Dr. Romance in Cairo, Friday, 11/30/07 Up at 6:30 AM we look out the balcony to see -- nothing. A pea-soup fog has descended over Cairo. We stagger onto the bus, and drive a few blocks to "The Pharoahs"
fancifully decorated barges upon which we sail on the Nile, while eating breakfast. There's a sausage-looking thing on the banquet table, and I ask about it -- it's a date! We only see dates that are dried and cured in the states, but this one is fresh. I bite into it, and it's awful -- a bitter, mouth-puckering taste. Egyptians eat them, but I won't.
The fog is clearing, but still too thick to take photos, so we content ourselves with the Pharonic replicas on the boat, and also take photos of us steering the boat.
The sense of Unreality that will mark this day begins here. It's so hard to believe we're sailing on the Nile, the very river Cleopatra used for a main highway. After an hour of cruising, resting and eating, we're happy to get back on the bus.
Another long, but pleasant countryside drive, to Sakkara. Lamia says customs are much more strict here. We pass many lovely small mosques, beautifully decorated. The Step Pyramid of Sakkara is the oldest known of Egypt's 107 pyramids (Lamia says there are supposed to be over 200 and asks us to look for the missing ones) and built by Imhotep. This was an important step in learning to build pyramids.
We enter a small temple filled with two rows of thick sandstone columns, which opens out into a great courtyard with the gigantic step pyramid on the right, across the open space. Again the feeling of unreality descends, as if we're on some movie set. I have read and heard about these things since grammar school. (My 6th grade class project involved copying hieroglyphs onto the walls of a pretend pyramid) and to be here is unbelievable. The hectic pace of this tour heightens the sense of illusion. But it is real, I can touch the rock walls. It's inconceivable that a people without modern machinery could move and stack these massive thousand-pound blocks of granite. The many vendors here are real enough -- everything is "one dollah American" because it's the end of the ship tourist season.
Mostly Egyptian and European tourists will come here now, by plane, because this is the coolest time of year here.
The next stop is "the company store" -- the approved shopping place turns out to be lovely, huge, and packed with handcrafts and jewelry. Cartouches are surprisingly reasonable, and we each order a silver one with gold glyphs. The heiroglyphs for Tina are a rising sun, a feather, a wavy line, and an eagle. On the handcrafts side, they actually will bargain, so we get some things and feel OK about the prices.
Back into the busses and back to Giza, with quite a bit less traffic because of the holy day. the Cheops pyramid, the largest of the three is awesome. It was constructed in 2500 BC, covers 13 acres of land at its base, and is made of 2,300,000 2.5 ton blocks of stone. It is the only survivor of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Two respectfully smaller pyramids, those of Cheop's son, Chephren, and his grandson, Mycerinus, are nearby. The trio are really impressive.
We begin at an overlook, where we take pictures. There are saddled camels resting nearby, and of course we have to try them. A driver says to me "name is Moses" repeatedly, so I say, "OK, Moses" and he says, "No, not me -- the camel! My name is Ali" So, with effort, I get up on Moses' saddle. Ali leads him a few feet, and asks if I want to go further, but I decline. Richard is on another camel, going in the other direction, so I want to stay close by. They get both camels together, and take several pictures of us.
Then Ali wants Moses to kneel so I can dismount, but Moses has other ideas. Ali (who apparently speaks camel) and Moses snort, spit, grunt and groan at each other for a while, as I bounce up and down in the saddle. A good thing there are two pommels, before and behind me. I hang on for dear life. Then Moses finally gives in, and I try to dismount, but get my right foot caught on the rear pommel. I can hear Richard in the background, having an argument with his driver, but I yell with some urgency, and he comes over. Richard and Ali together manage to get me off Moses' back. I'm certain Moses is relieved. Everyone is now yelling, but thankfully we have our ubiquitous Men in Black, one of whom comes over and tells the camel drivers to back off. We pay for our ride, and get back on the bus. We now smell like camels, which is not a good thing.
Next stop, down the hill, is right at the three pyramids. It is possible to go inside but not recommended for those who are claustrophobic or have respiratory problems. Richard and I decline. I'm still having some bronchial issues from the California fire smoke, and Richard has allergies. Lamia says there's nothing to see in there -- you just get "a feeling." My feeling is that all of this is still unreal. I look down at my shoes, which are covered with sand, and realize I have the sand of the ancients on and under my feet. For some reason, this makes everything more real, and I snap a picture of my sandy shoes.
Next, we're going down to the Sphynx (to be continued)