12th May 2006
Today we headed for the great Pyramids of Giza which were not very far from the hotel at all. When we drove up to them, being in the back seat of the 4-wheel drive I could not actually see them until I got out of the car. When I did, I was in shock. I jumped out and we had parked right in front of the great Pyramid of Khufu. I thought we may have had a little bit of a walk but, no we were only about twenty-five meters away!
I charged off in the direction of the pyramid, but unfortunately my parents were not as quick and were set on by souvenir hawkers. One especially aggressive man accosted my mother and wrapped her head in a piece of material, grabbed her camera, took her photo and demanded money. He got very angry when she wouldn’t give in. It took Dad swearing at him and threatening to call over the police to make him go away. I felt really bad for Mum, this is why she came to Egypt and now here she was nearly in tears. I went up and hugged her and said, “Don’t worry every place has its assholes, don’t let that bastard ruin your experience.” Sage advice, if I do say so myself.
When I reached the great pyramid of Khufu, only then did I actually realise its true size. The block I was standing next to was almost twice my size and as I looked up from its base, I could barely see the top and it had almost blacked the sun from my vision, except for a few stray rays that crept over the top and reached their arms out to the country. I proceeded to climb the Pyramid, once or twice getting a little higher than people were allowed to go and getting yelled at by the guards, “Pretty Girl! Get down from there!”
We were then taken to the Pyramid of Khafre, still bearing some of its outer casing. Shireena said that if we wanted to go into one of the pyramids this would be the best one as it was less expensive than the Great Pyramid and less crowded. She also said they were all the same inside, something I knew to be false, but for some reason I kept quiet about that fact at the time. My mother of course thus chose the cheaper and less crowded option, something I’m sure she regretted as soon as she saw what she was in for. We paid our twenty Egyptian Pounds to get into the pyramid and then we were led inside. We had to almost crawl into the one-meter-high entrance and walk half hunched over in a downward direction all the way to the burial chamber. I loved every second of it, even though there were plenty of tourists; I still felt like Indiana Jones crawling into a lost tomb, I couldn’t believe I was finally doing this.
When I came out into the burial chamber, I was confronted by the mark left by the archaeologist that opened the tomb, G. Belzoni 1818 I felt as though I was in the presence of greatness as I inspected the in-situ sarcophagus and then was ushered back up the tunnel. To my surprise and my mother’s relief it was actually easier getting out and going up than it was coming in and going down. I must admit that I later teased my mother for thinking the entire pyramid was going to come crashing down after standing for centuries, at the exact moment she entered the burial chamber. After our ejection from the Pyramid of Khafre we then did some exploring. To my enormous relief the place between the two larger pyramids was virtually deserted, except for a few stray camels. I walked my parents right around the back of the pyramid, this was of course one of the reasons I had been allowed to come. I would make sure they got the most out of the Egyptian part of their trip and show them things none of the other tourists would find.
On the way up to the plateaux to see all three pyramids at once, Mum asked Shireena about our camel ride, which was supposed to be included. She argued with Shireena all the way about it and eventually Mum being Mum won out. Getting onto a camel is not something I think one can do with any amount of grace or finesse. The camel sits down while you climb onto him and then you lean back as the camel first puts his back legs into a standing position and then you lurch forward as he then does the same with his front. Mine was called Moses and I trekked around the Pyramids of Giza for about an hour on him. I actually managed to do some filming while riding a camel, which I thought was pretty clever. I couldn’t help thinking if the people back home could see me now! Riding a camel is not like riding a horse. The only scary part about riding a camel is actually getting on the thing in the first place. They move at a nice slow pace and don’t scare at loud noises. They also just sort of slowly wobble back and forth, not like a horse which is quite jittery even at a slow pace. After the camel ride we spent some time admiring the view and then took off for the Sphinx.
Although very impressive, the Sphinx was a little smaller than I had imagined. It sat in its enclosure looking out on the mess of a Cairo street and to my surprise looked straight at KFC! I think that I could have stood between the Sphinx’s ancient paws and yelled for a Twister Combo with no tomato, and I probably would have got one. I could not believe how close to the city the Sphinx was. It was at the Sphinx that my mother’s belief that this was a good place was revived. I wandered around for a while and found her sitting talking to this little boy of no more than twelve years. She seemed happy and the boy asked her if this was her beautiful daughter (referring to me) and would she take ten thousand camels for her, which made my mother laugh. He gave my mother some little statues of the Sphinx and the Pyramids for free and wouldn’t except money when my mother tried to give him some. I know my mother will cherish these objects for the rest of her life. I also bought a wooden camel and an Egyptian beaded head dress, more haggling.
