Port Said, Egypt

Trip Start Jan 13, 2009
Trip End May 13, 2009

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Today we completed an item from our bucket list. We rode camels in front of the pyramids of ancient Egypt. Today we would again be on an adventure of time and space. Today we were in Lower Egypt and were viewing sites built in the First and Middle Kingdoms of the great civilization of Ancient Egypt.

Our ship had entered into Port Said the previous evening. We arose early as we had a tour of the pyramids that would entail a two and a half hour journey into Cairo and Giza where we would visit the most famous pyramids of Egypt. 5:30AM comes early, but we are in the desert and morning and evening travel is preferred to midday travel. As we had traveled north from Safaga to Port Said we had felt the lowering of daytime temperatures. So although we were ready for high temperatures, we were anticipating more comfortable temperatures as we explored the sites of Ancient Lower Egypt located in the Sahara Desert. To our delight the temperatures during the day were perfect. Warm enough to realize we were in the largest desert on earth but cool enough to be comfortable during our adventures of the day.
The trip into the Egyptian capitol of Cairo was on buses like the ones that we had used in Safaga when we traveled to Luxor. So we enjoyed the trip inside of these modern buses equipped with air conditioning. Today we would have a tour guide who had graduated with a BS degree in Tourism and was registered with National Tourist Bureau. She was a very good guide full of knowledge of both old and new Egypt. And most importantly a good command of the English Language. It seemed that most English speaking Egyptians spoke our language very well. As the bus pulled out from the crowded narrow street by our dock side, she began telling us about the Egypt of today. Port Said is a modestly sized city that was founded in 1858 at the opening of the Suez Canal. This meant that Port Said was not an old city by Egyptian Standards. It is the main port before entering or exiting the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean side. It is not a large city approximately the size of Luxor.
The road that we traveled was a smooth four lane road with a wide center divider strip. This wide divided road  took us from the Suez Canal, thru the edge of the Sahara Desert. into the city of Cairo and across the Nile River to Giza. Like Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt was divided by the Nile into the Land of the Living on the East Bank of the Nile and the Land of the Dead on the West Bank of the Nile. The east side of the Nile was the city of Cairo and on the west side of the Nile was the city of Giza with only the river to distinguish the boundary between these two large cities of over twenty million people. But it was not just a river; it was the Nile. Although there were security checkpoints along the highway, they were not at a quarter of the frequencies of their counterparts in Upper Egypt that we encountered on our trip to Luxor. As we traveled into Cario, we appreciated the importance of the Nile River to both old and new Egypt. All areas around the Nile River or one of the canals from the Nile River, was full of greenery, people, farms, and the other signs of life. The areas of Egypt that did not receive the waters of the Nile River were desert. Here in this area of Egypt, the desert was the Sahara Desert, the largest desert in the world. It would take the Nile River, the longest river on earth, to provide the environment that would nourish the civilizations of Egypt from the beginning until the current time.
As we drove into the outskirts of Cairo, we saw one of the problems facing the urban planners of Cairo. The land along the Nile River is very valuable because this is the land that can produce the food that is needed by the people. But, the land is also valuable because of its location to Cairo and people are living in larger numbers on the outskirts of the city. The answer to the proper use of the land is not yet fully decided. So in this vacuum of indecision, apartment buildings are being erected in large numbers in the outskirts. This may eventually be the deciding factor in the decision of land use around Cairo. The normal facades of new construction is not found in Egypt, as most of the buildings are left in their native look of concrete, stone, or brick. Another usual look for the apartment buildings is created by the law that says the taxes on uncompleted buildings are lower than the taxes on completed buildings. These gives rise to the unfinished tops of almost all of the apartment buildings both on the outskirts and in the interior of the cities of Cario and Giza. As common as the unfinished look to the buildings are the numerous amounts of satellite dishes on the tops of the structures. In old infrastructures the satellite dish is a quick expediency to receive the connection with the outside worlds of entertainment and news. As we entered the city of Cario we were immediately face with yet another urban problem for the city. The traffic of twenty million residents is overwhelming both in number of vehicles on the road and the manner in which they drive. To this traffic load can be added the approximately three millions of commuters that live outside the city limits. It also appears that like Californians, the Egyptians do not like to crowd their cars with more than one person. Traffic lights, signs, and street lanes are merely suggestions and not rules to be obeyed. The three lane road we were traveling quickly became a 7 lane road even though the original three lanes were still painted on the roadway. It appeared that the cardinal rule obeyed was that the vehicle with the loudest horn has the right away on the road. The traffic problems abated somewhat as we crossed the Nile and left Cairo, entering the city of Giza. Just a short distance from the river, the character of the town changed and donkey carts and other livestock made their appearances along the sides of the streets. Our street we traveled would take us out of the city to the town of Sakkara . The street was accompanied by one of the many canals from the Nile. Even in the Land of the Dead; there was a need for water.
