big O.E An epic adventure across the world, backpacker style :)

Pyramids and Mt Sinai

EGYPT | Sunday, 25 May 2008 | Views [1886]

How exciting! We got to see the pyramids in real life! And we marvelled at how they could possibly have been built, and how they have lasted thousands of years of sun and wind and sand. Just amazing. From the outside. Going inside is like crawling down a very steep hill, bent double in a tiny, dank, musty tunnel leading to a steam room created from tourist sweat and breathing. Ick! But I guess it's got to be done when you've come all this way :)

We arrived at the pyramids just after 8am, before all the horrid tour busses invaded and before lots of the horse/camel/souvenir touts had started work for the day. We were super lucky to have the Sphinx all to ourselves to explore. It's in the middle of the desert now, but the River Nile used to pass by in front of its feet.

After two hours in the heat, and many photos later, we taxied our way back in to central Cairo to see the Egyptian Museum. Super highlight of whole building = Tutankhamun's mask. Spectacular! Cannot believe it is thousands of years old - looks gleaming and shiny new. And all the jewellery is so similar to what we wear today (except they had tiny fingers and wrists back then). Gorgeous gold necklaces and bracelets, onyx, lapis lazuli and coral inlays. Unfortunately, to get to Tut's room, you have to wade through stacks of dusty, crammed in ruins and statues taken from the tombs, and hundreds of mummies. You know, just stacked on the shelves like books, right where you can touch them and breathe all over them, and the sun and air can get in. I don't like their chances of surviving the next 5,000 years...

Then it was Friday afternoon. Wow. Talk about lining the streets with hundreds of men bowing to Mecca. Right in the middle of the city footpaths. It was a bit surreal at first, and made me think of those born again Christian churches in America. All the peer pressure to get on your knees and pray. Later that evening, eating our felafel, hummous and kebabs at a wee street stall, we got to see the whole thing close up. The call to prayer sounded, and our waiter and the chef washed their hands and faces and walked out to the footpath just beside us, as did all the other men in the area. And for the next five minutes they were up and down, grinding their foreheads into the footpath and saying their prayers.

Who was missing?

No one important. You hardly see them anyway. Just those people covered head to foot in big black nylon sacks. All the mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. They sink back into the shadows. If there is one thing worse than being pressured to pray in the street, it is being forbidden from praying in the street while all the cool men do it.

The next day I chatted with a university educated Egyptian guy who has lots of contact with Western tourists about this whole exclusion and covering of women thing. The scary thing is, he thinks it's natural, and even necessary!!! Imagine, he said, if women were allowed to pray where men could see them. You have to bend forward, and kneel on the ground. And men couldn't possibly concentrate on their prayers if they could see a women kneeling at the same time. Of course not, silly me. It's the same 'logic' with covering hair/face/head/entire body in the street. Never mind that it's bloody hot without all the extra layers.

The next day, we started our Cairo to Istanbul trip with Intrepid. Huge thumbs up to them - what a wicked adventure! We're travelling with four other Kiwis, an Ozzie, two Canadians and three Brits. And our leader is worth a blog entry in his own right - a dreadlocked Australian hippy who has been overseas for twelve years, speaks 15 languages, and was made a Cambodian citizen by the King. As you do!

We went to Coptic Cairo to see Christian, Jewish and Islamic places of worship. And yes, I did enter the mosque through the crappy little women's side entrance, while James walked through the grand front door. And yes, I used my head scarf. And yes, I was covered from my wrists to my ankles. And yes, despite this, they gave me a big green druid sack dress with a hood to divert attention from my female body. And yes, I had to pay extra for the privilege of wearing it.

The next challenge was scaling the 4,000 (yes - four THOUSAND) steps to the top of Mount Sinai, where they say Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. I was knackered by the time we got to the first step. One girl opted to go up another path by donkey. Two others pulled out when they saw the steps. But they say that if you climb all the steps to the top, all your sins are forgiven. It was too good an opportunity to miss. So we ploughed on up. The 'steps' were ridiculous, uneven, enormous boulders. I lost two kilos after the first three thousand. The landscape was incredible. Sheer rocky cliffs for miles. Clear blue skies. Ah, the serenity.

At Elijah's Plateau, we saw the burning bush (where God spoke to Moses 2000 odd years ago.) Miraculously, it was still charred from where it had burned! James pointed out that it was a cypress that was a maximum 300 years old. No matter, we saw plenty of other bushes (including a blackberry vine at St Katherine's Monastery) that are all reputedly THE burning bush.

That morning, there had been 400(!) Russian tourists on top of the mountain for sunrise. So we were prepared to be sharing the summit. We arrived at the top of the mountain with pounding hearts in time to see a magnificent sunset. Not a soul but us. Bliss.


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