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The Pyramids

January 2, 2008

Tom – Got in the car at 8:30am and were taken for a full day of Pyramid tours.  Aziz twisted his ankle getting in the car after dinner yesterday and was unable to act as our guide so we were given Mohamed, one of his sons from his first wife.  It seems Aziz has four wives.  Number one wife has three children with Mohamed being the youngest (27).  Number two wife has four children.  Number three wife has two children.  Number four wife does not (yet) have any children but Mohamed said that he is working on it.  We were told that Aziz spends one night a week with each wife and uses the other three days to recharge his batteries.

We started at the Giza Pyramids – the sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the World.  The complex at the edge of Cairo is dated about 2000 BC.  Like everyone else, we had learned about these pyramids and seen pictures and movies throughout our lives.  However, considering their age and seeing their size and the intricacy (workmanship) of the massive enterprise, we were indeed impressed.  We were able to buy two of the 150 tickets ($20 each) that allow you to go inside The Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) in the morning.   You climb up stairs cut into the bottom six layers of limestone block and then enter a tunnel that goes about one third toward the center of the pyramid.  Then you go up a shaft by way of a steep incline (45o) about 4 feet high until you reach the burial chamber where the sarcophagus still remains.  Just before we entered the shaft, we waited for 40 Asians to come down.  They were huffing and puffing and perspiring from so many being in the shaft at the same time, hunched over to keep from hitting their heads.  Thus we were able to go up and down quickly before the next group came.

We then drove to a nice overlook of all three pyramids.  Many people were negotiating horse, donkey or camel rides.  Everyone was being hassled for “baksheesh” (handouts) or to buy some trinket.  We decided to walk around the perimeter of the second pyramid (Pyramid of Khafre – Khufu’s son) and marveled at the top which seemed to have no support as the rocks under it were gone.  There we saw a lady getting off a camel and then being asked to pay-up.  She gave him something but he clearly didn’t think that it was sufficient and kept at her as she tried to get more money out of her hip pack.  Finally her husband, a fairly large man, intervened and the driver still kept after them.  I guess that there is one fee to get on and ride the camel and then another fee to get off!!!   There was also an enclosed building behind the first pyramid that protected one of the large wooden funeral boats.  The third and smallest pyramid was the Pyramid of Menkaure – Khafre’s son.

There was a long causeway that led up to Khafre’s Funerary Temple at the base of his pyramid.  At the bottom was the famous Sphinx (appearing smaller than expected), the winged monster with a woman’s head and lion’s body who set riddles and killed anyone unable to answer them; thus protecting the pyramids.

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The Step Pyramid (Pyramid of Saqqara) is about 13 miles south of the Giza Pyramids and is older (2650 BC).  It was built by Zoser and is Egypt’s and the world’s earliest stone monument.  It was built in five layers and, though badly damaged, is still impressive.  Zoser was pretty smart because he had false treasures enclosed in the pyramid (knowing the grave robbers would find them) and had the real treasures buried nearby in two separate vaults (which they were excavating as we watched).

Our next stop was a carpet factory.  We were given a tour and explanation of the carpet making process from the silk worm cocoons, to the threads, to the looms, to the making of the knots, to the finishing touches and borders.  Children were making the fine carpets because of their small fingers.  It was explained to us that they went to school for 4 hours and worked 2 hours each day and that the factory was helping them learn a skill.  We were then brought upstairs to a huge carpet display area with thousands of carpets.  Our carpet guide (a.k.a. salesman) gave us hot tea and proceeded to describe the myriad of carpets available.  What size, design, color, and quality are you interested in?  Of course, just for looking.  Do you like silk, wool, cotton, warp/weft/knots?  Each answer resulted in the viewing of several carpets.  Price? – not to worry, you will get best price, with discount!  Helen asked about different designs and named a few of the examples he showed; he knew then it was not going to be an easy sell.  After pricing several new carpets, Helen noticed the antique ones.  Now the price really skyrocketed.  Even though we knew all along what was coming, it was still hard for Helen to extract herself from the showroom.  One of the tactics is to make you feel guilty for NOT buying something.  We were obviously keeping those poor children in poverty!

Memphis was once the capital of Egypt.  It was founded at the border of the “Upper and Lower Lands of Egypt.”  That is, where the Nile Valley meets the Nile Delta.  There isn’t much left, a small museum built around a large limestone statue of Ramses II that is laying on its back and an outdoor sculpture garden.  There were the usual stalls and hawkers of merchandise surrounding the parking lot and Helen bargained for a bright 2 x 3.5 woven carpet with fish, birds, etc. for $10.

We ate “lunch” around 3pm at an excellent roadside restaurant.  It was an opulent place with camel rides, baby lion to pet, antique cars, traditional Egyptian musicians, and a large display devoted to Egyptian movie stars and the last king of Egypt – King Farouk, who was deposed in 1952.  We had lamb and chicken Kebob (grill on the table to keep them warm) along with about 10 different garnishes.  We insisted that Mohamed and Wahil eat with us and we all had a good time.  Arriving back at the hotel, we were tired and tried to go to sleep early since we had to get up at 3am to get to the airport by 5am.

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