Sunday, March 20, 2011

Egypt I - The Great Pyramid

Walking through the airport was quite eerie  We imagined that the Cairo airport normally is quite bustling at any given hour of the day. After picking up our bags at the baggage claim we met our driver just outside. The other drivers were eagerly waiting for exiting tourists which would never come. There were more drivers than folks needing to be driven. Unfortunately as we would discover the tourism industry would be hit the hardest during this time of transition.
Our driver was a man in his young thirties. He was medium build with short hair. He was of course Egyptian and spoke English well. His name was Khalid. He walked us to his car which was not too far from the exit. We then loaded up and made our way to Giza just outside of Cairo. In order to get there we had to pass through the city though.
We were only stopped a couple of times at a few check points on our drive to the hotel. The Egyptian army had the city on lock down during curfew. It was not too much of an inconvenience however. They would just asked for our passports and Khalid's papers. They were quite intimidating with their guns at their sides with tanks and barricades.
After the long drive we finally made it to our hotel. We were really happy with our accommodation. The hotel was really nice. We asked to arrange a tour for the days we would be there. We walked over to the tour company near the lobby and arranged for the same driver that drove us to the hotel to be our guide for the next four days. We gave him the destinations on our wishlist and we negotiated the price. We were happy to have someone who spoke the language take us around. We told him that we wanted to see the Pyramids of Giza first thing in the morning.
We were pretty tired at this point and headed up to the room and crashed out. But it did take a little while to fall asleep due to the traffic outside. Yes, there was still traffic on the road in front of our hotel. It was quite noisy. We were surprised to see so many cars still on the road. It was a major road though.
The next morning we woke up and took a look out the window of our room and had the most amazing view of the Pyramids of Giza. We took advantage of the breakfast buffet downstairs before we headed out. There were very few guests dinning with us, as to be expected. Our driver met us in the lobby and then we headed to the Pyramids.
Before we entered through the gates we made a stop at an ATM to pick up some Egyptian Pounds. As we drove into the parking lot of the entrance there wasn't a single car parked in the lot. We did not need to wait in line, we went straight to the ticket window. We bought tickets to enter the Pyramids and a separate ticket to go into the Great Pyramid. With tickets in hand we were finally ready and went through the entrance gate and behold, in front of us was the Great Pyramid.
We were instantly blown away. We saw it from a far and again as we drove up. But walking to it and being in front of it was another story. The sheer size of the Pyramids were so mind boggling. We had to pinch ourselves several times.
Leading up to the Pyramids were many camel owners offering rides and tours. We politely turned them down. Our driver offered us to listen to his friend's pitch but we again politely refused. We would rather walk around the area. Our driver said he would wait in a designated area for us when we were ready.
At this point we were ready to climb the Great Pyramid and go inside. Climbing the outside wasn't too difficult. We didn't have to go high up to enter it. Once inside it got really narrow we had to start to descend. Corridors in pyramids were narrow and tight. In order to climb down you had to crunch down. Imagine going down a steep slope with about three feet from floor to ceiling. It was uncomfortable to say the least. Yet for some reason it was also exhilarating
We hit a point where it flattened out  and opened up a bit. So then we climbed back up again where we reached the tomb. There was only one other person in the room with us. We sat in almost complete darkness just taking in the history and the peacefulness of the tomb. It was hard to believe that we practically had this entire Pyramid to ourselves. We must have sat there for at least twenty minutes without a single soul entering. After awhile we made our journey out. Latanya was a trooper. She normally does not do as well as she did in such confined spaces.
Once out we drove with Khalid to the other Pyramids. From there we explored around the Pyramids. We took lots of pictures. We wanted to get at least one on camel. We found a guy who gave us a decent price. We hopped on the camel. It is not as easy as it looks to get on one those things. He was quite bumpy but swayed similarly to an elephant but even more so. We had our picture taken and then dismounted. I thought I was going to face plant on the way down.
From there we made our way back to the Great Pyramid. We were next to the smaller pyramids built for the wives of the pharaoh and we ran into some local Egyptians in their young twenties. We got to talking for a bit. We asked them how they felt about the recent step down of Mubarak and they were just elated with joy. They spoke of freedom, relief, and a better more prosperous future. It was really interesting talking with them. We said our goodbyes and made our way back to our driver.
Honestly, I could have spent all day with those pyramids. It was a truly great morning to say the least. I have seen countless pictures, watched dozens of documentaries, read many articles and texts on the Pyramids of Giza; but to actually see them in front of us was truly an absolutely amazing feeling that cannot be expressed in words.
Our driver took us over to the Sphinx next. We have of course seen hundreds of pictures of the Sphinx before. It was really neat to see it in person as well. The history we continued to see throughout our trip was so great. It is amazing to think how ancient this civilization is.
After the Sphinx we headed to an older stepped pyramid. This one we really did have to ourselves. We got to see some hieroglyphs and just explore. I felt like an archaeologist. For those of you who don't know, I wanted to be Indiana Jones as a kid. Well for today I was.
The weather was quite comfortable. Not hot by any means and not too chilly. We were getting a bit hungry at this point so our driver took us to a restaurant near by. But not before asking if we wanted to go to one of those ridiculously priced tourist traps. He was nice enough to  be up front and say that he would get a commission  He just wanted to offer just in case we were actually interested. We politely refused as usual and went to the restaurant instead.
We had a delicious meal. We had grilled chicken and vegetables with rice and Egyptian flat bread. It was a really great meal. We ate outside and met a few other travelers. They were a family of four and also made the decision like us not to cancel their trip of lifetime regardless of the political unrest.
After dinner we called it a night and were dropped off back at our hotel. We said goodnight to Khalid. Day one in Egypt was epic!

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