- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
MAADI’S ADVENTURES IN EGYPT
Friday, is the day of worship in Muslim countries. And on the first Friday that we were in Egypt, we were off to visit the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids of Giza. These pyramids are the most famous and largest of the Egyptian pyramids, and possibly the most famous structures in the world. But they are not the only pyramids in Egypt. There are actually over 100 pyramids in the country, many of which are relatively unknown. And “new” smaller pyramids still are being discovered every few years when the ever-drifting desert sands shift and uncover them. The pyramids we were going to visit were on the west side of the Nile in an area called, yep you guessed it, Giza. I wasn’t sure what a pyramid looked like, but as excited as Bob and Kathy were about them, I figured that they must be something very special..
We left our hotel and crossed over the Nile River and drove down a busy street lined with buildings. Suddenly, we popped out of the populated area, and three of the largest structures I had ever seen towered above us. All three had four sides that started wide at the bottom, and then soared a long way up, each side narrowing, until they merged together at the top forming a sharp point, producing a pyramid. Aha, that was where they got their name.
They are wonders, truly. So it’s not surprising that they are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World .
We parked the car. Bob attached my leash, and we headed toward the structures. From all directions, hoards of people wearing the native galabeya (a one-piece outfit, similar to a long dress) swarmed upon us. From the left someone tried to sell us cheap imitation antiquity pieces; from the right it was postcards; and from behind us someone was trying to get our attention to push some cheap touristy trinket. But what got my attention was the sight right in front of us. Blocking our way, attached to a rope being held by a man, was the largest, ugliest animal I have ever seen. And the smell. That animal stunk.
The animal towered, looking down with an ugly scowl. I ducked behind Bob and peeked around him. The animal was revolting. It bared its teeth and spit at us. Ugh!
I felt the fin on my back rise. Hostility started replacing my fear. It wasn’t going to intimidate me. I moved around to the front of Bob, took a closer look. It was one repulsive beast. I lunged at it. Bob jerked the leash and pulled me back. The brute hissed and spit again. I lunged again against the leash. If Bob had let me, I would have given that animal a lesson in good manners. And believe me, he was badly in need of such a lesson.
The man said to Bob and Kathy, “Would you like to ride my camel. Only twenty Egyptian pounds.”
So that was what that ugly animal was called, a camel. I’m sure glad I wasn’t born a camel. Both Bob and Kathy turned him down.
We managed to push past the camel and the onslaught of hawkers and continued on our tour of the pyramids. Thank heaven the hawkers weren’t allowed inside the area boundaries. As we stood there at the base of the first pyramid looking up at its peak, I was sure that I was going to get a crick in my neck. I couldn’t get over what a magnificent sight it was. That pointy top was a long, long way up there.
Pyramid of Khufu Pyramid of Khafre Pyramid of Menkaure
Great Pyramids of Giza
Pyramid of Khafre
“You know,” said Kathy, “This pyramid was the tallest man-made structure for 4,000 years after it was built. And when the holy family reportedly made their journey down the Nile, these pyramids, were probably visible from the river at that time, and had been for 2,000 years already.”
That sounded pretty impressive. While they were talking, I learned that Pharaohs, the rulers of Egypt a long, long time ago, built pyramids as a monument to their rule, and as a burial site. If these structures were built today it would be a monstrous achievement. But to have built them 4,000 years ago without having today’s big construction equipment, like cranes and bulldozers, was truly incredible, bordering on the impossible. All the experts have a whole lot of theories, but to this day, no one still can say with any certainty how they were built. One theory is that they were built by visitors from outer space. I have a little trouble with that one. I think that is sorta far-fetched, but who knows.
We climbed up the side of the largest structure, the Pyramid of Khafre, and entered a small opening that led to a long, low passageway. It was so low that Bob had to duck the entire trip. At the end of the passageway, it opened up into a small rock room.
When the Pharaoh died, he was placed into a stone sarcophagus, surrounded by all his treasures. That was where the pharaoh’s body was to spend eternity while his spirit passed on to the spirit world. I don’t know if his spirit made it to the spirit world, but his body definitely didn’t make it in the sarcophagus world. Sometime between when he was buried and now, people called “grave robbers” found the tomb, broke in, and stole all the treasures. I don’t know if they stole his body. I don’t know why they would. But for whatever the reason, his body was no longer there.
When he was buried, the entrance was hidden in an attempt to prevent the grave robbers from finding it. However, they managed to find it anyway, along with most of the other tombs in Egypt. Grave robbers were enormously smart people and hard to fool. The sarcophagus, a coffin hewed into stone where the Pharaoh’s body would eventually be put to rest, was still there, and it was kind of an oddity. The sarcophagus was larger than the entrance tunnel, so it couldn’t have been brought in after the pyramid was completed. That means, the pyramid must have been built around the sarcophagus. The builders not only conquered a difficult building job, but they also did a good job of planning to make sure that the sarcophagus was already in place as they set the building stones around it to form the room and the entrance tunnel.
We left the tomb and spent some time walking around the three gigantic rock structures. They were overwhelming, massive. I can see why people came from all over the world to visit them in awe, and why they were considered to be one of the wonders of the world. You won’t get any argument from me about that.
Behind one of the pyramids, we came to the Boat Building that consisted of a large single modern room that contained an ancient boat. It was very similar to the felucca that we had just sailed on, but this special boat was used almost 4,000 years before to haul the big blocks of rock that built the pyramids. These blocks were quarried many miles up the Nile River, floated down on these boats, and unloaded on the riverbank next to the construction site. I was confused as to how the riverbank could have been next to the pyramids since when we crossed over the river we had to drive several miles through the city before we got here. Oh well, there is a lot that I don’t understand at this point. But maybe I’ll figure it out before we leave Egypt.
