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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

The Grand Finale: The Great Pyramid

EGYPT | Wednesday, 15 August 2007 | Views [3285]

We'd always dreamed of one day traveling to see the Great Pyramids of Giza, but never thought we'd get the chance.  We actually decided to come to Egypt on an invitation from my friend Kim, when we realized we could add the flight into our One World RTW ticket.  Our traveling pace has been so fast that we haven't had the chance to do our pre-reading on Egypt and to truly understand the history behind all the mysterious temples, tombs and pyramids.  So we decide to start with the Egyptian Museum, in hopes to better educate ourselves before we hit the actual pyramids.  Stepping into the museum, we're still not sure we're actually at the museum; there's no big sign on the building that says "museum."  We proceed in through the security screen, metal detectors and baggage scan, and then back out again to stash our camera at the entrance of the ticket office.  One thing we've noticed, in addition to no sign-age, is that there are also no clear set of instructions at sites... so we end up going back and forth several times, at nearly every attraction here in Egypt, to finally be granted entry.  We finally enter the museum, and are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of statues, relics, artifacts and displays.  It's like entering a pack-rat garage, there are so many pieces.  They haven't had time to even identify and label many of them.  We could easily spend a whole day here and still not scratch the surface of seeing and understanding the thousands of years of history held within these walls.  One thing is clear to us, however, that accumulation of wealth and things existed in the extreme here in Ancient Egypt, but much had remained stockpiled and unused until death.  People of Ancient Egypt believed that the more grandiose their pharaoh's burial chamber, the better off all their own afterlives would be.  The amount of gold, jewels and ornamentation that bodies were adorned with after mummification is unbelievable.  King Tut had gold face masks molded to fit over his head, and gold clothing adorned his tightly wound mummified body.  The caskets, or sarcophagus, are intricately designed with carvings and paintings depicting stories and protective goddesses all aimed to see the pharaoh into the afterlife.  Another interesting bit we've learned from our museum tour, is what they do with the internal body organs to preserve them - during the preparation process for mummification, they actually leave the heart in the body, and often they discard the brain after extracting it through the nose.  Also stored in the tomb are 4 small vase like containers made from alabaster called canopic jars, which are used to store the liver, lungs, and stomach.
We also learned that it was believed the pharaoh would be transported from death to afterlife in a special funerary solar boat.  An actual solar boat had been discovered on the Giza plateau near one of the pyramids just recently- in the mid 1900's.  We spent the afternoon rummaging through relics and still feel like we only have a tiny understanding of this great ancient culture and the history behind it.  
To see the Pyramids, we hire a driver and car, which makes it much easier to get around, especially in the extreme heat.  We'd always pictured the Giza Pyramids to be way out in the desert.  What we find here, is quite contrary to our thinking.  The city of Cairo has literally engulfed the Pyramids and developed around them.  So while there's still desert around the Pyramids, they are still in the city of Cairo.  
The Pyramids are a majestic site.  Built over 4500 years ago, To stand here at the base of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid that is the one considered one of the 8 Great Ancient Wonders of the World, they believe originally measured at 146 M high (before the top came off), is to be totally humbled.  To think that these were built before the invention of the wheel... How they carved up each stone, transported them (some say nearly 2.3 million stones), and to have a team, so efficiently build such an orderly, massive structure in unimaginable.  We try to get into the Great Pyramid to crawl down the long narrow tunnel, but apparently the tickets are "finished."  So we settle for walking around it.  We get half way around and are halted by a heard of camels and their nomadic riders.  They stop us, wanting to sell us camel rides.  We learned, however, from a trip several years ago to Rajastan, India, that camel rides are painful - especially for men.  We tell the camel guys "la shokran" (no thanks), but cave under their persistence, and opt for a photo opportunity on a camel, especially for my nephew Tyler, who absolutely loves animals, and is closely following our picture journey around the world.  So we ask "how much" for the photo on the camel, and they reply, in typical Egyptian fashion, "Money isn't important, just take the photo and be happy."  