The Great Pyramids, The Sphinx and Saqqara

Trip Start Dec 09, 2005
Trip End Jan 01, 2006

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Flag of Egypt  , Al Qāhirah,
Wednesday, December 14, 2005

  Dec 13, 2005, We started the day with an early morning breakfast before heading out at 7:30 to visit the ancient landmarks that most people envision when they think of Egypt. The moment we both looked forward to had come and it was time to see for ourselves these great wonders. The ride out to the Giza Plateau was supposed to take about 45 minutes.     However, due to an unusual amount of thick smog that blanketed the city, the short drive turned into nearly one hour and a half, as our tour bus wove in and out of the sea of cars and pedestrians, who jet out between moving vehicles with seemingly no thought for their safety. The morning traffic was like nothing I have never seen. Imagine hundreds of cars attempting to travel down the narrow streets lined with people waiting for bus transportation, while school children walk down the sidewalks, oblivious to the bustling activity around them. Oh by the way, did I mention that there are no traffic lights here in Cairo. You heard right. At least, we have not seen any so far.

What made the matter even worse was that the soupy fog that enveloped us seemed to be getting thicker the closer we got to Giza. Many on the bus began to complain that, of all days, this incredibly thick fog would show up today and possibly ruin our chances of viewing the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx (as if anyone could do anything about the fog). But Anita and I remained silent, not wanting to speak anything negative about the situation. We knew the fog would eventually burn off and the skies would clear as mid-morning approached. So we held our peace and just thought about being able to have this experience.

As we approached the Plateau, I could barely see the Pyramids off in the distance. Three massive structures standing at attention amid the great expanse of desert land. I pinched Anita and said, "There it is, the Great Pyramid, exactly where it has stood for the past 4,700 years and here we were seeing it in person for the first time!" I was beyond excited. This was truly a jaw dropping moment (JDM). As we exited the bus, the fog was still heavy. We could not see the top of the Great Pyramid, and could barely make out the two lesser pyramids in the near distance. I started to think that those on the bus might be right about coming all the way and not being able to see these fabulous structures. Our tour guide assured us, however, that as the sun got higher in the sky much of the fog would eventually burn off.

In the meantime, we went over to the Solar Boat Museum. One of two royal boats discovered in 1954, it is said that this boat was owned and constructed by the individual who supervised the building of the Great Pyramid. It was found buried in the desert, covered by huge limestone slabs, and was later reconstructed. The museum is so concerned about maintaining the authenticity of the site that they require all visitors to wear these little canvas covers over their shoes to prevent scuffing up the wooden floor of the museum. So we walked around looking like ducks as we viewed photographs of the reconstruction of the boat, two small scale models of the ship, and finally, the actual boat, a magnificent structure made of wood and tied together by ropes made of vegetable fibers. This self-paced tour took about 20 minutes and was very interesting.
Once outside we could see that the morning sun had done an excellent job of burning off the fog. Now, we were able to see how large the pyramids really were - especially the Great Pyramid. Imagine standing on the sidewalk in front of the Empire State Building and trying to see the top floor. You have to lean back just to get a glimpse of it. Same thing with this pyramid. Anita and I took our, "Look mom, we are here, hello from Cairo pictures," and I picked up a few post cards from one of the street vendors who was working the crowds of people coming to see these ancient monuments.

That's another thing I have found to be very interesting. These vendors are everywhere we go, peddling everything from post cards to beaded necklaces to canvas shopping bags and book marks, among other trinkets. Anita is pretty good at looking past them and not buying anything. But I have pity on them, and I just can't help purchasing a little something because I know this is their livelihood. Call me a sucker if you want.

After viewing the pyramids from nearby and afar, we were taken over to the site of the great Sphinx, a massive block of carved stone sitting in front of the pyramids, staring into the distance as if on guard for some enemy that might be approaching. The sad part is that the Sphinx is staring directly at a Pizza Hut and KFC in the nearby distance. These American icons are sadly part of a little village that has sprung up around this great site, probably where many of the vendors live. According to our tour guide, the local officials are trying hard to get the village people to move because all of their activity so close to the ancient site is causing some erosion of the Sphinx and threatens its long-term survival.