As for the boat itself, I've seen fancier ones, lots fancier, so I couldn't see why all the fuss. But I guess the fact that it was so old, so well-preserved, and the only one of its kind to be found was a good reason to place it in such high esteem.
After we left the Boat Building we ended up at the Sphinx. The Sphinx is a famous, large statue that stands guard in front of the pyramids. It is in the shape of an animal lying on its stomach with its front paws extended. I lay in that position myself quite often, but the body of the Sphinx is that of a lion, and the face of a Pharaoh, so I guess I will never be mistaken for a sphinx. It was buried in the sand for many, many years, and that helped preserve it. However, now that it has been uncovered, it is having some extremely serious wind and rain erosion problems. The face is exceptionally marred because beside its struggle of survival against the weather, it is believed that it was used for target practice by cannons belonging to the troops of Napoleon. Napoleon was a famous emperor of France who conquered Egypt at one time. However, despite all of its problems, the Sphinx is still a famous and imposing structure.
Sphinx and Pyramids
About this time we started to get tired and thirsty, and Bob and Kathy decided that it was time to head back to the car. I was all for that. My water dish back at the car was calling. As we worked our way back, we left the pyramid area, and there they were, the hawkers with their trinkets, postcards, souvenirs, junk, and camels. Since they could see that we were leaving and that this was going to be their last crack at us today, they were even more zealous and obnoxious, and that is saying something. It was almost unbearable. Bob commented that it was too bad, that since the only places most of the tourists have time to visit are the tourist sites, and the hawkers are the only people that they come in contact with, that that is the single impression of Egyptians that tourists came away with. However, most Egyptian people are very gracious.
Speaking of gracious, the camel owner that we had met earlier was waiting for us as we returned. Graciousness didn’t come to mind when we first met him, but he didn’t seem like a bad sort now. In fact, he was quite friendly. Maybe some of the hawkers weren’t so bad after all. His whole attitude seemed to have changed. He told Bob and Kathy that he liked Americans and that he wanted them to experience Egypt. He would be most honored to let Bob and Kathy ride his camel for free. I thought that was an incredibly nice gesture and Bob seemed to also be impressed.
He said to Kathy “I always wanted to ride a camel. Since this man is so kind about it, I think I’ll take him up on his offer. And because of his generosity, I will still baksheesh (tip in America) him a pound or two when we are through.”
Camel Rider at the Pyramids
He thanked the owner for his offer. The owner tapped the camel on the front legs, and the camel knelt down so that Bob could climb on its back. Better him than me. There was no way they could get me on that camel. As the camel stood up, the motion was so comically awkward that Bob had to hang on to the saddle horn for sheer survival. Each time the camel straightened a leg, Bob went flying off in a different direction. Only a miracle was going to keep him from falling off. It was quite a hilarious scene. But I guess the miracle prevailed, as somehow after the camel was upright, there was Bob, a little sideways, a slight look of terror on his face, but still in the saddle. The camel-herder took a hold of the reins and started walking the camel around the area for several minutes. It didn’t look so tough now. After that disjointed start, it looked like fun. Although doing some serious bouncing, Bob seemed to be enjoying it. I now had some regrets that he hadn’t taken me with him.
After several minutes, the owner led the camel back to us.
Bob bent down and looked at the camel owner. “Thank you very much. That was enjoyable. That was very nice of you.”
The camel owner looked back up at Bob, “That will be twenty Egyptian pounds for you to get off.”
“Twenty pounds!” Bob’s body jerked up, his face instantly changing. “Now just wait a doggone minute. You said the ride was free.”
“That is exactly what I said. And that is exactly what I meant. The ride was free. The twenty pounds is for you to get off.”
Now you see, that was a problem. It’s a long way from the back of a camel to the ground, and getting off from that vantage point was going to be quite a challenge, if not downright dangerous. A broken leg was the best you could hope for, unless a parachute was part of your equipment. The camel has to kneel again in order for a person to get off safely.
Bob was irate; his face was turning a bright red. “That is highway robbery. That is extortion. I won’t pay!”
“Suit yourself,” said the camel owner. “You may be up there a long time.”
“Maybe I’ll just sit here until your stupid camel gets tired.”
“Unfortunately, camels can stand for days. They can even sleep standing up”
“I’ll just bail off then, right now.”
“Go right ahead.” That camel owner stepped back to give Bob a landing spot. He must have dealt with a lot with Americans. He could sure speak the language, and he sure seemed to know how to con the tourists. But I was to find out that the command of the English language is true of many of the people who deal with tourists.
The longer the haggling went on, the harder Kathy was laughing. Actually, if dogs could laugh, I would have been in hysterics myself.
Bob stared down and surveyed the available landing area. You could see that he was weighing the distance to the ground and wasn’t building up much enthusiasm for jumping off.
Finally, grasping the futility of the situation, he gave up, agreed to the price, and then again with a death grip on the saddle horn, hung on for dear life, violently swaying back and forth, side to side as the camel knelt. After dismounting, he vehemently yanked out his wallet, grunted something unintelligible, something that I was sure was not an expression of happiness or gratitude, stuck the money out for the man to take, turned and headed for the car, talking to himself and sulking all the way. Kathy managed to add fuel to Bob’s foul mood as she continued laughing and teasing all the back to the car. I think the final blow was when she asked him if he had still baksheeshed the man as he said he would. I have never before heard him sputter, nor have I ever seen his face turn so red. I felt sorry for him. But not much.