On this day I saw one of the seven wonders of the ancient world…and went inside! I looked up at something I’ve been looking forward to see my entire life and there I was standing at its base and looking up at a perfect angle to something made by theory 1:people or theory 2:aliens (it’s actually a theory).
The Great Pyramid is obviously massive and the climb inside is no easy feat. We climbed up (stopping to pose for photos) and then entered the belly of the beast, slowly because a) we had to climb at an incline for a few hundred feet and b) we were stuck behind a hairy old man who we actually thought would get lodged in the little hole that leads to the sarcophagus room. We stayed a few minutes in the high-ceiling and surprisingly barren room and then crawled back out. We walked around the edge of the pyramid to three small pyramids, Khufu’s wife, mother and daughter (known as satellite pyramids) to the Solar Boat. When kings were buried they were buried with solar boats, boats made entirely of wood and rope, that would bring them to the “other side.” Well this boat was huge, buried in a pit underground and covered with large stones. The boat has since been put back together and a museum was built around it. We had to wear these strange slippers over our shoes to protect the building and boat from dust.
We drove out to the highest hill next and took some customary tourist photos of us in front of the pyramids, all three of which were visible at this vantage point, and then drove closer to each one. The second largest pyramid still has a smooth limestone top, while the smallest of the three is red granite and would have been particularly striking, despite its smaller size. It was easy yet startling to image all three pyramids in their finest glory with a giant painted Sphinx in front to protect the buried kings.
Before walking toward the Sphinx we went into the temple where Khufu was mummified and peaked into the mummification rooms. I was too distracted by the alluring Sphinx, the thing I wanted to see as much as the Great Pyramid and it did not disappoint. They unearthed it years ago from the sand that crept up to its neck. Now you can see its arms reaching far in front of it, the tail whipping around the side and even the coloring atop the headdress of the king. It was beyond spectacular. I got a great picture of me “kissing” the Sphinx.
Mona had set us up to ride Arabian horses through the desert by the pyramids so my sister, Dad and I walked off to find our guide while Mona and Mom (not interested) went back to the car. We had another guide with us who got us settled on the horses – I would say cousins of Arabians – and we started walking. And then we were galloping, full blown, through the desert with the pyramids at our backs. I ride and my father has experience, my sister does not and her pale face showed it. Dad was a bit tall for his horse but it went along fine, Emily clung to her saddle as if her life were tied to it and I struggled to get my stubborn and impassioned horse to comply with my wishes. A crop in my hand did the trick and the horse listened to my commands without my ever using the whip. When he went, he went and it was an incredible ride, a fast lolloping around the desert in an ancient world. Once we’d gone for about a half hour we exited the desert and walked into the street toward the “stable.” On the way I saw a child no older than seven pull himself onto a horse and start at a gallop into the desert – I’ve never seen anything so fearless. We went at a walk down the cobbles and then dismounted near our parked van. We were filthy with dust and our teeth had sand between them and we already knew we would be sore, but it was incredible nonetheless.
On the way to a fabrics store Emily showed me her blistered an bleeding hands from holding onto the saddle so strongly. We all walked around the store with our thighs burning already as we shopped for our galabayas, the traditional dress of Egyptians. On the river cruise there is a Galabaya night and we wanted to be prepared. I bought a bright red one with black and white embroidery – it was very pretty but very unappealing on, more of a sack than dress, which might be the point.
We also went to a papyrus shop and they showed us how they make papyrus, which is much stronger than I imagined and I now understand why it lasts so long! I bought a painting of these beautiful ducks we had seen in the museum. Two of them are supposed to be gods and the other two are the pharaoh. It’s so brightly painted and will always remind me of that one spot, so I didn’t mind dropping the Egyptian pounds on it. We also wen to a lotus oil store where they explained the history of lotus oil and its importance to the ancient Egyptians. It is still made virtually the same way as in ancient days. I bought rose oil and a perfume that has so many flowers in it that it seems to change scent throughout the day, plus i bought a fancy perfume bottle to put it in.
We stopped and picked up our cartouche necklaces as well. I should note that most of the stores we went to were government-sanctioned stores. A majority of items in the bazaar and streets are from China, so the government has specific places you can shop to get real Egyptian goods. We had a last lunch with Mona at a local spot. We gave her an Alex and Ani bracelet (very American) and she was kind enough to get us charms to hang beside our cartouche on our necklaces. Mine was the Eye of Horus. We parted from the woman who took care of us and connected on Facebook – we still keep in touch!
Back at the hotel we went on a tour of the original section of the Mena House, the oldest hotel in Cairo. We saw the old wooden doors and windows, the Churchill Suite and the dusty corridor of unused rooms because the hotel is no longer at capacity. It will be purchased by Marriot we were informed by the nice girl taking us around – I just hope they don’t change it too much. We stopped at the little hotel shop, run by a man selling the same items handmade by his father and grandfather years before. It was another taste of originality and history in Egypt fighting through the Chinese replicas, but sadly it will not last like most handcrafted things that are falling by the wayside in Egypt with the lack of tourism. And yet those are the things that make the place so original.
Back in the room I attempted to get some dust and sand out of my hair before dinner. For once we are dinner in the hotel willingly because it has the best Indian restaurant in Cairo. It was very good and a nice last stop before our extremely early flight to Luxor the next day.