As we traveled out this road into the past, we could see the landscape, cityscape, and people change as we journeyed farther from the Nile. We were in the area of the Sahara Desert that is most easily recognized; the area of sand and rock. It was here that the oldest pyramid in Egypt stands; the Step Pyramid of Sakkara. It was built here in the First Kingdom when the pharaoh first began to build the pyramids that have come to symbolize the ancient civilization of Egypt. It is currently the oldest of the 107 known pyramids in Egypt. We must remember that it is estimated that only 30 percent of ancient Egypt has been discovered. And today as were exiting the bus at the Step Pyramids, we were told and saw the site of a recent discovery of what could be the 108th pyramid in Egypt. About ten feet of the top has been excavated out of the sands of time and desert that has hidden it for thousands of years.
We were finally here in front of a pyramid. One of the items on both our Life's Bucket list was to ride a camel in the front of a pyramid. The time had come and we were in the place to complete that entry on the list. So after taking in the grandeur of the oldest pyramid, we went upon a hill be the side of the pyramid to the site of the camel herders. We had been told that the going rate for a camel picture was $1 US and $3 US for a short ride on the camel. That may sound cheap, but remember the cost that it takes to get to the site to ride the camel. But that was what this adventure was about; to go places, see things and do things that we have never done before. I negotiated for the rides as Harriet was too overwhelmed by the scene before her to think of anything but getting on the camel. We were told to be weary of the camel herders as they would charge too much or in some cases would charge a small price to get onto the camel and a much larger price to get off the camel. With our camel herder, I found that to be untrue. Yes, he wanted more money in the negotiations; but once we had settled on a price and conditions for the ride, it was final. He was friendly and very helpful to us as we learned how to remain atop of a camel that is arising, walking and descending to the ground. When they refer to a camel as the ship of the desert, they may be referring to its ability to carry cargo across the vast desert of the middle east. But we believe they are referring the rocking back and forth, as if we were astride a ship breeching gigantic waves in the ocean. When the camel rises from the ground, he does so with his hind legs first raising the back of the camel almost five feet from the ground. You find that the large saddle horn in the front is valuable to brace against falling over the head of the camel. Then the camel rises from the front; this time causing you to fall back toward the rear of the camel. Luckily the saddle horn that you braced against the forward throw of the camel; would now be the grip that would provide a stable hold to prevent you from rolling off the back of the camel. The camel is much wider than a horse so that bracing with the legs is more difficult than on a horse. And remember that camel saddles do not come with a pair of stirrups to balance your feet and therefore your body. So at approximately six or so feet above the desert floor, you are there balancing your body against the rolling of a moving camel. This was an adventure in itself. Although we did not master the art of racing across the desert on the moving back of a camel, we did master the feat of getting on, staying on, and getting off a camel without falling and injuring ourselves. That was a feat of mastery that was not shared by all members of our tour who were not foolhardy enough to try and ride a camel. This was a feat in which we had full appreciation of our accomplishment. So each of us, in our own turn, rode a camel in front of the oldest pyramid in Ancient Egypt; the land of the pharaohs. We had accomplished a feat that not even the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt could do as camels had not yet been introduced into Egypt at the time of the pyramids. Not until the time of the Arab occupation of Egypt would camels be brought into this part of the Sahara Desert.
We had taken more time on the ride than we had planned and was close to being late for the bus. That was something that we have been successful in not doing so far on our adventures around the world and was determined not to be guilty of here. So we ran almost a half mile back thru the hills and pyramids out into the parking area and down to the line of buses. As we ran, we passed several of the other members of our bus tour. We even passed our tour guide who ran part of the way with us and then told us to go on alone as she would walk the final steps back to the bus. We had returned to the bus before the final minute had elapsed on this segment of the tour.
As the bus pulled out of the site of the Step Pyramid, we were content to be moving on to the other parts of our tour. Although we could have spent much more time at the sites we visited throughout the day, we did spend the enough time to appreciate the history and beauty that unfolded before us on our adventure into Egypt.