We then headed a short way down the road to a papyrus maker, which I knew I would enjoy. Sheerina dropped us there in the capable hands of one of the guides who proceeded to attempt to show us around and tell us the many stories and religious rituals portrayed on the many papyri hanging on the walls of the rather large shop. We came to the first one which was the so called “Judgment Scene” shown in the famous Papyrus of Ani and the first thing taught in most high schools, and the guide said, “Does anyone one know what is going on here?” My mother immediately dobbed me in, “My daughter knows!” she called out. It was quite a long papyrus, so it took quite a while, when I had finished I glanced back at my parents who looked quite flabbergasted and proud and then the guide said well done and took us onto the next picture, which he also got me to explain. I ended up doing all the guiding and the guide was very impressed and flattered that I knew so much about his culture.
Sheerina met us outside the papyrus shop and we got back into the car and drove for around half an hour to reach Saqqara. On the way I noticed this part of Egypt was very green and that there were a lot of palm trees. Peasants on donkeys walked past the car, carrying produce on their backs and farmers worked in the lush green fields that ended abruptly in seemingly never-ending desert. Again, I marvelled at the difference and beauty of this wonderful place.
We reached the Step Pyramid of King Djoser, the world’s very first monumental construction in stone in the middle of the Egyptian day. By this time it was extremely hot, we were led up through the enclosure wall and then through the temple and there it was, the pyramid I had been waiting to see. It was amazing and deserted and when I looked the other way to my surprise I could not only see the pyramid of King Unas, which looked like a crumbled down old wreck compared to the much older step pyramid, but in the distance, far away at Dahshour I could see both the Bent and Red Pyramids that I thought I was going to miss. When I looked down, I was surprised how high up I was, when I actually looked at what I was standing on I realised I was standing on Djoser’s massive enclosure wall.
I really felt like Indiana Jones at that moment & the entire experience right then and there took my breath away.
After Saqqara we made a short stop at “Memphis” and then we were taken to the Nile Hilton to wait for Tamir, this was a fabulous hotel and actually had panels from the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak on the walls. I looked in the shops, while my parents had something to eat, and was offered a 70 per cent discount on anything in the shop because I was a “Pretty Girl”. We then met Tamir and were transferred to el Giza station to get the sleeper train to Luxor. We waited on the platform for Tamir to get our tickets and stood there talking to him until the train arrived. While I was waiting, I realised that I had left my Indiana Jones hat in the taxi, I told Tamir and he said not to worry and that he would find it for me. I almost said, “Do you know how many taxis there are in Cairo?” But of course Tamir being a native of Cairo would know that of course.
While we were waiting watching train after train, I decided to put on my traditional Egyptian head dress that I had bought, Tamir immediately started laughing at me as did all the Egyptian men going past on the trains. Tamir said “I don’t think this hat is meant for wearing in public?” I said “Why not? When in Rome, I lost my other hat”, to which Tamir replied “Miss Kristina, this is Belly Dancer Head dress.” I gave an amused giggle but refused to take of the head dress. Tamir seemed most amused by the way I didn’t care what people thought and even more amused when I gave the next load of passing Egyptians on the next train a wave. He was having a good old chuckle at me, but it was all in good fun.
Before the train came, Tamir asked us if we would like anything to drink and went and got the drinks and then refused to let us pay for them. We thanked him and I actually drank black tea with no milk, this is the traditional way to drink tea in Egypt and milk is not usually offered, I discovered I actually prefer tea this way, how odd. More and more I was seeing how good natured the Egyptian people were and by this point my mother’s faith in them had almost been completely restored. I reminded her again later, there are assholes in every country, don’t judge every country by its assholes, quite profound I thought.
Our train arrived moments later, it was old looking and the carriages were a deep red, not unlike the old Sydney “Red Rattlers.” We hurriedly boarded the train and said goodbye to Tamir. As I ran towards it, I thought good God, what is this going to be like? Images of crowded trains in India ran through my mind.
To my surprise and delight, the train was very nice; I was taken to my own private cabin, which had a fold down bed for me to sleep on, much better than a plane. I remember thinking that this train was better than the city rail trains in Australia and many Australians consider this place to be third world. I was brought dinner and nice cheap vodka and orange, the food wasn’t the best, but it could have been worse. The cabin even had soothing panpipe music being piped in and they even played Frank Sinatra, they must have known I was coming.