Sunday 25 January 2009 – Giza, Egypt
We awoke to a much clearer, sunnier day than yesterday, making our day at the Giza Plateau much more enjoyable. Naturally the falafels were unavailable today. Either the ‘beardies’ staying in the hotel had gotten to them first or they were simply not on. Also the toaster had disappeared, and when I lifted the lid of the salver to see if there were any falafels, there was an electric-sounding ‘bang’ as though something had shorted – odd for a dish that appears to be warmed if at all by a candle, but hey this is Egypt.
The pyramids were impressive – even up close. The reported hassles seem to have been substantially cleaned up, according to both reports I’ve read and Chris and Mike and Patricia’s previous experiences. Yes, there were touts but they weren’t trying too hard. I even managed to shut a couple up when we were taking ‘panorama’ photos. They tried to insinuate themselves into photos by standing next to Chris or I; I just told them, in no uncertain terms, to get out of the way – and they did!
We clambered into the Great Pyramid (Khufu, still generally referred to as Cheops, much to Chris’ annoyance). It wasn’t as difficult by a long stretch as the Red Pyramid; it was only made difficult by the busload of Japanese who were exiting as we went in. But once in the burial chamber, we had it nearly to our selves (Chris had been before so didn’t go in again) for a short time. Then another Japanese group came in. We heard them coming – a loud electrical whining noise that gradually got louder. When they finally arrived in the chamber, the sound was very loud. It turned out that one of them was wearing some sort of panic alert device and it was going off. His friends, and several of us, stood around for about ten minutes with torches trying to turn it off. It was surreal and somewhat ruined the experience. Then a group of enormous noisy Russians came in to the chamber, turned around twice, farted noisily and left again. All in all, it was OK, but I guess one of those things you have to say that you’ve done – and that’s why the Egyptian government charges LE100 for the privilege.
While I didn’t go into Khafre’s pyramid, which has recently been reopened to tourists, the others rated it less interesting than the other pyramids we’d entered, and even below Mastaba 17 at Meidum. I did go into the Solar Barque museum, an odd-looking structure off to the side of Khufu’s pyramid built in the 1960s to house the wooden boat that was excavated from its ‘tomb’ beside the Great Pyramid. It was intended for the use of Pharaoh Khafre in the afterlife, for his spiritual journey to Abydos. Depictions of these barques have been in almost every tomb, certainly every royal tomb, we’ve seen. It was interesting in that no nails or fastenings other than rope made from halfa grass, several original examples of which were still in evidence, and which was well displayed in the restored vessel.
Today, and the other days we have visited or passed through Cairo’s west bank (Giza) to get to various sites, we have taken a different route each time. Today’s two trips (one during the day and a second in the evening to see the sound and light show) were no different. I found myself completely disoriented and unable to work out which direction we were going. Even when the river Nile or the pyramids themselves were in site, it seemed to take forever to reach them through the traffic that the driver was no doubt trying to avoid. Still, we enjoyed some close-up views of the street life of the various routes villages and local areas we passed as we went to and from Giza.
Life in Egypt is very much lived on the street, whether in the small villages or the big cities. Outside of central Cairo, western style shops are more the exception than the rule; if one needs any sort of basic household item, food, vehicle parts or clothing, one heads down the street and there seems to be stalls or a person with a blanket on the ground selling it. Chris and I watched an old woman over the road from the Grand selling bread on the corner of the market laneway. She literally sat on the corner with flat bread on a sheet around her, selling it piece by piece. Another ‘table’ sat precariously in the middle of the road a few feet away. Sometimes she would put it into bags; most often, it was in the open and sold by the piece.
Back in the evening for the Sound and Light show – in Arabic and German – hardly any audience. Have learned much about how not to do these.
Back to downtown Cairo for dinner at an odd but quite welcome Chinese restaurant – one run by Egyptians, so no pork, but the waiters seemed to know what they were doing. Chris & I shared barbecued seafood and beef with fivespice and mushrooms (not much of either in evidence, but I put plenty of chilli sauce and soy on and enjoyed the ‘glow’).
Finally braved the crowds and bought an ice-cream at El Abd, the patisserie across the road. LE2.50 for a double scoop (compared to some who’d paid LE25 at some sites for an inferior drumstick) and very good it was.