Although it was near our lunch time, we had time for a short stop at a Gold and Silver Market in the City of Giza. The women seemed to appreciate the terms "gold and silver" more than the men on the tour. But even I was impressed with the amount and loveliness of the gold and silver objects in the market. It was a just a short stop as we were off to the Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel for a luncheon. But the stop was long enough for Harriet to buy herself and Shelby a gold cartouche, both with our family name written in Egyptian Hieroglyphs.  All of the tours met for a large luncheon on the second floor of the Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel. We had several tables that were marked for use by the people on our bus. To the rear of one large round table was a line of picture windows with a view of the Great Pyramids of Giza. So we ate lavishly of many dishes and varieties of food and deserts before a window of one of the most famous and easily recognized sights in the world, the Great Pyramids. Again we were given the choice of drinks. Again we decided on beer. Again the local beer was Stella. We refreshed ourselves and rested for the task on completing the remainder of the tour.
It was only a short distance in space between the hotel and the Great Pyramids, but it was a different story for the environment and the time. We left a modern urban hotel in the city of Giza and drove across the street to ancient pyramids on the plains of Giza, a part of the Sahara Desert. It was one short ride on the bus and one long journey into the deserts of Ancient Egypt. Yes, we were at the top of an ancient desert hill on which stood three large pyramids that looked down on the modern city of Giza and just beyond to the Nile and across to Cairo. This was Egypt of today, a mixture of old and new. Egypt is a land that can show the advancement of man thru the ages in just one scene.
We have studied and thought about the pyramids for about a year, since we had first decided to take the world cruise. We had watched shows on the Discovery Channel that showed recreations of life in Ancient Egypt. But standing there between the two largest pyramids in Egypt, we were not fully prepared to comprehend what we saw. Only standing there for a few brief moments of time that is moving from the beginning to the end of time as man knows it, could we appreciate the history that is Egypt. We were here in the land that has existed since time was. Here at the side of one of the pyramids, we were able to go inside of the pyramid. It was thru a small square opening that although was wide enough for two people to rub pass each other, it was only four feet tall, just tall enough to walk crouched over at the waist thru the complete darkness inside of the pyramid.  Even the ancient Greeks considered the pyramids one of the Seven Wonders of the (Ancient) World. We were also near more camel herders and again we would be able to experience a ride on a camel in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza. There is no rule that says you can only complete an item on your bucket list once.
But no tour of the pyramids can be complete without a visit to the Sphinx. With the head of possibly the Pharaoh who had built the largest of the Pyramids: the Sphinx has the body of a lion. It was guarding the pyramid against grave robbers who would defile the body or the processions of the Pharaoh. As fearsome looking as the Sphinx was, it did not deter the robbers. With this lesson in mind, later pharaohs would hide their tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Again with only the exception of Tutankhamen, this, as can be presently seen, has not been a determent either. We drove out by the side of the pyramids to an area just in front of the pyramids. Here after parking and walking to an old stone wall of about 4 feet in height, we were to capture our first view of the Sphinx. One photograph and we were rapidly walking in toward the Sphinx. Although it has been sitting in this location for thousands of years, we would only be here a short time and so we hasten forward to get as close a view as possible. The area around the Sphinx is walled, with one side wider and with two pass ways for people. To allow better viewing or for other reasons there are no guardrails to prevent falling from the wall that surrounds the Sphinx. But to get the best view and being aware of the fall, we along with the crowds that also were there to view the Sphinx, crept to very edge of the wall for our viewing. From the front and side of the Sphinx, you can look up the desert hill of sand to the Great Pyramids of Giza. The giant Sphinx rather than deter others from approaching, attracted people to come forth and see part of the wonders of the Ancient World. As we stood there watching you could see an occasional gust of wind pick up sand and whirl it down the hill towards the Sphinx. We knew that we would shortly be back on our bus and headed back across the desert to the Port of Said; but now we were taking in our last memories of this ancient land.
In the evening the ship slipped from its berth and headed out onto the Mediterranean Sea toward Athens. When the Egyptian Empire was at the end of its domination of history; it was conquered by the next great civilization of man. The nation was the birthplace of Democracy. The nation that thru the brilliance of Alexander the Great; conquered not only Egypt but the other known civilization of the time. We are heading to Athens where the ancient Greeks ruled and formed the basis of government that has flourished throughout time; Democracy. We shall be there in two days' time, not a long time in the long history of man.

Where is Harriet? Hunt 
In this hunt Harriet is in the front of the Step Pyramid of Sakkara waiting to ride a camel. Come on over and take a camel ride with us.

Linda on April 17, 2009  

Well today I think she is standing to the left of center and to the left of the man in dark clothes, you can see her head and partial body behind the man in light blue shirt and darker jeans with hat on. in front of person in dark shirt. That’s the best I can explain it. Hope she enjoyed the camel ride. I hear they are pretty bumpy rides

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