Our biggest learning in Egypt is that you're not supposed to ask "how much."  Especially with taxi rides.  Apparently, you are supposed to innately know how much is a fair price, and pay at the end.  They will argue with you, even if you've fixed a fair price in advance, so you're supposed to just get on with the service, and pay what you feel in fair later - even though it often requires walking away as they argue, yell and complain.  We continue to fall into the our old behaviors, however, of asking "how much" up front, and it's a completely useless strategy.  So, up we go in the camels, and while we're up there, the Egyptian tourist police gallop over on their camels, trying to get all the camel guys to leave us alone.  They leave shortly, probably thinking that we are the suckers who got on the camels in the first place and need to accept full responsibility for our ignorant tourist actions.  So while the guys take our pictures, they also try to ride us off onto a longer trip.  We yell at them, telling them our driver is just over in the parking lot and is going to come looking for us - that we do not want a ride, and also mention that we have NO money for a ride, only for pictures.  They oblige, and we disembark the camels, which is by no means an easy thing to get down.  We must first lean way back, gripping the saddles as the camel slouches all the way down, front lets first, nearly sending us toppling forward.  The camel let's out a loud noise, and the back of it's legs collapse, lowering us to the ground.  Whew!  We're down, off and safe, except having yet to escape the inevitable, heated wrath of the camel owners payment discussion.  They want to charge us over 100 Egyptian Pounds for the 5 minute photo.  We already know that 100 Pounds is the cost for an hour ride, so we give them 20 Pounds and leave them griping for more.
We're thrilled we actually get to go into the second Pyramid, which is a cool experience.  The engineering feat of digging these massive tombs far below the surface, into rock and then constructing the long, narrow, descending tunnel with fake burial chambers to throw off tomb robbers, is quite an experience to feel.  The tunnel is only maybe 3-4 feet high and very narrow.  Only one person at a time, single file, can fit, crouched and doubled over.  As I descend I can't help but to think what if this thing collapses.  But we make it down to check out the chamber, and back up to breathe the oxygen rich air outside.  Again, we ran into extra special treatment for Americans.  Cameras are not allowed inside the Pyramids.  After waiting in a long, hot, sunny line to get in, they tell us that we need to stash our camera in our car (or tourist bus).  After turning away a bunch of other tourists, when she asked us where we were from, and we said America, she happily said she would personally hold and watch our camera while we went into the tomb.  While we thanked her for her kind offer, we said we'd take it back to the car, not knowing whether we'd really see the camera again if we left it with her.  
We shuffled off to see the last of the Giza pyramids and take some panoramic shots.  In the mean time, we must have handed out baksheesh to a half dozen tourist police and others.  The tourist police are the worst offenders - they are supposed to be there to be helpful and protect, but instead, they're out to get your money, pointing out areas where we should stand for optimal photo beauty, or giving a little history blurb. While we know people here are poor, and really need the money, they are just abusing their power, and we start to steer clear of them when we see them.
We save the Sphinx for last on the Giza Plateau.  It's like being at Disney World... A gazillion tourists all snap happy, and we fit right in with them all, snapping photos left and right, pretending like we're on assignment with National Geographic.
We sped off to see the Step Pyramids, which are a little less grandiose, but the Egyptians have done a great job setting up this site as a tourist attraction.  It has it's own museum, very detailed with historical commentary, no to mention air conditioning!  The Step Pyramids of Doojoser in Saqqara were built back in 2650 BC and have a more step or staggered build to them.  They have not survived erosion as well as those of Giza have, but they are a bit more remote, and a treasure to see.  We also saw a bit of the countryside while driving out to Saqqara.  One very striking feature we tend to see out of the cities, are girls or young women with lighter blonde/brown hair, green emerald eyes, and bronze skin riding donkeys carrying the days harvest from the fields.  It's a striking departure from the very dark hair and eyes we tend to see in the locals in the cities.
Today has been one of those days we feel we're living in pages of National Geographic.  It's so amazing, there are far more temples here in Egypt than we have time to see, we'll definitely be back again!

Tags: Sightseeing


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