After that we walked over to the camel farm and decided to get on board for this unique experience. My mom had warned us not to be tricked into getting onto the camel because the people charge you, not to get on, but to get OFF! But since Anita and I had already determined to take a camel ride, we were fine with that. The cost for each of us to ride the camel was 15 Egyptian pounds or about $3 each, and it was worth it. The ride was short, only about 10 minutes, but that was enough. I'm not much for riding around on animals, especially not smelly ones, but this was really fun! Our camels were attached by a short leash as they followed the guide around aimlessly. Getting off that animal was no small feat. I nearly tipped over as the camel bent its bony front knees, tilting me forward, and then its back knees.

After that unforgettable experience, we were treated to a buffet lunch at the lovely Le Merdian hotel and Spa there in Giza. This place was beautiful and the buffet lunch was outstanding. And after the long ride to Giza, and all of the sightseeing, we were ready to eat.Yummy, did anyone say time for a nap? Man oh man, I really pigged out this time.
 Because of our delay getting out to the Giza Plateau, we quickly finished lunch and headed over to Saqqara, one section of the great necropolis of Memphis, to see the oldest known of Egypt's 97 pyramids, the Step Pyramid, which changed the way pharaohs were buried in ancient Egypt.   The extensive complex that surrounds the pyramid is the first structure built of stone by the early Egyptians. Our tour guide provided us with a brief history of the place and we walked around and took pictures. Another first for both Anita and me, we wanted to capture these moments to share with family and friends back home and around the globe.

Leaving Saqqara, we headed over to our last stop for the day, a local carpet factory. There we saw these young boys and girls trained in the art of hand weaving rugs made of silk, wool and cotton. The owner or head master told us about the school and shop that he ran and how it was designed not only as a business but as a means of training young persons in an ancient art and trade providing them with a means of earning money for school and one day helping them to start their own businesses. Afterward we visited the shop where the head master displayed several rugs and spoke of their high quality. And then came the big sale pitch. I must say, I was tempted to buy one. However, once I converted the price of this one rug I liked from Egyptian pounds (5.75 pounds to one U.S. dollar), I had a change of heart. The rug was beautiful and obviously of excellent quality, but I decided against purchasing it. It felt good being able to walk away from such temptation and not having to drop $1,150 (U.S.) on a small silk rug. It was hard, but I still have several more days to bring something back.

After getting back onboard the bus, I thought about what had just happened and realized that I was only one potential customer who had walked away. And the salesman knew there would be someone else who would come in later to buy. The business goes on. I wondered how much each child earns for making those rugs, some of which could take up to six months to complete. Thoughts of U.S. child labor laws swirled around in my mind, but I had to remember that this was a school, not a sweat shop (even though the kids worked while sitting on small wooden planks placed on the cement floor of an obscure building out in the middle of nowhere). The tour was interesting and I considered our day a success and was ready to head back to the hotel. We took lots of pictures and hope to upload a few soon.
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globetrotters on

You are very welcome, Cristina. And you are absolutely right, the entire time we were making the sign we were laughing. I drew the letters and Michael diligently colored them in. He's good at that. Some people were watching as we did this and they thought it was very peculiar. But then they thought it was pretty cool that we did that for someone. Then we explained that Cristina is this crazy woman in San Diego who loves pictures and special people like us.

To answer your question, no you cannot go into the pyramid. We were pretty disappointed about that. But we still enjoyed being that close to these fantastic sights.

So look for more incredible photos.

Love you lots,
Michael and Anita

Holly on

I went to Egypt in January with school, and I'm pretty sure we went to the same rug factory you mention. I felt the same way you describe about these kids. Thanks for so much for writing this because I was the only one in my group who was affected by the situation. I hope you enjoyed the rest of your visit.

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